Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Minor Arcana of Ethics


Writing is a creative art.
Writers often think they are "special" because of that.
Set apart from ordinary mortals.
Privileged in both their suffering and their success.
Acolytes of the Muse, under her protection.
Elite and elect, for whom the ordinary rules governing behaviour do not apply.
They claim the mandate of a different ethic.
A lingering medievalism, because writers use words like a spell to create golems and chimeras, invoke worlds and summon demons.
Writers as word-mages have the power to alter reality for a space.
A power enhanced by persistent superstitions about the arcana of writing and the fact that literacy is not, even now, generally universal.
So, supported by this conceit, we see violations of major and minor ethics.
James Frey and his ilk.
Spiteful reviews and deliberate denegrations.
The introduction of e-publishing reveals another violation of ethical conduct, another form of theft.
Not just the forward of a downloaded book to a friend as one could and might do with a standard paperback, but a mass distribution.
The shrugging self-justifications for this sort of rip-off are as many and varied as the psychologies behind it.
I still call it stealing - plain and simple theft.
Faith and Karen have raised the issue. You might like to read the discussion.
The minor devilkins are always loose among us, it seems. There is no need to call them up.

25 comments:

Jaye Wells said...

I somehow think these injustices are not so much indicative of writers' separation from reality, so much as society's failings or just plain human nature. These incidents you're describing are happening in many other areas, i.e. pirating movies and music.

Bernita said...

Of course they occur, Jaye.
Creative people, whether writers, artists, singers and such, have less excuse, not more, to my mind, to be hypocritical about their right to evade standard ethics.

kmfrontain said...

I, personally, have chosen to give out two free novels on the internet. I've posted a novel's worth of serial fiction on my LJ. I have other free fiction on a free zine. Anyone who's read this material has had sufficient "free samples" to know if my work is worth supporting. I've done my bit, giving free samples to the public, acting like the radio, spreading my media. And now it's time to wake a few readers up to their end of this arc.

If they don't make it worth my while to continue, I won't. Not for them, not the on-line community. First chance I get, all ebooks will be off the market at the earliest convenience.

It's good that Bernita and other authors/editors/agents mention this topic in their blogs. A poke at the consumer needs to happen on occasion. This is a new era in publishing anything, and we need to get past the "let's get it all free" attitude and make the public wake up to their responsibility. If they want to be entertained, they got to be willing to act like real patrons, and fork up the money to support their favourite artists, any sort of artists. If we don’t remind the consumer, they’ll just blithely trample artist self-esteem into the dust.

Kirsten said...

The ethics are clear. But practically speaking, what's to be done? In the eyes of the law, this is petty theft, so it's unlikely that authors will ever have much recourse as individuals through conventional law enforcement channels.

Perhaps a technology can be developed that will detect when an ebook has been forwarded to someone new, and force the recipient to pay up before reading.

Perhaps ebook authors can form some sort of a association, pool their money, and set it to work enforcing their copyrights.

There's another alternative as well, although I suppose this will seem odd if not outright distasteful to most authors: use affiliate ads embedded in the books to generate revenues, instead of worrying about copyright. In that case, wide dissemination becomes an asset . . .

kmfrontain said...

The ebook as a form of mass market advertising, Kirsten? Lol. It may come to that. Music radio stations went that route. So did TV programming, all of which started out free.

So the consumer buys the reader hardware, gets the media for free, and big business becomes the patron of the artist, chucking an advert in the text every ten pages or so. It may come to that. It just might.

Kirsten said...

There's a whole cottage industry of non-fic "self help" e-authors who are doing it right now, and if their brags are to be believed, they are turning a nice bit of cash at it . . .

Bernita said...

Well said, Karen!

Seems there's evidence of that with print books, Kirsten, so why not with e-books?

Kirsten said...

Exactly, Bernita. The snag is that one may start to think of novels as a vehicle for advertising, instead of For Art's Sake. Which may be an inherently corrupting tendency.

Jaye Wells said...

I gotcha and I agree, Bernita. I lecture all of my friends now about buying pirated anything. Now that I understand how these things hurt the author, musician, programmer, film maker, etc. I find it dispicable.

Alexandra said...

The minute we went from telling stories verbally, to assigning them to paper and parchment, our work was open to misuse and abuse.

Faith said...

Thanks for the link, Bernita!

Bernita said...

I think that's a different ethical question all together, Kirsten.
If money exchange for art is corrupt, then all artists are corrupted.
The compatibility vehicle is already on the road, even if the present advertisements are select and narrow.
No one seems to raise eyebrows when magazines publish advertisements and I'm not certain, but it seems to me that print books at one time also included advertisements at the back.

Dispicable is a good word, Jaye.
I wonder if those who anticipate or have secured a print publisher tend to ignore the ramifications regarding copyright that this pirating of e-books produces, even though a number of print publishers are testing the electronic waters.

Bernita said...

I have the feeling that abuse occurred even before pen and parchment became the vehicle, Alexandra.
Insert different hero's name,alter the chain of events in the oral saga and there you go.

Bernita said...

I think writers have certain obligations, Faith.

Alexandra said...

At least the story-thief of yore had to commit the whole saga to memory, Bernita, where as someone stealing in this day and age just right-clicks.

Bernita said...

The process wasn't all that different in the oral tradition, Alexandra, than installing the basic computer files is today.

anna said...

'The introduction of e-publishing reveals another violation of ethical conduct, another form of theft.
Not just the forward of a downloaded book to a friend as one could and might do with a standard paperback, but a mass distribution.'

The thing is if nobody bought, then these people would be out of business, simple as that.
but we keep buying, we download music for free, we buy counterfeit designer bags, watches, etc etc.
This isn't a problem that is going away.

As long as their are markets, there will be people who will take advantage of the opportunity.

Bernita said...

Too true, Anna.
But we needn't just fold our hands and use the inevitability of human cupidity as an excuse to say or do nothing.

Dave said...

An acquaintance of mine will not digitize any of his or her writing even though it is all done on computer. They only sell it on paper for this very reason. One person buys it and copies it so all his or her friends get copies. There is an element out there that believes everything on the internet or in electronic form is OK to copy and use without consideration to the author.

I know it happens with computer programs, videotape and now DVDs I guess that e-publications are the next in line.

Just to illustrate the problem, another friend (openly gay) took pictures of bedmates 20 years ago and every so often I see the pictures on the internet purporting to be the author of some personal ad or another.

Ballpoint Wren said...

I thought this would be about people stealing content and publishing it as their own in ebooks.

It is wrong to duplicate ebooks and send them to your friends, but is it wrong to send an ebook to a friend if you delete it from your computer?

To me, that's just like lending out a regular book, but then, the first eBooks I purchased were expensive, a great deal more than Faith's quoted price. (One reference ebook was more expensive than a "real" book! But I paid the higher price because I could not find the material anywhere else.)

I tend to think of ebooks as "real" books, with the same rules.

Daisy Dexter Dobbs said...

Thanks for the link to Faith’s post, Bernita. She stated it well.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I think you'll find stealing in every facet of our society...they'll figure out how to make an industry out of keeping people from pilfering it.

Bonnie Calhoun said...
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Bonnie Calhoun said...
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Bernita said...

I suppose your example illustrates that the abuse of material doesn't just involve a persistent violation of copyright, Dave, but expands.

"I tend to think of e-books as 'real' books, with the same rules."
A resonable guide, I should think, Bonnie - assuming the friend adheres to the same ethic.
As Alexandra pointed out, it's easier to copy an e-book than the text of a paperback.

You're welcome, Daisy.

So true, Bonnie - but they won't bother until it is recognized for what it is.