23 October 2009

the Amazon Kindle "piracy" problem...

Several days ago, Shayna Englin was quoted in the press, describing how she and several friends exploit the Kindle to share their e-books. Sadly, she has closed comments on her rebuttal. I can appreciate her need to turn her blog back to its intended purpose, her business, but some things need to be said on this subject...publicly, so people understand why authors and publishers react as we do...and why we feel Amazon is faulting on established practices.

Let me put it to you another way. Shayna and her friends have found a loophole in Amazon’s system that the authors were not aware existed. Are some angry at her and her friends? Sure. But more, we’re angry at Amazon.

Why? Because it was introduced to US (the authors and publishers) that it was to allow one person to share the book on devices they owned…to allow husband and wife, mother and daughter, two sisters or two best friends (hey, I’ll go that far) perhaps to share books. Not six unrelated friends to do it.

There is an established way to lend e-books, and Amazon breached it. Look at B&N, and you’ll see the RIGHT way. You get the publishers to opt in. You have a limited number of shares…okay, Amazon did that right, I believe, though their comment of "usually" six does not inspire confidence. You have a limited number of TIME on shares; I’ve heard 2-3 weeks batted around for most systems, with one person using it at a time and/or only the total of 12-18 weeks (6X2 or 6X3) of sharing allowed on a book EVER, allowing for two times on a single person, and you lose a share that way to someone else. Amazon has defaulted on this by leaving publishers and authors COMPLETELY out of the loop and misrepresenting to us how this would be handled and used.

Did it floor some authors to learn it was being used this way? Of course. Because it’s common sense to us that you don’t do this without publisher approval. Yet again, Amazon has jumped into an established game and screwed up the works, confusing the issues. But Amazon seems to excel at that.

Simply put, Amazon needs to do what B&N is doing…and do it fast. They’ve lost about a thousand points in my book in the last few days and swung my opinion to being fully in B&N's corner, at least until Amazon handles this to the satisfaction of the authors and publishers.

Is sharing a print book different than “sharing” an e-book? Yes. It is. Sorry to burst the tender bubbles of some people in here, but it is. e-Books are software…a book but not in a solid form that will eventually fall apart. Paper books don’t last decades, as they did when they were made a century ago. Planned obsolescence is the name of the game these days. There is no wear and tear on e-books. They don’t wear out…ever, because there’s such a thing as backward compatibility. But, back to the meat of the subject.

Valid e-book lending, as a result, has limitations set on it. DRM to make them only good for a certain length of time and number of lends, for instance. Someone MIGHT say that the DRM in question makes it allowable, if it was legalized into X time and Y number of lends, to lend them without publisher approval. I’d be WITH them, if such a law existed, but it doesn’t.

Right now, we’re dealing with copyright law, which says NO unauthorized copies of the book made and distribution. And we’re dealing with DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act), which covers all electronic media, including e-books. Kindle’s method of “sharing” doesn’t break copyright, per se, IF only one of the six can use it at a time, like passing a paper book hand to hand. If more can, it breaks it, right there, because they don’t have the author’s and publisher’s permission to make those copies (more than one person holding and reading the book at a time) without paying royalties for them. Simple, elegant, but as I said, Amazon rarely thinks these things through, from what I’ve seen.

The other types of piracy noted in replies on her blog are not legal, because they are creating and distributing (illegally) multiple copies of the book. It’s not LESS illegal to make copies of an e-book and hand them out than it is to slit the cover of a paper book, make OCR scans of it to make an e-book, and then pirate that as an e-book, which has happened to many print-only books, like Harry Potter. Or to use a Xerox to make paper copies of an entire book and hand it out, which most people DO know is illegal…and impractical. Hurray for innovations that make copyright infringement easier. Tongue in cheek…firmly.

I have nothing against someone who is (for instance) vision impaired OCR scanning a paper book to have ReadPlease or Adobe read the book to her. That’s use of the book you purchased (used or new) for your own purposes. A-okay, in my book, though Author’s Guild would have a heart attack to hear me say that, I’m sure. There are legitimate uses to the hardware in question, but pirating books isn’t one of them.

Neither do I have an issue with one person sharing an e-book with A friend (singular). Never did. More than two starts to fray at my nerves, especially if I find they are both/all keeping copies of the book. A lot of people really don’t know this is wrong, and I try to educate them about it. It’s the big pirate sites that are the bane of my existence. Not these piddling little sister/sister shares.

So, is piracy worse than UBS (used book stores)? YES! Both legally and from the standpoint of sales numbers for the authors. Legally, I’ve covered. Realistically…the entire paper books eventually wear out thing…I’ve covered, not to mention that even UBS can only sell one copy at a time of a book, whereas pirates can give away thousands of copies at a time of the single purchased book. I’ve found 800 entries for my books at a single pirate site, and I find dozens of sites every year. Taking them down can be, if you let it, a full time job.

Maybe it’s not a big deal to a bestseller in NY, who will pre-sell 100,000 or more of the newest book in print form alone and sell that much or more in the first few weeks out for sale, but to the indie/es and the midlist in NY…yes, it’s a plague that will discourage authors, will waste a heck of a lot of our writing time, will adversely affect our royalty checks, and will (in many cases) keep a NY author from getting offered another contract, because the sales aren’t up to snuff on the one being pirated.

A plague? That’s not an exaggeration. There is no such thing as a book that cannot be pirated. There is no DRM that cannot be broken. There is no way to make a paper book that cannot be scanned. All we can do is be enough of a pain in the backside to pirate sites that we slow them down.


RowenaBCherry said...

Excellent blog, Brenna, and thanks so much for all the great advice you gave last night on The Sweetest Romance chat.

Carly Carson said...

I agree with you Brenna, and I think folks should be aware of the business perspective and why Amazon would do this. They want to get Kindle in as many hands as possible, as quickly as possible. Naturally, they do not want to give away THEIR product. But if they can give away the writer's product, a half dozen here, a half dozen there, it might add up to more sales. A person might say, well I can get all these "free" books, with a clear conscience, (emphasis on that phrase) if only I have a Kindle. Would we all have more sales if we could throw in a free Kindle? I think so. And Amazon knows they'll get more Kindle sales if they can throw in a lot of free books.

BrennaLyons said...

Oh, Carly!

I completely understand their mindset, but as I've postulated many times, B&N is doing it right, and Amazon is doing it wrong. I have nothing against giving away someone else's product, IF you have permission of the other party to do so. B&N is seeking that. KUDOS to B&N. Amazon bypassed us and misrepresented how this would be used. Bad Amazon! Yes, tongue in cheek. Until Amazon resolves this, B&N has my FULL support for doing it the right way.


BrennaLyons said...

Thanks, Rowena! I was honored to help out.

I'll be posting my updated Piracy Primer this afternoon, on my site. Authors and publishers interested can find it on the main page, past my gateway, at brennalyons.com


BrennaLyons said...

I just want to share something I worked out one day...a demonstration of what happens with rampant sharing. Let's not even discuss the pirates who share thousands of books, for a moment. Let us discuss, instead, the incidental sharing, if left unchecked.

Let's say that person A purchases the book and decides to give a copy to two friends. Even if person A tries to be responsible and deletes all copies of the book from her hard drive, e-mail files, temp files, backups...and she didn't purchase it in such a way that she has a bookshelf she cannot delete the book from...yeah, figuring the odds that anyone goes that far, but...beyond that. Well, she's already blown it by sending the book to two friends, but I'll ignore that as incidental sharing. It doesn't do to sweat the small stuff, after all, when the real pirates are killing us.

Or are they the only ones killing us? Say those two friends don't KNOW they shouldn't do the same (there is a reason we educate so much, and person A LIKELY didn't go into that in detail...see it all the time, actually), and they decide it MUST be okay to pass it along to friends, since person A wouldn't do something wrong. She's a nice person... And she probably is, but she's probably also shortsighted in how she approaches sharing books, because it simply slips her mind.

Taking into account that some will try to delete their copies when they pass it to an unspecified number of friends or won't read it and pass it along, at all, I'll say it's fair to say we're creating two more copies per person along the way, in an unchecked system. IOW, when B and C pass it along, there are the two they got PLUS two more each, for a total of 6.

By the sixth pass-along, there are more than 100 copies (126, to be precise) of the single purchased copy of the book. By the eighth pass-along, there are 510. By the ninth, there are 1022. By the thirteenth, there are 16,382. None of which the author sees a red cent on; she was only paid for one copy, after all.

Even if you want to build in attrition that 25% won't pass the book along (and I thought I was being generous enough just assuming only two passes at each level), at all... You're still looking at 95 copies by the sixth pass, 383 by the eighth, 767 by the ninth, and 12,287 by the thirteenth.

You see how it can snowball? And that's not even counting the one who sends it to her entire MySpace friend list or posts it on a pirate site. I've completely ignored that possibility in this model. Once it's there, a single book can download thousands of copies in HOURS, without more than one pass from hand to other hands. No middle men.

Do I have a problem with that first share of a book to two friends? NO! What I have a problem with is what happens next, because (more often than not), this is precisely what the ones who DON'T know better end up telling me happened. A friend passed it to them and didn't know herself or didn't bother to tell person B what the rules were.

Instead of screaming about how we don't trust readers (because I do trust most readers MEAN well, even if they fault in execution), perhaps more readers should sign the petition and take the pledge not to pirate and should help authors educate people about incidental sharing between two friends vs. the type of unchecked sharing that drives authors and publishers out of the business.


Rowena Cherry said...

I heard on another loop that the publishers had no idea Amazon would permit sharing of ebooks.

I also heard that the critical number is not 6 but 10.

So, Amazon tells me "We only sold 7 copies of your e-book." Maybe I receive less than $1 for each of those 7 copies. Now, it turns out that up to 70 people could have read my e-book... and I get $6 (before tax).

Interrobang me!!

BrennaLyons said...

To be specific, what publishers I've talked to were told was that this would allow people to use the book on other devices THEY owned, which we supported fully. Most indie/e publishers are all for portability from one device the buyer owns to another in the same household. IOW, wife buys the book and can use it on her Kindle and her iPod...and further, husband can see it on his iPhone and daughter can see it on her Kindle. All four devices in a single house or maybe daughter in the college dorms, but still part of the family. I'd even stretch that to wife's sister "borrowing" the book. All cool with me.

It was NEVER suggested that this would be used to link together unrelated Kindle users. That is a gross abuse of the standards already set for e-book lending. See B&N for how to do this right.

I am a reasonable person. I really am. I can deal with the idea that two neighbors might link their Kindles together. But 6-10 of them? Without the publisher being able to opt out? Amazon is being the 2000 pound, completely clueless and self-centered, gorilla of the industry again.