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Monday, 6 April 2009


Whether published or not (yet!), all writers need to be aware of our rights and the threats to them. Like the basic copyright in your own written words and the enshrined right to earn from your talent and hard work.

There are way too many people out there who think that if they can get it for free, they should, and that they should be proud of having done so. Well, they shouldn't, because it's theft. And it's not trivial; it's dangerous and important, and has the potential materially to affect the future of literature in all its forms by disabling an author from being able to survive as an author.

Every time someone downloads or copies in any way the work of someone who has not given permission, that act of theft hinders the writer's ability to earn anything even remotely approaching a reasonable fee. And don't use the "but what about JK Rowling?" argument on me - this is a matter of principle and the vast majority of writers earn stupendously less. If you care about books at all, if you care about the future of writing and indeed reading, you have to care about the ability of talented authors to earn a living from that talent. And if as a writer you don't care enough, how can you expect readers to?

So, we all need to know what is going on with Scribd. There have been reports in many big newspapers in the last few days but one of the best ways to undertsand the issue is to watch this Sky news item. Peter Cox at Litopia has vehemently taken up the cudgels on our behalf.

I have a Facebook Group called "Fair Reading" - Fair Reading is a phrase I came up with to campaign amongst authors and readers for greater awareness of exactly what it means to deprive an author of rightful royalties. If you're on Facegroup, do go and join it, and contribute with your views. (If you're not on Facegroup, I think you won't be able to see it.)

What else can you do?
  • don't download or copy anything that you are not sure is there with the copyright-holder's permission
  • check that none of your own books is on Scribd without your / your publisher's permission
  • ask your publishers if they are checking for illegal use - Scribd will remove anything if you can show it's not meant to be there
  • spread the word about the need for total respect for copyright and royalties
If we don't act now, at a time when ebooks and digital downloads are gaining momentum and while no one has properly dealt with the digital possibilities of abuse, we will lose any chance of dealing with the pernicious "the written word should be free" mentality. This has the potential to destroy everything that makes books powerful, extraordinary and essential. (And by books, I don't just mean the ones printed on paper, that we curl up with - I include ebooks, because I've got nothing against any form of book as long as the author gets properly paid for it.)

But if we allow the "written word should be free" thing to win, then it won't matter whether you write well or not: frankly, you might as well give your dog a computer.

Don't let anyone steal your work. You can give it away if you want to and if you have good reason - after all, blogging is free - but it has to be your choice. Not the choice of some website owner who thinks that rampaging through other people's work and pillaging it is any kind of road to glory or progress.

I've said my piece. Well, I probably haven't finished yet but it's a start. Now, I'm off to do some writing - and keep your hands off, please.