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; 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 Please check out our other downloads at

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 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.

12 Responses to “Giving it Away for Free”

  1. Marie Brennanon 07 Apr 2009 at 7:04 pm

    Dammit — Paizo was invaluable to me when I was writing a conference paper on the presentation of the drow in D&D materials, because they provided an easy (and affordable) way to get ahold of out-of-print modules. The thought of someone seeing that as a bad thing is boggling.

  2. Brendan podgeron 07 Apr 2009 at 11:11 pm

    Another case of 20th C at work.

    The book industry has had a big advantage that of all the artistic media it is the hardest to copy and therefore ‘pirate’. But when I see announcements like this and the Authors Guild getting the Kindle’s Text-to-Speech facility turned off, I see old style thinking.

    Who is making the case for writers, publishers and the public that in the 21st C things are going to have to change? What I see now is the recording industry all over again, and as we all know, that aint a pretty sight.

  3. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 08 Apr 2009 at 1:09 am

    I think some of the people at Wizards are making the case in a reasonable fashion, except that, as with the recording industry, there are some other people who obviously can’t keep up with the times.

    The original thought was to have the current edition of Dungeons and Dragons have some variety of code stamped in the back of each book which buyers could then take to the website and get the PDF and other nifty content, and when the book was updated with the inevitable errata, the PDF copy would be updated too.

    Somewhere along the line this promise was dropped, along with many other balls. And now this silly business.

    People are already making wagers on how fast it will be for Arcane Power to be pirated when it comes out in a couple weeks. My guess is mere days, if that long.

  4. CateranLlamaon 08 Apr 2009 at 4:20 am

    Is this really the way modern publishing is turning or is it just another stupid move by Wizards? (Or the toy company that owned them. I seem to remember good moves being made when Wizards was owned by Wizards, but I could be hallucinating. I wasn’t paying nearly as much attention to the business at that point as I was the games.)

    It’s sort of interesting to me to watch music industry vs. pirates and computer gaming industry vs. pirates and Wizards vs. the world. Going to have to look into this Author’s Guild thing, it may provide interesting insight on the whole question.

  5. Laurieon 08 Apr 2009 at 10:01 pm

    I suppose I can understand fighting tooth and nail to hold onto revenues generated by out-of-date business models as long as you can, but it’s ultimately futile. It also tends to infuriate the people who buy their products, so while they may squeeze out a few more drops, they run the risk of poisoning the well.

    @Brendan: I had not heard about the Kindle thing! I’ve heard the freaky Kindle voice and it’s no replacement for an audio book. However, as Gizmodo so rightly points out, machine voices are getting more natural all the time, which may or may not phase out audio books in the future. Personally, I have no interest in the medium, but a friend of mine absolutely loves them. He says one of the big draws is the voices of the various actors who read the books. If that really is why people like them, machine voices won’t cut it. Perhaps screen-readers and traditional audio books can co-exist.

  6. Brendan Podgeron 10 Apr 2009 at 2:07 am

    When you look at the computer animation coming out of the studios, the only thing that isn’t coming out of a computer is the voices. Real speech is hard to emulate, and that is why people like Stepahen Fry are not going to be out of a job anytime soon.

    But this is only short term and I guess that in 15 years(and that is conservitive) that things will have got beyond the point of needing a person to do the recording. The audio book is on the way out and the only question is how long it takes people in the book biz to realise it.

  7. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 10 Apr 2009 at 2:32 am

    Oh, I’m certain they’ll be able to make voice programs that can read instruction manuals and even the news, but they’d choke if you tried to feed them Clark Ashton Smith’s vocabulary.

    Humans are relatively cheap to hire anyway.

  8. Wenamunon 10 Apr 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Elsewhere very experienced author has pointed out that in some cases the Kindle text-to-speech function creates a contract violation. Some authors have already sold audio rights exclusively to other companies. Thus Kindle’s text-to-speech (regardless of what you might assess its quality to be) directly conflicts with some existing contracts. And, as I recall that same someone pointed out, who would likely get sued for breach of contract in a case like this? The author, for letting it happen.

  9. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 10 Apr 2009 at 4:05 pm

    I think if anyone sued over this, it would be because they had nothing better to do with their time. Unfortunately, I think that holds true for a number of people.

    You can sell the spoken-word performance rights to a piece, but is that going to apply to an elementary school teacher reading a book aloud to the class? It gets silly.

    If you sell audio rights, I think its fairly common sense to say that applies to actors reading books into recording devices, not digital speech synthesizers parroting individual words but not the cadence of sentences.

  10. Wenamunon 10 Apr 2009 at 6:57 pm

    It is my understanding that the audiobook companies don’t (or won’t) see it that way. But my information is all very second-hand, and I am only reporting what I hear.

  11. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 10 Apr 2009 at 7:41 pm

    I’m certain the audiobook companies don’t want the competition, so I expect there’ll be some lawsuits until a few judges impose common sense and set precedent.

    Fortunately there’s precedent in that speech synthesizers have been part of computers for years and no one’s objected to those.

  12. Brendan Podgeron 10 Apr 2009 at 10:02 pm

    My Microsoft e-reader program has TTS and I first obtained a dedicate TTS program back in 1991. From what I heard of the Kindle ‘voice’ I have to say quality hasn’t improved that much since then. Besides I can read faster than audio books or TTS run and I like to go over passages and decide for myself how characters ‘sound’. Why would I want it?

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply