Pirates actually do a favour to writers and artistes
IN THE former Soviet Union, in the late 1950s and 60s, many books that questioned the political system began to be circulated privately in mimeographed form. Their authors never earned a penny in royalties. On the contrary, they were persecuted, denounced in the official press, and sent into exile in the notorious Siberian gulags. Yet they continued to write.
Why? Because they needed to share what they were feeling. From the Gospels to political manifestos, literature has allowed ideas to travel and even to change the world.
I have nothing against people earning money from their books; that’s how I make my living. But look at what’s happening now. The publishing industry is trying to have laws brought in against ‘ intellectual piracy’. Depending on the country, the ‘pirate’ — that is, the person disseminating art on the Internet — could end up in jail.
And how do I feel about this? As an author, I should be defending ‘intellectual property’, but I’m not.
Pirates of the world, unite and pirate everything I’ve ever written! The good old days, when each idea had an owner, are gone forever. First, because all anyone ever does is recycle the same four themes: a love story between two people, a love triangle, the struggle for power, and the story of a journey. Second, because all writers want what they write to be read, whether in a newspaper, blog, pamphlet, or on a wall.
The more often we hear a song on the radio, the keener we are to buy the CD. It’s the same with literature.
The more people ‘pirate’ a book, the better. If they like the beginning, they’ll buy the whole book the next day, because there’s nothing more tiring than reading long screeds of text on a computer screen.
1. Some people will say: You’re rich enough to allow your books to be distributed for free.
That’s true. I am rich. But was it the desire to make money that drove me to write? No. My family and my teachers all said that there was no future in writing.
I started writing and I continue to write because it gives me pleasure and gives meaning to my existence. If money were the motive, I could have stopped writing ages ago and saved myself having to put up with invariably negative reviews.
2. The publishing industry will say: Artists can’t survive if they’re not paid.
But surely, the advantage of the Internet is that you can distribute your work for free.
In 1999, when I was first published in Russia ( with a print- run of 3,000), the country was suffering a severe paper shortage. By chance, I discovered a ‘ pirate’ edition of The Alchemist and posted it on my web page.
A year later, when the crisis was resolved, I sold 10,000 copies of the print edition. By 2002, I had sold a million copies in Russia, and I have now sold 12 million.
When I traveled across Russia by train, I met several people who told me that they had first discovered my work through the ‘ pirated’ edition I posted on my website. Nowadays, I run a ‘Pirate Coelho’ website, giving links to any books of mine that are available on file- sharing sites. And my sales continue to grow — nearly 140 million copies world wide.
When you’ve eaten an orange, you have to go back to the shop to buy another. In that case, it makes sense to pay on the spot. With an object of art, you’re not buying paper, ink, paintbrush, canvas or musical notes, but the idea born out of a combination of those products.
‘Pirating’ can act as an introduction to an artist’s work. If you like his or her idea, then you will want to have it in your house; a good idea doesn’t need protection.