Piracy on the High E’s!

I’m not sure where you come down on the issue of piracy. Not the Somalis in a speedboat with some vintage Soviet RPG type. The new-fangled method of copying intellectual property that has been the bane of folks from the members of Metallica to J.K. Rowling.

And to show that nobody is safe, even I have been pirated. That’s right. No sooner were the Angel’s Luck novels in print over in Russia than somebody with a scanner and some OCR software gutted copies and converted them into files for the RocketBook – a late 1990’s eReader that is so vintage that there’s almost no information on them out in Internet land… not even on Wikipedia. All I could find is this rather odd video.1 Apparently it never took off here, but was popular in Europe, judging from the accents on the video (and the Russian piracy).

It’s probably also worth mentioning that if you’re Russian, you can also read the Pembroke Hall series online – here and here. More wonders from scannerland. I suppose if you’re a dab hand with cut and paste, you could bring up the pages and put them piecemeal into one of the many online translation apps out there and read yourself the books for free. Sorry, I can’t guarantee it’ll be an effective use of your time, but the many quirks of online translation are guaranteed to make the story more amusing than it already is.

So where do I come down on the side of such hijinks?

It doesn’t bother me. Maybe if I were an impoverished musician like the members of Metallica, I’d have a different attitude toward it – after all, what do you do when your “loyal” audience is cheating you out of the money you desperately need to feed your family? But in the case of a writer, the objective is to be read – and judging from the glowing reviews Ferman/Boddekker have gotten, Russians are reading the books.

Plus, to be honest, if I complain about this, shouldn’t I be complaining about that grandaddy of file sharing schemes, the public library system?2

Also, I have a day job that helps me feed my family. Maybe those tapped-out souls in Metallica should look into getting one themselves. Hey, a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.

The Russian Cover for Harry Harrison's "Galaxy Hero Returns"


What’s particularly fascinating about piracy of intellectual property is how it seems so boundless. For example, here’s the cover of a Harry Harrison novel that was recently brought to my attention. It’s a version put out by a Russian publisher. Looks pretty exciting – but then notice the odd resemblance between Harry’s Russian cover and this American one by yours truly.

What’s interesting is that we’re getting into a whole different field of piracy here. I’m not sure it was out of laziness (although the artist did take the time to replace the green hologram on my cover with what looks like a full color holo of what might be a pole dancer – although that image might be nicked from somewhere, too.

While I find this amusing, I feel bad for David Mattingly, the artist who did the work on my original cover. Unfortunately, like the online version of Ferman’s Devils, there’s not a lot I can do about it were I so inclined. It’s what comes from dealing with countries with a more relaxed attitude towards intellectual property than ours.

Meantime, I guess we can take consolation in the fact that it ain’t just me and it ain’t just Russia. Witness this cover spotted by my son in a bookstore in Hangzhou, China:

Photo courtesy of my globe-hopping son.

It’s for Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I suspect Harriet Beecher Stowe would be amused and even flattered by this whole thing, but no guesses where Mr. Freeman or Ms. Judd would come down on this whole thing.

Oh, and three words of advice for the malnourished members of Metallica: monster dot com.

  1. Although, admittedly, I only spent about five minutes looking.
  2. Which I once attempted to satirize here… but nobody got the joke.
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7 responses to “Piracy on the High E’s!

  1. Do you think I can give those Russian guys an email and ask them to scan your books, so I can make myself a copy for my kindle?

  2. I am curious as to your opinion on ebooks for people who bought and own originals of your work.

    I bought all five of your ’87-’90 books new, and still own them, but I’d love to have them in epub format for reading on my phone.

    Would you consider that OK or piracy?

    On the topic of ebooks, I am not willing to pay for DRM (I want books I buy to be able to be read in 20 years), so Kindle-format is out, but I’d love to be able to buy the Pembroke Hall series if they were available as DRM-free epubs.

    • I think people who like my stuff should be able to read them on ebooks, and that’s why I’m going to be releasing all of my seven published novels – plus three unpublished titles and possibly a fourth brand new novel – over the course of the next year. Kindle format will be first, then epub, and there will also be an option to buy DTB format (Dead Tree Book – in other words, paper). All of these editions will be DRM free (that decision is the publisher’s, and as the publisher, I have the final say-so).

      Piracy doesn’t bother me. It means people are reading my stuff. Two of the books I’ll be reissuing will be taken from scans of “unauthorized” versions. In my eyes, the folks who scanned them have saved me a ton of work. Besides, I feel that writers should be used to the used to the idea of people not paying money to read their stuff. It’s been going on for centuries via the public library system. And just because something is on paper, it doesn’t save it from being loaned to friends or sold at a used book store or for a quarter at a garage sale.

      I could be wrong, but there seems to be some subtext in your message that you would like to scan my books so you can read them on your phone. If you want to put yourself through that, go for it. And if you do, let me know. There are still some titles I don’t have scanned and it would save me a lot of work. And I’d give you a credit in the e-edition of the book and maybe some other appreciative perk.

      PS. My prediction is that the Kindle will pick up the epub format sooner than later. It makes good sense, and will add more cement to their market share position.

  3. Jumping off what Eric said, how about this: I have a lot of books. A *lot* of books. I have a 5×5 storage locker stacked about 5-6 feet high with books–and that’s not counting the books I have at home (boxes of them), and books I’ve given back to used book stores.

    I’m finally trying to exert some sanity over this situation; I’d like to have ebook copies of these books before I get rid of them (on a side note: there are almost no used book stores left in my area. I have so many books, the one I’d literally been GIVING them to finally begged “enough!”).

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think, in my case, that downloading copies of books *I already own* is wrong. I suspect that authors (and certainly publishers) would want me to pay for digital copies of books that I already bought in paperback and hardcover, but it’s not worth it–there isn’t a real secondary market for me in those digital copies. I just like having an old book I can page through. I’d prefer a hard copy, but it’s just become too crazy that way.

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