Video: An interview with Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman speaks to Rich Millington from ORGZine about books, piracy, copyright and the internet

Neil Gaiman

Image: CC-AT Flickr: roll_initiative (.guilty)

Neil Gaiman is a bestselling author and ORG patron. He has long been one of the top writers in modern comics, as well as writing books for readers of all ages. He is listed in the Dictionary of Literary Biography as one of the top ten living post-modern writers, and is a prolific creator of works of prose, poetry, film, journalism, comics, song lyrics, and drama. He is best known for his science fiction and fantasy work, including his best-selling graphic novel "The Sandman". He was awarded the Defender of Liberty Award by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund in 1997, where he has since served on the Board for the last eight years. He has been blogging since 2001, as well as fundraising and raising awareness over free speech issues, and fighting (and winning) a landmark legal case on copyright in the US.


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Comments (17)

  1. Jim Killock:
    Feb 08, 2011 at 11:27 AM

    Fascinating evidence of the complexity of this problem.

  2. Narkor:
    Feb 09, 2011 at 03:18 PM

    When I can put a pirated book on my ebook reader, I have no need to go and buy it. That's where the "give it away in electronic format for free" thing might fall down. Of course the nice thing about Gaiman and Doctorow is that they provide excellent philosophical and moral cover. I don't need to feel bad about not paying authors when I only read their book in pirated electronic format because no one is losing any sales are they?

    1. Mullu:
      Feb 09, 2011 at 03:52 PM

      Narkor: "When I can put a pirated book on my ebook reader, I have no need to go and buy it."

      Funny, for me is the exact opposite. With the prices of books, I really only buy stuff I already read and loved, already read and want to give to someone else, or was written by someone I know never fails.

      The best part, though, is that I get access to books I would never get in a library here in Peru.

    2. Renee:
      Feb 09, 2011 at 04:29 PM

      How is putting a free e-book on your reader different from borrowing a physical book from your friend, exactly?

      1. Andy:
        Feb 09, 2011 at 09:41 PM

        When you borrow a book from your friend, there is still only one copy that you will (presumably) return. If your friend needs to replace it because you didn't return it, or if you did return it but you now want a copy, a second copy must be bought. Same is true of borrowing from the library. When you put a pirated copy of a book on an e-reader, though, the original copy became 2 copies, and no one got paid for the second copy. Neither you nor your friend has any need to buy a copy, as you both have one, but the publisher and author and all only got paid for one (if that).

        1. Mullu:
          Feb 09, 2011 at 10:08 PM

          I get your point, but I am with Renee on this. It is different in regard of the money that is not being made, but for the people that share the information, it is just the same. The only difference is that now instead of maybe 5 friends that own cool books I have not read, there is a huge book-exchange fair going on 24-7.

          I understand the concerns, but we need a balance between protecting the authors and giving the people access to the information (now that we have the tools to do it). And right now the balance is not all that good.

          I know this has been said a lot, but the internet has already changed the way we see information in so many ways... Why is it so strange to think of a change in the way authors profit from it?

        2. Protected:
          Feb 13, 2011 at 08:43 PM

          Our society has progressed to a point where something wonderful happened - information is no longer (or no longer has to be) scarce. Copies cost literally nothing to make. While this may cause issues to certain traditional business models, any solution that requires creating artificial scarcity by strongly repressing and limiting people's ability to share this information is a step behind in our natural progress, and doomed to fail - Or if it succeeds perfectly, it will lock down civilization into a state of stagnation.

          You can draw a parallel with material goods - once we're able to copy those for free (doesn't matter how - quantum? robotics? bio-organism manipulation? the future will tell!), it will mean the end of poverty. It will also bankrupt a significant amount of existing businesses, but does that mean copying should be restricted? Should we starve people in order to save those business methods? Of course not! Businesses die, people move on and move with the times towards a better future. If you wouldn't starve a person's body to death in order to protect your business, don't starve a person's mind either!

          Of course, I'm not saying people shouldn't be compensated for their work. I'm a software engineer myself - I produce intellectual property, a target for piracy. But it's my belief that (bar other, completely unrelated issues tied to national and international economy and politics), if you do your job well, you'll be fine. I seriously doubt a good professional like Mr. Gaiman will ever be in trouble. People love him because he's really, really good at what he does.

          The war on piracy is all about the loss of the profit margin that used to result from the production, marketing and sale of Utter Crapp.

  3. Jonathan:
    Feb 09, 2011 at 03:25 PM

    It's interesting he brings up the question of walking into a bookstore and discovering a favourite author, because that's precisely what happened with me. I walked into my local comic book store, picked up Volume One of The Sandman, and came back the next day to buy Volumes Two and Three. No one had directly told me or suggested that I read The Sandman -- I simply decided that, because I had heard so much about it through sources like Wizard, I wanted to read it. And now Neil Gaiman is my favourite author and I buy absolutely everything he writes.

    Of course, I also agree with Mr Gaiman about the piracy issue. As far as I'm concerned, downloading something off the Internet is really no different from borrowing or being lent a copy of a book, CD, film, or what have you. For example, if I'm interested in the work of a particular director -- especially one whose films are difficult to find or out of print -- I will download one or two of his/her films to view at my leisure. If I like it, I go online or to the shops and buy their other films. That's just the way things work in the 21st Century.

    1. Renee:
      Feb 09, 2011 at 04:34 PM

      My story re: Sandman is quite different. I first heard of it when my newly minted college friends were holding a Sandman-themed Halloween party. After the party, I borrowed the complete series from them and read them all.

      Eight years later, I introduced Sandman to my fiancé via the local library system, which has all 4 absolute Sandmans. He just finished volume 2.

      You see, I've managed to make it 8 years without ever buying Sandman, and I never once "pirated" it.

  4. Jack:
    Feb 09, 2011 at 11:05 PM

    If an author is compensated by the formula:

    $ = (some multiplier) * Number_of_Books_Sold

    and the total value/enjoyment/benefit of the audience could also determined, at least approximately well by the formula

    Value = (some multiplier) * Number_of_Books_Sold

    then everything works smoothly. The problem is that we've gone way beyond that and we are dominated by situations where the author's contribution is not neatly measured by number of books sold and where the value to the end user is not neatly measured by the number of books sold. For example, I borrow a book from my friend, so only one book is sold. The author perhaps is due more if 5 people enjoyed his/her work and, while I enjoyed the author's work and have no problem kicking in $5 to encourage the author to keep writing, the only mechanism I have is to buy my own copy of the dead tree. On the other hand, I buy some crappy book (or, more often, software) and my benefit is zero yet the author's compensation goes up (encouraging more crappy software; sigh).

    We need to remember that copyright and compensation are only APPROXIMATE measures of how social benefit and wealth should flow.

    There may be some with the philosophy that "all content is free unless there are locks on the door" but that does not lead to a socially useful system. However, I suspect that most intelligent people will agree that if The Sandman is worth reading, the author should get something for it from the readers and it is now just a question of how to calculate that.

  5. Bewildered:
    Feb 10, 2011 at 09:58 AM

    Funny how authors who don't have to worry about paying the bills are the ones who support piracy. Hypocrites.

    1. midgetriumph:
      Feb 11, 2011 at 10:13 PM

      This is an incredibly and intellectually ignorant statement. All authors who 'don't have to worry about paying the bills' at some point and time did have to worry about paying the bills that would have, at the time, benefited from supporting 'piracy' and the advertising 'piracy' offers.

      I have ironclad proof of my statements. Web-comics. Web-comic artists all start off as individual's who 'can't pay the bills' and through out the artists ENTIRE career the artists web-comic is FREE from the beginning. That is the nature of webcomics, that's how they started, and that's how they continue to be produced, FOR FREE. He or she NEVER sells the comic itself and many comics today are becoming webcomics, all of them self supporting, and not 'once' have they sold a 'product'. The money was given to them out of the kindness and support of their readers by means of donation, and some artists are then encouraged to also merchandise when they become popular enough to warrant it, because people will WANT IT. The artists success is only entirely proportionate to their popularity and their ability and desire to produce and advertise. It has never been truer and webcomics are ironclad proof that piracy is an extremely positive activity which increases sales and popularity. And again, I reiterate, the entire time the product in question, the comic, is free. That's how webcomics have always inherently worked, it's how they started, and how they continue to be.

      One need look no farther then that. Nuff said.

  6. Dave St.John:
    Feb 11, 2011 at 11:51 PM

    I'm a publisher/author. Our titles have been downloaded and read a quarter million times in the last few months. I can tell you with absolute certainty that I've not 'lost' those sales. I've gained 250,000 new readers who have discovered my and my authors' books. Both print and ebook sales are up. That's fact.

    If you want to hug your book close to your breast and make sure no one sees your book for free, then more power to you. You're hurting no one but yourself.

  7. NickPheas:
    Feb 12, 2011 at 08:50 AM

    I confess I have very few qualms about obtaining a pirated copy of a book that I already have a physical copy of, or one that a friend is prepared to lend me. When neither is true I'll take out a library copy, to ensure that the PLR is passed on, or buy a copy for myself or as a gift later.

    1. Protected:
      Feb 13, 2011 at 08:51 PM

      I like to pirate videogames for trial purposes. While some videogame publishers offer demonstrations, they are often inadequate and have varied restrictions, different from game to game, that will prevent a serious preview of the game experience. If I don't like the game, I stop playing and delete it from my hard drive - Why would I want to play or give a friend a game I don't like or consider bad? If I like the game, I buy it for myself or as a gift. I can state with absolute confidence that nearly all of these purchases wouldn't have happened without evil, evil piracy.

  8. Edith:
    Feb 12, 2011 at 07:03 PM

    I can easily get used copies of "just out" books at a local library bookstore. The city is full of rich people who buy books new and donate them to the library bookstore soon after they're out.

    But for favorite authors, I *always* buy books new. I know that if I don't support them, they won't be able to keep writing the books I love. One author I loved so much I bought two copies of her books new. Now she's a best-seller and I don't do that anymore.

    My husband loves music and discovers new artists through our library. I persuade him to BUY the music he loves to support the artists.

  9. Kristina:
    Feb 12, 2011 at 07:39 PM

    This is such a complicated issue that I have a hard time figuring out where I stand. I am a librarian and reader who leans heavily toward "Lawful Good": I am in favor of reading, authors, libraries, technology, and following rules. I discovered Neil Gaiman by listening to his free recordings of The Graveyard Book available on his Mouse Circus web site. Because I liked the book, I bought multiple copies for my school library. Midgetriumph's webcomics example is a good one, too: I've read a lot of webcomics for free and then bought their print books or t-shirts or other merchandise. And Neil's observations about free content leading to increased sales is compelling. All of this suggests that providing free content is a good idea.

    However, it seems like the author should get to have a say in how their work is offered for free. It seems like a matter of respect that they should make that decision. Reading pirated material still seems wrong to me.

This thread has been closed from taking new comments.

By Richard Millington on Feb 08, 2011

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