The Signal

A few days ago, Stephanie Meyer announced that she was putting her book Midnight Sun on hold after a draft of the book was leaked on the Internet. She expressed sadness that as the holder of the rights of that book, it was send from one side of the Internet to the other without her permission or regards to her rights. As a result of the emotional roller coaster, Ms Meyer has decided her heart isn’t in it, so the book is on hold.

The Internet is a fickle beast. For the artist regardless of medium, it is the greatest way to promote buzz and get excitement going. But, that same method of transport can end up being the thing that kills the buzz. Take the Twilight series for example. It has had a similar eruption in fan base as the Harry Potter series. The passion and excitement for the books resulted in the creation of numerous fan sites, message boards, and Twilight Bands which translated into book stores everywhere holding book release parties due to the anticipation and excitement over the book. This same mania and excitement is only fueled by the Internet. The fan sites keep everything current in the minds and hearts of the fans. With a movie on the verge of release, fans cannot get enough Twilight. And, like with Harry Potter, the fans want more of the universe. Rumors fly, fan fiction blossoms, and the feeding frenzy for both intensifies.

In the old days, you had to find this information out in magazines or newspapers. You may have localized fan bases, but it takes a telephone or letter connection to other fan bases to share information. Information takes weeks or months to disseminate assuming it doesn’t make the evening news. A book would be more difficult to leak since it would be, not in electronic form, but in printed form. It would have to travel hand to hand.

Today, one factoid can hit multiple sites, blogs and message boards within minutes. Suddenly mainstream media isn’t relied upon for the latest info. It is at the finger tips of anyone with a computer and reasonably good Google skills. The hunger for information super cedes the assessment as to whether or not the information is valid. And an electronic version of something promising to be the incomplete manuscript for Midnight Sun is like the apple to Eve. Some may look because they are hungry while others may look because they want to prove it isn’t what it claims. Regardless, you weren’t supposed to pick and eat the apple – let alone share it with a friend.

Some sites are good about separating fact from fiction or at least post things are “unverified”. The Leaky Cauldron is great at it as is The Twilight Lexicon. And many of these sites are respectful to the author. In the case of the Twilight Lexicon, they shut off their comments and message boards at the request of the author.

When I started thinking about this problem, I had Mr Universe from Serenity pop into my head and say “you can’t stop the signal”.

And, I think he is right. How would you stop the signal? And would you want to stop the signal because stopping the signal may be biting the hand the feeds you? Once something hits the Internet, you have lost control of it. It can be used, reused, twisted and contorted – and all without your control. You can start suing people. You can get mad and vow to never use it again. But, it’s out there. And as You Tube shows you, if they can get audio or video, it can be posted and circulated again.

Some tech heads may suggest we need stronger digital rights management. All digital rights management does is introduce a new challenge to the hacker community as to who can break it.

What do I think? I think if you are an author or musician, you need to shun technology or at least disconnected from the Internet. If you give away copies to people who are not under some sort of non-disclosure, you need to accept the fact it may leak. If you cannot accept that, you need to only give copies in formats that are difficult to reproduced. Musicians have a more difficult time on this front as it may entail them being in full physical control of the copies. Writers should print a copy if someone needs to read it. Not as nice as editing electronically, but definitely harder to get circulated. Scanning or taking pictures of 100+ pages will slow someone down.

My recommendations are not meant to imply Stephanie Meyer did something wrong. I don’t know the circumstances. As a person in the technology/IT field, I guess I’m a bit more paranoid about data leaking. I know how it works. I know the minute an electronic file leaves your computer, it is free. There are things you can do to try to protect yourself, but it’s not a guarantee. I also know from Security studies that “partners” or “employees” are the most likely to steal data, destroy data or do that kind of damage. Sometimes it is intentional, but sometimes is accidental. I suspect that is why Ms Meyer says she knows how it happened – the person that leaked it belonged in one of those two groups.

I don’t think we will ever be able to stop it this stuff from happening. In an ideal world, it would not be a problem. People would all be altruistic and honest and respect a copyright or trademark symbol. Until then, prevention starts with the artist.

What do you think?