Pirates and SOPA


I don’t think SOPA was well written legislation. In fact I can easily understand why it would have been so unpopular, because it did seem to be a catch-all for any misbehaviour.

The UK and USA already have extradition laws in place. There is a fellow, Richard O’Dwyer who is currently fighting his extradition to America to stand trial. His crime? Providing links from his website to people who could provide downloads, for free, of books, TV shows and films.

I have no doubts that the UK/USA extradition laws are a farce. If a US court wants to extradite a UK citizen, they need to ask and show that there is a reasonable suspicion of that person’s involvement in a US crime. There is no need to provide evidence to have the fellow arrested, held, and eventually shoved on a place. If a US subject is suspected and the UK asks for him or her to be extradited, there is a need to show that there is a case to answer. Evidence of the crime must be shown. It is very one-sided.

The laws used to extradite many people were not designed to prevent copyright infringements. O’Dwyer is being held and is to be extradited under laws designed to prevent terrorism.

This is daft. It is an extreme case, but it’s yet another example of British law being forced to bow to American law. In the past, Britain was accused of legal imperialism, forcing other, weaker nations, to submit to her demands. It now seems as though American ambitions are no less world-encompassing when it comes to the US’s most reliable ally.

First there were the National Westminster businessmen who were extradited for offences that were not committed in America but London, and whose offences did not directly affect America, but possibly their employer – a London bank based in London.

Then there was the Gary McKinnon case of a man who suffers from Aspergers, who hacked into a large number of computer systems in America. Not because of terrorism, but because he was convinced that the US military were hiding details of alien contacts. Yes, he was a believer in little green men and flying saucers. If he does get extradited, he will be a definite suicide risk, but he is being pursued.

And that’s natural, isn’t it? Someone who broke into computers in the military in a clandestine manner would deserve to be arrested.

Trouble is, he wasn’t operating in a clandestine manner. He was taking advantage of crassly incompetent security, and when he found poor security, he flagged it up to the US agencies concerned. His ten year battle against extradition will hopefully end in the summer.

And now we have young Mr O’Dwyer.

He will be fighting extradition, no doubt. It will cost a lot of money to fight his case, but he’s only twenty-three years old. Going to the US and facing five years in gaol will not help anyone. And he certainly isn’t a terrorist threat.

At the same time the owners of Megaupload are being held in New Zealand while extradition proceedings proceed.

Megaupload. And TVShack. Two companies that have nothing to do with terrorism, and all those involved are being extradited under terrorism laws.

It’s shameful, and I have really no sympathy whatsoever.

There is a new culture growing that seems to expect anything on the internet for free. If you want to watch a movie, go to the web. It’s free. A new game for your Nintendo? It’s going to cost you nothing. You want music? There are plenty of sites there which will let you take it without charge. And books. There are hundreds of thousands for precisely nothing.

Oh, you want a new one? One that is still in copyright? Well, if you go to TVShack or Megaupload.com, and you can get the new books too.

Why should you pay? The fact is that books cost nothing to produce. If you pay four, five, maybe seven dollars for a book, that means you’re filling publishing houses’ pockets. It’s a risk-free and conscience-free crime. You need feel no guilt. Why should you? A massive corporation like Mr Murdoch’s, or like Hachette, or Simon & Schuster are full of rich guys who don’t need the extra bucks you’d be passing them. Why should they get anything for the books they’re promoting? It’s like paying a banker for his job.

Except these sites don’t affect the super-rich in publishing. The additional downloads probably don’t cause Ian Rankin a headache. JK Rowling has already made plenty of money from Harry Potter and won’t pull her hair out at losing a few sales. Nor will John Grisham, I suppose, or Harlan Coben. They aren’t going to be hurt.

But the ones who will, the ones who are affected every day, are the struggling, lower-level authors. The ones who’ve written a book and seen it do not very well. The publishers are tough negotiators, and many of these poor devils have to earn advances back across an entire contract. That means, if you are paid a total of ten thousand pounds for three books, you have to earn enough to pay back the whole ten thousand before you earn a single penny.

Tools of the trade. Books and computers - and all cost money!

Put it into context: you write a book that takes a year to write and then you got a contract. For signing the contract you will earn some money. Usually you will earn a share for signing, then a second share for submitting the contract, and two more on publication of a hardback and the paperback.

So, you were writing for a year to get paid £3,333. About another year goes by before the first book is published. Another £833. Another year and another £833. If you are lucky, when the paperback of the first book comes out, it may do really well. You might get paid some 30 pence per book sold – and you may sell, if you’re really lucky, 20,000 copies. That will earn you £6,000. And at the end of the next royalty calculation, that will be added up and set against your debt of £10,000 to the publisher. But when the next book comes out into paperback, a year later, you may earn the same. And now you are £2,000 in credit. And a half-year later, because that is how publishing pays, that money will at last find its way into your bank.

Of course, by then you will probably have lost your house. It’s taken, what, four years to get this far?

In THE BOOKSELLER magazine last week there was a quote from Mark Billingham: ‘I hope I don’t get any more emails from readers furious at having to pay more than 49p for an e-book. Saying things like: “Why should I pay that much for something as ephemeral as the words?”’

Something has to be paid to the man or women who is stringing those words into long sequences, which hopefully make sense, and which all add up to a book.

If you go out for a meal, you will pay a few pounds for a quick burger, or considerably more for a good sit-down in a restaurant. If you go to the cinema, you will pay pounds for a couple of hours’ entertainment. If you buy a video, you get the same result. A concert will last two to three hours.

But a book of 120,000 words will last you days. And for all that entertainment, for getting into the lives of people you could never hope to meet, for being involved in the trials and successes of their lives, for experiencing their doubts, joys, terrors and horrors, for travelling to parts of the world you would never see, you should pay a few pounds. Because it’s worth it.

And authors are worth their small income.

Those who provide free downloads are actively destroying the livelihoods of authors. Authors can live only because of the small amount they get paid for each book sold, either a real chunk of dead tree or a download. If others are designing websites where they get paid some £70,000 a year in advertising, like Mr O’Dwyer, in exchange for destroying my income and the money that other writers like me depend upon, he will not win my sympathy.

SOPA was bad law, I think. The Extradition treaty between the UK and USA is too one-sided and must be renegotiated on the basis of parity.

But if either of them stop the theft of my work and that of other people, I will be pleased to support them.


3 Responses to “Pirates and SOPA”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    “For signing the contract you will earn some money. Usually you will earn a share for signing, then a second share for submitting the contract, and two more on publication of a hardback and the paperback.”

    Not everyone gets the above Michael.This scenario only works if you are with a conventional publisher.

    A hell of a lot of us are using ‘small press’, or are self publishing these days, meaning we are operating on thin air until the first royalty cheque arrives. :)


    • I quite understand. Either way, whether you’re given a small sum which has to last for years, and then pay it back, or whether you go out on a limb up front, the result is the same – we don’t get to be millionaires. Piracy of copyright hurts us all!


  2. jelcel says:

    OF course I have to pay for a book, those words took the time and creative energy of another human being. Even though fiction is seem by some as not having a part it introduces me to wider ideas, and different ways of viewing things. I can see how different people think, lived. Yes invented, but reflecting real life, or raising issues to think about.


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