Oceanofpdf: An Ocean of Piracy by Michelle Walshe
There’s no love here. Not of words, not of books, not of authors. It’s like Love Island, there’s no love there either. It’s just cold, hard opportunism, self-aggrandising, egotistical, tunnel-vision behaviour with a dollop of misanthropy thrown on top.
Writers are raging. They should be.
I saw Marian Keyes speak at the Irish Writers Centre this week, in hot, humid weather. The room was filled with her devoted readers. Her opening remark was ‘I can’t believe that what I write, alone, in my spare bedroom, draws people here on a sweltering, summer’s night and that what I do has such an effect on people’s lives.’ Every writer feels this way. Every time something is published with your name attached to it, you have a moment where you sit back in awe and think, that piece, that article, that story or book, started life scrawled in my notebook in the park, or on my laptop at my desk, or typed frantically into my iPhone notes on a bus. And now, here it is, dolled-up to the nines, edited, ready for public consumption with an eye-catching headline and an accompanying image. Never mind if it’s old news by tomorrow or it ends up in a bargain basement bin at some point. At the point of publication, you are at peak joy. The words that poured out of you, that blindsided you one day, that you moved around and played with until you were happy with how they looked, how they sounded, how they felt, they are now out there, impacting, educating, inciting, whatever role they are playing, they are active in the world.
Just as the act of writing is a physical one, so is the result. The pen is mightier than the sword, is not an abstract, it implies the physical element of writing in its inception and its impact. Piracy too is a physical thing. The original pirates physically attacked ships at sea and robbed them. The internet is like the sea. Even this site that is pirating these books is called Oceanofpdf.
For the pirated authors, it feels like a physical assault, like someone climbed aboard your ship, tied you to the handrail, leaving you helpless, while they took away your property and leapfrogged over the side. Just because books and ideas are intellectual property doesn’t make it any less tangible, any less shocking or anything less than theft. The internet does that. This new unchartered ocean where we are all floundering, splashing, making waves and now pirating. Piracy is not new; the music industry has been battling it for years. Ships at sea are still battling it, stories of kidnappings and theft off the African coast flit in and out of the news, in and out of public consciousness until the latest Trump atrocity distracts.
In this frightening political era, reminiscent and terrifyingly reflective of so many horrific ideologies of the twentieth century, complete with camps and cages, rhetoric and propaganda, books have not yet been banned or burned. But it is coming. As the freedoms erode, as the ideology takes hold, it is the next logical step. While piracy isn’t burning, it’s a step on the way.
President Trump is trialing his dystopian vision to the world. We are all watching. He is degrading and dehumanising immigrants to America and inuring the public to its horror. This is a time when books must be protected most. Piracy of them is a step on the path to devaluing them not only in monetary terms for the authors but in their cultural impact. Of all the deeply affecting memorials to the Holocaust in Berlin, one tiny square of glass on a cobbled square, carried as much impact as all the museums and statues and memorials put together. It was the book burning memorial in Bebelplatz, a subterranean library of empty bookshelves.
The creative force is so strong that it means writers will always write. Writers are often not motivated by money. Some authors write for free. Most of them are starting out in the industry. It’s a path to progress. But no-one wants to work for free. Your teacher doesn’t, your hairdresser doesn’t, your doctor doesn’t. Creative work is different in its appearance to the regular 9-5 model. But it is work nonetheless. Every writer I have ever heard speak about the writing process talks about the struggle of blending this creative force with ‘real life’ and a ‘real job’. The thing is, it is a real job. In some ways, it’s the ‘realest’ job of all. Without words we wouldn’t speak, we wouldn’t write, we wouldn’t tweet. There would be no communication, no books, no movies, no art.
Plagiarism, piracy, poaching – there are no positives here. They all involve taking something that doesn’t belong to you. There is no such thing as a victimless crime even if the internet makes it seem so. There is an argument that the music industry bandies about – the ‘I’d rather be heard than paid’ school of thought. It is the opinion of the phenomenally successful though. They can afford to think that way. Most artists, including writers, do not have the luxury of such a standpoint. Musicians believe that people pirated music because radio wasn’t good enough but books, they are different. We have libraries. And they are about to be open for longer hours. Books are already free. They have never been more accessible. And in this age of technology and social media, books are holding their own. Books are the vehicles of imagination, of ideas, of thoughts, of escapism, of truth.
You wouldn’t steal a handbag; why would you steal a book?
Protect the book. Protect the author. Protect intellectual freedom and the right to work and to be paid for that work.
(c) Michelle Walshe