Respect the Writer |
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Respect the Writer

Respect the Writer

I’m from a family of songwriters/singers. I was in a leadership class several years ago, and the topic was ethics. The moderator asked who thought it was wrong to download music for free (this is when those ripoff sites were first proliferating). I was the only one who raised my hand. I was shocked and appalled. These were educated people, who were tops in their respective fields. But not one them considered what it took to create that song that they so easily downloaded for free or burned an illegal copy for their friends. When you download music for free — unless the artist is offering it as a gift or incentive — you are invalidating the work that went into that project.

I was infuriated recently to learn  from one of my author friends that she has been a member of an online bookclub whose members have been requesting the PDFs of the books they are reading to be shared with them — of course, meaning that the author loses those sales. She asked online what she should do? Turn them in to the publishers of the authors who were being ripped off? Quietly leave the bookclub? That kind of sharing, which has gutted the music industry, was exactly what authors feared would happen to our work. Many of my fellow authors have found their books replicated on unauthorized sites being offered for pennies. When we initially self-published “My Orange Duffel Bag,” I was frustrated by all the copies that started appearing from sellers on Amazon. Our book was expensive to print and that all came out of our pockets. I was even more angry when I contacted one of the sellers and found out that they were buying “lost” boxes of our book from the United States Post Office at a monthly auction. For every five boxes of books, my co-author Sam Bracken would ship to me, one or two would mysteriously go missing — despite being clearly labeled inside and out. I never could find out where these auctions were being held, so our own government agency was legally ripping us off, too.

I’ve been writing for magazines, newspapers and websites for 30 years. It’s not uncommon to find a company or individual using my work without paying for it, and I’ve read that many of my fellow journalists have experienced the same thing. Big corporations will use something in a corporate newsletter and think nothing of it. Chasing down all of these infringers is time-consuming for a person who often works on spec and only gets paid once something is published or accepted.

At a famous photography show in New York, the organizers have had to ask people with sunglasses or glasses to let them look at the glasses, because so many were using tiny hidden cameras to scan the art and then have the images reproduced in China. My husband Kevin Garrett ( has turned down offers to sell his fine art images and mixed media pieces in countries known to have weak laws protecting images. Once again, artists’ abilities to make a living are being seriously compromised.

I guarantee you that making a living in the arts is hard enough without having your work ripped off. But yet it’s become so commonplace. The current models in the music industry are not sustainable for the artists producing the music, and the publishing industry is in complete disarray. Amazon has so much power, it’s scary. Our book “My Orange Duffel Bag” retails for $23.95, and yet Amazon immediately slashed the price. At times, it’s been as low as $12.74 on Amazon. How do they decide that? Independent booksellers have a hard time competing with that, because they don’t have any room to make a profit if they match Amazon’s prices. I guess that’s the point.

I love what I do. I love the gift of telling stories that inspire. I just want to be compensated fairly for my skill, dedication, experience and my passion like any other professional. Moving hearts to action for a living — that’s what I do.

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