The Good Pirates: a rant about piracy and self-justification

In an idle moment, I wondered if there were any early reviews of my next book, A Case of Possession, up on blogs yet. (There was one. They liked it. Yay!)

I also found a link to a chat thread, which was in a forum of people discussing hotly anticipated new releases. Someone mentioned that there were half a dozen sequels or series titles that they really wanted to read, one of them mine.

The discussion was on a pirate site.

Quite literally, someone sat down and typed (I paraphrase): I’m really looking forward to authors I liked continuing to write more about the characters I love, please can someone put up a link so I can download their work for free.

Ah, piracy. We hear the same thing trotted out again and again: People will pay for books if they like them. The only people who will steal them would never have bought them so it’s no loss. If ebooks were priced more reasonably, more people would pay for them. Oh, yours is less than the price of a half of lager? Well, you should still be happy if your book is pirated, because loads more people will read you and buy your other books. It’s publicity, isn’t it? It’s exposure. It’s profile-building.

Which all sounds fantastic except that it quite clearly isn’t true.  Those people aren’t thinking, ‘I should buy the second book and support the author I like,’ they’re thinking, ‘I can get this one free too! And the next. And the next. Oh, I wonder why she’s stopped writing? Never mind, there’s a lot of other books out there.’

I had an ill-tempered Twitter run-in with someone whose website was offering free downloads of my book. He gave out all the usual stuff about how content should be free, it was to my benefit in the long run, he was thinking about the readers, he supported authors, etc etc.  But the thing is: his site makes money by advertising. Advertisers pay to be on his site because it is popular. It is popular because you can download free ebooks there. Other people’s books, offered for free, are what drive his revenue.

Because content should be free, but advertising space is valuable.

Here’s the thing: it’s not the money that upsets me (which is really not most authors’ driving force, luckily). It’s not the lost sales figures. It’s the fact of someone stealing my stuff, and telling me it’s for my own good. It’s the assumption that my writing is worth nothing and I should be grateful that someone’s deigned to read it for free. It’s the utter, casual disrespect.

I am well aware the genie is out of the bottle on piracy. It can’t be stopped, people say, so take it gracefully. If it’s inevitable, lie back and enjoy it. Well, maybe, and to be honest, I am resigned to being pirated just like I was resigned when my house was burgled last Christmas. Scum steal, the world is full of scum, some of them steal from me, QED.

But I will not tolerate teenage-anarchist pseudo-moral justification as to why it’s OK to take my stuff without my permission. Steal it if you must (and may you get your bank account, identity and soul phished by Chinese darknet sites while you do it) but don’t claim to be some combination of Julian Assange and my personal press officer because of it.

And I am depressed to the point of writing paralysis by people who steal books while claiming to love them. I recently spoke to an author who saw a self-declared fan on a pirate site saying ‘I love his work so much, let’s upload everything by him!’ He said he couldn’t find the motivation to write for weeks after that. I’m not surprised.

I’m not against free. I love free stuff. I understand that people don’t always have enough money to buy all the books they want (I feel the same about widescreen TVs, actually, but they’re less easy to half-inch). I applaud authors and publishers who choose to experiment with pricing, choose to give away free stuff, choose to try whether people will pay for their work if they can have it free. I have two free stories available right now. Help yourself.

But if pirates are going to deny me my choice of what to make free, I’d appreciate it if they would at least not claim to give a monkey’s for my work or my writing career. If people are going to steal, at least they should be honest about it.

KJ Charles is an intermittently grumpy author and editor living in London, and blogging at The Magpie Lord is available from a wide selection of torrent sites (plus the publisher and Amazon, obviously). A Case of Possession comes out on 28 January.



17 thoughts on “The Good Pirates: a rant about piracy and self-justification

  1. Wow. Some people just don’t get it do they. I do believe that for some reason people see cyber crimes, such as downloading books or music as “OK”, these people wouldn’t go into a book shore and steal a paperback but see the downloading as fine, I suppose as they only see that there have been no distribution costs, they don’t see the starving author, And perhaps some of the top authors are not concerned about a spot of piracy and even I refuse to pay £10 for a new release e-book (I wait until the price drops!) So for my own little protest against pirates and their ilk I just went and bought The Magpie Lord ….. and if I like it I may even go and find the sequel 🙂

  2. Good rant. Yeah that entitled bollocks about it being for your own good to have your stuff stolen is infuriating. It’s like a bag snatcher claiming he’s doing the copper chasing him a favour by giving him a good workout.

  3. Good rant. Yeah that entitled bollocks about it being for your own good to have stuff stolen is infuriating. It’s like a bag snatcher claiming he’s doing the copper chasing him a favour by giving him a good workout.

  4. Hmm, some very good points and definitely a lot to think about. I have never looked to see if any of my stories are on pirate sites. I assume not, since I think that implies a level of popularity I simply don’t have. My attitude has always been, pirated books are not “lost” sales, because those people would never have paid for a book in the first place.
    But I can see where the whole thing could get depressing. I guess it’s important to try (operative word here, ‘try’) to divorce the writing process from the product. So that when things like this happen it does not impact your creativity at all.
    So sorry about the pirates 😦

  5. It disheartens me every time I see a reader comment “where can I get Tali’s Book for free?” I know I’m supposed to feel wonderful that someone wants to read the book, right? But in reality I feel just a bit slapped in the face. The book took me months to write and the publisher put in the time to edit it and… the reader just told me “Great job! I’ll just go around the corner and wait until someone steals it from you so I get all the fun and you get nada!” What makes me saddest is that they feel good about what they’re doing. I’m not a popular author and if it gets to the point my sales don’t live up to what my publisher needs, I will stop publishing. That’s just economics.

  6. How funny I found this in my Facebook feed right after doing a blog post about piracy myself. I can see how it would be depressing to find a self confessed “fan” who isn’t willing to pay for something they really love. But: being a cheap bastard and loving a certain book, movie, whatever are not mutually exclusive! It is possible they genuinely liked it but are just stingy. All you can hope for is that they told their friends about you and some of them went on to purchase legitimately… And most importantly, don’t let it get you down for too long, for every one of those people, there will be loads who purchase legitimately and love it just as much.

    • Well, that’s the thing. If someone downloaded on a torrent site but then went on to tweet about the book / tell their friends / leave 5* reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, that would be one thing (although, not much, because if everyone did that you’d end up with 5000 reviews and no sales). But my guess is that the majority probably don’t. I’d guess, or perhaps just hope, that people who like to think about books are aware that authors need to eat and conscious that it took someone several months of hard work to write the thing. .

  7. I’ll be buying A Case of Possession when its out! I, like most, love the chance of a bargain and did enjoy the tattoo free read you had.
    Whilst I think those that use the pirate sites probably don’t visit sites like this, it is good to put this out there and how it impacts you. If I hear of anyone using such sites, I shall be telling them not to.

    • Great that you liked Interlude, thanks! Do check out the other freebie on Smashwords, Butterflies, if you haven’t seen it – different characters but I’m doing more with them.

  8. Very well said. I think the only ones that are even worse are those who take books that ARE free and SELL them on pirate sites.

    • I put out a couple of free things on Smashwords last year and I’ve seen them not only on torrent sites but on a site selling them. Based in China, so nothing to be done about it. 😦

  9. Great post! The first time I found one of my books pirated, I ranted and raved and stomped around, sent takedown notices, worked myself up… They took down the link. Which popped up again the next day. Whack-a-mole. The second time, I sent a takedown. Same thing. Only this time, the pirated version was up less than 4 hours after release. 4 hours! I was incensed. But after the 5th go round, I got tired and realized how much time I was taking from my writing to try to get the links killed, only to have them pop up again. I got so angry, I couldn’t focus on what I love to do: write books.

    I’m with you. Don’t tell me it’s to my benefit to have my books stolen. If you like my stories… BUY THEM! If you want me to write faster… BUY MY BOOKS! Why? Because if I made 50 cents from every illegal download , I could quit my RL job and write MORE BOOKS! Yes! 50 cents! There are THAT many illegal downloads. Many more than actual sales.

    Want to know what happens in book 3 of my series? You’d know a LOT faster if I didn’t have to support my writing with RL work because you’re stealing my books. You may not think your purchase makes a difference, but it really does. And really, isn’t what you want more of what we do (i.e. write books?).

  10. If it helps, I’ll be buying A CASE OF POSSESSION when it comes out – really looking forward to it!

    Your byline at the bottom about MAGPIE LORD being available from a wide selection of torrent sites made me snort – good one.

    Agree with nordicgirl that theft is theft – I can’t believe someone actually tried to justify pirating YOUR books to YOU. The cheek!


  11. I’ve given up trying to understand people who pirate and who (attempt to) justify it, and frankly Shira, I never quite realized the magnitude of it. So sorry for all of you authors – and by default, the conscientious readers – who suffer for it. Thanks KJ, for your lovely freebies. Me, I’ll continue to also buy the books I get ARCs of for review, as support of your talent and work, and stomp all over any pirate sites I may encounter. Pre-ordered and eagerly awaiting the release of A Case of Possession.

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