Ex-SAS Soldier Avoids Conflict in Book Piracy Battle

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When it comes to using physical force to resolve conflicts, there are few who do that better than the elite fighters of the SAS, the British Special Air Service. But an ex-SAS soldier, who has successfully exchanged his gun and explosives for pen and paper, believes the solution to book piracy lies not in head on conflict, but the art of persuasion.

‘Andy McNab’ is the pseudonym used by a former SAS soldier and now novelist, best known for his 1993 book Bravo Two Zero. McNab has been decorated for his work in the military, receiving the Distinguished Conduct Medal in 1991. But now, in addition to his writing projects he also runs MobCast, a platform designed to get digital content (including eBooks) onto mobile phones and devices.

Considering the reputation of the SAS for using force and the years of training they undergo to make that response come naturally, it was refreshing this morning to hear McNab suggesting a rather different approach to problem solving, specifically the issue of piracy.

In an open letter, McNab details how piracy often stems from copies of books sent out to reviewers which are scanned and subsequently posted on file-sharing sites. He also notes, however, that these copies are often of poor quality and in the inconvenient PDF format, something which diminishes reader experience and enjoyment.

Despite these shortcomings, book publishers still spend a lot of effort trying to get these books taken down with DMCA notices and the like, but McNab says he prefers a different approach.

“Taking down illegal books from file sharing sites is only a short term fix and both a time-consuming and expensive business as we have already seen from the music industry. Maybe it is better for us to invest these resources in other ways, to stop consumers from migrating to pirate sites that are always going to exist anyway,” he writes.

Some book publishers feel that by not providing a digital version of their products, somehow they’re going to stop online piracy. McNab notes, correctly, that’s not the case and that publishers have the opportunity to do what pirates do, but better.

“Holding back on releasing a digital version of a book won’t stop it from being pirated. With so many of the illegal copies out there originating from printed proof copies that are then put up on sites, if consumers are going to read a digital copy, it’s better that they purchase them legitimately,” he notes.

But its not just the product itself, but the discovering and accessibility experience that McNab feels can be a leverage point for legitimate outlets to persuade, not force, would-be pirates into obtaining the real deal. Restrictive DRM and security, he suggests, are counter-productive.

“If you surround a digital book with too many security obstacles which makes it difficult to find, purchase and read, it will only force consumers to look elsewhere to get their book,” says McNab.

“It is also important to realise that digital books have a quality of content that can not be pirated. These include: immediacy, personalisation, accessibility, discoverability and authenticity. As an industry, we need to understand and use these distinct properties in the fight against piracy,” he says.

“In order to be successful, legal ebooks need to bring more value to the consumer than pirated ones and we can already see great progress in making this happen.”

All this from McNab without a single mention of a lawsuit, getting the law changed, arresting site owners, hijacking domains, disconnecting file-sharers and other similar negative-energy approaches to dealing with this complex issue.

In his previous role McNab was undoubtedly well-versed in sabotage techniques and asymmetric warfare scenarios. His training has served him well.

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