Books and poetry

Copyright theft – Robin Hood it ain’t

on 21 March 2012. Posted in Books and Poetry

Let’s not call it piracy, let’s call it what it is: theft - by Stella Duffy

Recently I noticed that a couple of my books are available on a downloading site. To obtain the book – that neither I nor my publishers will be paid for – someone needs to buy the equipment on which they will download. They need to pay the downloading site.

Apparently then, these pirates who like to see themselves as the Captain Jack Sparrow of the high seas (and seem rather more like modern-day pirate-thugs to me) have no problem paying Apple or Microsoft or Dell or whoever for the hardware.

They have no problem paying the site that is hosting the theft. The only person they mind paying is the originator of the work, the writer. So basically the only person these people hurt is the artist at the bottom of the heap – they’re fine with continuing to pay the man, but not the writer. Because after all, writers are paid so much. That Katie Price, that JK Rowling, they get millions in advances don’t they? So all writers must get millions, right?

Well I don’t. I’ve never had massive advances for my work, I’m proud of the fact that many of my books earned out their advances and I’ve earned royalties from them. I do not have a private income and earn my only income from my creative work. I’m proud that, having worked part-time since I was 15 and full time since I was 21, I earn my living from my creative work. I inherited debt when my father died and the grand sum of £1422 when my mother died (and had less than three weeks to clear her flat because it was an almshouse flat needed by another old lady) – there was no property to inherit, no car, no nothing. Just what my mother had saved from her pension because she wanted to leave us each (we’re a large family) a ‘little something’. And, of course, we wished she’d spent it on herself, the something that was really brilliant was a massive box of brilliant old photos and letters. Lovely stuff.

The point is, I do not come from money and I cannot afford to give it away. (And actually, even if I did, even if I was rolling in it, it would still be theft. No matter how rich an artist might be, to take their work without their permission, is always theft.)

When writers cannot earn from writing, we will quickly return to a time where the only writers are those with a private income or supported by a rich partner. The day of the gentleman/gentlewoman writer returns.

The really sad thing is that the pirate likes to think of him or herself as a rebel, taking from the man, undercutting the big boys, making all art free – in truth, they’re still paying the big old rich man on the hill for the hardware and the internet time – it’s only the little craftsperson they’re stealing from.Nice going guys, that’s the way to change the world.

Here’s publishing industry writer Danuta Kean saying the same thing, but with a much more business-like analysis!

Oh and this too from the Guardian last week Lloyd Shepherd and Mobolism. Loads of interesting comment discussion too.

A longer version of this article first appeared on Stella Duffy's blog.