While some artists are incensed by Internet piracy, others are embracing it. The former believe piracy is out and out theft of their work, the latter view it as a vehicle for reaching a wider audience.
The other day I wrote about Freedom author Jonathan Franzen rejecting ebooks in favor of traditional paper books. Best-selling Brazilian author Paulo Coelho feels the same way about reading books on a digital screen, but he has a surprising attitude towards Internet piracy—with good reason.
You would think that an established artist such as Coelho would abhor piracy of his books, but he embraces it. In fact, he told the Guardian newspaper in 2009 that he estimates 20% of his book sales originate with piracy.
Coelho said his books have sold some 300 million copies worldwide, which is surprising from a writer who is more literary or spiritual than commercial. The Alchemist alone has sold 35 million copies, according to the author.
But what’s really surprising is that Coelho credits the success of The Alchemist to the book being pirated in 1999. He told the Guardian that a Russian translation cropped up on the Internet in 1999 and sales jumped to 1 million by 2002 and kept going from there.
“The more people ‘pirate’ a book, the better,” Coelho said. “If they like the beginning, they’ll buy the whole book the next day, because there’s nothing more tiring than reading long screeds of text on a computer screen.”
(Sound familiar? Franzen thinks the same about reading on screen, although I don’t know how he feels about piracy.)
But contrast Coelho’s view of piracy to the People Who Love Books Don’t Steal Books movement among authors who feel differently. Supporters of this movement see piracy as stealing, period.
“Authors do this for a living,” bestselling English crime novelist David Hewson told the Guardian. “And if you take their work for nothing, you are depriving them of a living.”
But that’s what makes Coelho’s attitude so different—he sees piracy as helping sell books, making him more successful financially.
It’s the same attitude new artists have taken—just get the work out, reach people and build a fan base. It’s what all those YouTube videos are about. It’s how bands get discovered these days, in a lot of cases. Like Coelho, artists may just have to accept and embrace it.