About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pirates!

This might disappoint some of my clients who've been tweeting about the on-line petitions against, but I find myself sympathizing more with the content providers than the internet providers on the SOPA/PIPA question.

Why?

Well, this weekend somebody e-mails me with a listing on eBay for a seller hawking complete sets of Sookie Stackhouse audios for £3.99. These are not legal. These are the copyrighted works of my client Charlaine Harris, and the sound recordings themselves are (p) Recorded Books, Inc., and the rights to sell these in the UK belong to the Orion Publishing Group. I don't believe for a single solitary second that the person who's putting up these listings thinks it's legal to run his/her own duplicating operation and to sell them on eBay for £3.99. And for that matter, I don't think the people buying these if they have half a brain or have ever been taught the "if it's too good to be true" think it's legal, either. And no, the seller isn't selling their one copy of the audios at whatever price they can get, they're selling multiple sets on this listing, and when this listing goes down they put up a new one with another batch.

You can't take the most basic step of reporting the seller by clicking the "report" link without being a registered eBay user. I have never been and have no desire ever to be a registered user of eBay, get along just fine without, thank you. And you can search high and low and up and down and left and right on eBay for an awfully long time without finding any depository e-mail for sending DCMA notices, there is no such thing, they just don't want to hear it.

Let me be blunt: eBay simply doesn't give a shit that it is aiding and abetting in the violation of copyright law.

So I don't want to hear eBay telling me about how I should oppose the cruelties of SOPA.

And of course, eBay is one of the good guys, a major corporation that theoretically has a reputation to care about.

What about the bad guys? As an example, a site that I was told about two weeks ago that has a raft of pirated A. Bertram Chandler e-books. This site is allegedly to help readers buy textbooks, what a generous kind group of people to help students. Oddly enough, their #1 category is science fiction and fantasy. The site doesn't have any depository e-mail for DCMA notices, or any contact information at all, for that matter. A request to their hosts, based in France, reveals that the registry is with group based in Poland. I decide I don't even want to try and complain, why not just draw a target on my back for Eastern Europan hackers to take their revenge. This site exists for no other purpose than to help in the infringement of copyrights, and the people who set up the site know it, and they're hiding behind their offshore addresses.

And guess what, I don't need eBay to run about running interference for these pirates. Or Yahoo, or Facebook, or Google, or whomever.

None of these major internet companies are our friends, they aren't my friends or your friends or your friends friends. There are big corporations, making huge sums of money, just like the big music companies and the big motion picture studios that have been trying to get SOPA passed.

I want to go after these people. I want the government to assist me in this. I want that copyright violators like this can at least be protested the same way that I can file a report about an illegal telemarking call to the FTC, maybe my one complaint won't do anything but if enough people complain, at least there's this sense that you can do something to fight people who are going around happily and knowingly breaking the law.

Now that I've vented, let me say that SOPA does go over the top. I don't like the idea of censoring search results. I don't think you should get zapped because you have one link somewhere to one person doing bad things.

So in that regard, it's good to have an opposition that might help to shave some of the rough edges off of the legislation.

But we need to make the criminals work a little harder.

I don't think, by the by, that these pirates are going to kill book publishing the way they killed Big Music. If for no other reason, than that people want whole books more than short stories, and the industry sells whole books at very reasonable prices. This is the exact opposite of the music industry, which thrived on selling whole books at high prices to people who really just wanted the short stories.

But even though I don't feel this person on eBay selling illegal copies of Charlaine Harris audios is going to kill the livelihood of Charlaine Harris or her agent, I don't think it's a good idea to treat laws like they are disposable, or things for us to ignore. I can't have a reader who's kind enough to tell me about the eBay listing and just shrug my shoulders and say, no, not worth worrying about. eBay shouldn't make it a challenge to report a crime in progress. It's a matter of principle to me.

And that's the kind of guy I am. I'm the kind of guy who called the NYFD to complain that a gym had a huge hamper of towels parked directly in front of the main fire exit. No, I didn't really expect there was going to be a fire, but fires do happen, and dozens of people die when those fires happen in places that have the fire exits blocked or locked.

So even though I don't think the pirates threaten me in a serious or urgent or immediate way, I want to have the might of law a little more on my side when it's necessary to go after them.

A lot of people disagree with me, some of my own clients. It happens, especially in these sorts of situations where we are trying to muddle through the fast-changing publishing industry. I had respectful disagreements with some of my clients on the proposed Google Books settlement, interestingly on that one I was siding with the Google Empire, on this one it's the clients siding with Google and the other big internet companies.

This is my personal opinion, it isn't an official opinion of the agency.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

In theory, I agree with your reasoning behind your support of it. In theory, it might be a good idea. In application, however, it may very well fail miserably.

Because it won't take out those doing the pirating. They'll find ways around it. These people are cunning. I have been friends with a person who shall not be named who has spent a long time studying, researching, and coming up with ways to stop pirates. Pirates are flexible. They change every time a change is made to stop them.

What this set of laws will do is remove Amazon out of the game. It _will_ remove ebay from the game. It will cut off sites that support creative writing, because some of their authors might write fanfiction. It will cut off writing critique workshops because the burden of proof will fall on the sites to ensure every user is uploading original content.

Amazon has many users who upload copyrighted material and claim it as their own. And Amazon currently fails to catch it. It is noted by people who buy the books and have to report the infringement. Amazon would be firewalled due to these policies.

Sites that link to amazon will then be hit with this, because amazon sells pirated content.

B&N has had this happen as well.

With so many sales of books digital, this is going to end up hurting everyone in publishing.

The idea that copyright needs to be protect is a solid, sound one. It is _important_ to guard our creative rights. But how many people at Amazon and other companies will lose their jobs when these sites are effectively shut down because they've lost millions of customers due to an overzealous firewall?

IF they could get away finding a way to implement a method that hit the pirating parties where it hurt (their wallets) it might not be so attractive to pirate books, movies, and music.

But censorship due to an overzealous law isn't the way to combat piracy, in my opinion.

If you want to stop piracy, start by fining the companies that have sales of pirated materials on their site, per instance of sale. Reward companies that have low or no pirated sales on their sites with rewards. Create jobs for people by giving companies a good reason to check content that is being sold. Turn something negative into something positive.

Perhaps an ideal way of thinking, but I don't think firewalling will solve the problem. The pirates will just move to other, equally profitable markets with the same pirated goods.

Just my 20 or so cents.

Daniel Donovich said...

This may not be popular, or even possible -- it's certainly near the pinnacle of idealism: if there is a demand, there will always be a supply. For every drug bust, thousands more sales go on; for every kingpin toppled, another rises, or the market load shifts to the guys that survived. As long as people want to buy cheap, pirated material, pirates will find a way to do it. What's the operative phrase there? As long as "people want to buy cheap, pirated material."

This is my personal little crusade (also on my blog theitinerantd.blogspot.com): that we have gotten too used to having everything we want right now. If we can't afford it, we put it on credit or find it as cheap as we can. Take the extra week, save the extra $10, go to a brick-and-mortar store -- or get the items sold directly by Amazon or other online music retailer, and not third parties -- and buy the legit item. Add the 10 to 12 songs on the album to your library of 10,000 and you'll forget about it in a couple months. If that seems disagreeable, don't get it at all. You've lived without that particular album by that particular artist for how long now? All your life until it was released?

There's no excuse to need to buy a book or an album for any cheaper than it already is. It's ridiculous. And that, too, will stop pirates -- and far better than any legislation the American government can come up with.

Maybe that's just me.

EMoon said...

As someone whose work has been stolen repeatedly, I'm sick of the conflict over SOPA being presented as "big corporations and the government" against the poor little individual internet user.

Because theft is not free speech. Publishing copyrighted work illegally is not free speech. It is theft from every one of the thousands and thousands of individual writers and artists whose work is illegally posted and downloaded every day.

Yeah, I know, some of you will say "But I first found your work in an illegal download." Maybe so. And maybe you could have found it by walking into a library or a bookstore or wandering around the vasty halls of Amazon.com. That's where most of my readership that actually contributes to my bread and butter finds stuff.

The big corporations that oppose SOPA do so because they're involved in internet piracy. Profiting, if indirectly, from internet piracy. Google violated the copyrights of thousands of writers in its highly illegal digitization project: direct theft. Others, like eBay, are merely fences--quite happy to run a store in which stolen material is sold alongside legitimate, assisting the thieves. It's too big a burden to check that material uploaded is not infringing copyright? Cuts into the profit margin? Tough. Pawn stores have made the same argument about handling stolen hard merchandise...and lost.

I don't like all the provisions of SOPA; some of them seem directed far beyond the control of piracy. But internet piracy has made it harder for individual artists and writers to make a living, even as it has offered a wider market that should have helped them. At the very least, all sites should provide a simple, one-step way for copyright owners to report and have taken down stolen material. (A large button that says "Report Copyright Violation" would be a start.) Copyright owners should be able to have all their works removed from a site with one request (rather than filing separate notices for each: torrent sites may have dozens of books by one author.)

If internet users had not jumped so eagerly on the bandwagon of copyright violation, we wouldn't be facing anything as draconian as SOPA. So: freedom of speech, yes. Freedom to steal others' work, no.

Anonymous said...

The big issue with SOPA/PIPA isn't protecting copyrighted materials, the issue is how they would stop people from pirating such materials.

SOPA was particularly dangerous because it contained a clause which allowed a website to be shut-down *without due process* because an allegation had been made regarding the content on that website.

You have a blog. Imagine if someone linked to some sort of trademarked material. A picture, a clip, anything. Would a random person's action on your blog warrant all of blogger.com to be taken down just to prevent some fraction of piracy?

Sure, piracy is illegal. But a government limiting its citizenry's access to the internet is downright evil.