Supporting Creative People

This is an update of a post that originally appeared on March 28, 2016.

Authors get tired of hearing from the Information Wants To Be Free (IWTBF) crowd who thinks it’s terrible that they charge for their books. Somehow, authors and other creative people are supposed to exist by taking sustenance from the air. There is an interesting discussion of the topic at Should Information Be Free? in which the author says the information should be free from the perspective of everyone getting to use it, but that the people who write and print books should still get paid. Obviously, if I didn’t want to freely share information with others, I wouldn’t have created this blog and not charged for it. The point is, when someone steals Intellectual Property (IP), the person who created it isn’t being supported.

I work really hard to support my readers and so do many other authors. In fact, most creative people are in creative trades because they like to communicate with others using a variety of methods. The simplest goal is to provide something of intangible value to others—be it a painting, sculpture, dance, music, or writing. It’s well known that creative people are often underpaid (hence the cliché, starving artist). Because the starving artist (and most of them truly are starving) makes little money, it’s important that people do support them whenever possible. That’s why the piracy of IP is such a problem. IP theft has become a serious enough problem that we’re beginning to lose many good creative people simply because they no longer have enough money coming in to make a living.

The problem is that many people would support the creative people whose IP they use, but they don’t really understand that they need to pay for this material. For example, there are many sites online now that offer my books free of charge. Just viewing the site doesn’t provide a clue that anyone is stealing anything. These sites have a clean appearance and simply offer IP in the form of downloadable music, books, and so on. In fact, many of these sites are fully searchable. The reasons that someone would do something like this varies, but it pays to employ some critical thinking when you see something free that possibly looks a bit too good to be true. Many people download viruses, spyware, and other sorts of malware along with their free download. In the long run, it’s actually less expensive to buy the IP, than to have a computer compromised by some of the crud that comes with these free downloads.

For the record, my books are never free. You need to pay for your copy of my book in order to support the various things of value that I provide to you as a reader, including this free blog. It isn’t my goal to become rich—if that were my goal, I’d be in some other line of work (believe me when I say authors aren’t paid particularly well), but I do need to make enough to pay my expenses, just as you do. Even though I know many people do download my books free, I still support everyone that I can with good advice on how to get the most from the books I write. To me, coming in each day and working with all of you is one of the benefits of being an author. I truly do want people to use my books to get ahead in life. If you’d like to discuss the effects of piracy on you as a consumer of IP, please write me at [email protected].

Odd Fallout of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

Laws generally help define correct behavior when there is a difference of opinion between groups of people. They do things like ensure public health and safety. After all, when everyone agrees that certain behavior is acceptable (or unacceptable), you rarely see a law about it. Most laws also free people from the whims of government by providing a rule upon which to base decisions of whether someone is law abiding or not (the requirement to prove guilt, rather than innocence).

The context of an act usually comes into play. Stealing Intellectual Property (IP) is one of those areas in which there is a difference of opinion and context most definitely comes into play. There is a group on one side that says all information wants be free and that there is no such thing as stealing IP. This group is represented by people who download music or other forms of media without paying for it and feel the act is perfectly acceptable. On the other side is a group the vigorously defends IP, even when there isn’t a good reason to do so. This group is represented by organizations such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Of course, artists and consumers alike are stuck in the middle between these two warring parties.

A law is considered fair and good when it represents the interests of as many parties as possible in an equitable manner. Over the years I’ve read about the truly odd fallout from the DMCA. For example, the RIAA suing a dead grandmother is an example of the sort of negative publicity that tends not to produce a desirable reaction when the goal is to get people to actually buy the music they want to hear. Of course, you’ve read about my viewpoint on IP a number of times. However, the fact of the matter is that publishers are slowly losing ground because the majority of people are ill-informed as to the need to buy IP and those who do know have decided that getting free IP for as long as they can is the only consideration. Most authors and artists (myself included) are starting to move toward means of earning a living that don’t involve fighting with customers over who should pay.

Unfortunately, the fight over IP is one of those things that just won’t go away because you want it to. I recently read an interesting InfoWorld article, Copyright act could make it illegal to repair your own car, that has me thinking of future stories in the news about Ford hauling dead grandmothers into court over repairs done without the consent of their local Ford dealer. The fact of the matter is that the DMCA is a bad law that represents only one side of the dispute—those who stand to make a huge profit from IP. Until the consumer is involved in the process and the voices of radical elements are heard, you can be sure that people will continue to ignore their rights and responsibilities when it comes to IP.

What do you see as the future of IP? The current situation isn’t sustainable. Authors and artists of all types need to earn a living just like everyone else. Someone has to pay for the IP or the people producing it will decide to do something else to meet their financial obligations (possibly creating lower quality and substantially less IP during their off hours). At the same time, consumers should be free to use the materials they purchased in any reasonable manner they see fit. If you buy one of my books, I guarantee that I’m not going to use the DMCA to haul you into court for marking it up or using it in a manner consistent with fair use laws. I’d like to get your feedback at [email protected].


Lessons in Intellectual Property Commerce

A lot of people have written to ask why I don’t simply offer my books for free. Of course, that wouldn’t sit well with my publishers, but it brings up other concerns as well. Unfortunately, a lot of people take my books for free even though they aren’t offered that way. Joe finds that he likes my book and gives a copy of his e-book to Sally, who reads it and gives it to Andy. Only the first copy is actually paid for. It’s a problem because I have bills to pay, just like everyone else. So, the price you pay for a book helps (in small part) to keep me writing the books that continue to help you remain productive and to learn really cool new technologies.

I read with interest about some artists offering their works online on a “pay what you want” basis or literally for free. The hope was that this form of distribution would build interest in the person’s offering (book, music, video, art, or whatever else you can imagine), so that the artist could eventually earn income in other ways. It’s not working out very well. I read with interest a story entitled, “Taylor Swift vs. Spotify: Why Music Should Not Be Free” in PC Magazine. The article rambles a little, but the arguments it makes against free intellectual property are compelling. The bottom line is that artists of all stripes need to eat. More importantly, the people who support the artists need to eat as well.

There have been all sorts of efforts to force people to pay for content in this digital age. They’ve all been unsuccessful in generating more income and have served only to cause problems for the artists. What it comes down to is that you need to decide that you want quality content to enjoy-whether that content is written, heard as music, seen as video, or presented in some other form. When I write a book, the book does generate some money for the publisher. However, the book also helps me pay my bills, along with those of the editors who support me. In addition, the money you pay also helps keep bookstores in business. In short, you’re helping to support a lot of people-real people with real needs. This really isn’t about sticking it to some huge corporation out there-it’s a lot more personal than that.

Eventually, you’ll find more quality texts in self-published form, which means that you could get books that I write for a fraction of the price you pay now. However, self-publishing comes with it’s own set of problems that need to be considered. For example, when I start self-publishing material, I’ll have access to fewer editors to help me polish my material and make it the quality product that you’ve come to expect. In addition, I’ll produce less material because now I’ll have to act as my own marketing department as well. My self-published books will only be offered in e-book form unless I contract with a print on demand company (in which case, you’ll end up paying substantially more for the book).

The theft of intellectual property is at an all time high and the problem threatens to become worse, long before it gets better. In fact, I think it’s something that will never go away, and there will always be that chance of people potentially being subject to things like patents, false advertising, and copyright infringement. So, all I can say is that it’s a good job that there are law firms like Sidley Austin, who specializes in intellectual property litigation ( that can give people the help they need if they ever fall victim to this. It has never been more important to put a stop to this type of activity. That’s why I need your continued support in order to continue writing the material that you’ve come to expect from me as an author. Of course, I’ll continue to welcome your input about my books and also to provide the free content you’ve come to enjoy in my blog. However, the next time someone offers you a copy of one of my books for free, consider the implications of the act. All it takes a simple no and then a purchase at your local bookstore to help keep me in business. Thank you for your continued help and support.