I got a phone call from the guy who runs TUEBL… (or: Pirates and Bandits Revisited)

publishing.pngIf you didn’t see the earlier post, I took TUEBL (The Ultimate E Book Library) to task for clothing piracy in the language of idealism.  I’d also left a voicemail for the guy running the site, and invited him to call me back.  To quote my relevant last paragraph:

Quit trying to pretty it up, and be honest about what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter how much money you donate, or how many impassioned arguments you make about internet freedom (or how many of them I’ve said myself, or how many I agree with).  I’m actually hoping the people who run TUEBL agree with me that those ideals are important… because then we can actually start having a conversation about how to make those ideals happen in real life, and evaluating whether or not our actions are helping those ideals become a reality.

Well, he called me back last night. And it was a really fascinating conversation (and potentially productive, as well).  He clearly came down on the side of “pirates” instead of “bandits”.  (Seriously, if you don’t know the distinction I’m making, click that link.  It’s important, but a little too long to summarize here.)

I’m not going to share the entire conversation, but here’s some highlights (also serving as notes to myself):

  • I apologized for authors behaving badly. Because really, disagreeing with someone doesn’t give you an excuse to be a troll.  He admitted that he wasn’t being reasonable online either, since frothy authors effectively ran a publicity campaign for him. 1
  • He told me about how he really does support charity overseas (predominately literacy-based) with the advertising revenue from the site.
  • He told me that he wasn’t opposed to the idea of going legit, but would have to still ensure some kind of catalog of books.
  • He told me that a large portion of his userbase comes from developing countries, where smartphones and (slow) internet access exist, but they simply don’t have the funds to pay for the eBooks, and nobody else even comes close to serving those people. 
  • Ideologically, we’re not that far apart, and he’s got some good, innovative ideas… but I can’t support him or the site as it exists now because I do not support the copyright violations.
  • The things we brainstormed (see below) could never have come to pass before Kobo opened up DRM-free eBooks and Tor/Forge announced they were going DRM-free.

Some things we brainstormed, that may or may not come to pass:

  • Something like the (now-defunct, dammit) Creative Commons Developing Nations license would allow those of us in developed countries pay for the books, but not restrict access to those who simply can’t.  A technological solution (perhaps based off of IP addresses) could enforce this.
  • There isn’t an existent library solution that isn’t tied to either a store (Amazon, B&N) or to Overdrive (which limits how many people can “check out” an eBook – which is stupid).
  • The possibility of using Flattr or something like it as a way to ensure that authors and publishers get compensated.
  • Corollary to the above:  How would this impact price-matching clauses in Amazon/iBooks/B&N stores?
  • Quite a few people in Facebook comments and elsewhere expressed support for a Hulu/Netflix style of subscription.
  • DRM doesn’t prevent piracy.  Because it doesn’t.
  • There isn’t really a solution except DRM to enforce a true library-style loan of an eBook.
  • Offering a strategy where DRM (to enforce loans) and DRM-free offerings were mixed in some way to subscribers.
  • Using (or even licensing) the download (loan) data to publishers so that they can revise their own pricing and marketing strategies.

And we talked about people he has approached, or could approach.

Honestly, it was one of the most productive conversations I’ve ever had with someone whose current piracy actions I cannot support.  He seems to be a smart guy with ideals not dissimilar to my own.  He seemed interested in actively supporting (including financially) authors and creatives, but did not want to compromise those people outside of the developed world, and to support charity at the same time.

Let me make this clear: I do not support (personally or professionally) the currently existing incarnation of TUEBL.  However, I do support many of his ideals and the things we brainstormed.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is not being at ideological loggerheads.  That is simply a problem.  And problems only need solutions.

If you happen to be a person with more clout (or Klout – ha!) than I with the established publishing industry, I think this guy is someone we want to talk to.  Give him a listen.  Disagree.  Point out problems with his models – he was open to that with me – and brainstorm solutions.  Hell, I’ll join in if you really want me to.

Because while I don’t support where his website is right now, I can easily see where it could turn into something truly awesome for all of us.
1 See? Losing your cool over piracy doesn’t exactly work out the way you wanted, authors.

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  1. July 24, 2012

    Very interesting. Too bad he couldn't have said all this calmly and politely on his website and FB page instead of blowing raspberries at concerned authors and saying "Nanny nanny boo boo, stop me if you can. I don't care."

    I do appreciate the ideology behind it. I, and I'm sure, many authors would support a way to get our books into the hands of readers in devloping countries for little or no cost. I'd be one of the first in line if the site could somehow guarantee that my book is not going to be free for the entire world to download. If someone can make this a reality, I'm on board.

  2. July 24, 2012

    Plenty of piratey folks attempt to pretty up their actions with ideology that often sounds reasonable in part even to those of us who are strong supporters of copyright laws. But for me, this would be a good deal more convincing if I weren't so strongly suspicious that the theft comes first, and the ideology is just a nice outfit to dress it up in.

    I don't know if you watched any of his YouTube videos, but I suspect they give a better sense of his true ideology.

  3. July 25, 2012

    I have made an offer to anyone who disagrees with what i do to talk to me. I also would love to debate the topic of book piracy on the radio if someone is willing to make the stand…. But everyone always runs from the idea of a debate.

  4. July 27, 2012

    Travis, I'm sorry but nothing you can say or do at this point will undo the damage. Bottom line, you've antagonized authors and readers and little else. Any venture you attempt in order to save the world will be met with scorn. No one is going to forget the sad little MP candidate who claimed he was helping impoverished children by taking money away from hard-working authors.

    Furthermore, as a Canadian, I am personally insulted that you dare to hide behind your nationality. I'm one of the people who frothed to my MP about Bill C-11, and yet here you are, proving to Paradis & the rest of the Harper government that Canada does need to act to protect copyright holders.

    People like you give publishers ammo to restrict library access to ebooks. "Oh, it'll only open the door to pirates," they say, and here you are proving them 100% right. For those of us who have been fighting for libraries, you're an embarrassment.

    Find out about these authors whose books are on your site. They're fathers and mothers who have bills to pay. They write because their day job alone doesn't cut it, so rather than work at the Kwik-Way every night they bang out a book. They write three books a year instead of two because they have a new baby and they need the extra money badly. How many authors do you think break the 10K mark? Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, you're taking money from people who worked hard to get it and probably need it to make ends meet. When was the last time you worried about how you were going to make rent for that month?

    I've read your blog. You show support for the Occupy movement and denigrate the Harper & Toews for Bill C-30, and yet you were the first to publish the home addresses of authors who don't play by your rules.

    You're a hypocrite. Stand on your soap box all you want, but that's what you are. Shut down the site and pour your energy into a cause that matters. Canada has enough of them and they could all use your help.

    Though I suspect from your comments here about trying to get a radio spot, helping people really isn't really what you're out to do.

  5. July 27, 2012

    Please continue to play nicely whilst I'm on vacation, folks. I'd hate to have to close comments on this (and stifle debate) because folks can't play polite.

  6. August 20, 2012

    My biggest complaint about TUEBL and Travis McCrea is his apparent contempt for authors. One good example is his post on his blog about Dakota Cassidy –

    Mocking an author when all they wanted was their work removed from your site is really bad form dude. In the long run, the success of your site will depend on the authors themselves (they created the content, not you). Work with them, and you might get somewhere. Be a dick to them and you'll get nowhere fast.

  7. October 11, 2012

    I don't buy this "too poor to buy a 99 cent ebook". I think thats a great excuse for people who want something for free. i know there are people that truly cant afford it, but i doubt they're on the internet making excuses. But if you are, there are websites like Wattpad, where there are hundreds of free books posted by the author, not stolen.

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