Philip Pullman has described ebook piracy as “an offence against moral justice”, as he and authors including Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro and Margaret Drabble call on the UK government to take action against the “blight” of online book piracy.
Pullman, who is president of the Society of Authors, is one of 33 writers to have put their names to a letter to the business secretary, Greg Clark. The authors – who also include novelists Joanna Trollope and Malorie Blackman, poet Wendy Cope and historian Antony Beevor – say that illegal book downloads are becoming increasingly prevalent, pointing to research from the Intellectual Property Office that one in six ebooks read online in the UK are pirated.
“Online piracy of books, music, and other expressions of the human spirit needs to be properly understood: it’s an offence against moral justice,” said Pullman. “It’s the very opposite of freedom of speech, because it acts to prevent those who create beauty, knowledge, consolation or delight from earning even a modest living from their efforts.”
Authors are not asked for permission before their work appears on pirate sites, and receive no remuneration for downloads. Last month, writers hit out against a Canadian pirate site offering thousands of in-copyright titles for free. Today, despite the complaints, novels by Pullman, Stephen King and Margaret Atwood remain downloadable within seconds from the same site.
The His Dark Materials author said it should be a “fundamental duty of any decent government to defend the rights of those who help to create what civilisation is … The law of copyright is one of the bastions of civilised living, but the acid rain of online piracy is slowly dissolving something we thought was set in stone.”
In their letter to Clark, the authors warned the business secretary that the growth of online book piracy could “make it even harder for authors to make a living from their work”. Currently, the median income for a UK author is £10,500, a 42% drop since 2005.
“This will harm writers and readers alike – if authors can no longer afford to write, the supply of new writing will inevitably dry up,” they write. “The UK’s great literary heritage has always been underpinned by a robust copyright regime. Unfortunately, this regime is not respected by online pirates, who flagrantly infringe copyright law by both copying our books and offering them for download. As secretary of state whose department has responsibility for copyright and piracy, we are calling on you to take action against the blight of online book piracy.”
Joanna Trollope added: “What all these people who are used to having their music or their books for free don’t realise is that there will be an end to creativity if there is no reward to it. There’ll be no new music. No new writing. No new ideas or expressions of ideas. And piracy only helps hasten that dreary day.”
The Society of Authors said it had yet to receive a response from Clark.