Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Pirate's Dare Redux -- You Thought I Had Balls?

So, I got this letter back in October.

It started out mentioning my Pirate's Dare blog from a few months ago--you know, the one where I called digital pirates cowards and dared them to grow a pair and steal things old style, off shelves rather than act like five-year-old chickenshits? Remember that one? Yeah. So, some of the replies I got in relation to that blog were hater mail. (Nice contribution, guys! The world thanks you. Great job.)

But the letter I'm talking about today wasn't hater mail. To my relief, it was pure awesome. In fact, it was so awesome I have to share parts of it with you because this piracy battle seems pointless to a lot of us who lose our children's lunch money through it, so it can really bum us out. But this letter gave me hope, and I want to spread the hope.

Earlier this month you wrote a couple of posts about e-pirating. . . I'm writing [to you] about this line:

"I wrote this weekend's blog because of the millions and millions of people out there who are stealing right this very minute and either don't know it or don't care. I didn't write it because I think it will make them stop."

Particularly the last sentence. Your posts, they did make me stop. I feel like you should know that because maybe someone else who read it also stopped. And maybe if you authors and bloggers who are shedding light on this subject know that, even in small part, you are making a difference the battle won't seem so futile.

So there I was, after the hater mail, hateful tweets, and "copying isn't theft" propaganda tossed at me via the comment trail thinking: Amy why the hell did you write that post? YES, you don't have any money and it SUCKS to get robbed all the time and have people not give a shit about it, but you're a freaking hippy and you hate arguing and dude, you are too old for the drama and the bullshit. Go back to contests that involve pizza. Cute vlogs. Juggling. I was praying the hits on that blog would just go away. Seriously. I am not a lover of conflict. I have too much to do to have my brain all messed up with petty arguments about why stealing is okay. I grew out of that a long time ago.

So I vowed to never write about piracy or theft or stealing again. Oh sure, I'll write about rape and domestic violence. I do that all the time. No haters write me mail with intellectually stimulating reasons why these things are acceptable and really not illegal at all. Nope. Not one. But go off about stealing my kids' college educations? A lot of people want to argue with me about that because they have talked themselves into why it's okay. Which is exactly how all those other criminals talk themselves into doing what they do, too.

More from the letter:

When I read your post I thought really hard about what you said. Would I have the balls to walk into a bookstore and snag a book off the shelf? Would I rationalize that because I was only taking one book now and that I'd buy more books later it was acceptable? Would I be able to tell myself that there are people walking into stores everyday swiping things off the shelves and that I was just a speck of paint in the big picture? No, of course not. Because I know better. My mother raised me better. So why, then, would I ever think it was acceptable to do the same thing with the same material simply because it is online? What gives me that right? Nothing. Nothing gives me that right. I wouldn't steal from a store. I shouldn't steal online. Stealing is stealing no matter how you do it.

I have never downloaded any of your books illegally - If I had, I think I'd be feeling really guilty right now over the possibility of depriving your daughter of an opportunity to walk out of her college experience without the weight of giant student loan debts. But I have downloaded books by [other authors]. Obviously, I am an adult now so my mother isn't marching me to my inbox and making me apologize to these authors for violating their copyrights and stealing their work. But, yes, there is a little bit of her in this apology, a little bit of that day when she taught me that stealing has consequences in this apology. To all of these authors whose hard work I have cheapened by my ignorance, I humbly apologize.

I have deleted all of the illegal files from my computer and plan to, when I can, buy those books to make up for taking them illegally.

Well, Letter Writer. Damn you. You had balls to write me this letter and tell me that people who highlight this issue can help, and now I have to ante up and have balls to keep writing and talking about it.
Last week, I was at a school career fair and I looked deep into the eyes of every kid in the room and explained quite clearly to them and their teachers that stealing books or videos or music off the internet is no different than shoving it down their pants in Target. I asked them to raise their hands if they wanted to go to college. They raised their hands higher when I asked if they hoped their parents could afford to help them pay for it. And when I explained to them that stealing books off the internet meant that their favorite authors' kids maybe couldn't get that sort of help from their parents because people stole their books all the time? That a last year's illegal downloads alone stole the equivalent of the first semester of my kid's college tuition? Their eyes got SO BIG! But what surprised me most was that SO MANY teachers didn't know about this. They were very happy to learn about it so they can spread the word to parents and students. Fellow authors, I urge you to mention this at your school visits. A lot of people do not know this is going on!

I will also tell you about my last bit of correspondence with the "safehouse" where I found NINE more copies of my book (ooh. Make that 11. I just found two more) last month. When I went through the now-usual process to remove all the files, they wrote back to say:

Thank you for letting us know. We have deactivated the links to the illegal files mentioned in your e-mails.

If you know any other illegal use of our service, please let us know. We will do
our best to remove the files as soon as possible.

Thank you!

In the interest of full disclosure, I replied with this:

"If you know any other illegal use of our service, please let us know. We will do our best to remove the files as soon as possible."

If I know of any other illegal use of your service?

Are you kidding?
Your site is used for illegal use 99% of the time! Nearly all the files up there are of copyrighted material!
But seriously. Thanks for taking care of mine again.
I'm sure you'll hear from me again next week...and the week after and the week after. Infinity.

I then found the page of one of the pirates who'd had my book and scrolled down her page. She had every popular YA book--all up-to-date. HUNDREDS of them. Since they asked me to report "any other illegal use of their service" I wrote back to the kind customer service rep and provided the member's screen name and link and said that I'd read the site's rules and this member had 100% illegal copyrighted material on her page and that by the site's rules, she should be booted immediately. The reply?

Please provide a link to each illegal file that you own the copyright to.

I won't lie. It feels pointless and futile. If I showed you my sales numbers vs. my illegal download numbers from last statement time, you'd throw up a a little, I bet. I've had to stop caring because even people in my own business [who are no longer feeding their children soup for dinner] are coming up with great reasons for why piracy is GREAT for authors. I can't argue with them. Seriously. I'm not arguing at all. I don't have the time or energy to argue. I just wanted to stop and share this hope with fellow authors, bloggers and people who care about copyright laws and how they protect artists and their future careers.

To the people who talk about piracy, we are reaching people. Or maybe just one person every once in a while. But that's a start.

And Letter Writer? Thank you for writing to me. It was nice to see a mature, logical person understand my point. What you did by writing that letter to me was a true act of kindness and I really appreciate it. And quitting the habit of illegal downloading ? Is awesome. Thank you. I know how hard it is for me some days to drive by gas stations full of cigarettes, but I do it. Just because they're there doesn't mean I have to smoke them. And a special thank you to Ms. Jupiter, considering Letter Writer mentioned both blogs, that means you helped too, and I sincerely thank you for that. You are AWESOME.

Here's a great vlog author Jackson Pearce made about three weeks after my Pirate's Dare post went up. Enjoy it.


EJ said...

How wonderful to be vindicated, if only by one person. Who knows, word of mouth sells books, maybe word of mouth will diminish the stealing of books.

Thanks for posting this, Amy. Keep up the good fight.

Sara J. Henry said...

Incredible, wonderful post. Rock on, Amy.

Marlys Pearson said...

Great, great blog. Thanks for making a difference.

Kirstin Cronn-Mills said...

So glad you were able to contextualize this issue for people--how can someone argue against a figure like a semester's worth of tuition? You're making a difference. And, as always--you're awesome. : )

Ellen Hopkins said...

When I asked my lawyer about torrent sites, he said he could send a request for them to remove my books, but unfortunately, that often leads to MORE torrent sites pirating MORE of your books. Sad, that people think it's okay to download copyrighted material for free, or their membership fee, or whatever.

Maggie Desmond-O'Brien said...

I'm cash-strapped right now. My family is cash-strapped right now. Sometimes it sucks to know that people are downloading these books illegally, for free, when I want to read them just. So. Badly. But then I shake my head and head over to the library website and take out a hold on the book in question if I'm not sure whether or not I want to buy it. And then, if I do, I drop $10 or $20 at the indie bookstore. Because I want to be an author someday, and I want it to continue to be a viable career choice. I don't want to imagine authors' families being in the same financial straits as my family because people think all authors are rich and that they can afford to have a semester's tuition stolen from them. And ditto for indie bookstore owners.

So it's always nice to read a post that makes me realize that some other people feel that way too. Thank you! As usual, you rock. =)

Ms. Jupiter c: said...

I'm really ecstatic and touched that I inspired someone else to stop stealing, like me; I am never going to steal again. And THANK YOU, Letter Writer, you've really made my night. Knowing someone else had the balls to do what I did makes me extremely happy.

Tamsyn Murray said...

It is about telling people, one person at a time if that's what it takes. I truly think most of the illegal downloaders have no concept that what they are doing has any consequences. My teen didn't until I pointed out to her that she was actually stealing from the people she admired most.

I'm really pleased you got that letter. Maybe that person will tell another friend, who'll tell another, and in time we'll get the message across; if creatives don't get paid for their music/writing/cartoons then we will be forced to stop producing it and the world will be a much poorer place.