Need for copyright protection hits home

I began working in the theater during college and have done lighting, set design, painting and even audio. Through this I discovered my true passion: making props. I have been a working prop maker for the past ten years. At a certain point, I became frustrated with the lack of current books available on the craft of prop making and began working on my own.

While my book, titled The Prop Building Guidebook: For Theatre, Film, and TV, was published earlier this year, I first started planning and researching it in 2008. I began a blog a month later in January 2009, to practice my writing and build an audience. But nothing could have prepared me for the amount of work it would take to craft a full book. I worked nearly every day for a year to complete the manuscript but still felt like I could have used more time.

No one had ever written anything as comprehensive as I was attempting. I talked to professionals in the field and pored through every book, magazine or website with reference material I needed. Besides trying to describe the "best practices" of my industry, I was checking and rechecking technical information to make sure everything I said was accurate. I had to work for every sentence in that book. Some tiny phrases and charts took hours just to put together because the information was so scattered or mired in jargon.

No other prop making book in the past had color photographs; mine has over 500. I shot dozens of photos that I set-up specifically for the book; in some cases, I bought materials to demonstrate their use for those photographs. I invested time, effort and money so the book could serve as a foundation of information for future prop makers to build off of.
The book is not a commodity that’s interchangeable with other books out there - nor did it appear magically one day. Its publication was not inevitable. I had to work to get it written. So is it unreasonable to ask that my work is protected and that protection is respected?

I’m not being unreasonable to my audience. While textbooks and reference books of the same size and scope can sell for $80-120, my book is a mere $40. Forty dollars for access to my ten years of prop making experience, as well as interviews and discussions with numerous experts in the field. In full color, to boot? That seems like quite the bargain.
And I’m not keeping my information and knowledge locked away. I wanted the information to spread regardless of whether people can afford it: I made a number of videos to complement the book, as well a few chapters which couldn't fit in the book available for free on the book's website. The book's website has a link for teachers to request a free copy to review for their classes, and my blog continues to be a source of free information.

So while it is not unexpected for me to find out the book is being pirated, it is odd. I’ve found sites harboring free copies of the book in full view of anyone surfing the web. It's like I'm standing right there, while someone says, "Yeah, you spent years creating something unique and valuable that will benefit the community. I appreciate that, and I'm going to take advantage of it, but I'm not going to pay like everyone else."

I can’t hire a team of lawyers to go after these sites, and even if I could, there are too many to make a difference. I only ask that if you want to benefit from my work and labor, you respect me and access the book legally.

I hope Congress keeps this in mind as it reviews the Copyright Act. While we do have laws intended to protect creators like me, we seem to live in a culture that pretends piracy has no real victims. It’s important to remind everyone the amount of work that goes into the creative works that are so useful and valuable to us. I only wrote a single book, but there are those who devote every day of their lives to writing and creating, and they will not be able to do that if their work is not protected from those who decide to give away those works for free without the creator’s permission. When we devalue the creative work, we are devaluing the act of creation and the act of working, both of which are vital to a free and prosperous culture.

Hart is currently a prop maker, prop master, and writer in North Carolina. His book, The Prop Building Guidebook: For Theatre, Film, and TV, was published by Focal Press in 2013; it is available at Focal Press.