By Wallace Kantai
If you’ve ever tried to compose a Facebook post that’s longer than a paragraph, you know how difficult, frustrating and annoying the writing process can be. You write and re-write, hunting for just the right word and phrase to perfectly capture your sentiment. You know the reward that comes with hitting the post button, and the pleasure (and dismay) when the public (or just your friends) reads your post and comments on it, and shares it. And this is for a platform that is designed to be ephemeral, with thoughts rarely lasting in the consciousness for more than a day.
Multiply that a thousand-fold – hell, a million-fold – to realise what it takes to write a book. Include in that the fraught interactions with publishers and editors, cantankerous booksellers, and a skeptical public. Include in that the need to do research and very rigorous fact checking. Include in that the need to ensure that the book is interesting enough, timely enough, properly priced and distributed, to attract people who are willing to pay for it. Then imagine someone blithely passing all your effort around in an electronic version, for free. As I said before, it’s simply theft. Let’s not gloss over it and give it nice names and use technology as an excuse.
I’ve received numerous arguments on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter in response to my earlier post. Let’s dismantle each of these arguments in turn.
Is publishing an industry in need of reform and a better business model? Of course. But that doesn’t negate the fact that in the here-and-now, writers, editors and publishers need to get paid for their intellectual efforts. I worked as a journalist for many years. Were we supposed to receive our salaries in ‘likes’ and acclamation? How was the media company supposed to pay for the effort to create the products of that journalism that you all wanted to distribute for free?
If you have a business model that has worked for you that involves the free distribution of intellectual property, that doesn’t take away the rights of others. There are farmers who would stand at the farm gate and give their produce away for free. They may have a ‘better business model’ involving charging for farm tours. It doesn’t take away the rights of the farmers who want to be paid in cash for their produce.
Of course technology enables the distribution of electronic works – books, music, movies and the like. But we have technology thousands of years old known as the lock. If your neighbour, for whatever reason, leaves her door unlocked, would you walk into her house and take her television set, because the technology enabled you to do so? If thugs walked into her house, took her television set and handed it over to you, would you take it because, after all, you were not the person who took it in the first place, and the technology enabled you to receive it?
Someone else said that publishers want their books distributed (to beat supposed injunctions, or to gain wider readership). I have heard of those, but am yet to encounter them in the wild. If a publisher distributes a book to a reviewer, or a regulator, or as a sample to bookshops, that copy is not meant to be distributed any wider.
People can try and put lipstick on a pig, but passing around electronic copies of books, or watching pirated movies and television series, or listening to pirated music, is simply theft.
Intellectualise it all you want, but here is a far simpler thing you can do: go to your boss next week. Tell them that you’ve decided your work is for the greater good of mankind and that you don’t want a salary for January. If you’re in business, open your shop and ask people to come in and take your merchandise for free. After all, the technology enables it.