Arrrrrr! Avast, me hearties, it be Talk Like a Pirate Day! Shiver me timbers!
Along with all the fun of the piratical lingo come certain jokes you’ll see pop up year after year. This particular instance comes courtesy of Robert J. Sawyer, but I know I’ve made jokes to this effect myself:
“Whatever. I’m entitled. Jeez, they’re all rich anyway, and, besides, the money just goes to big corporations, y’know? Anyway, if I like it, maybe I’ll buy their next release. Yeah, right — ha! And, anyway, who cares? Artists create for the love, man, not for money. They should be glad I’m paying them any attention at all.”
—International Talk Like a Pirate Day
I’ll be the first to admit, it’s a silly joke, but it does point out how the popular definition of “pirate” has drifted in recent years.
We’ve discussed this day a few times on the old site over the years, but this year the day, plus the aforementioned joke, started me to thinking. When was the last time the publishing industry made a big deal about piracy? We’ve carried our share of recent stories about piracy both here and on the old site, but I can’t for the life of me remember the last time any major publishing industry voices made a big deal of how rampant on-line piracy is threatening their livelihoods.
Of course, whether I’ve personally noticed anything happening is the most anecdotal of anecdotal evidence. All the same, it seems to me that, in addition to driving ebook sales way down, publisher imposition of agency pricing should have driven piracy of big-publisher titles way up, especially given that all one need do to upload something illicitly is check it out from Overdrive at their local library and then crack the DRM. So you would think publishers should be making more noise than ever about how piracy is threatening their and their authors’ livelihoods.
But I haven’t heard about anything like that. Certainly nothing comparable to the anti-piracy program New York City launched a few years back, or the MPAA’s proposal of an anti-piracy merit badge. The publishers are still happy to license their ebooks to Overdrive, and continue selling them via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, even though all their DRM schemes were successfully cracked years ago. I haven’t even heard of the faintest complaint about it; when I asked an Overdrive rep at BookExpo America a couple of months ago about how easily-cracked their DRM is he didn’t have any idea what I was talking about.
Nor does it seem like the book industry is alone in this. Even the music industry, which historically enjoyed suing grandmothers and grade schoolers for piracy, seems to be more interested in complaining about digital streaming royalties these days. And I can’t remember the last time I saw one of those patronizing “you wouldn’t steal a car” commercials before a movie, either.
There have been a few individual voices speaking out against piracy, of course. Martha De Laurentiis blamed it for the cancelation of Hannibal, and the Chronicle of Higher Education pointed to piracy of academic textbooks as a major issue. Plenty of authors have remained outspoken against piracy individually, as well. But I haven’t heard about any major industry pushes to raise awareness, and that makes me wonder.
It could be that publishers are taking note of how little effect piracy has actually had on creative output over the years, but it seems unlikely to me that they would adopt any attitude that sensible in isolation. If they haven’t required an update of DRM formats to defeat the cracks, neither have they stopped insisting that their ebooks carry it (with the notable exception of Tor, of course).
Perhaps it’s just a matter of recognizing that there are other, more blatant threats to their business and retooling to try to fight those. Independent publishing has come into its own over the last few years, especially in light of agency pricing—and there are also subscription services like Kindle Unlimited to think about. The music industry has streaming services to consider, and the movie industry has digital streaming to face as well. In addition to distracting customers from buying music or going out to movies, said services have also considerably lessened the appeal of piracy.
As I noted in my very first post to TeleRead, and my subsequent retrospective on it, digital piracy has been with us ever since the advent of good-enough computers and fast-enough Internet to transmit digital data, and will probably always be with us going forward. That “Talk Like a Pirate Day” joke from earlier will probably stay funny (or terrible) for many years to come. But has the publishing industry finally given up on trying to do anything about it? That remains to be seen.
But no matter whether the publishing industry still believes pirates are to be feared, have fun talking like one today!