Listen, having your book show up on filesharing sites or BitTorrent is really the very least of your worries. Truly. At least people know it’s your creation, that you did it, and they have to turn to you for more.
As more writers free themselves of the parasitic grip of traditional publishers, they will be vulnerable to the worst piracy of all: multilingual plagiarism.
Patricia Melo’s excellent novel In Praise of Lies opened my eyes to this possibility:
‘I’m not a writer,’ I said. ‘The Sun Alone is The Talented Mr Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith.’
I took Melissa to the bookcase and showed her all the books I had copied, or tried to copy, while I was working at Minnesota Publishing. The Stranger, by Camus; ‘The Black Cat’, by Edgar Allan Poe; Double Indemnity, by James Cain; ‘The Man in the Passage’, by Chesterton; Crime and Punishment, by Dostoevsky; The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie; Bufo & Spallanzani, by Rubem Fonseca; ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, by Poe; The Human Beast, by Zola.
‘A Train to Death isn’t yours?’ she asked.
‘It’s Double Indemnity,’ I replied, ‘by James Cain. The one you’re holding in your hand.’
She leafed through it. ‘You copied all this? You didn’t make up those crimes? I thought you were a specialist in such things.’ — page 83
You as an independent writer put your work up for sale on a site or store.
Someone bi-lingual in another country gets it. That person decides to do either a straight translation or an “adaptation.” And then likewise sells it — maybe even to a local traditional publisher.
In your worst nightmare, that edition becomes a huge best-seller. And you will never know that. How can you? It doesn’t have your name on it and you can’t read that language. You will never see that stolen money. And even if you find out about it, do you know a good lawyer in Albania or Slovakia or even Germany? And can you afford them? And can you afford to fly over there multiple times as your suit progresses slowly through a court system that doesn’t give a damn? It especially won’t give a damn because you’re just one lonely troublemaker. You’re not a behemoth conglomerate who has done business there for decades and knows the right palms to grease or favors to call in or has an old school chum there who is now the American Ambassador.
In the nightmare of all of your nightmares, the English-language rights are picked up and suddenly people are talking about how you ripped off a best-seller that you originally wrote.
How can you fight that?
You think the Chamberlains of the Authors Guild will help you? They haven’t even considered this.
You think the National Writers Union will help? Are you even a member?
Congress will help? Congress just yesterday gave corporations — fictional entities — more rights than you have as a single real-life human being! (More rights because those entities have more money.)
We writers are screwed.