There’s a piece in today’s NY TIMES from the Authors Guild that discusses online piracy and how it affects authors. There’s a lot in there about how paywalls were responsible for a flourishing of creativity, and their main point stressed in the article on how making people pay for output is important for fostering creativity, which pirates circumvent.
Allow me to play pirate’s advocate…
Please note that I am not in any way advocating piratanical acts. There’s a lot of good reasons why piracy should not be resorted to, some of which are in line with the article’s points. All I’m doing here is providing a case of cause and effect, which some of the signatories on the piece may want to consider before taking drastic wrong-headed action.
Let’s consider the why of the situation, namely why there might be literary pirates out there. (And if there are, I’d like to see one; the idea that the written word would require the same level of interest to snatch and grab it the way video and music are these days amazes me a bit…)
Among the reasons a pirate might operate are:
- Greed: Always present, never appreciated; we cal all agree that that’s a bad reason for pirates to snatch and grab material from a creator
- Frustration with Distribution: Anytime a product is not getting to all of its potential audience, and can’t make it to them, demand breeds providers to fill that gap; with e-reader apps coming on line, this is less of an issue than it has been, a sign that the providers are starting to understand their audience and reacting in an appropriate manner
- Sense of Just Value: Anytime the supplier is affected with greed, the inverse of the first point above, there is a natural reaction by an audience that might have otherwise been unable to access the product to find ways to get it without meeting what they feel is an unfair price; the music business certainly suffered from this during the last few years, and if the publishing business doesn’t take a cold hard look at its practices they way well meet the same fate
All of these breed pirates, and have their solutions to keep pirates away. Solutions that are a lot better than advocating more heavy-handed legislation and enforcement, which if employed as advocated will more likely lead to further piracy.
Since the writers are apt to use historic simile (badly, as will be pointed out later), let me offer an alternative model: The mercantilist system employed by England in the colonies. The initial response to the heavy imposition to prevent trade from leaving the hands of the Crown was to resort to piracy, and her cousin smuggling. With greater imposition of regulation and enforcement, a new response came from the colonists: revolution. And lest it’s tough to see the connection, consider this: Involved in both phases of reaction to this was John Hancock, smuggler and patriot…
Putting aside our differences between the solution to the piracy issue. let’s consider what else was in the TIMES piece that was so grating:
- The attempt to tie the banning of theaters by the Commonwealth to their argument that closing off art behind a paywall is at best clumsy, if not downright disingenuous; there was a lot less commerce than faith involved in the decision, and bringing it up here is likely to remind people of how heavy handed responses to an issue are never popular
- Using an image of Shakespeare done up like Mickey Mouse, an icon belonging to Walt Disney, who were major supports of the Sony Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which probably inspired more pirates than deterred, may not have been a good choice
- Of all the people to cite as beneficiaries of paywalls and needing protection from pirates, they had to use Shakespeare, whom THR, Esq. reminds us had been accused of pirating the works of Christopher Marlowe and other contemporaries…
At the very least, the piece’s writers didn’t cite the lost play Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter…
* Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2