Piracy this, piracy that

They say brilliant ideas jump from mind to mind and cannot be stopped. They say culture must be liberated. They say authors want to be read. Therefore, piracy is moral. Also, piracy helps with exposure, which leads to more sales, which leads to the artist winning more money. Good stuff abound for everyone involved!

…sigh.

In Romania, the culture of piracy is strong. Really strong. People don’t believe much in paying for entertainment, unless it’s something very tangible, like sitting in a movie theater and enjoying their screen, their chairs, their stuff. The movie itself? Meh. It can be torrented, downloaded, shared, whatevered. Books? We are not only a people who don’t read, we’re also a people who don’t buy books.

Which means the books themselves aren’t very good, often enough, because people don’t write for money, they only write to have a book out. It sounds like ‘true art’, I don’t doubt it, but the fact of the matter is that if only want to publish, you won’t work on your books very hard. You won’t try to become the best writer there is, in the hopes of one day earning a living like that. You’ll be happy to get a book done. It’s what’s happening – that, and people thinking that ‘books’ are these esoteric things that are written by people who write because they must. This leads to people not buying books, because they’d prefer to admire them from afar, or something.

Vicious circle.

So, now this guy I know linked me to some sort of online archive where he had a few hundred books uploaded. As far as I could tell, they were copyrighted. I told him I don’t want his snitched books, and I linked him to a friend’s post, where he was explaining why he had given up piracy entirely. The guy I know put up a protest (against my friend for not stealing any longer, if you can believe it), saying that authors don’t mind their books getting shared, they want their ideas in the open! It’s just the evil, inquisitorial publishing houses that want people to stop pirating! Authors *want* to be read.

…so what are we, thwarted at every step by the heinous publishers? Are we poor, oppressed little creatures, forced to go to the evil publishers and give them our writing? Are we suffering under the tyranny of these gatekeepers who want your money?

Hell, no. If we want to, we can give our books away. Some authors do that (at least partly), like Cory Doctorow, for example. But many of us choose to get some money out of it, because money is nice and it pays bills and it ensures that we can write more books. And some people say we should be happy for the… recognition? Love? Appreciation?… we get. Well, sure, I’m happy to make you happy, but I’d rather be happy as well. I don’t like being the slave of your happiness, no more than a doctor would enjoy being the slave of your physical needs.

I won’t say that ‘free’ isn’t a thing that can promote you. It has been shown time and time again that it is. But it’s the author’s/publisher’s choice how and when to make something free, whether to make it free, for how long to make it free – and this is how it should be. “Free”, like “discount”, is a risky marketing maneuver. If you do it for a short time, it can work. If you have a culture of paying for stuff to show your appreciation, it can work. If you keep up the discount for too long, however, people start thinking of the real price as a price increase (smarter people than me, economists, have said that). I’ve seen it for myself: there’s a really good pizza place in one of the towns I’m often in, but I only go there on Mondays and Wednesdays, because that’s when they have discounts for it. And it’s hard to convince your standard Romanian that piracy isn’t the norm, and that you should pay for games, music, books and movies.

To tell you the truth, as he went on about how culture should be free, in the price sense of the word, not just in the liberation sense, I felt like I finally understood Ayn Rand and her Atlas Shrugged: there was nothing I wanted to do more than pull all the books out of that guy’s reach, every single bit of culture he thinks he values, slapping his fingers, and saying: “No more for you. The brains have gone, the people who achieved something have left because they’re tired of you, your attitude, and your arrogance. Live with your memories of these wonderful things alone.”

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