July 12, 2012

Terry Goodkind and his sword of truth takes down a pirate


Like many publishing in the digital age, bestselling fantasy author Terry Goodkind has had his share of books stolen by online pirates. Recently, despite being sold for $9.99 in multiple formats, pirated editions of his latest title, the Sword of Truth, started appearing online. Call it the straw that broke the camel’s back. Goodkind decided to take matters into his own hands. He figured out who the pirate was and posted his name and photograph on Facebook and Twitter, effectively eviscerating the guilty party with a sort of real-time manifesto that very well may serve as a warning sign to other would-be pirates.

The Guardian reports:

Goodkind was outraged, and decided to name one of the pirates on his Facebook page, posting the perpetrator’s details – including a photo – and prompting an onslaught of online fury against him. “So Josh, how about it — no respect for a hard-working author and fellow racing enthusiast? Not even for someone that is emphatically trying to reach out to people that might consider pirating our hard work? Can’t be bothered to read and consider our note on piracy in the front of the book?” wrote Goodkind. “How ironic you claim to be a fan of books that uphold truth and honour above all else. We hope the price of fame is worth the cost of your infamy.”

Every publisher and author making work available in digital formats deals with online piracy. Melville House certainly comes across numerous offenders on a weekly basis, and, when we do, we send a cease and desist letter, which usually is effective and within a day or so we receive an email notifying us that the file has been removed. There’s a small sense of satisfaction when receiving these emails, but that feeling is nearly immediately lost when considering how many downloads typically occur before the file is actually removed. Put this way, it’s like catching the pirate after he’s already stolen your gold and passed it on to his fellow pirates, who, if the notion strikes them, can figure out altogether new ways to take advantage of the wealth. One quickly gets the sense that such policy is not sustainable from a time management perspective and, unfortunately, not much of a preventative measure.

An article in Daily Finance reminds us of the high costs of stolen books:

Lost book sales can’t be quantified, making it impossible to calculate the full cost of e-piracy, but the sheer number of illegal copies available for download gives an idea of the scope of the problem. At one file-sharing website, users have uploaded 1,830 copies of three books by a popular young adult author. Just one of those copies has had 4,208 downloads. On the same site, 7,130 copies of the late Michael Crichton’s novels have been uploaded, and the first 10 copies have been downloaded 15,174 times.

Even if only a fraction of the downloads from this and dozens of other file-sharing websites represent actual lost sales, they still translate into a staggering amount of royalties that have been stolen from authors.

There’s another cost to authors besides lost royalties: time. Many file-sharing websites will remove unauthorized material, but only at the instigation of the copyright holder. Multiple copies require multiple takedown requests. And, even after an illegal copy of an author’s work has been removed, the book is often simply reposted by another user.

Clearly this subject’s been mulled over for many moons now (see MobyLives reports here, here, and here) and a concrete resolution remains elusive. But maybe Goodkind’s actions will have some kind of social media trickle down effect, thereby shaming would-be piraters out of business. After all, as Goodkind says,

“We feel we’ve accomplished what we set out to do here. We exposed someone that claimed to be a fan, a reader of books, had accessibility to the books, had every incentive to purchase and support them, but instead chose not only to disregard the work, the values within it, and our own personal pleas. In being transparent with everyone here about what it has taken to get this book delivered to readers and to enable this story to be told, piracy is an inevitable chapter of that tale still being written. [Josh] Press went to great lengths to make sure we heard his voice and saw his efforts, thus he has been introduced into the story here.”

What do you think, is the threat of being forced to walk the plank enough to prevent book piracy?


Kevin Murphy is the digital media marketing manager of Melville House.