kaigou: this is what I do, darling (A2] start drinking heavily)
[personal profile] kaigou
So here's the deal behind the last post, with context. Have a seat. This might take a bit, but believe me, it's amusing enough. (Or is, if you're me.)

Awhile back I joined a number of comms on LJ while trying to track down some of the more obscure fan-translated manga out there. I'd search for what I wanted, maybe check each comm every few days to every other week or so, and the rest of the time none of them show up on my daily flist. (That flist is long enough already, without high-traffic comms making it worse.)

[Note: I am not even getting into the legalities of translations and copyrights in this post. I can, if you're wondering, since I did look them up, but that's beside the point for this rant.]

At some point, I opened one comm to see what was new, and what did I see but at the very top a post about -- and link to a mediafire download for -- an ebook. Not a fan-translated manga, not a raw/original-language manga, but an American e-publishing company's ebook, written by an American author, and one whose work I've enjoyed and support. (And you know who you are, my dear, so have a drink and relax, this story's got a happy ending.) Well, mystified as to what an English-language, clearly-copyrighted work was doing being traded in a manga forum, I went looking at the tags -- and lo and behold, there's not just one or two authors that have slipped into the middle of a manga-trading community.

No, more like seventy authors -- and for a lot of those authors, the comm's trading their entire body of work. Two titles. Three. Five. Entire series: seven titles, ten titles, more. If on average every author had around four titles, and let's say the average price might be around $5, that's fourteen hundred dollars worth of ebooks listed. For free download.

Perhaps I should also mention: this is all listed a comm with more than three thousand members.

Potential losses? Oh, in the area of about four million two hundred thousand dollars.



Flabbergasted doesn't really begin to cover it, but I say that with full awareness of my own borderline hypocrisy in this, so I'm going to pause a minute to explain some of the thinking I've done since then, as well.

See, it's positively ingrained in me that when I finish reading a book, I will pass it along. It's been very very hard for me to accept that an ebook starts, and ends, with me. I think "buy a book and read" and the very next step is "now give to someone else". The notion of buy-a-book without give-away just seems... well, empty. Books are expensive, and I read damn fast, so when the result is that I paid $6 for an hour's entertainment, it feels like I didn't get my money's worth -- and if I can't sell it to the used bookstore, then I give it away.

(Double this sensation when it's $6 and I didn't even get past the second chapter. Then I really feel like I paid an awful lot for a whole lot of nothing.)

And while I know this is detrimental to [author-income] monetary aspect, I've also rationalized that as long as it remains one-to-one and infrequent, then it's part of doing business. Once, we would purchase an album or tape or even a CD, and maybe make a copy for a friend, who then wouldn't be spending money on that music; to give away a book or loan it out is effectively the same thing. It means that for every five legitimate sales, we might expect that two of them will be cancelled out by the non-sales from duplication or passing along. I've never been entirely comfortable doing it with ebooks, but then again, neither have I ever truly grown comfortable with the absolute caveat-emptor nature of ebooks, either: no refund, no exchange, no resale, you break it, you buy it; you buy it, you... mostly buy it.

But in the past month, I've been reading and thinking a lot (well, mostly reading a little and then thinking a great deal while moving around great honking boulders building retaining walls gardening), and it dawned on me that the problem is that when I see "ebook," I think "book", when I should be thinking license.

That is, I'm not really buying a book, am I? I'm buying a one-time, single-seat license to read this work. It's just like software. It can go bad, in a year or two. It might corrupt and then if I want it again, I have to get the upgraded version -- that is, I must repurchase it. Or maybe I can't, by then, because it's no longer supported. I may have to continue using a way-backwards version of some other software to keep using this software (like refusing to leave Win98 behind because it means losing access to various awesome apps, that kind of enforced bassackwardsness).

And like some software, when the price is really freaking high compared to my actual personal benefit, I find myself less caring about the legalities or niceties of whether it's okay to say to a friend, "oh, you can just have a copy of what I've got, just don't register it online or whatever." That is, even if I have technically 'purchased a license', the cost is so above some threshold for me that I feel justified in acting as though I've 'purchased the full rights' (per a book, or a professional 'seat' license for software). Sure, legally this isn't right, but it is human nature -- paying $450 for a single-license software that I use maybe four or five times a year makes me feel like, well, I just paid a whole boatload of money for something I only use four or five times a year. Why not let my brother have a copy so he can use it four or five times a year, and then between us we'll get money's worth?

The corollary, of course, is that the cheaper the ebook, the less I feel compelled to 'pass it along' or 'make it worth my money'. I pay half the price of a paperback book, and it doesn't bother me so much -- I can consider it almost as disposable as single-purpose shareware -- because I paid half the price and I got half the rights. The closer I get to that paperback-book-threshold, of $7, $8, $9, the crankier and crankier I get when I'm reminded that I paid same price and got half the rights. That is the borderline where I really start to chafe at the 'book' versus 'license' issue.

(Which underlines the extreme idiocy in some NY publishers insisting that ebooks should have same prices as the hardcopy versions. They shouldn't, and if you think of it as a license, then it becomes really clear why: because you pay more for the sourcecode. For just using the work -- the ebook -- you pay a little. You want to be able to do something with that product, adapt it to your use, or pass it along, or let everyone in the company use it, then you'll have to pay more, but you'll get more related rights at the same time... and then suddenly I get twice as annoyed at the publishers saying I should pay $8 for an ebook when the paperback is, well, $8. No. That just reinforces that ebook = pbook, and drags me back into expecting the same usage-rights as 'professional copy' (read: hardcopy), versus 'shareware' (read: ebook). Hopefully I'm not the only one who gets this line of thinking.)

Thus, while my personal take on ebooks has settled down with this better metaphor for how to 'think' of the money spent, it still doesn't change the fact that I think what we're dealing with is proportionality. If I install a software on someone else's computer and delete it on mine, okay, technically that's transferral of license which I don't have the right to do, not having purchased a license that's transferable. But me to one other person, the damage is minimal.

I mention 'damage' specifically because there's copyright violation -- showing you broke the law -- and then there are damages -- for which one must demonstrate that monetary income was lost because of my actions. If that's so, then the damage is about, well, $6. Probably not worth some court's (or lawyer's) time, on the whole. It's a little different if I were to post an ebook on a filesharing service and propagate the file into a community with three thousand members.



That's where things stood for awhile, but I've been slowly fading from following all but two or three manga, now, so I just don't really bother checking the manga-sharing comms that often in the past few months. Until maybe a month or so ago, when I checked this one manga-plus-ebooks comm and wasn't sure whether to point and laugh or to, uhm, well, point and laugh.

It seems there had been some complaints about the ebook sharing. And oh, lordy, was the mod ever so upset about it. People -- not even the authors, the mod noted -- had written the mod! And were, like, mean! And insisted she had to take down the links! But that's not policy, she replied; the comm doesn't censor people. And, like, they're fans, and here are these author's fans being all mean to the author's real fans, who would never ever be mean like that and deny other fans the chance to read the author's works.

Dude. It's like being out of town and having your neighbors interrupt a burglary in progress and have the burglar tearfully cry that if your neighbors were real friends they wouldn't so cruelly threaten to call the cops on people who just love your decor so much they had to break in and see it for themselves. And, like, are doing your dishes after packing up all your stuff and hauling it out to the big white van in the driveway.

Unfortunately for you, it appears the mod has deleted those posts so I cannot quote and truly mock, but I recall enough to mock with some mild unambiguity. Oh, how I did mock as I pulled up weeds and dug trenches for drainage. (At once point I really was laughing while shovelling, and I think my own neighbors were ready to call me in for heat stroke. Or maybe I just crack myself up that bad, something. Or maybe it was heatstroke.)

Between that defensive post -- we are the true fans! *shakes fist* -- and the followup a few days later -- the inevitable hugfest of "oh, you guys are so awesome for supporting me when these author's friends are being so meeeeean" ... I mean, there's fanpoodles, but this is freaking ridiculous. Several paragraphs -- hrm, more like twelve or thirteen paragraphs, a good page's length -- going on and on about how hurtful these people are being to the author's real fans, calling the comm's members thieves and other nasty things...

...with introduction of straw man, which you probably guessed was coming: and if you go to these so-called friends-of-authors' pages, they have SOME PICTURE FROM AN ANIME ON THEIR HEADER.

(hint: this is where you are supposed to GASP in HORROR, and then nod along like good little bobbleheads as to how this reveals the Ultimate Hypocrisy Of These So-Called-Friends Who Aren't Even The Authors Themselves.)

OMG! Thieves! See! How dare they get on their high horse and call us such mean things? Sob. Sob. Sob. And lots of defensiveness. And so on.

Which not only raises the question of proportionality, but also fair use. I can quote a paragraph from a story (or more than that, if making a series of points), as long as it's a "reasonable amount needed to illustrate my point" or something along those lines. That's how we can quote from works for educational purposes, for discussion, for essays, for critical reviews. In a television show that lasts maybe forty minutes, we're talking about possibly seventy-two thousand frames -- or more -- from which I could pick five or six images to illustrate my point and still sit comfortably within fair use. After all, we're not talking about distributing the entirety of the original work, but an excerpt, be this a single sub-box on from a comic's page, or a screenshot of an animated film or television show or movie, or a quoted paragraph.

Now, there are gray areas -- fair use is still restricted, and it is still a copyrighted image (covered under the work's copyright as a whole) but it is not a redistribution of the original work. One might argue derivative work, but one might also get slammed in return with "damage to reputation" or "use of trademarked images" (such as a clip showing Superman, who is a trademarked image in his own right, IIRC). But it is still not the same as bundling up the latest Superman movie and putting it up on torrent for folks to d/l for free, and while the two may fall under "use of copyrighted material" I would daresay the damages for the latter are significantly more than they'd ever be for the former.

For that matter, even those companies most vicious about protecting their copyrights -- like 20th Century Fox can be, about websites that have extensive screenshots from broadcast shows -- do not jump on your case for the use of a single image. They have a general threshold.

Though, it's true, this is different from using a single image -- that is reproduced in its entirety. Like, say, if Da Vinci's Mona Lisa were copyrighted, then using that image would potentially be copyright violation, or posting a poem in its entirety, even if it's only six lines long. But if Da Vinci had done the full set of the Sandman stories, and you pulled a single frame from page 117 and used the lower-left box... see what I mean?

So, getting back to comm: straw man gets much indignant bashing by over-defensive loving fan damn pointy-headed thief freaking twit! And then the real topping on the cake was this one: the mod allowed as to how if the authors had bothered to contact the comm themselves, the mod would have been happy to -- and I quote, here, because this one was unforgettable -- "work something out."

Right.

That's like waking up to find someone's ransacking my sterling silver and they say -- with one hand shoving the fine china into a trash bag -- that they're sure we can "come to some kind of agreement." What? I get to use my own stuff half the year, and the rest of the year you get it? Which part of "NOT YOURS" are you NOT getting, you self-entitled moronic thieving excuse for a community moderator?

And, at the same time, I'm also thinking: hey, LJ. YOU FREAKING SUCK.

Let me get this straight, okay? Just to make sure we're perfectly clear. Last year or thereabouts, you LJ people got all riled up and decided the best option for all involved was to take a handful of fanartists and summarily throw them off LJ and delete their accounts without warning on the grounds that they might -- not 'are', not 'have been convicted of', but might -- be considered by some, on some planet in some bizarro-alternate universe to be creating child pornography -- just on the off-chance that it could be, at least.

Okay, then, yet here's a comm that's distributing copyrighted, Berne-Convention-protected, published works in their entirety in a clear and freaking unquestionable violation of copyright law observed by well over two-thirds of the recognized countries on this damn planet and you do WHAT, excactly, LJ? Could that be, oh, NOTHING?

Need I remind anyone, copyright violation IS a crime. It DOES carry financial damages, intended to dissuade folks from violations. I think it starts with $500, and the bigger your violation, the higher the price can go. Maybe it's just me, but while I might be able to weasel out of violation before a judge by promising to Cut That Out and Stop Giving Stuff Away To A Friend, I don't think I could quite manage the same if I had my sticky fingers on a mediafire file that showed it'd been downloaded more times than the original book had sold copies with its publisher. See, maybe it's just me, but I'd consider them some goddamned major apples of damage.

And what does LJ do about this? Nothing. Even though they insisted throughout that whole fanart fiasco that they'd be 'liable for anything coming through on their servers' -- it would seem to me that looking at potentially hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in damages (though granted, possibly shared among all liable purveyors -- LJ, and Mediafire, and the responsible comm members/moderators themselves) would sure count as reason enough to Cut That Out.

Or at the very LEAST to shut down the comm and boot the criminals and wash their hands of it. It's not like it's a gray area, people. This is NOT rocket science: we have text, we have copyright, we have repeated -- and significant -- illegal distribution. One plus one plus three thousand equals Way Major Law Breakage.

But noooooo. Apparently LJ gets way more up-in-arms over potential 'bad' pr0n than, say, the actual bad of seventy-plus American and UK authors getting ripped off, daily, by a bunch of freeloaders who like to consider their theft proof positive of their status as 'adoring fans'.

If that's there some true fans, then bloody hell, I don't ever want no freaking fans. PLEASE.

I mean, if I want to be punched in the face and have my money stolen, I'd rather come by it honestly, than from someone who does it while insisting they love me. (And yes, I mean that cloaked metaphor very intentionally.)



But here's the kicker! Here's the part where I stopped and said, no, no, no, no, this can NOT possibly be the next step in this trainwreck. But it is, and I'm not sure whether to laugh or to write the author and smack her upside the head, even as much as I dearly love her writing and have bought every damn thing she's ever written and will continue to do so short of a sudden cross-genre move into Inspirational Cowboy stories. With aliens. (Although I probably would read it anyway. But still. Carrying on.)

Ah, well, the next step was the mod returning saying that, well, some folks are decent people and willing to talk things out, and here is evidence A, a published author whose work was being distributed. We'll call this author, uhm, A, just to protect, uhm... you'll see why.

So A has this long letter she's sent to the mod to be forwarded. It starts out reasonably enough, stating that as a published author she cannot, under any circumstances, 'grant' someone the right to violate copyright by distributing her work, and that in fact, no author can, because it's a violation of the author's agreement with the publisher(s). If A wants to keep writing, that requires not pissing off the publishers. Not quite stated but implied -- perhaps too subtle for the twits at core of this self-righteous debacle -- was that if you want A and the other authors to keep writing, then don't push them to do something that will cause them to never get published again, kthxbai.

But A didn't stop there. Now, I give her points for trying to come up with a way to throw the dogs a bone settle the unwashed teeming masses make peace, by pointing out one of her first stories finished its run and the rights reverted to her, so now folks can d/l the story for free on her site. That's smart move on her part. It's what led up to that information that had my jaw bouncing on the desk.

Apparently the whining got to A, and it didn't just get to her, it convinced her: it's the cry of the nebulously-identified, broadly-implied, "we can't order that in our country because it's illegal!" crowd. And, oh, A was all sympathy, while at the same time trying to make it clear that if her stories are not illegal, then please do pay for them, but she feels really bad for those folks who can't get her stories in their country because...

I think that's where my brain snapped.

I've heard this argument before, after all. It holds water only to a certain point, and it does extend to the case of the comics collector that's on everyone's mind (and was mentioned in my question thread). If you order a physical product that has graphic content and it comes through customs and the customs official opens it and sees SEX -- or drug use! or lesbians! or WHATEVER -- then yes, your ass will be nailed to the wall. If you order a copy of the Satanic Verses and you're in a conservative Moslem country, they're probably not going to be happy with you. If you order shouta, yaoi, yuri, whatever, yeah.

But these are not comics books with graphic illustrations, and neither are they letters from Hustler. These are fiction novels, which could ostensibly be literature -- having, unlike Hustler's letters, actual characters! And conflicts! And plots! And resolutions! and so on. Hell, the majority of these are marketed as 'romance', and are coming from legitimate publishers who (for the most part) usually sound pretty mainstream, or at least their TBA names do, or they're just obscure enough that they're not obvious (unlike, say, Playboy).

BUT. More than that, these are ebooks.

Which means, they're being downloaded.

By people who insist that they must download these books because they can't get them legally in their country -- a process which would require them to, uhm, DOWNLOAD THE BOOKS.

Because maybe 90% of these books? HAVE NO HARDCOPY AVAILABLE.

So unless you're in that Great Big Exception To the Rule, it's a fair chance that you could get to Fictionwise, or B&N, or Sony, or even any of the myriad independent publishers, select that title, use Paypal to pay for it, download the copy, and NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW. I mean, come on. Sure, it's possible for it to be tracked *waves at the FBI* but the attempt would be massive, would be incredible, and if you're discreet about it, chances are your download will get lost in the bazillions of others, along with the trail between your Paypal account and some bland-sounding TBA name on your billing list.*

OR:

You could join the fifth-largest (fourth? sixth? whatever) social networking site in the freaking WORLD, and then JOIN A COMM that's clearly stated as created to trade ADULT MATERIALS, and then request a file or thank someone for posting a file and ANYONE CAN JOIN AND WATCH YOU DO IT.

I mean, if I wanted to catch your ass at this, why would I bother watching your downloads? I just go to where the porn is, and I wait for you to come to me. And then I nail you.

Oh, sure, buying that pornnoriffic text is illegal, and if it had to come through customs, it'd be snagged and you might be thwacked, but going on a public social networking site and downloading it, that's okay? Given the options, I'd much rather buy it privately -- at least then the only folks who know are me and some foreign company not beholden to my country's laws (and therefore possibly able to say, "nope!" if my country demands info on its customers), and of course Paypal or my foreignly-held credit card, and my ISP, and me. There are ways around everything, but the point here is that of those involved, I'm seeing a lot less chances for tipping off authorities (pretty much limited to my ISP as biggest risk), because why would Paypal, or the ebook publisher, want to tell my country what I've ordered? They'd lose a customer.

Compare that to getting online here, logging in as identifiable account with tracked IP, and then downloading a file -- which, incidentally, can equally be tracked by your ISP, as yet another downloaded file.

Hunh.

Sounds like an elaborate, if completely unjustifiable, rationalization that really amounts to a whine of, "but I want it for freeeeeeeee and you should give it to me because otherwise I won't read your stuff, so there."

Given the way the mod acted the rest of the time, I'm not that surprised A may have ended up somewhat worn down, especially if she was defending her own copyright and none of her publisher's lawyers were getting involved (which, if you ask me, they should have, because that's what they're paid to do, damn it; not all battles should be fought by authors). But it still boggles me that A bought into this, even expressed sympathy (unless she was being very tongue-in-cheek-sarcastic) -- because isn't the correct response, "well, if it's illegal in your country, then it's illegal ANYWAY, and you're ALREADY downloading it, so at least have the decency to PAY for it, you moron. If you're so convinced that purchasing it will get you in trouble, did it never occur to you that possession would do the same?"

Now, in the end (yay!), the mod did opt to delete all ebook posts and declare that all ebooks will, from now on, no longer be allowable in the comm. And it does seem, from the mod's words, that the author-in-question was instrumental in bringing the mod down off her entitled horse and seeing that copyright violation is not something fans get to do if they can prove they really loooove an author's work, but in fact is a violation and a damage, and quadruply so when it's on the scale of being broadcast to three thousand members who in turn tell someone who then tell someone and so on -- and need I add, the actual files, that is, the file-sharing links, may or may not remain. The mod only mentioned deleting the posts and all related tags, and did not specify whether she also deleted the file-shares she'd created for those ebooks.

But this was still done with a heavy sigh, a kind of weariness, all apologetic for removing links when it's "comm policy not to do so", as though this trouble (as has been the mod's attitude since the beginning) was brought on by some bad apples out there who just wanted to make trouble. Because, y'know, now the mod herself can't get those stories she loves, herself. Tissues, anyone?

Frankly, by that second self-entitled post, I didn't want to see some author making peace. I wanted to see some lawyer nailing the comm's ass to the wall -- along with LJ's ass for enabling the damages for so long, while LJ was busy freaking about potential crimes being committed over some freaking amateur fanart. Because fanart, oh, yeah, that's so a reason to flip out, but having thousands of dollars stolen from the pockets of hard-working ebook authors and publishers? Oh, whatevah!



Thus, to sum:

Dear author: I adore your work, but please to stop enabling the cabbages in the audience, mmkay?

Dear LJ: you still suck. Even when you don't do anything at all. Sometimes, especially when you don't do anything at all.

Dear mod: this is a bucket of ice water, this is your head, this is your head in a bucket of ice water.

noloveatall,
Me.



* slight footnote per [livejournal.com profile] autopope's comment:

Yes, some companies (such as Fictionwise) have introduced IP-restrictions, but this is not because of legality of purchasing the book, but because of issues regarding author-rights in terms of international distribution. In other words, if an author has sold the rights to a publisher to distribute the book in Sweden, and I buy it over the internet while I'm in the US, then I have purchased gray market material. Not entirely legal but not entirely il-legal, either; the restriction in that case is not that the book is "illegal in my country" but that I'm subverting the author's/publisher's distribution agreements.

However, looking at a lot of the e-publisher submission agreements, it appears to be that in e-publishing, the 'international distribution' element is wrapped up in things. It might explain, too, why ebook royalties are significantly higher (35% or so) compared to traditional publishing (8% to 10%) -- because there's no chance of reselling the rights so a work can be translated.

I suspect that Fictionwise may have the IP-restrictions due to the large number of trad-publshing titles it now carries, which do have international restrictions per author rights -- but for every ebook title, you can still go to the publisher directly and make your purchases. For that matter, many ebooks out there don't even distribute through Fictionwise and its sister-distributors. You have to go to the publisher's site anyway, and if they're not playing the IP-restriction game... you are back to the issue I've raised here, which is: if you can get to the site, you can find a way to get the items from it -- and at the same time, if it's illegal then it's illegal.
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kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
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"When you make the finding yourself— even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light— you'll never forget it." —Carl Sagan

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