Neil Gaiman on Internet Piracy
February 1, 2012 5 Comments
I strongly believe in a limited copyright law which ensure that authors can control their works and reap some profits for a decade or two. I’m wary when it stretches longer than that, because the nature of art involves appropriation and reshaping of shared images and stories. Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare…the western canon is built around authors retelling tales.
Piracy differs in that it’s the replication of a work, but Neil Gaiman approaches the issue from a practical point of view. He does not advocate giving up copyright, but he does speak eloquently about the advantages of having a free flow of art on the internet.
Gaiman’s opinion on the subject evolved when he discovered that…
GAIMAN: Places where I was being pirated…I was selling more and more books. People were discovering me through being pirated and then they were going out and buying the real books.
That fact speaks to the separation of artists, families, and corporations. It’s a testament to the power of American corporations that Sherlock Holmes is still licensed in the U.S., although the character is appropriately part of the public domain in the U.K. The author is long since dead, so it’s his heirs who are handing around the rights.
Usually it’s the companies that are obsessed about control, even to the detriment of their profits. Gaiman had to fight in order to put his novel American Gods up for free on the internet for a month. So what happened after he did that?
GAIMAN: Sales through independent bookstores went up 300% the following month.
As I’ve written before, I also support comedian Louis CK’s method of putting your material out there at a reasonable price, without any digital rights restrictions.
In Gaiman’s opinion,
GAIMAN: You’re not losing sales by having stuff out there….Nobody who would have bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free. What you’re actually doing is advertizing, you’re reaching more people, you’re raising awareness.
Gaiman also points out that the vast majority of readers discover their favorite author through being lent a book, rather than going into a bookstore and buying it.
I imagine that the case might differ depending on the author, and of course not every writer is Neil Gaiman. You can decide for yourself whether you find him convincing, as here’s the video: