The real digital pirates

“Take all you can, and give nothing back!”
— pirate’s creed, Pirates of the Caribbean

We hear a lot about piracy online these days. But the real pirates aren’t people downloading last season of “Game of Thrones” over bit torrent. Opportunists, maybe. Lazy, almost certainly. But not pirates.

The real pirates are companies like Facebook/Instagram, who grab rights by changing their terms of service, and then give back only what they have to when people call them on it. I don’t buy for a second Instagram’s mea culpa that the initial language change in their TOS was misunderstood legalspeak. Legalspeak, yes, but we understood it better than they’d hoped.

I see this a lot with print publishers, and Kris Rusch has written about it at length on her blog. Big corporations have one and only one reason to exist: to maximize shareholder value. They do this by squeezing every cent of profit out of everything they do. If they don’t, if they play fair and leave money on the table, as it were, their shareholders can sue them for damages. So now it’s become standard boilerplate for publishers to demand worldwide rights and exclusive ebook distribution rights for as long as a book is in print. But ebooks never go out of print, so the rights never revert. They own your book forever, and you’ll get what they decide to give you.

Fortunately, just as the internet taketh away, it also giveth. I sidestep the above publishing shenanigans by going it alone and publishing my books myself. I get about the same exposure and marketing push midlist print authors get (ie. none), but I own everything and every dime of profit goes to me.

But as far as the Facebooks and Instagrams of the world go, caveat emptor. Read those terms of service carefully if you care at all about the data you’ll be feeding into the service. And remember that if you’re not paying for the service, you’re the commodity being sold.

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