Neil Gaiman on Piracy

From a 2011 interview with Neil Gaiman:

When the web started, I used to get really grumpy with people because they put my poems up, they put my stories up, they put my stuff up on the web. And I had this belief, which was completely erroneous, that if people put your stuff up on the web and you didn’t tell them to take it down, you would lose your copyright. Which, actually is simply not true. I actually got very grumpy because I felt that they were pirating my stuff, that it was bad. And then I started to notice that two things seemed much more significant. One of which was – places where I was being pirated, particularly Russia, where people were translating my stuff into Russian and spreading it out into the world…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, and when a new book would come out in Russia, it would sell more and more copies. And I thought that was fascinating. And I tried a few experiments. And some of them were quite hard. Persuading my publisher, for example, to take one of my books and put it out for free. And we took “American Gods”, a book that was still selling, and selling very well, and for a month, they put it up completely free on their website. And you could read it, and you could download it.

And what happened was, sales of my books, through independent bookstores, because that was all we were measuring it through, went up the following month 300 percent. And I started to realize that, actually you’re not losing books, you’re not losing sales, by having stuff out there.

And when I give a big talk now on these kinds of subjects and people say “What about the sales that I am losing through having stuff copied, through having stuff floating out there?” I started asking audiences to just raise their hands for one question, which is, “Do you have a favourite author?” And they say “Yes”, and I say “Good. What I want is for everybody who discovered their favourite author by being lent a book put up your hands. And then anybody who discovered your favourite author by walking into a book store and buying a book, raise your hands.” And it’s probably about 5-10%, if that, of people actually discovered their favourite author, who is the person they buy everything of and they buy the hardbacks, and they treasure the fact they’ve got this author. Very few of them bought the book. They were lent it. They were given it. They did not pay for it. And that’s how they found their favourite author.

And I thought, you know, that’s really all this is; it’s people lending books. And you can’t look on that as a lost sale. It is not a lost sale. Nobody who would have bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free. What you’re actually doing is advertising; you’re reaching more people; you’re raising awareness. And understanding that gave me a whole new idea of the shape of copyright and what the web was doing because the biggest thing the web is doing is allowing people to hear things, allowing people to read things, allowing people to see things they might never have otherwise seen. And I think basically that’s an incredibly good thing.

An incredibly good thing? What do you think …?

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