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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Does piracy of books hurt? It destroys lives.

Does piracy of books hurt? It destroys lives.

I knew a lovely lady. She became one of my closest friends. Our friendship was formed on the internet. Likely, we would have never known each other without that magic connection. But that link, while bringing the world to your home, also offers you a mask. Dawn hid herself from the world. Few knew Dawn Thompson was a paraplegic. She could stand, take a step or two, but otherwise, she was trapped in a wheelchair, day in, day out, for the last years of her life.

It was always Dawn’s dream to be an author. The power, the gift of storytelling was in her heart, in her soul. Dawn would have written even if she never was published because the magic was a part of her. Just as she was about to make it in publishing, she was nearly killed in a car accident. It left her with legs that no longer served her, and hands that had not been properly cared for during hospitalization, thus were curled back, useless. She only had use of her index fingers and her thumbs. But oh did she make use of those remaining digits! Dawn wrote dozens of books, most were published by Kensington Books and Dorchester Publishing.

While it was her dream to be published, it also was her necessity to sell her novels. It was one of the few ways left to her where she could raise money to support herself. She was left with a very small disability check, not enough to allow her to survive. She needed that money that would come from her books. In 2007, Dawn was on the verge of being a bestselling author, and her plans were not to buy a second home in Florida or Hawaii, nor buy that yacht we laughingly hear so much about. Dawn’s plans were to have a roof over her head, an apartment in a reasonably safe neighborhood, food for her and for her cat and medicine, the basics that many of us―most of us―take for granted. In the final years of her life, she expanded that drive to want to protect her sister. Her younger sister Candy is also disabled. Dawn thought she could write, sell lots of books and she, the cat and Candy would get by. Nothing fancy, just to be safe, have medicines and decent meals.

My heart broke when I called Dawn one day and she was crying. I finally got the story out of her―what the proud Dawn was trying to hide―just how dire her situation was. She barely had money for food, a condition that had been going on for months. She knew if she could make it until the end of the year, the royalties from her books would actually be giving her the means to survive. She was crying because she was rationing her tea. Tea was a luxury she couldn’t afford, so she allowed herself ONE teabag each Sunday as a treat for herself. Dawn had a helper supplied by the government that came in for a couple hours five days a week. And the aid just went into the kitchen, helped herself to the last tea bag. Dawn wouldn’t have her tea on Sunday. I sat and cried. One teabag per week? How sad was that?

Dawn was so close to making it, but because of the lack of good food she grew weak, and after a long day of work finishing a book, she collapsed as she tried to move from the wheelchair to the bed. As she battled for her life in hospital, she took steps to protect her sister. She gave Candy several of her remaining unpublished books outright, and assigned the rights and royalties of the ones already published to Candy. If the worst came, she wanted Candy taken care of.

The worst did come. We lost Dawn in February 2008, but she died with the belief Candy wouldn’t face the horrible circumstances of choosing between medicine and food, that her pain and hard work would provide the means to take care of her sister. Only Candy is not secure. Her fate is very dire, as bad as what faced Dawn. Maybe worse.

Sad, you say, but how does this relate to piracy?

Simple. Dawn wrote for two publishers, but the one that has control of most of her books is Dorchester Publishing. Recently, they informed the public they were restructuring their business, dropping the mass market line, and moving to only e-book and trade size. Why? Because they are not selling mass market paperbacks on a level to stay in the black. Why should people pay for books, when they can get on the net and enter a name of a book or author and find dozens, hundreds of places where they can download books free. Illegally. People are giving away books, or even more heinous, selling them. They are making money off the hard work of others. When I put in Dawn’s name in a search engine, I shall find her books listed on so many pirate sites it’s sickening. One place selling one of her books illegally had over 4800 downloads. Just ONE book on ONE site. Yes, all those downloading the book might not have ever bought it. But many probably would have. People who professed to love her books would have bought her next book, and her next. Now, why should they pay, when it’s minutes to locate a novel, second to download? To steal it.

These criminals ―yes, THAT is what they are ―make money off Dawn’s works. They are stealing. Dawn used to arise at 7am and would work all day and night and finally struggle into bed around 1am. SEVEN days a week. The whole time she was in agony from metal rods and pins in her body, along with sitting in a wheel chair eighteen hours a day. Those thieves are making money off her agony. The money venues/handlers such as PayPal are making money off Dawn’s pain.

And now they are stealing from Dawn’s sister. They say they aren’t hurting anyone, justifying their criminal activities, because each book is only the “price of a cup of coffee.” But multiply that by two dozen books, multiply that by thousands of downloads, multiply that by dozens, maybe hundreds, even thousands of sites stealing from Dawn’s sister. Suddenly, you are talking about a lot of money. Candy is on very limited means. She gets disability, but is too young for Medicare so she has no medical treatments for dangerously high blood pressure and arthritis. She cannot drive, cannot walk but a few steps with a walker. Currently, she is rooming in a place, and the situation is dangerous to her health. Every penny matters to her simply surviving.

So the next time someone says they can get a book offline cheap, and they aren’t hurting an author because, after all, they all live in big, fancy homes and have a yacht, think again. You are stealing food from people, medical care, a decent place to live. You are stealing people’s hard work. The next time you search out your favorite author on a torrent, before you push that button know you are stealing from people’s children, and you hurt people’s ability to support themselves. Ask yourself, if you would work at your job when people refused to pay you and yet expected you to perform anyway? Could you survive in a job where you might not get money for months, years?

You are stealing. Plain and simple. There is no justification for that. You are hurting people, and none of the blithe rationalizations can whitewash that bald fact.


Jacquie Rogers said...

Thanks for writing this. Stealing is stealing. If you pick up your paycheck, only to find it's 50% of what you thought it would be, you still have to pay rent, food, and electricity. Most people would put up quite a ruckus about the missing money, too. But authors are supposed to accept that it's okay for people to steal part of their paychecks. I'm at a loss to understand this reasoning.

Divanluv said...

This made me cry. Thank you so much for sharing this story.

Divanluv said...

Thanks so much for writing this article. It made me cry. Bless her soul and her sister's. Piracy does ruin livelihoods. I am so sick of the readers and their entitlement issues. Theft is theft!