I make my living by licensing publishers to print and make available to the public my coyrighted material. In return, I get a percentage of the retail price of the book – eight or ten percent. It’s called a royalty payment. As a writer I am only able to pay my bills as a result of receiving royalty payments.
So, naturally, I am in favour of the principle of royalties.
But the royalties field is a very uneven one, and if someone chooses to steal my work and sell it without paying me my due, in truth there is very little I can do about it. And in this electronic age, pirates are plundering my assets left, right and centre.
Take Google, for example – those enlightened schoolboys who were going to change the world for the better. They just stole almost everything I ever wrote and made it available to anyone on the internet for nothing. Just copied it and put it up there.
And what can I do about it? Sweet FA.
Of course, they face a class action from any number of writers who have suffered the same fate. But that action is being led by a small, unrepresentative group who are advocating a settlement that will cost Google a lot of money, and if I’m lucky put 50 dollars in my pocket. Big deal!
Now here’s the irony.
As someone who believes in paying due royalties, I went in search of the owners of the lyrics of the Elvis Presley song, “Heartbreak Hotel”, because I wanted to include four lines from the song in my follow-up to “The Blackhouse”, which is called “The Lewis Man”.
After a lengthy process of tracking down the company which licenses reprint permission, I was told that those four lines were going to cost me a sum of money which would, eventually, run to thousands – to cover all the international and paperback editions of the book.
Crazy, isn’t it? Four lines from the lyrics of a song which are all over the internet. Four lines from a song written more than fifty years ago, whose writers are both dead (and don’t need my royalty payments to pay their bills). Four lines from a song which, had I paid for them, would promptly have been stolen by Google (and God knows who else) and made available to anyone who cared to download them.
So what did I do? Well, I cut the four lines, of course. It doesn’t make that much difference to the book, though of course it lost a little of its colour.
Madness or what?