Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Aye aye matey! Is book piracy a good thing or a bad thing?

Here's my pirate. For those of you who have followed the blog for awhile, you know he's also my muse.



*drools some more*

What...? The post...

Oh, yeah. Sorry.

Okay, so book piracy. I saw an interesting discussion on one of the many “shared file” websites out there last week, and it got me thinking. (Always dangerous, I know.) The comment thread was about “sharing” books, and as I read through, I saw it had been initiated by someone who stated he/she wanted an open discussion to try to find a “solution” where authors would be happy to have their work uploaded onto the site and not keep asking to have illegal uploads taken down.

The discussion soon deteriorated into users trashing authors who had the gall to come on to the site with an "attitude" and state that the uploads were illegal, and tantamount to stealing. The upshot was that the users would never buy those authors’ books now because they were “greedy.” I contend that the fact they are regular users of a free file-sharing site means they probably wouldn’t have bought those authors’ books anyway, but what do I know…

So, in summary, these were the primary talking points I was able to glean from the discussion:

On the authors’ side—
1)      It is illegal to upload copyrighted material without permission.
2)      There are many legal means by which to get free books or sample books before you buy them. Amazon, Barnes & Noble and many publishers often have first chapters or several chapters available to read for free. And borrowing books, either from the library or a friend, has always been legal.
3)      Most publishers will look to sales numbers when deciding whether to buy an author’s next project. Many of your favorite authors might never get another book published because of sales lost to piracy.
4)      Stealing intellectual property is no different than walking into someone’s home and stealing physical property.

On the pirates’ side—
1)      Authors are discovered by thousands of readers who never would have heard of them otherwise through piracy, so authors should be thankful. (this seems to be the most popular argument)
2)      It is the author’s fault that material they choose to put on the internet gets stolen. If they don’t want their books stolen they should stick to paper copies.
3)      Authors are greedy for expecting to get paid for every book. Some people can’t afford books.
4)      Writing isn’t a real job and authors shouldn't get paid to do it.
5)      A reader shouldn’t have to pay for a book they don’t know if they’re going to like or not.
6)      In the internet age, everything on on-line will be free. It’s just a matter of time.
7)      If an author’s sales numbers aren’t good enough for their publisher to want to buy more books [despite piracy], then they’re probably not very good writers.
8)      Piracy has always been here, and it isn’t going away. Get used to it.

I’m an author whose books show up regularly on these sites, so I’m not objective, but I’d wager if a person can afford a $500 computer and internet service by which to illegally download books, they can probably afford a book or two. My policy is to send the links I find to my editor, who sends them on to the Legal department. Legal is then supposed to contact the site and have the uploads taken down. Because, it is illegal. No one on the pirate sites disputes that. These sites provide links to software to remove the DRM from legally purchased books so they can be uploaded and read by everyone for free, which everyone knows is illegal.

And, I do believe that these sites detract from my sales, which I also believe does impact my chances of selling another book to my publisher. Does that mean I'm not a very good writer? I don't know. Maybe. But it also means I might not be able to continue writing. So this is very personal to me. All that said, is it possible there are readers who "discovered" me on file-sharing sites? Yes. Have a few of them maybe bought my books? It's possible.

The thing you need to understand about me for any of this to make sense is that I’m the kind of person who feels guilty about enjoying free library books, and that's perfectly legal. If I find something I love in the library, I’ll go buy the book. Usually two, one for me and one to give away here on the blog. I want to support the author and I know buying their book is the way I can most effectively do that. (Don’t get me wrong, we LOVE to get the nice emails too!)

So, I’m curious how y’all feel about it. Do you agree that piracy is stealing? If so, how wrong is it, really? Going 30 MPH in a 25 speed zone wrong? Or, breaking into someone’s house and taking their stuff wrong? Have you ever downloaded a pirated book? Did you have any qualms about it, or is it just part of how things are now in the internet age? Do you agree that authors benefit from having their books illegally uploaded onto file-sharing websites? Have you ever found an author this way and then gone out and bought their books?

Whew, that's a lot of questions. But I really want to know what the rest of the world thinks about this.

And, for those of you who are looking to someday be lucky enough to have your books pirated too, tomorrow I will be posting the second giveaway for a query and first chapter critique. Stop in for your chance to win!


  1. As much as I can't always afford books i still don't believe it is fair to download them illegally. Somebody has worked really hard and put all their effort into writing that book an they deserve to get paid in return.

    If they don't want to buy books at full price they can easily go to a library or a charity shop and get it cheaper.

    Great discussion

  2. I have to say, I don't find many of the pirates' arguments viable. Like you said, if you have a computer and internet, you can probably buy the book. If you go to the library for your pc/interwebz, well gee, they've got those books there too! Writing is hard. If you’re good enough to get published, you should make whatever money you can from it. What many people don’t realize is how hard the author gig is to get, much less keep. And the fact that most authors still work full-time jobs to pay rent.

    I really dislike digital copies of books, so I've never discovered an author through any of those sites. I am, however, a reformed music pirate. (Granted, this was back in my younger days when napster had just come out, but still.) I never even thought to how it would actually impinge on the artists until a read an article about where those artists actually made their money—cd and concert sales. After that, I felt horrible. My mom was a small time musician when she was growing up, which only furthered my guilt about it.

    The bottom line is that piracy IS stealing. It isn’t overt thievery like robbing a grocery store, but the result is the same: the victim loses money and maybe their livelihood. And sadly, in the age of the internet, I don’t see it going away any time soon.

  3. Holy hell that was a long comment. *Sorryz!* I was so transfixed by your muse I lost track of time....

  4. I hear everything you're saying and agree 100%, and the excuses people make, GAH!! I also feel slightly guilty just borrowing library books, but I read so many these days that I couldn't possibly afford to buy them all. I do try to buy ones that I really love and I try to recommend them to friends and on my blog because I do want to support them. With the availability of e-libraries (and regular libraries as well) and free chapters or review copies, I don't see why people have to resort to breaking the law. Makes no sense to me.

  5. I've worked in the software industry for a long time. Back in my 'younger days' I never thought twice about piracy. Music, movies, software, books, whatever. Until a coworker made a very simple statement "You know, people who buy our software make sure we have jobs still, right?"

    If someone gets laid-off because theft at their employer's business is too high (shoplifting, embezzlement, whatever), it doesn't mean the company made a bad product. And it is the same thing. 100%

    So yeah, regardless of the justifications people have, piracy is stealing, going 30 in a 25 is breaking the law, and no, I don't think it will ever go away. But educating reasonable people is a good way to help stem the tide a little.

  6. Never done it, never will...just me. Do I want people reading my book and not paying for it.....well.....at this point I don't know. I'm relatively new...no one knows my name. If piracy helps get my book in the hands of someone who wouldn't have read it otherwise...well..that's kinda good, right?? And what if they adore it and need to read my other books, but they're not available for free??? Or what if down the road when I release another...they just need to go out and read it immediately and can't wait for it to be available online for free?? I am in no way condoning book piracy....but I can see a teenie tiny smidge of good there.

    I've been asked my opinions on used book stores...and it's almost kinda the same thing....it's legal, but the author makes nothing off the sale. But it means someone is taking a chance on the author. FAR better than stealing a book online, but the author still makes zero money. Same with libraries. I too cannot afford to buy every book I want to read. I borrow from the library often.

    Oh..and yeah........Orlando Bloom can pillage me any day!!!!

  7. It makes me angry that people think it's ok to steal a book. Most libraries have ebook lending options why not borrow the ebook from them? I have heard this argument from international readers that they can't get the book but book depository will ship to most places. The fact that someone tries to justify wrong doing shows how inconsiderate they are.

  8. See, I sometimes think about this issue but from a slightly different angle. As far as I know, it is ok for you to make a copy of a book you have bought - i.e. scan the pages into the computer for you to read electronically. Instead of making EVERYONE who has a copy of it, do all the scanning - am wondering if you can legally share a copy as long as you prove you've bought the book some how? Also, if this is not legal, I think it should be (but I think it is?)

  9. This is such an interesting post!

    I absolutely agree with you. In my opinion, many of the arguments of the pirates don't have a valid fundament. Maybe in this case we're talking about books but... as here it is said that writing isn't a real job and authors shouldn't get paid for it, should it be the same for musicians? Or for actors? Film directors? According to the pirates arguments, do you have to pay for a ticket in the cinema, to see a movie you don't know if you're going to like it? It makes no sense to me.

    Let me add another case of "stealing". In my absolutely "awesome" country, a private society has found the solution: you have to pay what is called a "digital cannon" in every product they think you may do an illegal copy (usb sticks, cd's, dvd's...). And, as it supports the political party that now is in the government, they can do whatever they want. They take that money to compensate the piracy. The curious thing is that this money never reaches the real author of the book, movie, etc.
    The result? People download more books, music and movies than ever, because they have already paid for the right to do it.

    Excuse me if my English is not very good. =P

  10. Piracy isn't necessary. If people wants to read books but don't want to buy it before they know if they like it or not, there is the public library - FREE BOOKS!! It's just laziness that is people's excuse for not utilizing the library.

    As for not being able to afford books, there are websites that sell your favorite books for such a discount. My favorite and the only place I truly buy from now is WWW.GOHASTINGS.COM . They offer FREE SHIPPING on used books and they have a SALE EVERY WEEK!!! How can you not afford books after that? I've gotten books for $2 each from that website from Charlaine Harris, Richelle Mead, L.J. Smith, etc. The Twilight series is so cheap there! There really is no excuse to resort to piracy.

  11. Piracy is a big no no to me. I know many people my age do it. Music especially. I don't though. I also read an article where it was explained how musicians lose money from that, and I felt awful. You're not a true fan if you don't want to support the author.

    I go to the library all the time. More than I buy books. I feel bad about it but I really have no money to buy any books. And I'm an example that you can have new books from the library FAST. I get them two weeks or so after they release. I see no reason why you should steal a book.

  12. The only time I ever pirate books is if I already own a copy and for some reason need a digital copy or if I've pre-ordered a book and can't wait for it to arrive. Either way, I've already paid, so I don't consider it stealing.

  13. I pretty much agree completely with you and everyone else -- stealing is stealing. I think that some people think it makes it okay if you're not going into a bookstore and stealing the book. I dunno. Basically, I firmly believe it's wrong! The excuses...just...hahaha no. *shakes head*

  14. It's disgusting, and anyone who defends it is a terrible human being.

    That being said, if someone wasn't going to buy the book anyway, I'd still rather have them read my book. Even if that person is a piece of shit with a heartbeat.

    I admit I've downloaded music before. Stuff that I was never, ever going to buy. Did that mean I had the right to? No. I should die a horrible death. But I just wanted the one song, man, the rest of the album is terrible.

    Now, if you buy the print copy and want a digital copy? Go crazy. Download. It's a shame print books don't have a code in the back to download a free digital copy.

  15. Everytime I see a post like this made I always feel that the "pirates" are treated rather simplistic, or with poor arguments. Don't get me wrong, you're an author, so you have every right to defend the position you're in, but I think it would be nice to hear the pirates side on a more mainstream place.

    So, yes, I've been downloading pirate books for years now. Honestly, I get what you're saying and understand the reasons you say people shouldn't download them illegally, but they only really apply to people in the US (maybe the UK and Canada too? I don't know). I live in Brazil. There isn't an option to just go to my library and check the book I want to read. The public library in my state has a HUGE variety of books there, but almost to none young adults (and just the most famous ones, like Harry Potter and Meg Cabots books - THAT'S IT!). So, if I want to read an YA book (which is the kind of stuff I'm really into), the only option I have left is to buy in a bookstore.

    But hey, since I live in Brazil, they mostly sell books in PORTUGUESE. Of course, there are books in english, and thankfully, the YA section in my favorite bookstore is the section with the most books in english in that store. Even so, it only occupies maybe 5 shelfs, which is not a lot AT ALL.

    The thing is, I really think it IS justifiable to download books illegally if you live in another country, one that is WAY harder to get the books you want. I'm lucky to KNOW english well enough to be able to read in this language. But what about the people who only speak portuguese? They have to wait reeeeeeally long for the book they want to be bought by a brazilian publisher, to be translated and finally sold (by a price that is WAY higher than what you guys can buy in the US - Personal Demons, for instance, cost 10 dolars on amazon, and 24 dolars [the brazilian version, I mean] on one of the most popular brazilian stores).

    One thing I (and many, many, many other people here still do) used to do some time ago (and I plan to continue doing once I'm done with college this semester) is to translate the books in english to portuguese, so other people can read them too. A few years ago, the YA market in the US wasn't all that big, so you can only imagine how it was in Brazil. We almost didn't have YA books, unless they were REALLY populars, like Harry Potter, Eragon, etc. So, by translating other not-so-popular YA books, people fell in love with those books and authors and started to ask the publishers to buy them. Then, once the publishers accepted and bought the books and started selling them, what did the fans of the books, the ones that had ALREADY read them in portuguese, translated by other fans, did? They went and BOUGHT THEM!

    I have a REALLY big group of friends that I met when I did this. In common what we have is our passion for books. Anyone who knows me, who comes into my room and see the amount of books I own, can see that. And guess what! Some of them I read first online and THEN bought the printed version. Of course, not all of them - some I didn't like, some I liked, but not enough to buy, and some I LOVED and I'm now saving money to buy. Because I - and many of the people who download books - like to support the authors we like, and the publishers who have brought us these books.

    I know, TOO long, SORRY, but I kinda wanted to defend the 'other side'.

    PS: In case you're wondering, nope, I never downloaded your books. I have, however, bought it and plan on reading it soon!

  16. Thanks everyone for commenting. I had a sense I was probably preaching to the choir here, but I'm honest about wanting a sense of what people are thinking.

    Ju--Thanks for taking the time to comment. I really was curious if people bought books after downloading them and you answered that. It also sounds like you think readers "discover" new authors this way. I don't run in those communities, so I really have no sense of how often either of those things happen. =)

  17. I think piracy is always stealing, and for me it's even worse for books. When you compare how long it takes to write a book verses how long it takes to write and record an album, or how much money the average book makes vs how much money a Hollywood blockbuster makes, the author gets hit harder.

    To the pirates' first point (artist being discovered), that doesn't help unless that discovery leads to the pirate spreading the word and causing others to buy copies or buying copies themselves.

    Also there are even more legit ways to get free books. Out of copywrite books are available digitally all over the place, and current authors often offer books that they've gotten the copyright back on for free or cheap. It's like they're stealing food from the supermarket next to the free soup kitchen.

  18. Also, I grew up around music, and as an artist, I feel it's really important to support other artists. I have lots of (legal) free channels for getting books. But if I read an ARC or other free copy, and I LOVE it, I buy the book or I buy earlier stuff from that author, and I often give away on my blog. (If you're an author, you'll love me as a fan, because I'm usually responsible for at least 3 purchases of any book I love.)

  19. I have to say that I discovered you through a casual mention of Original Sin on a book blog. I am working on my first novel and I want to be accessible to everyone but I want to get paid for the hard work I put forth in my project. All authors should get paid for the work that they put into their projects. It may not be a "real" job to some, but people pay for pictures to put on their walls or they go out and create their own artwork. Writing is not any different than the picture that's hanging on the pirate's wall right now. As far as not being able to afford buying a book, if people cut back on going to McDonald's or Burger King (or fast food of your choosing), paying roughly $10 to go see a movie they can afford a book. No you probably won't be able to afford all the books by one author but it's a start.
    Besides all of that, if you don't want to cut back than go out and support your FREE public library. Or if you find that you just can't make it out of your house because you're attached to your computer, go to the Goodreads.com they are always giving books away on that site. ( I probably spent two hours going through the current giveaways and still didn't see every book that was being given away). Surf through the millions and millions of book blogs that are floating around on the web and sign up to be a part of their followers and enter their book giveaways. There are quite a few companies that are out there that will allow you to download a book (by legal means) or mail you a title and all you have to do is review it and post the review. (I am a part of three of these companies). I have gotten free books by emailing the authors themselves and asking for a copy to review. I know the challenge of feeding your reading habit on a limited budget (I am also a student), but there are so many ways to get your hands on amazing books without cheating the authors that piracy just makes you lazy and a thief. There is no honor in that at all.

  20. BTW the above post only really applies to the US/Canada side of the business. I am not sure how it works in other countries but I am sure that it may be a longer and different process for that.

  21. I most of the discussion and I couldn't find any argument of why downloading a book (pirating it) is any different than getting it from the library. Someone bought the book and read it, then he/she gave it to the library so 30 or 100 people can read it. That way the author receives nothing. Well, that someone may read the book, scan it (if it's not an e-book) and upload it so 30 or 100 people can read it for free. That way the author also doesn't profit. So why is downloading a book so evil? I'm not taking a side here, I'm just trying to find a logical explanation.

  22. edit: I read most of the discussion...
    PS: I'm sorry for my bad English.

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  24. I haven't decided what I think about pirating books. Since I am trying so hard to make a living with my writing, it is hard for me to be okay with it. I just read through one pirating site where I've probably had 20,000+ downloads between my real name and pen name. All I can see are the number signs (especially when I'm struggling to make ends meet. I'm one of those "greedy authors" that need the money. My hubs had a stroke earlier this year, and I can't work outside the home.) It's like a kick in the gut. However, I also see it as publicity and maybe kind of like the library. I am hopeful that if my stuff is good enough to steal, maybe it will be good enough to buy. My new book, on this site, has been downloaded over 1,000 and read over 1,500. It is frustrating! UGH!!!!