Why writers should stop worrying about "ebook piracy"

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a trade organization to which I belong, has a vocal contingent who are freaked out about "ebook piracy." They publish jeremiads about fans who scan the books they love and post them on the Internet, and even recently promulgated a nonbinding "code of conduct" (e.g. a loyalty oath) in which members were instructed to "not plagiarize, pirate, or otherwise infringe intellectual property rights (copyright, patent, and trademark) or encourage others to do so." (Patents? Trademarks? Huh?) They have a snitch line in case you find a "pirated" ebook and want to fink out the poster. They even created and then patented a surreal and ineffective technique for spoofing corrupted ebooks into P2P networks (why an organization devoted to helping sf writers in a world of declining sf readership should undertake to convince people not to read sf books, however acquired, is beyond me).

Now the organization has sent out a "push poll" to its members about Amazon's tool for searching and retrieving the fulltext of the books it sells, in which writers were asked questions like "how much of [your work] would you like customers (and pirates) to be able to read without paying?" Additionally, it included brief editorials about the coming infocalypse that "piracy" would bring about. Clearly, this poll was intended to tell SFWA's members how to feel, not gauge how they feel, which is very much in keeping with the organization's creations of loyalty oaths on "intellectual property" in which members are instructed to take vows not to violate patents (again: patents? Huh? Why do SFWA members care if I violate a patent? If I have streaming media on my website without compensating the shakedown artists at Acacia, who claim a patent on all streaming media, am I a bad person? What if I used a Blackberry during the months before RIM settled with the DC-area patent squatters who claim a patent on thumb-keyboards? Cheez!)

My friend, John Scalzi, who got a two-book deal with Tor after he posted a novel in installments to his blog, has written an excellent essay about his feelings on ebook "piracy" and why this push-polling and associated torch-and-pitchforkery is so misguided. John's first book is in its third or fourth hardcover printing, so I'm inclined to listen to what he has to say about the needs of successful new sf writers:

Let's ask: Who are pirates? They are people who won't pay for things (i.e., dickheads), or they're people who can't pay for things (i.e., cash-strapped college students and others). The dickheads have ever been with us; they wouldn't pay even if they had the money. I don't worry about them, I just hope they fall down an abandoned well, break their legs and die of gangrene after several excruciatingly painful days of misery and dehydration, and then I hope the rats chew the marrow from their bones and shit back down the hollows. And that's that for them.

As for the people who can't pay for things, well, look. I grew up poor and made music tapes off the radio; my entire music collection from ages 11 to 14 consisted of tapes that had songs missing their first ten seconds and whose final ten second had DJ chatter on them; from 14 to 18, I taped off my friends; from 18 to 22 I reviewed music so I could get it for free. And then after that, once I had money, I bought my music. Because I could. As for books, I bought secondhand paperbacks through my teen and college years. Now I buy hardbacks. Again, because I can. Now, being a writer, you can argue that I'm more self-interested in paying for creative work than others, but I have to honestly say that I don't know anyone who can pay for a book or a CD or a DVD or whatever who doesn't, far more often than not.