Archive for April, 2009

Giving it Away for Free

April 7th, 2009

Witch Way to the Mall

Witch Way to the Mall

This was going to be a small announcement that I’ve got a story coming out in Esther Friesner’s Witch Way to the Mall this next June, and Baen is offering five of the stories early, including mine (you have to click all the way to the end to find it, since it’s not linked in the contents), but, well, it’s sort of morphed into a rumination on copyrights and giving it away for free.

This was prompted by a short letter I got last night from Paizo, a gaming company I’ve bought from before and who has given me some very nice PDFs of their other games as free samples:

Dear Kevin,

Wizards of the Coast has notified us that we may no longer sell or distribute their PDF products. Accordingly, after April 6 at 11:59 PM Pacific time, Wizards of the Coast PDFs will no longer be available for purchase on paizo.com; after noon on April 7, you will no longer be able to download Wizards of the Coast PDFs that you have already purchased, so please make sure you have downloaded all purchased PDFs by that time.

We thank you for your patronage of paizo.com. Please check out our other downloads at paizo.com/store/downloads.

Sincerely yours,
The Paizo Customer Service Team

This has prompted a great deal of talk on the Paizo and Wizards boards and elsewhere, with a press announcement from Wizards saying they were shocked shocked! to find that people were violating their copyrights on the internet, and they’re now suing people as far away as Poland and the Philipines — this particularly ironic since a number of years ago, they themselves violated the copyrights of a number of authors, myself included, with the publication of the Dragon Magazine compilation CD.  But the fact that my very first professional sale (if not publication credit), which was reprinted by Wizards without my permission, was then pirated around the globe without Wizards’ permission?  I suppose I could fall into a fit of apoplexy that my words my precious words! were no longer under my control.  But since I’ve been giving that article away for free on my website for years, the mental chain is more: sauce, gander, world’s tiniest violin.

This isn’t to say that I don’t think Wizards has the right to pull those works they do hold copyright to from publication, but giving customers who’ve already paid for the work less than twelve hours notice is rather bad form.  Moreover, I think it’s inane to cut off electronic reprints of out-of-print books, especially when there’s a demand for them and the fans will have to chose between pirate networks and the absurd prices of antiquarian booksellers.  And when I say absurd, I mean absurd: Last night I went on to Half.com to get a book I wanted, and while I was there, the engine (which had remembered my previous searches) told me I could get a copy of  Wild Cards Card Sharks, which has my first professional fiction publication, for only $1.37.  This seemed absurdly reasonable, and since I’d heard they were going for much more (and I only have two copies myself) I decided to snatch it up, only to find that the price had jumped to $53 once I clicked on the link and it was absurd the other way.

I’m not going to pay $53 for a paperback.  Moreover, I don’t expect any fan to.  And it’s not like I’d see any of that money from the antiquarians in any case.  I’d rather the fans download it from Polish pirates, then buy something current (such as, for example, Busted Flush or Witch Way to the Mall).

Which I suppose brings us full circle: There are free stories–regardless of how they got there–and if you like them, you can buy more stories.