Prize-winning novelist Lucía Etxebarría says she is parking her writing career for a "very long time" claiming that more copies of her latest book had been illegally downloaded than had been sold.
"Today I have seen that more illegal copies of my novel have been downloaded than purchased. I officially announce that I won't be publishing another book for a very long time, not until this situation is regulated in some way. I don't want to spend three years working like a black for this," the 45-year-old said on her Facebook page earlier this week.
Her announcement prompted more than 300 comments on the social network site, many of which discussed the meeting point between art and commerce in the new era of digital publishing. Some supported her decision, while many were highly critical of her stance.
"I won't be able to live from my books, so I'll have to take on more work for the media"
Others wanted to know how Etxebarría had spent one of the world's biggest literary awards, the Planeta prize, now worth 601,000 euros, which she won in 2004. She has also won the Primavera prize, which is currently worth 200,000 euros, and the prestigious Nadal prize.
Referring to the online response to her announcement, Etxebarría said that she is "overburdened by everything that has happened. It is not very nice for your inbox to be blocked with insulting messages when I haven't insulted or attacked anybody at any time."
Etxebarría claims that Spain tops the world rankings for per capita illegal downloads. "We come after China and Russia in the total number of illegal downloads but, obviously, there are a lot more of them so we win on a per capita basis."
Her latest novel, El contenido del silencio (or, The contents of silence), was published in October. While previous books have been bestsellers, this one is ranked low on the sales list on Amazon's Spanish site.
"People are making millions out of online piracy by setting up in places like Belize, which is where the money goes," Etxebarría says. "They are a powerful lobby and our government doesn't dare legislate."
The former Socialist Party government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero abandoned a proposed anti-piracy law this month. "They were too scared," said Etxebarría, adding that she also doubted that the incoming conservative Popular Party administration of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy would push ahead with proposals to allow file-sharing sites to be closed.
Etxebarría says that she bases her downloading claim on a survey by Madrid-based technology consultants Rooter. Frank Ruz, the firm's legal director, and an advisor to Etxebarría on intellectual copyrighting, declined to directly say whether more copies of the author's book had been downloaded than bought. He opted to explain as follows: "There has been a decline in the sales of Etxebarría's books that coincides with a significant increase in the number of non-authorized downloads of her books."
According to the writer, readers "have no idea how much an author makes for each copy sold. On paper, I get 10 percent of the price of every book sold. In theory, I get between 2 and 2.9 euros per copy. But that includes the agent, tax, and management fees. I actually get less than that, sometimes up to five percent less."
Her latest book is not available as a legal ebook but can be downloaded in PDF format from several websites. The print edition costs more than 20 euros.
"At this rate, I won't be able to live from my books, so I will have to take on more writing work for the media, or get a job if I want to be able to pay my rent, and my daughter's school fees," she notes on her Facebook page.
Some posters questioned her stance on respecting the intellectual copyright of others by pointing out that she herself faces accusations of plagiarizing other people's work. One poster noted that in 2001, current affairs magazine Interviú published an article saying that Etxebarría had copied verbatim texts from poet Antonio Colina for her book Estación de infierno (or, Winter season), and that her first novel, Amor, curiosidad, Prozac y dudas (or, Love, curiosity, Prozac and doubts), included sentences lifted wholesale from the book Prozac Nation by US writer Elizabeth Wurtzel.
Etxebarría sued the magazine, which was acquitted in court. The judge's sentence explicitly noted that the information published by Interviú was true, and that Etxebarría had indeed copied works by Antonio Colina. The judgment was not later challenged in an appeal court.
In 2006, Spanish psychologist Jorge Castelló sued her for plagiarism. He stated that Etxebarría used one of his articles in the first chapter of her book Ya no sufro por amor (or, I no longer suffer for love), mixing quotes from an article by him with sentences by herself, without proper quotation marks and making it impossible to know who wrote them.