E-books piracy (or, why do I care?)

22 Jun

(This post originally appeared in Shiloh Walker’s blog)

To keep this on track, please note that I am not talking about Creative Commons or other ways of freely sharing work—simply because those involve author’s choice. That is not what I want to address here.

Piracy and filesharing automatically remove the author from the equation; the decision to share and to download pirated work is made by the original perpetrator and by every person out there willing to ‘get a free copy’ illegally.

As I see the issue of piracy, there are two main aspects, the ethical and the practical.

Ethically speaking, piracy is wrong. Period. No gray areas here, no apologies that cut it. The person who downloads ‘free’ copies of pirated items is stealing those copies, and cheating the creator of the work out of their due royalties.

You can’t afford to buy the books? Use the library, borrow from a friend, or do without.

Too draconian? Too judgemental? Too black and white?

Gee, really?

I’ve done without plenty that I can’t afford, and I’ve done without some things I wanted so that I could get things I needed; so I’m fresh out of sympathy for anyone who can, and does, spend money by the fistful on some luxuries but will whine about not being able to afford others, and therefore feels justified to steal them.

You don’t know if you want to spend your hard earned money on the books? You have been burned by buying stuff you didn’t like? Sorry, that’s life, and it doesn’t come with warranties or return policy. Again, find a way to legally try books by this author, or abstain.

It really is not that difficult, from an ethical standpoint.

There is of course, the practical aspect to this.

As I have mentioned here and elsewhere before, I see the matter of piracy as one of personal interest. If the authors I enjoy can’t make enough money out of their writing, they’ll either have to produce less books per year (and this is a best case scenario, counting on editors’ and publishers’ good will and long memories) while they do something else for a living, or, for most of them, simply quit writing.

Which is my loss as a consumer.

This may seem unimportant to some who will say, “It doesn’t matter, just look at how many new authors turn books out all the time!” Which is true, of course, but doesn’t solve the matter of personal taste, nor of quality; because it is also true that not all writing is equal—both objectively and subjectively speaking.

In any system with high turnover, quality suffers. Don’t believe me? Check the service at any restaurant with a stable waitstaff vs another restaurant with a revolving employee door, and report back on the differences.

While no system is perfect or incorruptible, publishing does have a filter that has worked well for the most part: if books by author A make money for the publisher, the publisher will continue buying books from author A; if author A receives enough in royalties and/or advances, continuing to write will be appealing to her.

Piracy breaks this cycle—filesharing completely obliterates the benefit (aka profit) for both author and publisher. Someone has to buy only one copy in order to produce hundreds if not thousands more. If an author gets royalties for that one copy as opposed to royalties for even a small fraction of the illegal copies, how likely is it that she will spend the time, and invest the effort, necessary to write another book? And how likely is it that the publisher will offer that author another contract?

Some authors will migrate towards print books—which are by no means immune to electronic piracy, but since that at least involves actual effort on the part of the original thief, plus the end result is a copy that is not equal to the original product, it is less damaging to the author’s income. Also, print publishers tend to be bigger, have more clout, and more power to stomp on sites sharing their copyrighted work than their electronic counterparts.

More authors migrating to print is fine by people like me, who prefer dead tree books to begin with—but what about people who prefer e books for any of a variety of reasons? Well, they are sorely out of luck, aren’t they?

Like, say, those people downloading books left and right? Well, gee, seems to me that those people just shot themselves in the foot then.

Unfortunately, the guilty also take down with them the people who actually pay for the e books they enjoy—and that is yet another sin in their consciences, as far as I’m concerned.

(The piracy issue affects other industries as much, if no more, than publishing–check out stampoutpiracy.com for more information)

2 Responses to “E-books piracy (or, why do I care?)”


  1. Pondering copyright: an unpopular position « Her Hands, My Hands - 03/02/2012

    […] Long, long before SOPA or other variants were even thought off, I had declared my hatred of all things piracy, most particularly when the pirated items are books, but also in general. (You are welcome to do a Google search for my comments at the time of the Cassie Edwards plagiarism scandal–handle azteclady–and later on, here and here) […]

  2. Plagiarizing reviews, pirating books: a shout out to authors | Her Hands, My Hands - 04/04/2016

    […] have written about piracy several times before–though not recently, and while I understand that most of the people who seek out […]

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