H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds was first published in serialized form in Britain’s popular Pearson’s Magazine in 1897. It was a huge success.
So huge, in fact, that Hearst published it in his Cosmopolitan magazine later that year in New York. Again, it was wildly popular, though its overall impact on the American populace was limited by Cosmopolitan‘s smaller print run. Hearst was no chump though, and in 1898 his Boston Post ran another serialization of War of the Worlds. And, yet again, the story did gangbusters. The Boston Post was widely read throughout all of New England. Wells had never had so many eyes on his work. The Post‘s serialization was so well-received it led directly to the release of War of the Worlds in America as a novel. The most significant thing about the novelized edition is that it was the first time War of the Worlds was printed in America legally.
Hearst pirated War of the Worlds for both Cosmopolitan and the Boston Post. He sought no permission, he paid no royalties. In fact, the version that appeared in the Boston Post had undergone some rather severe changes to the text, foremost among them: recasting the entire story to take place in New England rather than Britain. Somewhat understandably, Wells kinda protested that, though to no avail.
Hearst pirated War of the Worlds. Moreover, he had it changed to be more accessible to the audience he was pirating it for in direct opposition to the wishes of the author.
And he wasn’t done!
The Boston Post‘s serialization of War of the Worlds proved to be so popular that he immediately commissioned a sequel! You can say a lot of horrible things about Hearst, but perhaps the worst is that he’s the prototype of every modern Hollywood exec.
Of course, Wells would have no part of writing a sequel. There were practical concerns to be taken into account. Y’know, like how Wells hated Hearst for all that piracy and editing. But, undeterred, Hearst found a budding American science and fiction writer Garrett P. Serviss to stand in for Wells.
Serviss and Hearst’s sequel, Edison’s Conquest of Mars ran daily in the Boston Post. It was the story of how mankind took the fight to the Martians with a fleet of space-borne warships designed, built, and armed by the story’s main character, Thomas Edison.
Because Hearst knew how to make a goddamn dollar. With fanfiction.
How did Hearst get away with it? Well, this was in the pre-Disney era of copyright in America. The rules were a little looser and enforcement was a little more lax*. Pretty much, as long as Hearst attributed “H.G. Wells” to the story, he was considered to have covered his bases.
But let’s take a look at the timeline, hmm?
H.G. Wells writes a serialized story.
The story is serialized without permission and reproduced on a vastly larger scale than was available to Wells through traditional/established/legal channels.
The piracy increases the public’s awareness of the author and the story in question. More people have now read his work than ever before.
An official collection of the serialized story is printed and it sells like crazy to the very people who already read it (more or less) for free thanks to piracy.
H.G. Wells directly benefits from his work being pirated.
Was Hearst in the right for pirating War of the Worlds simply because he could? Of course not.
Was H.G. Wells right to be upset over the piracy of his work? Of course he was.
The lesson here isn’t about who was right and who was wrong and how much an author’s feelings ought to be hurt.
The lesson is that people will seek the easiest ways to find original works. Sometimes that will be piracy. Those same people will then seek the easiest ways to support the authors of the pirated original works they cherish.
It has been this way since forever. The internet’s just making it easier to find those original works through piracy than in previous eras. But it also makes it easier for pirates to support those authors.
The way to get rid of pirates isn’t to fight them. 1) you will lose and 2) you will look like an old codger shaking his buggy whip at the newfangled autovehicle.
The way to get rid of pirates is to make it easier for them to support the authors they choose to pirate.
These aren’t evil people. They aren’t stealing things to ruin the lives of artists and writers. Pirates know a given work needs financial support if it (or the author) is to continue. If they enjoy a thing they happen to steal, then they will be inclined to pay for it so there will be more. The easier you make this for them, the more it will happen.
This is basic human nature.
*don’t get me started on what’s happened to copyright law in the 20th century; the victory of big business in warping public opinion and expectations of copyright law to benefit billionaires in the short term at the expense of culture, innovation, technology, and — in the long term — the billionaires too.