There’s a saying in the music business that goes something like this: If you’re not getting bootlegged, you’re not happening. So I guess it’s flattering, in a backhanded kind of way, to find “Losering” in places I’d rather not see it. Pretty much every time I take a spin through the worldwide web to see if my book has turned up anyplace new, I’ll find links to where it can be downloaded for free. Stolen, in other words; the work of pirates. Arrrrrr! No, I’m not going to link to any of them here because they’re easy enough to find and I’d rather you didn’t.
So yesterday, I happened onto one where “Losering” is being offered as a “Free eBook Download.” Between the picture of the cover, publisher’s summary and ISBN serial number, you’d figure this is authorized and legit if you didn’t know any better. It’s anything but. Because while the content (my book) is free, the Usenet account needed to download it is not. Nice setup, eh?
I forwarded the link along to University of Texas Press and heard back from rights manager Laura Young Bost, who spends a great deal of time battling this kind of piracy without much success, and it went the way these things usually do. Laura sent a take-down notice to the site’s operators, who proceeded to pass the buck. They refused to do anything because, Laura said, “the file is not hosted on their site; they only link to the illegal file.” Truly, plausible deniability is not confined to politics. Laura went on to write about the frustrations of seeing UT Press titles in places like this:
This is truly like Whack-a-mole; if we get ebooks taken down one place, they immediately pop up elsewhere. We actually found a couple of books in the past two weeks where pirates had hijacked legitimate websites (one was a carpet company), which went up and down, and they moved on to hijack other legitimate websites before we could even act. I am not trying to make light of this — it is piracy out and out. I wish I could tell you that we can successfully combat it, but unfortunately that is not the reality of the situation. My fondest wish is that everyone who downloads an illegal ebook gets a virus with it.
Amen to that sentiment. Yes, I know this is the modern age, and I’m familiar with all the arguments about how information “wants to be free,” everyone needs to grow up and join the 21st century and so on. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. Not that I wrote this book expecting it would amount to any sort of windfall. Writing is like making music — don’t do either expecting it to be lucrative because the odds of significant payoff are about the same as winning the lottery.
Still, it’s a drag to see anonymous people brazenly offering up one’s work as bait for their download service, just cuz they can. David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker triggered a huge debate last year with this essay, which elegantly lays out the creator’s viewpoint from the musician’s side (Lowery also had some interesting things to say about the aftermath when I interviewed him back in January — see the last two paragraphs here). Or as Gillian Welch put it in a very prescient song back in 2001:
Everything is free now
That’s what they say
Everything I ever done
Gotta give it away.
Someone hit the big score
They figured it out
That we’re gonna do it anyway
Even if it doesn’t pay.
No, it doesn’t really do you any good to speak up about these things. And yet I can’t keep my mouth shut. For reasons unknown, the aforementioned pirate site actually has a “comments” section. Even though I knew it would be an exercise in futility, I entered the rather pointed comment below. You’ll notice that it’s flagged as “awaiting moderation,” meaning it has yet to be posted where others can see it. But I’m sure they’ll be letting that one through any time now, right? Riiiiiiiiight.