Google and Piracy: One Author’s Perspective

On Friday, a friend brought to my attention a blog post that was written by Richard Curtis, a big-name agent in the SF/fantasy genre. Curtis’s post was a response to an announcement earlier in the week by Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt. Essentially, Schmidt said that Google would not make any effort to stop its industry-leading search engine from linking to sites selling pirated books, even if the U.S. Congress passed a law requiring them to do so. Curtis concluded that if Google was serious about this, it sounded a death-knell for publishers and authors alike.

I linked to Curtis’s post on my Facebook page, under a heading that read something like “Google Declares War on Publishers and Writers.” Many of the comments to my post expressed outrage at Schmidt’s declaration. But a sizable number of them did not. On the contrary, they said that Google was justified in refusing to do this and a few went on to argue that in fact e-piracy really didn’t hurt authors at all.

I was floored.

And so I thought I would bring the issue up here. I know that I’m going to tick people off with some of what I’m going to say. I don’t really care.

Piracy hurts artists. I say this as someone who is old enough to have made cassette tapes of my friends’ albums (Grateful Dead — Europe ‘72, Allman Brothers — Beginnings, The Who — Who’s Next, and a bunch of others that don’t make me sound nearly as cool . . .) in violation of copyright laws. I was wrong to have done it. I apologize. Because piracy really does hurt artists.

How? Well, let’s start with the obvious. If you illegally download a book or a song or a movie, or if you buy downloads from sites that you assume are legal (because some well-known search engine took you there, and well, doesn’t it follow that it must therefore be a legal site?) you are denying the artist a royalty on that sale. You are, in effect, taking money out of the artist’s pocket.

“But wait!” some will say. “You can’t assume that every illegal sale correlates with a lost legal sale. Some people, if they can’t buy something on the cheap from an illegal site, won’t buy it at all.” That may be true. There may not be a one-to-one correlation between illegal sales and sales lost. Doesn’t matter. Even if the correlation is three-to-one or seven-to-one or even ten-to-one, it is still money taken out of the artist’s pocket.

But more than that, illegal downloads and the like also have a negative impact on an artist’s numbers. (And here I will focus on the publishing industry, because that’s what I know best.) Again, it doesn’t matter what the ratio of sales lost might be. Lower sales numbers make it more difficult for writers to keep their books in print and to secure contracts for future work. We live in an age where the bottom line is everything to publishers. A writer’s future is only as secure as his or her most recent sales figures. When our numbers go down, our career prospects grow ever more tenuous. Decisions about whether or not to tender contracts for future books, be it in the same series or not, are based on the number of sales reported on recent books. So are decisions about the size of advances, how much money will be put into packaging and publicizing the books, how widely they will be distributed, the size of print runs, where and how books are shelved in a bookstore. In short, every single decision that will impact the success or failure of future volumes is tied to previous sales numbers. Only the most naïve observer could possibly think that piracy doesn’t hurt an author’s prospects for success.

Piracy-deniers will say, “But even if you don’t get the sale, you’ll have more people aware of your work. Name recognition helps authors; word of mouth is the best form of advertising.” Name recognition does help; word of mouth is crucial to our careers. But only so far as those things lead to legitimate, measurable sales. If my books don’t sell in a way that profits my publisher, I won’t get another contract. I can say, “Well, but lots of people know who I am! They might not be buying the books legally, but they are buying them. My name recognition is off the charts!” But that’s really not going to help me at all.

“The publishing industry is stuck in the dark ages. It has to adjust to the new realities of a digital marketplace. That’s what the music industry did a few years ago. Now it’s publishing’s turn. Until the industry changes, piracy is going to continue to take its toll.”

Yeah, I can’t argue with that one. And frankly it wasn’t my intention to. Because here is the bottom line. The industry might need to change, but it hasn’t yet, and in the meantime, piracy is illegal. Selling copies of my books that have been stolen or acquired through illegitimate means, is illegal. Buying pirated copies of my books is illegal. By making it possible for people to buy and sell those pirated copies, Google is abetting an illegal industry. And no matter how it is justified or marginalized or forgiven, nothing can change that. Piracy is against the law. And everything else is crap.

David B. Coe

Filed under For Novelists, our books, publicity and promotion, publishing, publishing trends, the business of writing, writing life. You can also use to trackback.

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  1. 1. Jim C. Hines

    “There may not be a one-to-one correlation between illegal sales and sales lost. Doesn’t matter. Even if the correlation is three-to-one or seven-to-one or even ten-to-one, it is still money taken out of the artist’s pocket.”

    Okay, I’m with you so far.

    “[I]llegal downloads and the like also have a negative impact on an artist’s numbers.”

    Do you have any facts or data to back this up? Or is this opinion being stated as fact?

    In general, piracy annoys me. And you’re right that it’s illegal in the U.S. But if you’re going to make the claim that piracy hurts authors, period, then you need to back that up. And if you do have such data, I’d be very interested in hearing about it.

  2. 2. David B. Coe

    Hard data, no. But if you agree with the first statement then you have to agree with the second as well. If piracy is taking money out of artists’ pockets (and you say that you’re with me on that) it’s because regardless of the exact numerical correlation, SOME sales are being lost. And every lost sale is not only a loss of royalty money, it is also one more book left in the warehouse, one sale further from a sell-through. In other words, my point is this: the lost sales resulting from piracy, be they one lost sale for every pirated book sold, or one lost sale for every hundred, means more than just a loss of royalty. Sales numbers dominate every aspect of life as a writer. As a professional, you know this. And so if you agree that we’re losing money because of piracy, you also agree that the numbers that determine what happens next in our career are being hurt as well. You can’t have the one without the other.

  3. 3. Jakob

    That’s not quite right – if the word of mouth such generated by downloaders pirating the book lead to more sales than are lost through the downloads, then the number of sales could go up as a result of piracy, not down. That may not be the case, it may not even be likely, but it is possible.

    Without figures for a) the number of pirates who do not buy the product (lost sales) and b) the number of people who are sold on a book by exposure to it through pirates (gained sales) we can’t know if it has a negative impact on the artists numbers.

  4. 4. Jim C. Hines

    “But if you agree with the first statement then you have to agree with the second as well.”

    Not at all.

    1. Piracy is costing me some sales. Let’s say 1 in 10, and I end up losing 1000 sales.

    2. The second part of the argument goes that these free/pirate copies also lead to me gaining some readers. Some of those readers do eventually go out and buy legit copies. Some end up buying more of my books — I’ve had fans who said they read a pirated copy of one of my books and ended up buying copies of all six that I’ve put out.

    It’s the “piracy as advertising/publicity” argument. There are problems with that argument, but depending on how many people who wouldn’t have otherwise bought my stuff end up reading a free copy and then going out to buy books, it’s certainly possible for the additional sales to outweigh the loss.

    Does it work out that way in reality? I don’t know. Sometimes it seems to (Go the F*** to Sleep came up as one example by Cecilia Tan: Other times, probably not.

  5. 5. David B. Coe

    Jim and Jakob, thanks for the comments. The problem with your points about piracy leading to greater readership for other books is that you’re assuming the piracy is happening either to books in your backlist or to authors with a backlist. I have a book coming out next year under a pseudonym. That nym is a blank slate, just like any new writer would be. If piracy hurts my ‘nym’s numbers, it’s not going to be offset by greater readership for “other books”. There are no other books. All it will do is hold down numbers and hurt my chances of contracting more books under that name. New writers face the same problem. Is it possible that piracy will bring more readership to an author’s other books? I suppose. But that only works for some writers, and not for those who are the most vulnerable from a career perspective.

  6. 6. Jakob

    Thanks for the interesting post to comment on, David! I don’t think I’m assuming an author with a backlist, however. If you look at the story Jim posted, though – one specific book has gone to #1 on Amazon’s bestsellers list (currently it seems to be down to #3), apparently due to the word of mouth coming from a .pdf of the book being passed around. That is, due to piracy of that book itself.

    So it’s apparently possible for even a fresh, newly-mint nym to benefit from piracy.

    Again, I’m not saying it’s likely. But it does seem possible. Without numbers on sales lost vs sales gained, it’s impossible to know for sure – and those numbers are tricky to get. For sales lost, you have to guess how many of the pirates would otherwise have bought the book. For sales gained… I have no idea how to meassure that, except through self-reporting (ask people how they heard about your book, or something).

  7. 7. Jim C. Hines

    David – that’s an interesting point, and I think it’s a good one to discuss. But there’s a difference between talking about how piracy can affect new vs. established authors and making absolute statements that piracy hurts everyone, period, end of story. I suspect you’re right that some authors are much more vulnerable than others.

    I said in my own blog today that I don’t think piracy hurts most of us in any significant way right now, but I don’t know what’s going to happen five or ten years from now as electronic books and readers become more common.

    Overall, I suspect I agree with you more than I disagree. I just cringe at some of the rhetoric, and at some of the absolute statements of “fact” from both sides of the debate.

  8. 8. David B. Coe

    Jim, you may be right that the debate has gotten off the tracks rhetorically. And I do think piracy is a greater problem for beginning authors than for established successful ones. I fall in between. I have the ‘nym, but I also have a longstanding career. I know, though, that things are tougher now than they have ever been. I certainly feel less secure about my career than I have in the past. Many of us in the midlist feel under siege, and I see piracy as just one more issue I need to worry about. Maybe there is an upside to it, as Cecilia claims, but I’m not convinced. And as I say, it comes back to the fact that it is illegal, which no one can deny.

  9. 9. Jim C. Hines

    Heh. I said the same thing at one point re: the legality.

    From my follow-up post:

    I was going to start out by saying at least we can all agree that downloading copyrighted books without permission is illegal, right? But maybe not. While it’s illegal under U.S. law, Corinne Duyvis was kind enough to translate copyright law in the Netherlands, which gives broader allowance to make copies for home use. The uploading/file-sharing part appears to be illegal, and you can only download small portions of books … except for “works of which you can reasonably assume that no new copies will be sold to third parties in whichever form possible.”

    In other words, downloading out-of-print (which is not the same as out of copyright) books in the Netherlands is currently legal if those books don’t look like they’ll be coming back into print. Thus blowing away my “simple and obvious” assumption. Oops.

    I’m definitely with you on the anxiety and insecurity. I feel like I’m doing okay for the moment, but there’s also a lot I worry about in terms of my future career and the potential pitfalls both known and unknown.

    I miss the days when I could just write and not worry about the rest of it…

  10. 10. Eric

    I’d echo what others have written about hard data for the damage or offset. And please understand, you may be exactly right, but you’re citing assumptions as fact. (I also have to observe that record labels made the same arguments about home taping/CD burning/digital ripping in times of both famine and feast: that is, even when record sales were healthy or growing, there were claims that copying was the equivalent of theft and lost sales, even when some artists may have been helped by the spread of tapes, for instance.)

    But the thing that bothers me more, possibly, is the question of why it’s Google’s responsibility to police intellectual property rights, or whether it ought to be.

    For better or worse, a private company has become the White Pages/Yellow Pages for the entire Internet; it seems to me that one might make a case that any such directory ought to be as neutral as possible in how it filters information, allowing searches for any material of whatever nature. Naturally, one also might make an argument that social values ought to dictate access–e.g. that child pornography or snuff films, for instance, ought not be searchable. The first problem I have is that I can see merit in both sets of arguments: it doesn’t seem unreasonable to exclude certain kinds of criminal content, but it also seems there’s an especially slippery slope around a blind curve somewhere in there.

    The second problem is that Google is a private service offering a public utility, meaning that this isn’t a situation in which you’re talking about a utility that’s easily subject to regulation through the democratic process–that is, you and I don’t have any say as to what data Google privileges or prohibits; that being the case, it seems to me preferable to have Google treat data indiscriminately so long as they’re willing to.

    The third problem, which is kin to the second, is that Google is providing an international utility; we’re talking about activities that may violate American law, but Google isn’t merely serving the United States. How one feels about Congress trying to prohibit searches that may be legal elsewhere (or other countries regulating Google in ways that could affect legal activities here) is an interesting issue that I don’t have a handy-dandy resolution to. (Note that in the case of copyright, jurisdiction is a headache: there are quite a number of works that are public domain in one country and not another, e.g. Orwell’s 1984 is a copyrighted work in the United States and most of Europe, but not in Canada, Australia, and a number of other countries. Question: does Congress have the authority and is it in the public interest for Congress to pass a law that has the effect of making it illegal for Google to provide somebody in the United States with a link to a legal-in-Australia online copy of 1984? Discuss.)

  11. 11. Eric

    Looks like Jim hit on some of the jurisdictional issues while I was writing (comment #9). See? A mess.

  12. 12. David B. Coe

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Eric. Google has international users, yes. But it is a U.S. company and thus subject to U.S. laws. Yeah, there is no easy solution to any of this, which is why I didn’t even try to propose one. :) Google profits from the businesses that advertise on its search site, so let’s start there. They should be prohibited from selling ad space to companies that violate US intellectual property laws. Because as soon as they do that, they are party to the illegal activity. They are like the fence who sells art stolen from an art museum; they’re getting a cut from the sale of stolen goods. As to the search results and the links contained therein? I think they should block those links, but I agree that legislating that becomes problematic. I don’t know. It’s not an easy issue. As I said in response to one of Jim’s comments: these are tough times for midlist authors and anything that makes them even marginally harder is not at all welcome. None of this is easy. I’m grateful to all of you for the interesting discussion.

  13. 13. tommy p

    ths s th shttst nt-prcy blg yt

    ll th rftd rmrs ssmd s trths, nd thn bg l’ hs f crds blt n tp f thm

    yr ntr “t’s stll lst mny” dtrb dsn’t stnd p t scrtny, s f crs nn f th rst f yr lgc hlds p

    fcts wrk bttr thn bld ls

    [Where are the vowels?]
    tommy p is a troll. Since trolls can only grunt, his comment was adjusted as well
  14. 14. David B. Coe

    Well, since your reply is so carefully reasoned and well-supported I won’t bother to argue. Clearly you feel that having access to pirated art is your God-given right. I hope you never try to make a living through the arts. You’ll be in for a rude awakening.

  15. 15. Jakob

    I’ve had a while to think about it now, and so I’d like to ask a different question.

    I agree that piracy is bad, yet I’m also not sure why Google should be the ones to police it. They, after all, only pointing at other websites. If those site offer an illegal service, why are they not getting taken down?

    Trying to limit who Google can link to is tricky at best – who determines what sites are to be forbidden? If the government makes a list, well, how? On what basis? We don’t tend to trust governments that do that – because it is infringing on free speech. Unless, of course, there’s a court case and so on, so that the owner of the site can defend themselves – in which case, why not put the punishment to the site itself, and order it shut down? Why take the half-measure of forbidding Google to direct people to it?

    After all, in that case, people who know that the site exists can still go there directly. And knowledge of it’s existence will spread easily by word of mouth. It will hurt pirates, yes, but not stop them. Or, if a site really does rely on Google for links, it’ll kill the site – the same result as having the site shut down as a punishment for distributing pirate files in the first place!

  16. 16. David B. Coe

    That’s a good question, Jakob. I think it depends on the link. There are sponsored links on Google — they’re ads in a sense, and Google gets money when we click on them. I absolutely believe it is within a government’s right to forbid them from profiting from illegal sites. That’s not free speech; that’s trafficking in stolen goods. Just as employers can get in trouble for hiring illegal workers, so Google should be held accountable for profiting from illegal sites. And the government is allowed to regulate commerce to prevent that sort of thing. Regulating straight links that come from a user search is a far more complicated and difficult matter, for all the reasons you point out. Again, I’m not convinced that this falls under free speech. It’s not censorship to say “You can’t help someone break the law.” But from a practical standpoint you raise an excellent point.

    I should also say though, that ebay does a good job of shutting down auctions that are selling illegal items (including pirated books, music and movies). They seem to make it work, but of course they operate on a smaller scale. And they would be in that position I talked about above, of profiting from illegal commerce, since they collect a fee from every sale.

  17. 17. Jakob

    Okay, that makes sense – I agree that the government has an interest in stopping people profiting from illegal acts, including piracy. My objection is, as you note, mostly practical. And indeed, my reading of the statement from Google you based your post on (or rather, that the story you link to is based on) is that Google is objecting to the practical problems of the government banning sites from being searched, rather than being per se in favour of linking to pirates.

    Linking to a pirate website is not, however, trafficking in stolen goods. It is at most profiting by directing people to the fence who is trafficking in them; Google never handle a stolen thing, nor do they sell it. That’s a very clear difference between them and ebay’s position, as ebay does broker the deal and profit from the transaction directly.

    As a point of note, I just tested a search for The Pirate Bay – notably, no ads or sponsored results showed on Google. So it looks like they don’t profit from that site being in their search index. I find that interesting, though of course hardly conclusive.

    As to saying that helping someone break the law not coming under free speech, that’s again tricky. If you write a book that tells me how to commit a crime, should you be punished for putting that information where I can see it? And Google doesn’t tell anyone how to do anything illegal – it does make it easier to find the resources and information needed though.

    Also, again, if Google can’t profit from it because it’s illegal, why is the target website allowed to operate at all? If there has been no court case to demonstrate that the target site is doing something illegal, how do you prove that Google is helping someone break the law by linking to it?

    I think the practicalities are possibly insurmountable in these cases. Regulating piracy is probably better done by targeting the pirates directly – the websites posting the pirated books.

  18. 18. Skip

    Let me ask you a related question – with your new ‘nym, I assume there’s going to be an ebook available? If Amazon and your publisher wanted to do a short-term $0.00 price sale on the book, would you be happy, scared, want to tell them no? Most books on Amazon that get free periods end up on the top 100 paid lists after they’re no longer free for their categories after the sale is over. I’m just curious whether or not your opposition to people downloading your books for free is consistent.

    I, personally, buy a ton of ebooks. I get the Webscription from Baen about 10 months out of the year, on average I probably buy 5-6 books a month on top of that. And yes, I’ve downloaded a huge archive of pirated ebooks, which I primarily use as a source of electronic copies of works that I already own in dead tree. I say primarily, because it has prevented me from buying a few books I’d have otherwise bought, but in all cases it was because it was something someone recommended for me, and when I went to read the beginning of it I realized that the books weren’t to my taste. So the only sales that it’s cost someone were sales to someone who would have been an unhappy customer. In other cases I’ve stuck it on a want list to buy when legit e-copies come available (I’m simply not buying any more paperbacks, and only hardbacks of authors I have the rest of the series already in hardback).

    In the archive it looks like 6 works of yours, although I’d never before looked in that directory. However, to make you happy, I’ve just deleted them so I won’t accidently read something of yours without paying.

  19. 19. David B. Coe

    Skip, that’s a great question, and I’m not sure what I’d do. I have heard that the free releases can do great things for sales. The difference, as I see it, is that I would be making a choice to make my work available for free. It would be part of a marketing strategy. With pirated books, it’s not my choice, and they’re not being sold for free. Someone is profiting, it’s just not the people who are supposed to be. As I say, interesting question. Thanks for giving me something to think about.

  20. 20. tommy p

    wth ‘wll-rsnd’ rgmnt lk:

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    wht ls s thr t sy? y ssm y’r rght nd thn bg th qstn ll th wy t dnnr whrpn y hv whn wth yr chs.

    y gnr th fct tht ths ds ld t mr fns, tht ‘prts’ r mr lkly t by msc (lk p jptr rsrch’s r-spnsrd stdy frm lt 2009), nd tht y dn’t wnt t gv ths ppl wy t gv y mny.

    hrd t fl srry fr y whn y wnt t stmp yr ft nd mrlz bt hw y cnt mk ny mny whn y wnt vn ffr sls chnnl t cptlz n th bhvr

    hr th msc ndstry’s thrvng vn thgh th lbls r mstly dd. y cn b th bnds mkng kllng n ytb nd n lv prfrmnc r y cn whn nd mrlz vr cntxtl thrt tht sn’t gng wy

    [Where are the vowels?]
    tommy p is a troll. Since trolls can only grunt, his comment was adjusted as well
  21. 21. Elias McClellan

    I LOVE these rationalizations. So if:
    a) an argument is flawed (in whomever’s opinion),
    b) there isn’t charts/graphs/diving rods you haven’t proven your point;
    no harm, no foul, no hurt feelings, right?

    Taking something that does not belong to you, that you did not pay for is okay? Meanwhile, my old man ran stolen cars (someone else stole them, so that should be okay, right?) to Mexico but a jury convicted him of grand theft/organized crime. Go figure.

    While we wax poetically, I’d love to know something from the high-minded. Do you have locks on your doors? An alarm on your car? A firewall on your PC?

  22. 22. John Hazzard

    I am a consumer of Science Fiction. It is 90% of what I read and I have been reading it for over 50 years. I have been reading digital for almost 25 years. Based on my experience I believe there is a large percentage of readers whose opinion of piracy is similar to mine, ie. we really don’t care. We want to read the latest books and stories as soon as possible and with as little hassle as possible.

    Last month I bought Analog from Fictionwise because they have it in a format the iPad can read and it was easy to purchase and download for $3.95. So far I cannot purchase this month’s Analog or Asimov’s anywhere for the iPad and the current F&SF has been totally unavailable. Would I download a scanned version of these magazines if it’s all I can get?

    I love reading author’s takes on this subject and comparing notes with my friends. We have found in general that an author’s views on piracy correlate with other attitudes along the left-right spectrum. This is probably not always the case but if I was an author posting on the web I would be conscious of this widely-held perception. If we are turned off by an author’s attitude in her posted blogs we are likely to avoid her books.
    Jeff Vandermeer, in a recent post, called one of his readers an idiot for admitting to reading pirated downloads. I would never read one of his books now much less buy one. Contempt for your customers is noted instantly and we readers spread the news far and wide.

    Sorry to ramble here, but I would like you to know that a lot of your customers will in fact pay for your book if it is as easy to get as the pirated version. My group of friends, about twenty, spend an average of $300/yr on books. The only way you are going to get part of that pie is if you behave like any good retailer and make me want to give you some of my gold. Good product, friendly service and convenience.

  23. 23. David B. Coe

    Thanks, Elias. I agree with you that “rationalization” is the key word here. As I pointed out in a comment above, the whole “piracy brings new readers” line only works for those authors with a backlist. If a new author is trying to get a career going, and he/she loses sales on a first book to piracy, that’s it: end of story. We are judged by our sales numbers. Anything that brings those numbers down has serious ramifications for our careers. If people want to buy illegal versions of our work there probably is very little we can do to stop them. But they shouldn’t fool themselves into thinking that they’re not doing us any harm, or worse that they’re actually helping us. It’s laughable really.

    As to John’s comment about author’s views on piracy correlating to our political views on other issues, that’s interesting. I’m probably considered pretty conservative on the piracy issue. My politics are to the left of left. Just a data point. I certainly see your point about convenience, and I wish that my publisher would do a better job of getting my work out in eformat. As you say, if my books are available that way from a legitimate seller, the chances of them being pirated fall. As for being courteous, I have tried to be as courteous as possible throughout this discussion. The only time I strayed from that was in response to Tommy p’s comment (#13), which I found deeply offensive. Feel free to disagree with me. I like a good discussion. But I don’t see any need to attack me with profanity; and I will not tolerate being called a liar.

  24. 24. Jakob

    David, I expect that you are right about the numbers – but you said that it was certain, and it isn’t. It’s at least possible that exposure of even a new author through piracy brings in readers (it is, after all, advertising) so to be certain you have to demonstrate that the sales made are less than the sales lost.

    I expect that in almost all cases this will be so – but it’s very, very hard to prove.

    I should also point out that this story has nothing to do with people buying illegal copies of your work. It’s about Google providing links to such sites as The Pirate Bay, and other filesharing sites. These do not sell pirated books, they provide them free – revenue is raised through advertising, I presume.

    It’s Amazon that are supporting the sale of pirated ebooks, not Google – has the relevant story, and has some discussion.

    None of this makes me sympathetic to those who do download pirated books – free or paid, if they knowingly get an illegal copy they are harming the author. I don’t think that legislating what search engines can tell us is the solution, that’s all.

    I would, though, like to thank you David for a courteous discussion of an interesting and tricky issue. We may disagree in our conclusions, but it’s been very interesting to consider your point of view.

    (Oh, another point of anecdotal evidence – I know people who consider that when you buy a book, it’s reasonable to download a scan of the book so you have an electronic copy. That is still piracy, but for books without an ebook version it doesn’t cost a sale. Probably these people are only a tiny proportion of downloaders; but again, it makes measuring the impact of piracy on sales harder)

  25. 25. David B. Coe

    Thank you, Jakob. I appreciate your comments. Thanks as well for the links.

  26. 26. Elias McClellan

    The political correlation is an empty bucket; all noise no content. I make Ted Kennedy look like Ronald Reagan and I still don’t want my ca-ca stolen.

    If I steal bread because I’m hungry (or it’s available for my iPad) it’s still theft.

    I’ve been writing in snatches and grabs, (7-8am before work and lunch breaks) since 2004. While I now have 3 completed crime (ironic, huh?) manuscripts, I’ve yet to publish. At this writing I have my 1st MS out to the 2nd agent and 1st buying editor.

    Meanwhile I toil for a State Agency that does not value my work, (ironic part II, the sequel) oh and I drive a limo on the weekends.

    Creation is tough, creating and paying the bills, is Herculean. Don’t tell me if I get my little ‘See Spot Run,’ published and it’s jacked, I’m not hurt. Don’t tell me I won’t miss the coin in my pocket. Free publicity doesn’t compensate me for seven years scratching out time to write, edit, hustle for a group/agent/publisher. Free publicity doesn’t pay my mortgage.

  27. 27. John Hazzard

    Commerce has nothing to do with morality, unfortunately. It is all about getting the consumer to willingly hand over her hard-earned gold.

  28. 28. Elias McClellan

    @27, I agree, there is no morality in commerce. It is all about getting the consumer to WILLINGLY hand over their gold. While theft is about WILLFULLY depriving an owner of their goods and services without recompense.

  29. 29. tommy p

    rtnlztn, n. – nt grng wth my nprvn hystr

    brght t y by th ls McCllln dctnry, hghtnss dtn

    nc wrk ls bt t nds mr bd nlgs bt prprty thft tht dn’t pply t dgtl nfrmtn sts

    [Where are the vowels?]
    tommy p is a troll. Since trolls can only grunt, his comment was adjusted as well
  30. 30. David B. Coe

    Tommy, every one of your posts thus far has been rude and abusive. You attacked me from the start, which I can accept, since I put myself out there with my post. That’s why I have been approving your comments in the moderation page. Attacking other readers/posters is unacceptable. You are a guest on this site. You can be a troll on your own blog or website; not here. If you can’t be civil, I will remove your comments and have you blocked from SFNovelists.

  31. 31. Elias McClellan

    @29, Haughtiness, no. Reading? Why yes, yes I did. Did you, by chance?

    See, TP, I presented no unproven hesterial, I versed an opinion, that’s kinda what we do here. Otherwise the site would be called ScienceFactNov– wait, there’s something wrong with that. I know I have another bad anology here somewhere that’ll fix it…

  32. 32. David B. Coe

    Thanks for the comments, Elias. Tommy has been put in a time-out and his abusive remarks washed out with soap, as it were.

  33. 33. David B. Coe

    Please allow me to apologize to the rest of you for Tommy P.’s behavior. As long as Tommy was just ranting at me, I was willing to let him post here. When he became abusive toward others who were posting, that crossed a line. We don’t allow that at SFNovelists, and the powers-that-be have removed Tommy’s posting privileges accordingly. Tommy will claim that he was censored. I see it differently. You don’t walk into someone else’s living room and start railing at them and calling them and their other guests names. That, in essence, is what Tommy did. So, we kicked him out of our house for now.

    Along those lines, let me say that I don’t believe being against piracy is censorship either, any more than being against stealing items from a store would be. But all of us have opinions on this issue, and I look forward to hearing yours, if you want the discussion to go on. A good debate is fun. Abuse is not. Let’s keep it civil and move on.

    Thanks to all who have contributed productively to the conversation.

  34. 34. J,J Coe

    I am with you that piracy hurts sales and artists and everything but I say I don’t feel this is googles problem for 2 reasons

    1. Google provide a service. You wouldn’t expect your phone company to monitor calls and cut people off should they mention something illegal, that not there job, same as its not googles job to stop crime on the sites you can search for. Why should google foot the bill. Yes it will cost them money as they will have to trawl through every site prior to adding it for any wiff of illegal files.

    2. When would it stop? Say america decides to ban porn or some drug or another will google be asked to remove sites pertaining to the illicit material/goods. I am aware this isn’t exactly the same but to me it seems like the start of a possibly slippery slope of censorship

    I know these 2 points don’t have a massive amount to do with your post above but I certainly don’t feel google is abetting pirates just standing its ground against a ruling that they dislike and honestly dumps a whole load of work in their laps, work that ideally belongs with law enforcement and lawyers.



  35. 35. DataPacRat

    Mr. Coe,

    Have you looked into the sales reports of those books which are made available for free by their authours/publishes, such as Cory Doctorow or Baen’s Free Library? From what I’ve been able to tell, books which are freely available have /higher/ sales than others, not lower. (And by ‘sales’ I do mean actual paid-for sales, not just download figures.)

    Let’s assume, at least for a moment, that this is correct; if so, would such data change your mind from being completely anti-piracy?

  36. 36. David B. Coe

    Data (can I call you Data?), many thanks for the question. You raise a good point. Folks or institutions with a strong web presence and a committed web following do seem to be able to boost sales with controlled free releases of their work. But this doesn’t turn me around on piracy for a couple of reasons. First off, often with piracy people are still buying the works; they’re just buying them at a reduced price from illegitimate sellers who don’t pay royalties to writers. My point being this: free e-book giveaways will sometimes lead to sales via word of mouth, but also via recipients of the free e-books who then want to buy a hard copy of the book. I am not convinced that piracy sales will eventually lead to these kinds of sales. Second, and this is much more to the point, those free releases are done by the author’s and publisher’s choice. They have made a decision to make their work available for free as part of a broader marketing strategy. I can see making a similar decision with my work. But I resent the idea of someone making that decision for me and then profiting off of my work. To me they’re completely different circumstances. Again, though, thanks for the question.

  37. 37. Jakob

    There are two kinds of piracy – and I think that you are conflating them, David.

    The first is the kind that Google is objecting to being asked not to link to – torrent sharing sites like The Pirate Bay. These DO NOT sell pirated works; they provide avenues for downloading pirated ebooks free of charge. No one is selling your book at a discount, though of course also no one is paying you to read them either.

    The second seems to be the kind that you are more worried about, where someone sells the books. That is not something that is a problem with Google, as far as I know – as I linked to above, there are concerns about Amazon in this regard if you want a big company to blame. If you can identify a site selling your copyrighted works illegally, though, they should be relatively easy to trace and sue, since they have to have contact details in order to get paid.

    Plus, in this IT-rich age, I would pity anyone who went out and bought pirated ebooks – I can understand (though not condone) torrenting them and getting them free, but *paying* to get them seems stupid as well as immoral.

    So, in summary, I would ask what it is you want from Google to stop piracy? The problem of others profiting from your work would be dealt with by proper enforcement of copyright laws already on the books, it seems to me, against Amazon and other sites selling the ebooks illicitly. Google doesn’t seem to have much to do with it.

  38. 38. David B. Coe

    Jakob, thanks for the comment. To be honest, I’ve going around in circles with this discussion for a week now, and feel that I’ve just about reached the end of my rope. You’re right: I probably am conflating different types of piracy. The truth is, I have never bought or downloaded for free anything pirated, and so I’m not an expert on any of this. But let’s be clear: Pirate Bay and sites like it might not be selling the works they make available, but they are selling ad space on their sites, and so they are definitely profiting from their illegal activity (no one would come to the sites if not for the content they make available illegally, and no one would buy ads on the sites if people weren’t coming to them).

    I would like to see Google and Bing and other search engines stop linking to these sites. I would like people to stop using the sites. I wish the sites didn’t exist. In practical terms, what would I like to see done? I really am not sure at this point. Yes, it’s a complex issue.

    But I find myself back where I began, and forgive me for putting to fine a point on this. Until you have had something of your own pirated, until you have created artistic content and seen it exploited in this way, you cannot possibly understand the feeling of violation that it brings. Piracy is illegal, and I can tell you from personal experience, it is NOT a victimless crime.

  39. 39. Jakob

    I’m sorry if I appear to be harping on at a tangential point, David :( I agree with you that piracy is a bad thing, and should be stopped. We just disagree on the details, I guess.

    We neither of us want people illicitly downloading copyrighted works – I simply feel you are putting too much on Google with your complaint. Excluding websites from search-engines is a crude tool, and it’s difficult to see how it can be administered fairly; your goal is admirable, but the method is where we disagree. I don’t believe I have ever said that I feel piracy is a victimless crime, and I apologise if I have given the impression that I think is is.

    More than that, I apologise for any ill-feeling caused. I get pedantic at times, and it’s not a good habit – I simply thought that it might do you good to examine a different point of view, an opinion I still hold but feel I may have taken too far.

  40. 40. David B. Coe

    You weren’t harping, and I didn’t mean to imply that you had done anything wrong. Your contributions to this discussion have been substantive and courteous. Thank you for that. As I said in my last comment, I think I’ve just reached the end of my tether on this one. I think you’re probably right when you say that we agree more than we disagree on these issues. The devil, as they say, is in the details, and I probably should have given them more thought. Again, thanks, Jakob. I wish you all the best.


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Author Information

David B. Coe

David B. Coe ( is the Crawford award-winning author of the LonTobyn Chronicle, the Winds of the Forelands quintet, the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, and a number of short stories. Writing as D.B. Jackson (, he is the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a blend of urban fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. David is also part of the Magical Words group blog (, and co-author of How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion. In 2010 he wrote the novelization of director Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Visit site.



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