From friend to friend

I learned from my niece that my new book “The Witch of Portobello”, even before it was printed, was already circulating in its full version on the Internet. I was intrigued: how could that have happened?

My next step, naturally, was to look in all the search mechanisms where the manuscript could be found. The result was: nowhere. Even so, my niece showed me the original. I imagined that it had been sent by one of the five persons to whom I usually show my texts prior to publication. But that would mean casting suspicion on people whom I love; furthermore, I have been sending my unpublished manuscripts to them for years, and nothing has ever, let us say, “leaked out” to the public at large. Nor could it have leaked out via the editors, since they have not the least interest in releasing for free something that is their source of income.

I decided to leave the matter alone. After all, the Internet is a way of making culture truly democratic. But I insisted that my 24-year-old niece tell me where she had managed to obtain the manuscript. After much reluctance, she revealed to me a universe that I, who have been navigating on the Web for ten years, was utterly unaware of and that is absolutely impossible to control (as I shall explain at the end, although I feel that a lot of the people reading this newsletter know what I am talking about).

So, seeing that it was no use fighting against the impossible, I asked to visit this gigantic web. In other words, for four hours I became a “pirate” of myself. My niece insists that there is nothing wrong, that this is Internet culture, that this is what is changing the world, not the demonstrations against globalization in world forums.

What is the Internet culture? According to her, you have basic rights to information and pleasure. If you have money to buy a book, go ahead and buy it – it is much nicer to read in print. But if you don’t have money, your rights continue – and you have to find a way to exercise them.

How? There is a strange zone on the network called “Peer 2 Peer”. I looked for a translation (in a free dictionary on the Internet), and this means something like “from friend to friend”.

How did it start? My niece has the answer on the point of her tongue. At first it was just wanting to chat with others. Then came the need to chat with several people at the same time. But chatting isn’t enough – we have to share the music, the book or the film that we love. When there was no law against it, this information was exchanged freely. Finally, when the entertainment industry caught on and the repression began, the young people on the Internet always managed to keep one step ahead, and so the thing continues.

The concept has changed too: it used to be sharing something you admired with friends, now it is offering everyone something you feel should be shared.

The mechanism works more or less like this: I buy a book, and I like it, so I make a digital photocopy of its pages and put it in my computer, and at the same time I open a tunnel for anyone to come in here and take it. On my side, I enter this tunnel and go to the computers of others to take anything that interests me (usually music and films). Little by little this material is stocked all over the world, and nobody manages any more to prevent it being copied.

Then she showed me that in just one of the many “Peer 2 Peer” sites I have 325 works, in several languages, in hundreds or thousands of computers. I confess that I felt most honored by this proof that readers are truly the essential instrument for publicizing a work, even if this is not done by conventional means.

Of course, I am not going to show anyone how to get there – that involves a series of legal mechanisms that could complicate my life. Nor is it any use digitizing the expression in the search mechanisms: they won’t teach you the ropes. But if you have someone at home aged under 18, they are bound to have already a collection of songs that came from there. Ask your son, grandson or nephew.

But please don’t tell them that I have just discovered this now: they will think that I am too old, and I’ll lose a reader.