On Monday, Diana put up a great post about piracy with link to a site for commenting on Senate Bill 3804, The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. Here is a link to the text of the bill.
Although I agree there are good reasons behind the bill, I don’t necessarily agree with THIS bill or even with the intent behind it. I also don’t think the bill, should it pass, will be effective.
The effects of book piracy are NOT well understood. The only rigorous study on the subject to date concluded that piracy INCREASES book sales except for the very best selling authors– which is not most of us.
EDITED TO ADD: I know that one of the commenters to Diana’s post referred obliquely to this claim so let me clarify. The study was done by Brian O’Leary of Magellan Research. When I found out his study was $99.00 I emailed him and told him I was sorry I couldn’t afford his study but suggested he contact RWA to talk about getting even better data. He told me he was already in contact with them. Mr. O’Leary was kind enough to send me his study, which I have personally read. The study was based on actual sales numbers as opposed to the made up estimates typically bandied about. Within the parameters of his study, the numbers showed that, indeed, piracy helps the midlist author.
I’ve posted at length at my blog about this (you can go here to read it, but I warn you, it’s a long post. Right now, my position is that authors should demand good solid studies before they spend even five minutes chasing down pirates on their own. Setting aside the ethics of piracy, to date, the good data (by which I mean not the inflated trumped up numbers and conclusions pulled from the ether by companies selling their anti-piracy solution) does not support the conclusion that piracy hurts books sales.
In the very near future I hope to have my opinion changed and informed by rigorous studies by third parties with no financial interest in the results and conclusions.
Book piracy, by the way, goes way back. Publishers have been complaining about this since the 1700’s. That’s why it’s call piracy. Because that was the model they had way back when. If it was new, we’d probably call it something else. The book pirates back then, by the way, were other publishers and Britain itself was a leading pirate of books. Just ask Germany.