When I lived in Taipei in the early 1990s, my furnished apartment had a television monitor that didn’t receive any local channels. Limited to watching movies, I went down the street to my local video store (all VHS back then) and rented a few films. I was happily surprised by how quickly Taipei was getting the fairly recent films from the States — and I soon found out why. The video and sound quality was so poor the movies were hardly watchable … because they’d been pirated, of course. (Even if I hadn’t been against piracy for obvious reasons, the films were so hard to watch it just wasn’t worth it.)
This New York Times article presents the latest in acts of piracy — not in Asia but here. And not films but books.
It’s an interesting piece that shows why authors are paranoid about making their work available digitally — Ursula K. Le Guin talks about finding unauthorized digital copies of her books on Scribd. (Scribd says that it removes illegally posted content once the company is made aware of it, and it has even installed filters to identify copyrighted work.) But clearly LeGuin’s work made it through the filters, leaving authors to wonder whether they need to start devoting time to prowling through web sites looking for unauthorized copies of their work.
The publisher John Wiley & Sons employs three full-time staff members to do just that. The Times notes that most pirated content is already bestselling work, like the Harry Potter or Twilight series. Stephen King told the Times that, basically, he couldn’t be bothered trying to chase down the pirates: “My sense is that most of them live in basements floored with carpeting remnants, living on Funions and discount beer.”
While the piracy problem isn’t going away, digital publishing isn’t either. Because more readers are turning to the Kindle and Sony Reader, it makes sense to offer books in digital form (in fact, we’re in the process of preparing Forgetting English for its Kindle version even as I type this post). It makes especially good sense for writers who aren’t Stephen King, or J. K. Rowling, or Stephenie Meyer. As the novelist Cory Doctorow, who offers free electronic versions of his books on the same day they are published in hardcover, told the Times, “I really feel like my problem isn’t piracy. It’s obscurity.”