Wishing for Honest Pirates, or An Open Letter to TUEBL
[EDIT 23:45EST]: I spoke to the guy who runs TUEBL just a little bit ago. A blog post about that conversation will go up tomorrow morning. After you read this, I invite you to tune back in then; we talked about a lot of my objections that I bring up here.]
I ran "Pirate Week" on the blog two years ago, wrote an open letter to pirates a year ago, took all my sites down to oppose SOPA and PIPA in January, and made the distinction between "pirates" and "bandits" while arguing against anti-pirate advocates in January as well. I am currently opposing CISPA, and as a publisher, have signed the Declaration of Internet Freedom and have an entire section about piracy.
You can say I've thought about the topic a bit.
The website "TUEBL" ("The Ultimate E Book Library) came to my attention recently, and at first I thought it was the same kind of forum-based piracy that I've seen so often. And then I saw some things (besides the normal "oh, we're not doing anything bad") that actually pissed me off.
- Donating money. Look, I get that helping other people is nice. I'm in charge of Spec The Halls, and was a matching partner for 100 Words, 100 Stories. Both of those got creatives to donate their work to help others. Getting donations for content you don't have the rights to in order to help other people? Kinda negates the karma thing.
- Nobody actually sues us, and it's only unknowns complaining. In case you hadn't noticed, most of us small and independent folks don't exactly have the disposable income to go and fight international court battles. This is something especially near and dear to me today, as I prepare to send my authors their earnings for this quarter.
- We support authors and creative people. Yeah, look. I understand about discoverability (read the links above). I also understand that doing that without letting the people involved make that choice has, in multiple instances I personally know of, caused authors to stop writing.
That's a strange kind of "support", my friends.
- We're not "stealing". It's piracy. I'm guessing they're riffing off this:
Those are annoying enough, but then there's these that really pissed me off:
- Encourages people to upload content to their servers, then claims they're not responsible.
- Teaches people explicitly how to use software to upload content to their servers.
- Claims "copyleft" status and talks about "sharing culture".
- Confuse "able to stop us" with "legal" and "right".
- In a tweet (captured in the Storify below), saying "authors who have a problem should follow simple instructions".
You want to innovate and share culture? As one of their supporters said on Facebook, make an equivalent of Netflix or Hulu for eBooks. As I said on Twitter, make it OPT-IN for authors.
But honestly, it's the hypocrisy that pissed me off.
Copyleft means something very specific, and "sharing culture" is part of the Creative Commons ideal. Both are about getting software and ideas out there - but they do not repeat do not justify piracy of copyrighted works.
Because I do agree - copyright is broken, and draconian efforts to stop piracy will stifle cultural expression. I'm a supporter of Creative Commons and copyleft work.
And TUEBL (and sites like it) aren't revolutionizing anything. It's not doing a damn thing to actually make it easier to share culture.
Because they're doing exactly the things that anti-piracy advocates fear, while saying the same things that copyright reformers say. They make it harder for people to take copyleft, Creative Commons, and others interested in actually helping our society to be taken seriously.
Consider: You find out that a bunch of people claiming to support your favorite political candidate are doing all the things that the over-the-top attack ads claim your side will do. That is not helping your cause.
That's only helping the other side.
Let me make this more clear:
TUEBL (and sites like them) are making it easier for draconian copyright laws to be passed. Their actions directly make it harder for there to be a free and open internet.
All while trying to wrap themselves in the cloak of idealism.
And I hate to say it, but that's bullshit, my friends. This is piracy.
I'm half- convinced that TUEBL is actually a mole account created by the pro-copyright groups in order to give them an example to point to.
Quit trying to pretty it up, and be honest about what you're doing. It doesn't matter how much money you donate, or how many impassioned arguments you make about internet freedom (or how many of them I've said myself, or how many I agree with). I'm actually hoping the people who run TUEBL agree with me that those ideals are important... because then we can actually start having a conversation about how to make those ideals happen in real life, and evaluating whether or not our actions are helping those ideals become a reality.1
The storify I mentioned is below (or at this link, if you can't see it). I still urge people to sign the Declaration for Internet Freedom, and to oppose CISPA.
1 Yes, if you're reading this, I'm the guy who just left a message for your webhost or registrar. I'm serious about this whole "conversation" thing.