Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Essay: Fandom and Piracy (Part 3)

Every Wednesday, I have an essay or feature article on any topic that catches my fancy!

Part 1 and Part 2.

Despite my discussion of anime/manga piracy, note that this is a unique phenomenon and not applicable to other forms of media. Music and books, for example, don't generally owe their current popularity to piracy in general, although some authors have leveraged the habits of pirates in their favor as a promotional tool (which is the case of authors who have works under the Creative Commons license).

When it comes to the book industry, the appeal of pirated books isn't just the "free lunch" mentality (although I eventually will talk about the mentality of a pirate). One point in their favor is that they're simply better and more efficient at packaging an eBook as opposed to publishers. Now this shouldn't really be surprising. Pirates are usually ahead of their time. For example, they were circulating mp3s before there were iPods (I even remember the days of mp2) and MPEG-2 quality videos before there were DVDs. Pirates simply have had more experience with technology. That's not to say they have everything figured out, but they learned from earlier production mistakes--errors which publishers are only making now. For example, one complaint with some eBooks is that they're not formatted correctly, contain inappropriate breaks or indents, spelling typos, etc. Pirates however are passionate and thorough--two assets that are otherwise invaluable in other industries--and makes these adjustments to the eBooks that they create. In PDFs (and this is evident in the RPG piracy "industry"), this could mean inserting comprehensive bookmarks, making sure all the text is OCR, etc. Contrast this to some official products which is riddled with inconveniences, such as the lack of bookmarks or an index.

The second point in favor of pirates is that they don't recognize international borders--and neither does the lay person. I've heard complaints from eBook consumers as to why they can't purchase an eBook in an online store due to regional licensing reasons (i.e. It's a US vendor and the customer is living in Australia). Now I understand the rationale behind it (and these are laws drafted before there ever was an Internet) but to most people, such an enterprise seems counter-intuitive. To them, the Internet is worldwide and is supposed to facilitate transactions between various countries but due to current legislation, the eBook retailer only has rights to a specific region (they can certainly purchase a worldwide license but is it feasible for their business?). Pirated eBooks, on the other hand, are not only DRM-free, but are as convenient as simply downloading it: No EULAs to read, no accounts to sign into, no checking of your region, etc.

The third problem is availability: publishers don't publish their entire backlist. Pirates, on the other hand, have no restriction (which isn't to say that every book in the world is out there). Sometimes, consumers don't have a choice between picking a publisher's eBook or a pirate's: only the latter exists. Also, not everyone keeps softcopies of everything they've written--not even the authors themselves (whether it's due to technical failure or simply because the manuscript was written on a typewriter). One of the most ridiculous incident I've come across is a publisher seeking a pirated copy of a prospective author's work because the latter didn't have a softcopy. Or hearing about editors having to scout pirate sites to search for polished manuscripts. (Unfortunately, both incidents are true.)

At least from this paradigm, the best way to combat piracy is to simply be more efficient and deliver a polished product (or, at the very least, produce some form of product). Similar to the pirates in anime/manga, the mentality of some pirates is that they exist to fill a void--in this case, either because the product doesn't exist (a publisher's backlist for example) or because the existing product is inferior in some way (i.e. sloppy formatting, lack of bookmarks, etc.). That's not to say all pirates are like this, and there are definitely pirates out there who pirate even when the publisher does produce a quality product (and sometimes, disseminates that very product), but there's definitely a segment of pirates who is best discouraged not by copyright-protection measures, but by simply producing a good product in the first place.

No comments: