I got an email last night from someone notifying me of a site where my books were being offered as free downloads. This particular site just offers tidy zipped files which, in my case, contains every book I’ve written under the CE Murphy byline. It struck me as particularly egregious, and I emailed my editors and agent about it, put in a complaint with Blogger/Google’s content violation page, and have been posting on Twitter and Facebook about the site’s location so other authors can send their publishers’ piracy team to whack this guy on the peepee. (It’s here, if you haven’t seen my posts in other locations.) Because really, there are hundreds, possibly thousands of writers on this, a static site, not even a download with the decency to be a torrent, and it just struck me as beyond the pale. I mean, sheesh.
I get emails like that every several weeks. The truth is–and I realize these are fighting words, so let me make it clear this is my stance and I don’t wish it on anyone else–I don’t really care. Trying to stomp it out is like trying to take pee out of a pool, and furthermore, as both an artist and a geek I live in this sort of vast no-man’s-land on the whole topic of Free Stuff On The Internet. As someone who makes a living off people who are willing to pay for stories, clearly it is to my benefit to leap up and down on anybody trying to give my work away for free. As someone who’s a geek and has been online for twenty years, I pretty much essentially believe information wants to be free…and that it’s frankly impossible to regulate it in a digital era anyway.
My *preference*, far and away, would be to be able to provide free downloads of all my work myself. Most people who download books for free aren’t going to buy them anyway. There is, however, the smallest chance that someone who comes to *my* site to download my work might come back again some other time, might comment, might build some kind of very small relationship with me, and that might eventually turn to the decision to buy instead of steal my books. There’s no chance at all of that happening if they get my books through Mr. Egregious.
I also believe there’s a percentage of people who really dig the “try before you buy” aspect of anything, who might read forty thousand words of a text online (which is vastly more than I’m permitted to put up) and then go buy the hardcopy, or buy the next book in the series, or buy something else I wrote. There’s some evidence that this is true–when Neil Gaiman convinced his publishers to put AMERICAN GODS up online for free for several months, sales of that book jumped 300%. I believe Cory Doctorow releases everything online, and it hasn’t hurt his career at all. John Scalzi might not *have* a fiction career if it weren’t for the novel he made available online. So I personally feel there’s a lot more advantage to be gained in adapting to the unassailable flow of modern technology than not.
And of course there’s the very simple fact that no matter how hard anybody tries, you cannot take pee out of a pool. The material is going to be available online no matter what anybody does, no matter how vigilant everyone is in defending copyright, no matter how many lawyers and departments are thrown at the problem. I would far, *far* rather have the ability to provide the material myself, be able to keep track of number of downloads so I have some idea of how many people are picking up the books for free, and have the modicum of a chance to build a relationship with those people than watch somebody else get off on it because hey, they’re sticking it to the man.
I have friends so far on the opposite end of this spectrum we’re standing flush back to back. I feel, in a sort of politely bemused way, that they’re insane. I rather expect they feel the same way about me. This is a massive issue for creators, and I really don’t expect it’s going to be resolved satisfactorily in my lifetime.
In the meantime, however, the one entire book of mine you can read online legally is IMMORTAL BELOVED, a Highlander novel I wrote ten or eleven years ago. Strangely, this is the only CE Murphy book that isn’t in the download Mr. Egregious has so thoughtfully made available. :)(x-posted from the essential kit)