On Piracy and Copyrights: The Stupidity of Delay and Denial

On Piracy and Copyrights: The Stupidity of Delay and Denial

The folks here at Gear Diary are in lots of different industries:  financial, tech, rabbinical, teaching . . . me, I’m a technical writer.  I write books and “topics” about technical topics for a living.  Computer manuals, network system reference pages, instructions on how to install everything from giant Cisco routers to that teeny 2Wire modem some of you may be using in your houses.  That’s my trade; it’s how I make my living.

As such, I am a believer in copyright, and the rights of content creators to a reasonable and fair return on their work.  These folks (and me, to a much lesser extent) are bringing something new into the world, bringing it out of their own heads and making it available to everyone.  I think that’s a great thing, and I think it should be encourage.  With, ya know, money.  Do I think their should be reasonable restrictions on things like copyright renewal?  Absolutely.  Should George Orwell’s grandchildren (and their publishers!) be making profits off Nineteen Eighty-Four or Animal Farm decades after Orwell’s death?  No, I don’t.  But while the author/creator is alive and well, yeah, I do.

If they make their stuff available, that is.  And therein lies the rub.

For the last several years, I have only rarely watched TV, or read books.  In the usual sense, that is.  I’ve watched dozens of TV shows, and read lots and lots of ebooks. Given how much I travel, it just isn’t reasonable to be carting around a ton of DVDs and hardcopy books.  Far better is to read books and watch TV shows and films on my iPhone (and later, I hope, my iPad).  It’s convenient, it can hold hundreds of books and quite a few TV shows and movies, it’s easily portable, plus I can use it to make phone calls and read email.

On Piracy and Copyrights: The Stupidity of Delay and Denial

But some authors won’t allow books in electronic format.  Some TV companies believe that delaying the release of their products will make them more money.  Some film companies think they can make more profit through denying customers rather than giving them what they want.  And it makes me crazy.  Consider this:

One of the best-selling series of books in the history of the universe, the Harry Potter books, is not available in electronic format.  Why?  Because JK Rowling thinks everyone should have “the book-reading experience.”  Aside from being hypocritical (if she feels that way, why release audio book versions and movies?), this is a silly point of view.  Who is she to decide my “reading experience”?  I’ve read hundreds, perhaps thousands of hard-copy books in my life; if I want my books in electronic form these days, that’s up to me, not her.  I can’t be lugging around 7 hefty books everywhere I go–I want them on my iPhone (or iPad, or Kindle, or . . .).

On Piracy and Copyrights: The Stupidity of Delay and Denial

Her decision has left me with two choices:  don’t read them at all, or pirate them.  And frankly, I doubt that’s what she has in mind.

In the TV show realm, consider BBC America.  For whatever reason, they don’t release all their programs around the time they are broadcast in the UK.  What this means for one of my favorite shows, “Top Gear”, is that you can’t get it legitimately on iTunes (or anywhere else) until well after the season (or “series,” as they say in Britain) is over.  So if you want to keep up with the show, you are forced to pirate it, or wait for 6-9 months.  So everyone pirates it so much that the show presenters joke about it during the show and on their web site.

On Piracy and Copyrights: The Stupidity of Delay and Denial
Top Gear banner courtesy of BBC©

Now, I think creators should be paid.  No question; none at all.  But when corporate stupidity is keeping you from buying the same stuff that other people can buy, well, what else can you get but piracy?  It’s insane.  (Not quite as insane as JK Rowling’s hypocritical “I want people to have the book-reading experience,” but definitely in the same ballpark.)

Publishers do a similar thing with eBooks, or have tried:  rather than release the electronic version coincident with the hardcopy version, they “offset” the publishing by a period of several weeks or months.  And what that tends to do is again force eager readers to pirate the books.  If you are a computer literate person who wants to read a particular book, are you going to shell out $20 or so for a hard copy you don’t want, or are you going to pirate it on one of the dozens of pirate web sites?

Clearly, the answer is obvious.

So what can you do, as an eager reader and/or viewer?  Complain, that’s what!  Protest.  Send emails, snail mail, and make phonecalls to your favorite authors, to publishing houses, to production companies, to iTunes.  Post complaining “reviews” on iTunes.  Comment on the TV show’s web site.  Make requests (politely!) at book signings or publishing events or, hell, at the San Diego Comic Con.  These folks want to do this because they think they’ll make more money thereby; let them know just what you think of that plan.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time for my afternoon meds.

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Gear Diary Staff
Gear Diary was founded on September 30, 2006, with the goal to create a website that would not easily be labeled. Everyone who is part of Gear Diary is a professional who uses technology in their work and daily lives. On this site, we share our enthusiasm while exploring the gear we use — the equipment that makes our lives easier, more entertaining, more productive, and more manageable. Our hope is that Gear Diary visitors find this site to be a welcoming, friendly, and accessible place to learn about and discuss interesting topics — and not only those that are tech-related! Gear Diary is a place to discover and explore all kinds of new gear, including smartphones, computers, kitchen gadgets, Toys, EDC, camping gear, or even your next new car! You can follow us on Twitter @GearDiarySite.

22 Comments on "On Piracy and Copyrights: The Stupidity of Delay and Denial"

  1. Agree completely. I read ebooks, I don’t buy paper books, so if you’re a publisher reading this and you want me to buy your authors’ works, publish in ebook, ON THE SAME DAY as the paper book. If you don’t have an ebook version, I’ll read someone else’s work instead! Your (actual financial) loss!

  2. It’s the same with other parts of the industry. From the times not so long ago that the UK didn’t receive movies until many months after their initial releases in the US and other areas, to Sony deciding that anyone wishing to play a CD in a computer must be trying to make copies to sell.

    One of the least understood issues I see in the media is the use of copy protection and DRM. Limiting how, when and on what I watch, read or listen to my purchases. It is a very easy way to turn me off buying them at all. It is especially annoying as the vast majority of these systems are so easy to bypass with a little knowledge. Not only are they not going to stop the pirates, but they are actually turning people to these pirated sources that don’t have the limitations. I remember trying to watch DVDs on my first DVD player with disasterous results as I had to run it through my VCR and the MacroVision on the DVD made it unwatchable. My solution was simple, to the DVD into my PC and copy it. The copy worked perfectly. Did the producers really think that pirates were copying DVDs to VHS to sell?

    I think that the media producers and their clients have to accept that you simply can’t beat the pirates. You can however compete. Some of your products will always be pirated. However, consider this; respect your audiences and most will pay a fair price. Give us a better service than the pirates and the only sales you will lose are to those that would not have bought anyway.

    Oh, and get rid of those patronising “Piracy funds terrorism” and “Pirated movies look like this…” adverts from the movies and DVDs. Does anyone honetly believe those?

  3. Very nice, Doug! We bought all of the Harry Potter books in hardcover and started out reading aloud to our kids from the beginning (with me doing all the characters … great memories!). Of course, now I also have them in digital form to read on the go. Heck, half of those books weight more than my laptop!

    And the sad thing? I would definitely spent ~$7.50 – $10 each to buy *real* versions of those books.

  4. Alison: I don’t think I’ve read a full hardcopy book in about 3 or 4 years. I have bought some actual hardcover hardcopy books–Dan Simmons’ Drood, Neal Stephenson’s Anathem–because I want to support the author, but I’ve actually *read them* on my iPhone.

    Duncan: Sometimes it goes the other way. The most recent Harry Potter movie was released on iTunes in the UK several months prior its release in the US. Dumb. Desire to purchase tends to *fade* over time, not increase.

    As to DRM, Carly is much better on that issue, but my pet peeve is, why do I need 5 book readers? Why can’t I just have one? It makes me nuts. Again, it forces me to either carry multiple ereaders, or do something illegal (e.g., strip out the DRM protections).

    Michael: *exactly*. They’re costing themselves money in two ways: they’re losing the initial purchase, *and* they’re encouraging pirates. Just dumb.

  5. My peeve is: What happens when your reader goes obsolete? The DRM copy (that I paid for) becomes useless. I have to pay again for the same thing for another platform.

  6. On Piracy and Copyrights: The Stupidity of Delay and Denial http://bit.ly/a2kHbS

  7. Brilliant piece! RT @GearDiarySite: On Piracy and Copyrights: The Stupidity of Delay and Denial http://goo.gl/fb/mt5Kx

  8. On Piracy and Copyrights: The Stupidity of Delay and Denial | Gear … http://bit.ly/bxShyf

  9. I learned early on not to deal with Audible or iTunes or WMA sellers or any other format that doesn’t allow me to use my purchase as I please. I buy MP3 files for music…nothing else.

    I have stayed out of the eBook market completely. I can typically buy a used book for about a third the price of an eBook. I might feel differently if I read a lot more books than I do, but the eBook market really isn’t worth it for a casual reader.

    I’m not sure if book publishers will ever see the light and offer their products in a DRM-free format that will work on any platform.

  10. Questions you never have to answer if you have a book vs ebook reader:
    – what format does it read?
    – how long does the battery last?
    – oops, got it wet – what do I do now?

  11. Those are really good points about ebooks John, but there are as many pros as cons. For instance, these days airlines are greatly restricting the weight of baggage you can carry on flights. If I’m going on vacation, I can get through anywhere between 2-5 books depending on how long I’m away. An ebook reader is lighter than 5 chunky paperbacks and takes up a lot less space, and if I just read on my iPhone, that weighs even less.

    I believe that certain people will require ebooks more than others – voracious readers, people who can’t easily get to a store, don’t live near a public library etc. It’s a personal choice, but for the growing number of people who want their reading material digital because it’s more convenient, the lack of a proper ebook will force them one of two ways – read something else or pirate. I choose the former, but I’m sure there are massive numbers who are choosing the latter, just as they do with movies/tv shows/music.

  12. On Piracy and Copyrights: The Stupidity of Delay and Denial [ Gear Diary ] – http://octofinder.com/~i16k

  13. RT @octofinder: On Piracy and Copyrights: The Stupidity of Delay and Denial [ Gear Diary ] – http://octofinder.com/~i16k

  14. Just to look at this from another angle, remember that literature is a form of art. Do artists have a right to restrict how their art is consumed? I think that they do. It may not be all about maximizing profit; somebody like David Lean, assuming he lived long enough, may have had very good reasons to say that his film “Lawrence of Arabia” simply wasn’t meant to be watched on an iPod Nano. I think that he has every right to say that. Remember that the Harry Potter books created an explosion of interest in reading among children in the last 13 years. As a parent of a 19 and 16 year old, though my wife and I have always been readers of books, I can attest that my children are absolutely wild about them, and I am not sure that they would have been so wild had they not consumed them in the form that they were sold.

    Yes, I suppose it’s hard to argue that Harry Potter is high art, and surely a ham-handed attempt to increase profit is the basis of many decisions, but in the case of culture, I think that we need to defer to the artist and respect their wishes. Also, the perceived threat of “her decision has left me with two choices: don’t read them at all, or pirate them” sounds a lot like extortion. “Give me what I want the way I want it or else!” JK Rowling is a billionaire; I’m thinking that she knew that her books would not be universally read, and I am sure that she will do fine if you don’t buy a copy.

  15. I was thinking more along the lines of:
    * music on a portable player: cassette tapes obsolete => re-buy on CD => now obsolete => re-buy on iTunes
    * e-books on PalmReader => now obsolete => re-buy on Kindle

    What next? Re-buy when those readers become obsolete?

    My Masters thesis is on MS Word 4, 5.25″ floppy. Both software and hardware are obsolete. Maybe can’t read my thesis any more?

  16. The great thing about digital media, without the limitations of DRM, is that you can convert from one format to another. If you found hardware of the correct age and type, you could probably convert your thesis (through a number of stages due to sequential obsoletions) to a contemporary docx, PDF, XML or RTF format. If however you had locked down your thesis to stop copying in an attempt to beat piracy or control distribution, then you would be left with something worthless.

  17. Yeah, one day I will pull out my old 486-133 computer to try to copy it from 5.25 to 3.5 floppy, then use my Pentium4 computer to go from floppy to USB drive. The new MS Word on my Centrino laptop ought to be able to read the file from there.

  18. doogald: No, I think that’s a good point. But if there’s a huge market for something, and a writer like Rowling deliberately withholds stuff from that market, she shouldn’t be surprised when piracy blooms like bluebonnets in the Texas springtime. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does a market.

    Duncan & John: I still have a 3/4″ cartridge tape made on a UNIX system. I figure that someday, an archeologist will dig it out of the rubble and say, in futuristic Chinese or Portugese, “WTF?”

  19. @geardiary: My favorite post from last week is: On Piracy and Copyrights: The Stupidity of Delay and Denial http://bit.ly/9AYWvN

  20. RT @geardiary: On Piracy and Copyrights: The Stupidity of Delay and Denial #Books and eBooks http://bit.ly/908iqQ

  21. RT @geardiary: On Piracy and Copyrights: The Stupidity of Delay and Denial #Books and eBooks http://bit.ly/908iqQ

  22. @geardiary: My favorite post from last week is: On Piracy and Copyrights: The Stupidity of Delay and Denial http://bit.ly/9AYWvN

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