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My stance crumbled when I was sent the URL links to three websites offering my PDF for downloading. Each web page logged scores of successful downloads, and each of those, I knew, probably marked the start of a long chain of further copying. These Kenyans made the Somali crews prowling the Gulf of Aden look like amateurs. It's Our Turn to Eat had become the most pirated book in Kenyan history.

There's something about seeing three years of hard grind being offered free to all and sundry — offered, what's more, with an air of triumphant self-congratulation, as though the perpetrator has pulled off an ingenious feat of political subversion rather than resorting to the laziest conceivable act of intellectual thievery — that curdles magnanimity. Your heart pounds. Your nostrils flare. You want to rip out the heart of those responsible with your teeth, spit the half-chewed morsels in their face and dance on their corpses. 

And calling up the web pages from my London study had brought home an obvious fact. In the process of cocking a snook at the Mount Kenya Mafia, these bootleggers were not only violating my copyright in Kenya. They were robbing me of royalties across the globe. China, Korea, Nigeria...the piracy potential was unlimited. Would I ever sell another book again?

Any hope that this act of mass theft was, at least, benefiting Kenya's humblest was also wavering. A friend in Nairobi told me someone had just sent the stolen PDF file to every member of his mailing list. "Are these ordinary Kenyans, or are we talking about UN staff, aid agency officials and expatriates?" I asked. "More the latter than the former," he admitted. It belatedly struck me that any Kenyan who belonged to a book club, enjoyed debating topical issues on a favourite website and spoke good enough English not to be fazed by a 340-page manuscript was exactly the kind of middle-class citizen who could afford to buy the book on Amazon in any case. 

I sent begging emails to the websites, asking them to take down the PDF, urging readers to taste instead the delights of Amazon.co.uk. They might not realise it, but the pirates were discouraging investigative journalism in Kenya, I argued. Any future journalist hoping to tackle similar "hot" topics would struggle to find a publisher, as editors would know the domestic market was lost to them.

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jen
July 17th, 2009
9:07 PM
Can only agree to the previous commenter. You have gone viral, as your friend put it, and thats for example how I heard about it. I read it and bought it when it came on Amazon. And I think thats how it goes for most people that have the money for books. We all love real paper. As you say there are "few less enticing prospects than reading an entire book on a flickering screen." Masses reading your book on a screen honors your work, and the moment it was printed most of those that could afford to buy it, did buy it. Saying there will be less books like this, when you are printing more than with any other book so far, is just the wrong perspective.

Yaten512
July 17th, 2009
1:07 PM
>But I can only guess how many copies I would >have sold had it not been for the double whammy >of boycott and piracy. Or how many less copies would have been bought, if the availability of the book across the globe didn't raise it a bit on a scale from obscurity to popularity...

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