Compiled from staff and wire reports – A coalition of best-selling authors have joined forces against a sophisticated network that they claim is eroding profits to publishers through unrestrained file sharing.
“We chose to come forward at this time to bring this problem to light,” said Stephen King, one of many authors who spoke against the network at the most recent gathering of the ABA. “There has been much attention paid to music piracy over the last few years, with controversy over systems like Napster and Kazaa. What many people don’t realize is that writers and the publishing industry have been plagued with the same problem for much longer. It became clear to all of us here tonight that this network must be shut down.”
Michael Crichton, author of such high-tech thrillers as Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain explained at the conference how the network was able to conduct such “wholesale theft of intellectual property.”
The key, said Crichton, is that those wishing to indulge in illicit file sharing must register, and are given a membership card with unique identifiers. This gives the operation the air of legitimacy. The membership allows its owner to access thousands of volumes, which are maintained not by individuals, but by a localized central committee. Users can keep the materials for a set period of time and then return them for further sharing.
Crichton explained that the system is so efficient that the range of pirated materials now includes newspapers, magazines, and in some areas, works of art such as paintings or sculptures. “This is really the tip of the iceberg. The network also distributes music and films in a manner that completely eliminates download times. Not even Kazaa can do that.”
The Hunt for Red October author Tom Clancy, while frustrated with the system as well, showed grudging admiration for the network’s modus operandi: “With Kazaa and Napster, you have one easily targeted central location that is a storehouse of information, a massive database. This network is much more fragmented. They established nodes almost everywhere – even places of low population density. It’s like they took a page right out of a terrorist training manual and are operating as individual cells.”
But while the network appears low tech, Clancy said that it is interlinked. “I wanted to see how extensive the network was, so I went to a nearby node and asked for a book on Soviet Arms Specifications during the First World War. The node did not have access to the volume, but they sent out crawlers through their system. Within two weeks they found the volume and put it in my hands.”
John Grisham, lawyer and best-selling author of The Firm and the recent The King of Torts said that the legal implications of the network are tremendous. “Even though the time users have the material is limited, there are no restrictions on its use. They could be loaning them to friends or family members, photocopying them, who knows what all else. This network is probably what enabled (disgraced New York Times reporter) Jayson Blair to get away with feigning his research.
“What’s insidious about this is that they have removed consumers completely from the chain of ownership,” Grisham continued. “With music file sharing, at least you have individuals out there buying the artist’s music. With this system, all incentive to buy a book is removed.”
While many authors have joined the movement against the network, similar numbers do not see it as a threat. “It’s a boon to research,” said biographer David McCullough, author of Truman and John Adams. “If I need information on, say, Soviet Arms Specifications during the First World War, I don’t have to buy the entire book for something I would peruse for ten or fifteen minutes and then never pick up again. When I use the network, I get access to the information for two weeks, which is plenty of time. Sometimes I don’t even download the information. I just sit at the local node and copy it. I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
Lesser known authors also tend to favor the network, claiming that it brings exposure to their work that they wouldn’t otherwise receive. “Besides,” says Joe Clifford Faust, author of such science fiction tomes as A Death of Honor and The Company Man, “when I’ve used the network and found a book I really liked, I usually ended up buying a copy anyway.”
Congressional hearings scheduled for later this year will determine whether the situation warrants legal action or legislation. Jack Nicholson and Philip Seymour Hoffman, who both portrayed writers in recent films, are expected to testify on behalf of the publishing industry.