Are We in League With the Pirates?


In the Tarot world, as in the book world, there are small and large publishers. Some of the largest Tarot publishers include U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Lo Scarabeo and Llewellyn. Most of the decks they produce are done in large quantities, and as in any industry large volume reduces the final cost to the customer. Then there are smaller independent publishers, like Adam McLean, who hand-craft decks and often sell them at cost. People like that make no money from the effort; whatever they sell covers the cost of producing the decks and leaves very little to fund the next endeavor. These decks are a labor of love: love for art and love for Tarot.

Now, because of deck piracy by various Web sites, small publishers like Adam are being forced to give up on producing the beautiful art decks which would never find a home at the larger publishing houses. These sites not only scan and post copies of entire decks in direct violation of copyright laws, but encourage others to do the same, going so far as to publish directions on how to scan them in at a high enough resolution that illegal copies can be downloaded and printed by anyone who pays these site owners for access to the decks. The artist and the original publisher of course never see a cent of this ill-gotten gain. The answer seems obvious: don’t steal. Unfortunately, some people seem to have missed the ethics gene. Adam is now realizing he can no longer afford to keep producing these decks since the pirating of them has caused his sales to drop so dramatically.

As Adam said on his blog this morning:

“The various people who scan my materials and distribute these illegally on the internet are effectively closing me down. They are responsible for destroying my tarot publishing project and stopping future publications.”

Even I had one of these pirates e-mail me to try to enlist me into scanning in decks for them. Of course they try to portray themselves as simply “wanting to share the beauty of these decks.”

The connection to book publishing seems obvious here. The more books enter the electronic sphere, the less control publishers and authors will have over sales, and profits will become essentially nil. I can’t envision most of these publishers continuing to produce books simply for the love of literature. The largest publishers may be motivated to take legal action here and there for well-known authors whose books bring in the largest chunk of their revenue, but for new or less well-known authors I imagine little to nothing will happen. In the case of small publishers, they simply won’t have the resources to initiate legal action against book pirates. Will writers end up working for free? As it is, the writer is often the last person to get paid. Why is that?

And then there seems to be this attitude among writers (and I have been guilty of espousing the same philosophy) that expecting to be paid for writing is SO gauche, that writers must only be writers for the love of the written word.

Why? Why is writing the one art form that seems to think it’s ok to give away work for free? On the front page of WordPress today is an article asking if we’re witnessing the Death of the Paid Writer? Everyone’s rushing to post their work at free sites, on their own blogs, getting people used to the idea of free books. Do we see painters giving away paintings for free on the side of the road? Not even those homicide-worthy black velvet paintings of Elvis are free. So why do writers do this to themselves? Between the thieves and our own attitudes towards money (eww, ick!) we’re destroying our own livelihood.

The genie is out of the bottle, and I don’t really see any way to get it back in. The wild west that is the internet seems uncontrollable, and to an extent that’s a good thing. The exchange of information is a wonderful thing, no one argues with that. Were it not for the internet, small publishers would have a much harder time reaching any audience at all, so it’s both to and against their benefit.

But publishers, and writers, can’t live on nothing. As the NYC Ballet said years ago, “We can’t live on love alone.”

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23 thoughts on “Are We in League With the Pirates?

  1. “Everyone’s rushing to post their work at free sites, on their own blogs, getting people used to the idea of free books. .. why do writers do this to themselves? ”

    I think there’s a type of personality who loves the sound of his/her own voice, and seeing something online is almost like being published, or being famous, or some damn thing. Add to that the airheads who call you a “sellout” if you accept money for your creative output (as though it’s somehow more noble to work at Starbucks and crank out work that nobody ever sees or gives a damn about – present company excepted, mind you: we all write ‘cuz we love it, but is there anybody reading this who’d turn DOWN the $$, or a full-time paid writing gig, if it were offered to yuz?) and it’s a recipe for disaster -especially b/c the airheads are not content to give their own (often mediocre) work for free; they like to grab other peoples’ work and spread it around without attribution. The cards you’ve showed us now and then are so pretty, I can’t believe anybody wouldn’t want copies that were professionally reproduced, with good ink and paper, instead of using crappy home-made copies run out on a color copier. Where’s the charm in that? You may as well use 78 slips of scrap paper, with the names of the suits written on them in Sharpie marker.

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  2. I think there’s a type of personality who loves the sound of his/her own voice, and seeing something online is almost like being published, or being famous, or some damn thing.

    As one commenter on that blog I linked to who had self-published said, he simply enjoyed reading his own books and hoped others would enjoy them as well. I think people like that should just keep a paper journal. It would already be in book form that way, and it’s not like they have any intention of trying to sell it. I think the ones who cry “foul” the loudest at taking money for writing are the ones who know they will never earn any money writing anyway, much as they might wish they could.

    I think it’s really tearing Adam up about not being able to afford to continue to produce the decks. He’s not a reader and his interest is strictly artistic.

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  3. I’m w/you: I would never pay 2 cents to publish my own stuff: there’s a big difference between scribbling for free, and actually PAYING OUT to publish it. Blogging our own ideas is fun, and I really do think it keeps my skills sharp, but I’m not putting anything out there that I think would make me any $$, or would be worth plagiarizing. Honestly, the self-publishers don’t remotely bug me in the way the plagiarists do.

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  4. I see blogging more as a conversation than “writing.” I post when I have something on my mind, not because I think I’m the next Jane Austen. If I really felt like what I put up here was worth plagiarizing, I wouldn’t put it here. I did actually remove a post from ages ago on Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence” when I started getting a lot of hits during finals season. 😕 Not that I think what I wrote was so great, but maybe someone else did and wanted to use it. I didn’t want to contribute to that.

    But yes, paying to publish yourself when you claim you only write “for the love of writing” is more than a little disingenuous.

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    1. “Conversation” is exactly right, although I’m sure that what you wrote about Austen was better than what some slacker undergrads could come up with by themselves – I visit the IMDb “books” message board occasionally, and it doesn’t even have to be finals season for lazy-ass kids to post quests, basically asking posters to do their homework for them. The regulars alternate between flaming them in no uncertain terms, and making up false endings (there was a great thread on To Kill a Mockingbird Once, where we told the young fraud that Atticus gets involved in a deranged love affair with an old lady who’s a drug addict.) That plagiarized paper I spotted last semester was lifted from a middling good essay that some college student obviously was very proud of, and decided to post online. It was a free site, so he wasn’t looking for money – dude just liked seeing his words in print.

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      1. I love it, the faux ending 😉 (getting another one of my overly ambitious ideas for a tongue-in-cheek Web site — We could write a bunch of bad “cliff’s notes” style articles on all kinds of stuff, like the great PublishAmerica Hoax, and see if anyone notices!)

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  5. As both a writer and an independent Tarot deck creator, I thank you for this great article.
    And as a blogger, I agree that blogging is very much a conversation — at least, it is if you get comments posted. 😀 — and that sets it apart from writing a book. I also find that I spend much less time obsessing about every phrase I write for my blog than I do for my books, so (I hope!) that the quality of my for-sale writing is worth the extra (ie, non-zero) cost over that of my blog.
    Best,
    James Ricklef

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    1. Thanks James. I’ve never created a Tarot deck, but both subjects are near and dear to my heart as well. Typically I spend very little time on blog posts, it’s very off-the-cuff for me (and I’m sure it shows) but that’s ok. If I were looking to make money from a blog like Darren Rowse it would be a different story.

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      1. I used to frequent a very well-written blog called “Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose,” But as the author Kate got busy with more & more paying gigs, it really showed – she farmed a lot of columns out to her friends, whom I think were chosen less for their literary skills and more for the fact that their opinions re: culture and politics, were closely aligned with Kate’s own: it turn into this whole “hooray for us we’re the smartest girls in the room”-fest. Now it’s her blog and her business if she wants to do that, but I kind of lost interest b/c they weren’t just judgmental, they were excessively didactic: the only opinions they tolerated were their own, and they had a rude way of telling posters that it was rude to harbor differing points of view.

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      2. I remember reading that one once or twice, but not on a regular basis. The internet has a strange effect on some people. It seems to give some people a rather expanded view of their own importance. I’ve quit reading a number of blogs that fell into that trap. Then they get ‘regular’ commenters who sort of take over the conversation and always seem to be spoiling for a fight, effectively running off anyone who doesn’t believe exactly as they do.

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  6. “Of course they try to portray themselves as simply ‘wanting to share the beauty of these decks.’ ”

    Right. I wonder how quickly they would change their tune if it was their work being stolen?

    As for writers and wanting to get paid…. damn straight I do! If I enjoyed writing strictly as a hobby (and nothing wrong with that, of course) then I would simply email or print out copies for my friends and family. Or, perhaps post an occasional story online for fun.

    But a professional writer has every reason to expect to get paid the same way anyone else in any other profession expects to get paid. Wanting to get paid for writing doesn’t mean you also aren’t doing it for the love of it. No one ever said to my father, “Hey, if you truly love teaching so much, and if you truly care so much about enlightening our youth… you would do it for free!”

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    1. Exactly. But then, I suppose we should be glad that there are people who aren’t trying to get published and paid, should reduce the slush piles a little 😉

      I definitely want to be paid for my writing, and get published in a respected venue, whether a book published or short stories in magazines. Writers so often say it’s a second job, that they can’t make a full-time living at it. Well guess why not?? It’s because publishers have learned to take advantage of people’s vanity to see their name and work in print for nothing or next to nothing. Why should they pay for something if the writer is willing to give it away? They’re shooting themselves in the foot and they can’t see that. It’s maddening.

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  7. MaryJ and DD,

    Your last two comments is why I am very selective of which sites I lurk/participate at. There are enough problems in the world and in personal day-to-day life. I refuse to willingly spend my spare time in a bog of ill-will and negativity.

    I’ll take the friendly and witty banter to be found here, thank you! 🙂

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    1. So true, I don’t have time to spend arguing online with a bunch of people whose opinions I couldn’t care less about. But some people seem to thrive on it. I guess negative attention is better than none at all to them.

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  8. Harlan Ellison has a rant about writer’s getting paid. Being Harlan, warning that his language is can be pretty salty.

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  9. Yep, it’s a good one. I ran across a blog the other day by some guy who was trashing Ellison, calling him an a**hole, but I have to agree with Ellison. If he wasn’t so “in your face” about this issue, would anyone still be watching this interview, or talking about it? And I think he’s right anyway. Why is writing less worthy of being paid than a sound electrician? Or a gaffer on a movie set? What would they use to make movies without writers? And I bet every person who says “write for the love of it, if you get paid it’s a gift” would scream bloody murder if something they wrote and put out on the net for free was turned into a movie and they didn’t get paid for it.

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    1. “write for the love of it, if you get paid it’s a gift.”

      I agree with that sentiment to a point. At least, I take it to mean that you have to love writing to put this amount of time and energy into it, knowing that it may never even sell.

      I think that is what makes me even angrier. A writer’s income is unsteady to begin with. I realize that. I accept that. But I won’t accept a “lie down and bear it” attitude to being robbed and just utterly taken advantage of.

      “Audiences don’t know somebody sits down and writes a picture. They think the actors make it up as they go along.”
      Sunset Boulevard (1950) – Joe Gillis (William Holden)

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  10. Great quote. If the writers didn’t write that picture, the actors would have nothing to do. And no one is suggesting actors who love their craft do it for free.

    Yes indeed, we have to love it or why bother? But it’s still work, at least if it’s done well. I know the odds of making money doing this, but every writer who buys into this idea that you shouldn’t expect to be paid for writing makes the odds that much worse for other writers.

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  11. Anybody who’s willing to work for free and can afford to do so has my blessing, but it annoys me that certain professions/vocations are somehow expected to do so. The same people who have made kids’ sports a cottage industry (coaches, lessons, travel, unknown millions sapped away from academic programs for scholarships,) despite the slot-machine-like odds that a person will ever make any kind of living at it, treat the arts like some kind of frivolous little waste of time, not worth spending $$ on. Is it any different in Europe, Gypsy?

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  12. MaryJ,

    Oh, it’s definitely different. In Germany there aren’t any sports scholarships to get one into University. They have normal gym class for fitness, but sports per se isn’t pushed. School here is for academics.

    As for art, I’m not sure if they have art classes like we have in the US. I assume so. And art in general is very important here.

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  13. What’s most confusing to me is that the decks Adam produces are limited run and very expensive – why would anyone who values the art/tarot/independent publishers enough to pay the money for one, then turn around and do this??

    I rely on sites that show the whole deck (like albideuter, who does so legally and in modified format) to show me what I’m missing, whether due to cost or a deck being out of print. Several of the decks I’ve downloaded over the years *for visual appreciation purposes only*, I now own.

    The saddest thing of all is that if no one else steps up to take Adam’s place, we will all lose out on future independent decks. Adam was my hope for getting my own deck published one day 😦

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  14. The thinking seems to be that by having these decks accessible to “members only” the people who put them online can then charge for access to them and make money off them. I don’t see why they don’t understand this is copyright violation, just as if they took the latest Stephen King book, put it up online in a password-protected forum.

    Generally I only need to see a few cards from a deck to get a feel for whether or not I like the art style. I tend to like to see the Star, High Priestess and Death (imagine that) cards. If I like those well enough I will likely buy the deck. I’ve only once downloaded an entire deck, but the artist had it available on his own Web site and gave full permission to do that and print your own copies of it. I ended up buying a copy from him anyway, as the print quality I was able to get on printers I have access to was pretty funky on the two cards I tried to print.

    One of the members on TCF is trying very hard to convince Adam that his lack of sales lately is not entirely due to pirated decks, that the general downturn in the economy is probably more to blame. I hope he will relent in his decision, but I think he really wants to find someone to partner with him and help offset the costs. Can’t say I blame him. If you end up self-publishing your deck there are others who have done that and can probably help with pointers on how to do it, and do it well (Lynyrd Narciso, Penelope Cline (Wild Green Chagallian), and others). Don’t give up hope!

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  15. I can always tell, from the card or 2 that you post online, what the artist’s style is like. If Adam is reading this, I hope he’ll consider taking a little hiatus until the economy turns around, and then maybe finding a partner and going back to doing what he loves.

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