Neil Gaiman on Copyright Piracy and the Web

From Comics Alliance:

Gaiman explains it this way:

“You’re not losing sales by getting stuff out there. When I do a big talk now on these kinds of subjects and people ask “What about the sales you are losing by having stuff floating out there?” I started asking the audience to raise their hands for one question — Do you have a favorite author? And they say yes and I say good. What I want is for everybody who discovered their favorite author by being lent a book put up your hand. Then anybody who discovered their favorite author by walking into a book story and buying a book. And it’s probably about 5-10%, if that, of the people who discovered their favorite author who is the person they buy everything of and they buy the hardbacks. And they treasure the fact they’ve got this author. Very few of them bought the book. They were lent it. They were given it. They did not pay for it. That’s how they found their favorite author. And that’s really all this is; it’s people lending books.”


  1. P2P software proliferates, and within 10 years the entire world economy teeters on the brink of collapse. Coincidence?

    Open your eyes, people. “Mortgage Backed Securities” and “Credit Default Swaps” are clearly made up terms intended to cover up the fact that the true cause of our economic woes are the trillions of dollars that the publishers should have made but didn’t because of thieves like Neil Gaiman.

  2. Same thing with music. My son first heard his current favourite band on a CD he was lent. We have since purchased their complete works. If he hadn’t been lent that CD I doubt be would now be into them at all.

  3. Er – I think he’s wrong on a number of levels.

    First, I don’t think piracy can be compared to lending a book. Why not? Because presumably the person who was lent a book went on to buy books by that author. With internet piracy, on the other hand, there’s no need to ever buy anything because everything is there. Under a piracy system, people could theoretically never buy anything from any of their favorite authors.

    There’s also the fact that the book situation doesn’t translate to other digital media. People still like reading physical books, rather than reading them on a computer screen. On the other hand, the “native” format for movies, music, and software is now digital. There’s not much reason to get them in physical form. Personally, my CD buying has dropped off a cliff and I buy all my music through iTunes now. This puts books at an advantage on the issue of piracy. I know people who look at you like you’re crazy when you buy anything digital. They argue, ‘why would you throw your money away buying stuff when you can get it all online for free???’ Some of these people have money, by the way. It’s not like they’re poor.

    There’s a number of other problems making the comparison between lending a book versus making infinite copies via a massive global network.

  4. @ B; e-book sales on Amazon have overtaken hard copies. Therefore, your assertion that “the book situation doesn’t translate to other digital media” due to the assumption that “(P)eople still like reading physical books, rather than reading them on a computer screen” is false.

    Besides, copying something is not theft.

    1. @Michael: “e-book sales on Amazon have overtaken hard copies.”

      Yes, thanks to the increasing usefulness and availability of ereaders. There’s still a big problem with comparing books to other digital media: most people still don’t have ereaders. This is slowly changing, of course. We’ll see where things are in another ten years.

      I know that if piracy were legal, I would most certainly not pay for another piece of software. Why should I? Yet, I’ve spent thousands of dollars on software in the past ten years. If we treat piracy like book lending then the software industry is screwed unless they’re putting stuff behind paywalls or find some unbreakable DRM.

      More and more I feel like my payment to software, music, and movies have the bad side-effect of keeping companies in business so pirates can get free stuff. Sorry, I don’t like pirates riding my coat tails – benefiting from my payments. In some ways, I sort of wish the industries would collapse so pirates could finally face-up to the fact that they are damaging creators and face the pain of not having anyone creating any good movies, music, or software.

      > Besides, copying something is not theft.

      Yeah, if no creators got paid for any of their work, that’s perfectly okay and you shouldn’t feel guilty about contributing to the demise of the people who create the stuff you want made, even though it’s you who gets harmed by your own short-sighted behavior.

      1. Your criticisms are valid to a degree, but the industry’s solution of protecting everything up the wazoo is counterproductive: all DRM is breakable, and piracy is unpreventable through such means (if necessary pirates can just do their own scans) – plus DRM seriously devalues the product bought. Other solutions need to be found (I think a combination of improved access plus lower prices plus a moral pressure, ideally plus some kind of added value for purchased ebooks).

        Your description of ppl who never pay for anything rings true – but there are tons of ppl who swear equally by library borrowing only, or second-hand books, etc. Such people are equally guilty of failing to support the industry…

  5. @B; you shift the goal posts and make broad assumptions.
    So I’ll skip the first part and jump in on this:
    >> Besides, copying something is not theft.
    >Yeah, if no creators got paid for any of their work, that’s perfectly okay and you shouldn’t feel guilty about contributing to the demise of the people who create the stuff you want >made, even though it’s you who gets harmed by your own short-sighted behavior.
    If you pass messages in morse code between yourself and a neighbor by interrupting a stream of urine, and someone in between happens to figure out the meaning from the tinkling, the listener commits no theft. No matter if you are splashing “potentially valuable information”, or even “actually valuable information” on your lawn, that still does not affect the fact that a listener, no matter how unauthorised, has performed no criminal action. Even though you might be splashing in code and the man in the middle has perhaps “broken the code” the man in the middle has committed no theft. He cannot, as no theft has occured. You chose to broadcast your information – what those splashed upon do with it is no longer your business. You are choosing to broadcast your information. Theft requires the thief to intentionally deprive an owner of something valuable.  The owner of the material is deprived of nothing (the potential sale of material by anyone has no value at all, only actual and contracted sales have value). So – no theft can occur at all.
    I would argue that the current media and distribution arrangements harm ‘creators’ more than trading. See, for example, A music industry case study:

    There are a number of approaches that could be taken. One approach – to my mind the most desirable – would be to use this as a platform to “fix the system.” Certainly the current situation precludes the deployment of most of the following potential “fixes” and as we have seen threatens an ever escalating “war on users.”
    We know that the average consumer spends $120/year on media. So one self evident solution would be a small levy (I suggest $2/month for a DSL/Cable user – equivalent to double the average media spending) based on bandwidth available being assessed on all Internet connections (and potentially disk burners or blank media), to be paid on a pro rata basis (popularity) to copyright holders – and simply making trading (and disk burning) legal. While this is still “unfair” in the sense that some people will be paying for, but not using this potential, the simplicity of such a scheme makes it socially beneficial – and would raise more for copyright owners than the current media distribution channels.
    Another approach would be to establish an “honor” system. Where a user could pay a small fee – perhaps 20% of the cost of the media through conventional channels for a complete copy or a pro rata rate for partial copies – directly to a trust established in favor of the artists. I suspect that such a system would be widely used (and would again benefit artists far more effectively than the current situation). Such a system could be established independently of the media companies – and would provide a very effective defense against charges of “theft”.
    Yet another approach would be to mandate such a system, where a “legal” (and high quality) download would be available to anyone paying an appropriate fee – and possibly an even smaller fee allowing pay per use. Such a system could be trivially implemented by means of a “license to use” based on existing public key technology. If this were implemented by government (e.g. Library of Congress), then unlike the disasters being dreamed up by the media companies (and juggernauts like Microsoft) this need not mean attempting to block fair use, as the file need not be locked away behind mandated protection systems.
    There are many other potential fixes (and bypasses) which permit the exercise of rights without shortchanging artists. Some appear to have potential commercial value – or although non-commercial, may be legitimate “work-arounds” to the existing minefields.
    B, I suggest that the stench of urine spattered sidewalks would be sweeter than what you have suggested (making criminals). By far.
    PS. I am a musician who runs a micro label.

    1. > “If you pass messages in morse code between yourself and a neighbor by interrupting a stream of urine, and someone in…”

      There is a system in place to allow creators to make money from their work despite the fact that “information” is easily copyable. I also disagree with the word “information” because it’s overly broad. What we’re really talking about is entertainment. Further, I think there’s a difference between trivial “information” and information/entertainment that takes significant effort to create. For example, I’ve spent years and years writing software. I also run a blog and give away some of my tools. The catch here is that there’s certain stuff I do that I don’t care if people copy, but there’s also stuff that I need to make money on. I want to restrict access to that stuff, but don’t care about the smaller stuff.

      > “The owner of the material is deprived of nothing (the potential sale of material by anyone has no value at all, only actual and contracted sales have value). So – no theft can occur at all.”

      It seems to me that you can’t argue against for-profit piracy with that argument. Do you believe that Walmart should be allowed to print-up all the books they sell without paying the author a dime? Should Amazon be allowed to do the same? Should netflicks be allowed to burn their own copies of movies without paying anyone anything? Should movie theatres be allowed to show anything they want without paying the movie-company, meanwhile making money charging for tickets? It seems to me that all those cases fall into the “potential sales” category just as much as not-for-profit piracy. Thus, you should approve of all of those situations.

      As far as piracy helping people find you: I had DRM on my software. It remained intact for 10 months before being cracked. I noticed a huge influx in the number of people watching promotional videos. My view-counts increased by 3-fold in about a week. A lot of people pirated copies of the software. That might be useful exposure, although I have doubts that it translates to sales in most cases. (Much of this has to do with the attitudes of pirates towards paying.) However, I also noticed no increase in sales whatsoever. In fact, there was a slight decline that month and the month following. Now, I don’t really think piracy helped or hurt me. But, I do think it’s instructive that there wasn’t any increase in sales despite something like a 3-fold increase in video views. I’ve heard the same from other software developers (lookup “tap fu”, a game for the iPhone). He had a similar experience: lots of pirates, he could track which iphones had pirated versions based on their serial number, and not a single extra sale. What this says to me is that pirates rarely ever pay. (Though, there may be opportunities when offering premium signed copies of stuff or concerts or something, though that doesn’t work well for small software companies.) I think the more people convert from paying-customer to pirate the worse off the industry will be. I know a few pirates who will berate people who pay for stuff – attacking them for “stupidly” paying for stuff they could get for free on the internet.

      > “Another approach would be to establish an “honor” system. Where a user could pay a small fee .. directly to a trust established in favor of the artists.”
      I’m not sure what problem you’re trying to solve. Are you thinking specifically of record deals where artists get paid a small percentage of sales? I work in software. Depending on the distributor, we get a decent percentage of sales. Big-Box stores are the worst. They take half of the money you spend as profit. The rest goes to the publisher and developer (mostly to the publisher). But, places like the iPhone App store pay 70% to the developer (there’s typically no publisher), and Steam pays something like 60% to 70% to the developer/publisher (I’ve heard). That isn’t to say it’s easy money. It takes a lot of time/money to create software and you have to get a lot of sales to earn a decent wage.

      I should also say that I don’t necessarily dislike the labels for taking large percentage of sales revenue — as long as money is going into promotion, and also taking into account that most signed-bands aren’t successful (so they’re a loss for the labels). I’d have to take a close look at their books to make a judgment about that. So, I don’t necessarily think bypassing the labels and paying the artist a small amount is necessarily a solution. (Although, if direct distribution over the internet from band to fan with no label involved works, that’s great. I hope that model works.)

  6. Confession: I put a Neil Gaiman poem on my blog. The reason? Because I read it and enjoyed it and admired the writer’s work. I put it there so other people might sample his work, and, like me, go on to want to read more. Yes, I went out to a bookshop, where I passed over real money, and left with a real, genuine paper book, a thing of many pages, to be read and re-read, kept for years, lent to friends.
    I’ve got a lot of records. real old vinyl things. When I was a student, quite a lot of years ago, it was normal to borrow records and tape them onto cassettes. That was in the 1970s, when the record industry was up in arms about the availability of blank tapes and the electronics industry selling equipment with the ability to record from vinyl records. “Home-Taping is Killing Music!”, their posters and advertisemens said.

    So. According to the record industry, bands, new talent, tours, none of these would survive after the seventies, there’d be no money whatsoever in music.
    Look at your Ipod, your hard drives, look at all the people you see with earbuds.
    Was it true then?
    Is it true now?
    There’s no money in the music business any more?

    I think the cries by some publishers will prove just as false in the literary trade.
    (I buy, on average, five or six new books every week. And yes, before you ask, i am a very fast reader.)

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