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.
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 . . .).
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.
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.