Monday, 30 May 2011

It’s a question of morality, innit?

I don’t ever say much about things connected with morality in these scribblings. That’s partly because I assume my point of view is that of most normal people – try not to hurt others, don’t steal stuff or kill people, deal with folk the way you’d like them to deal with you. It’s also because, since I don’t want Jehovah’s Witnesses et al lecturing me about how to live my life, I know that they’d feel the same about me if I knocked on their door and advocated fornication, adultery, excessive consumption of alcohol, and various unspecified activities relating to small animals, pieces of latex and a bowl of fruit.

So, the Google alert I got yesterday giving me a link to a Chinese site where I could download The Figurehead by Bill Kirton completely free posed a problem. How should I react to it? Should I be flattered that I’m such an important figure in world literature that pirates are taking the trouble to rip off my wisdom and make it accessible to a larger audience? Should I be upset at the knowledge that, if it weren’t for these pirates, I’d be earning even more than the millions of pounds I already receive for my books? Should I forward the link to people I don’t like in the hope that they will try to download the book and, when it arrives, it will bring with it viruses, Trojans and all those other things which will turn their computers into dire reminders of the retribution that results from acts of gross immorality?

In the end, the answer was – none of the above. I have no idea how great or grave a problem the practice is. I’d prefer it not to be happening – not just to me but to all writers or other artists or any holders of intellectual properties – but I can’t, in all honesty, start pontificating about it, because it’s what people do. If you’ve never copied a track from a friend’s CD or borrowed another friend’s book or photocopied a useful (copyrighted) article or watched a DVD hired by a friend or downloaded music from a freebie site … well, you get my gist. I’m not advocating or excusing any of that, but it happens. And just because it’s now happened to me it would be hypocritical of me to demand a change in the law.

It’s how capitalism works – or is that too simplistic? (Answers on a postcard to anywhere but here please.) Oh, and if you haven’t already done so, you can do your bit to uphold decent human values and beat piracy by buying The Figurehead. You don’t have to read it but the act itself will make you feel incredibly righteous.


  1. The downside to all this wonderful modern electronic literature, is of course there is some 14-year-old in Indonesia who will eventually break the copy protection.

    Hopefully it won't happen a lot, and the vast majority of folks will be willing to shell out a couple of quid to buy the legitimate copies of your work.

    The industry is struggling with this problem, and will continue to do so until international law catches up with the modern era.

    Bill--if it makes you feel better, I've purchased most of your stories at full price (I think I used a download code from Diane only once)...well worth it.

  2. Thank you Richard. You are clearly a man of outstanding moral fibre and impeccably good taste.

  3. Opinions are split on this issue, Bill. Neil Gaiman (yes, him) has opined that the fact that he has had so many books e-stolen (I just made that up, on the spot like)has helped him make more sales.

    Other writers talk about writing friends who were dropped by their publishers because so many books were being e-stolen and not nearly enough were being sold.

    Bottom line is if people are given the chance to get something for nothing they'll take it. We need to educate them that this is in fact theft.

  4. Agreed Michael. I know I always say I'm more interested in readers than in money (and that's true) but that's not the way the world works, is it? I need my Château-bottled Médoc and St-Emilion. I can't do without my regular supply of Tajarini al tartufo. Then there's the Mercedes, the BMW ...

  5. RBWood, I'm afraid you are too optimistic. The problems in the music industry are a clear example, cd sales has dropped significantly. Software piracy, same problem.
    Why would it be different with e-books? It's what Michael says, if people get used to e-books available for free, they assume it's their right to just take them. I've had many discussions with people about copyrights, it keeps surprising me that people don't consider it to be theft if it's available online, while they would never walk into a shop and put a cd or book under their coat and leave without paying.
    So, I don't have high hopes for education. Just stick with books made of dead trees and ink.