piracyClaire Ryan of The Raynfall Agency posted a pretty good article today on piracy; it includes the agency’s thoughts about what authors need to know, along with some practical tips for avoiding piracy of their works.

Ryan didn’t cover anything new, but she did discuss the basics. I agree with most of what she wrote, but I think she weakened her argument right at the end.

Removing DRM and making books available in all territories? That’s excellent advice. Readers are far less likely to pirate if they can get your books in the format they like. And if the book is free of DRM, readers can buy where they want, and they can read on any/all current and future devices. Good stuff there.

Many authors, however, will disagree with the sections of the article that suggest piracy isn’t something to worry about, because it doesn’t actually lead to huge sales hits. While I basically agree with that premise, I would’ve preferred that assertion to have been backed up with some statistics—or at least author anecdotes. If I hadn’t been watching this issue for years, I’m not sure I would have bought that argument.

Where I think authors will stop reading in disgust is at the end, when Ryan tackles piracy in terms of “theft.” She state definitely that book piracy isn’t theft—and she’s absolutely correct, in an intellectual sense. From Wikipedia:

“interference with copyright does not easily equate with theft, conversion, or fraud. The Copyright Act even employs a separate term of art to define one who misappropriates a copyright: ‘[…] an infringer of the copyright.'” The court said that in the case of copyright infringement, the province guaranteed to the copyright holder by copyright law—certain exclusive rights—is invaded, but no control, physical or otherwise, is taken over the copyright, nor is the copyright holder wholly deprived of using the copyrighted work or exercising the exclusive rights held.”

So no, piracy isn’t theft, according to the strict definition of the term. But I know authors regard it as such when they envision sales they didn’t get going up in a torrent bonfire.

You see, there’s no calm and unemotional way to talk about piracy. It generates strong emotions on both sides. It is a useful discussion, and obviously it needs to be addressed over and over again, since we authors tend to get understandably touchy about the subject. (It is a perceived threat to our livelihood, after all.)

Which will almost surely make the Raynfall Agency’s last point particularly difficult to swallow for many authors:

“Whether it’s bad is debatable, and whether it’s good is hard to quantify, but fighting against it is probably not worth your time. The best strategy, if indeed it’s possible to have a strategy at all with regard to piracy, is to ignore it.”

Kind of a tough way to end the article, especially when they started out so well, with practical strategies for reducing book piracy.

See how tough an issue it is? Even well-written articles miss the point in the end.


  1. Considering that she recommended making the books available worldwide and without DRM, I think her last comment simply meant not to waste time trying to prevent the unpreventable by using DRM or otherwise harming your readers and your sales. I personally don’t sit up at night worrying about piracy — after making my books available DRM-free at low prices in multiple formats at multiple outlets worldwide (thus making it as easy as possible for paying customers to get them legally and inexpensively), I don’t worry about piracy and pretty much ignore it. Do I like or appreciate the idea? No. But I see no point in checking torrent sites or wasting time worrying about it — it’s much more productive for authors to work on their next book.

  2. David’s got it right. I’m afraid having a technical background probably gives me a different perspective on piracy than other authors.

    Part of my point was that making piracy into an emotional argument isn’t going to help. It’s actually damaging to a discussion if one side can’t get past the emotional aspects of what is essentially a business problem. Okay, it’s not easy, but business ain’t all sunshine and bunnies. Best to learn how to deal with it dispassionately as soon as possible.

    That said – yeah, I should have cited sources. Sorry. I had to decide how in-depth I should go with it, and how much info I should add in or leave out. Kind of a tricky balance.

  3. She doesn’t misses the point in my opinion. Although her last sentence could have been written better. Her point is that you shouldn’t focus on piracy in terms of trying to fight it and spending money on it by doing so, but to put all your energy in stuff that does matter. And that’s the best thing you could do. But if your an author, and you’re willing (and that might very well be unconsiously) to read it in terms of fear, you can read it as accepting piracy as a fact and there isn’t much you can do about it. And that’s where I do agree with you saying she misses the point.

    Because you can do something about it, and that is putting all your effords in creating a legal alternative that is better than the illegal one. How to do that? Make all your titles digitally available, for good prices (in the consumer’s point of view), without any hassle (no DRM, readable on the device of your choice) and at any time. And that’s where the bookworld has to take a good look at the Spotify’s and Netflix’ of this world… They have already proven to be a good answer to piracy.

  4. @Claire, thanks for your comments. Much appreciated!

    In my own defense, the story wasn’t run with my original title, which did not say the article “missed the point.” The original title was “The Ryanfall Agency on Piracy.”

    And in re-reading my own story, I think I was too harsh is saying “authors would stop reading in disgust” at the theft argument. And I probably should have left off the last line. I weakened my own argument at the end. Mea culpa.

  5. However, we should certainly understand authors who do get vexed over this when the big player role models, MPAA in particular, engage in bouts of hysterical moral suasion that you cannot skip as you try to watch a movie on DVD or BlueRay disk. Every disk, every time.

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