There was an interesting op-ed in the New York Times today about online piracy. The article made the point that Shakespeare and other playwrights of the time were only able to thrive after the invention of the indoor theater. For the first time, customers had to pay to get inside to see a play. This income allowed actors and playwrights to earn a living from their craft. Without those four walls, the world may never have known Shakespeare at all.
Likewise, copyright law has allowed authors to profit from their works since the eighteenth century. But what of today's innovations? Could online piracy just as easily wipe out any profit motive and deprive the world of potential works of art? How would Shakespeare survive in an age of online piracy?
As a writer just beginning to earn a profit from ebooks, I have a slightly different perspective. In over 20 years, not one agent or editor was willing to take a chance and publish my work. I feel no bitterness, it is what it is, but now for the first time I am on the cusp of actually making a living from my writing. In my case, and for many other independent authors, the Internet actually creates the profit motive. I realize, however, that piracy could just as quickly take that away.
Many of my fellow independent authors have no fear of piracy at all. They have the feeling that anyone who downloads a free copy of one of their books probably wouldn't have read it otherwise, but may now buy their next one. I'm not so sure about this logic myself, but that argument aside, I think that the golden age of independent publishing is right now. I'm not seeing many signs of piracy yet myself, but as e-readers become more and more popular it is bound to become a much, much bigger issue in the next few years. In the meantime, anyone who has purchased a copy of my book, thanks a bunch! It may not be Shakespeare, but this author's got to eat!