Free Books Aren’t Free

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Back in the day, people would record music off the radio on small plastic cassettes and create their own mix tapes which we’d share with each other by handing them over or sending through the mail. They were even considered romantic gestures (can you imagine?) It was no big deal, since the music usually had a second or two of the DJ’s voice, and it definitely featured the charm of pops and crackles. These days, with the technology at hand, music can be recorded perfectly, with no pops, no crackles, no interrupting voices. Not only that, but it’s easier to share music. You just attach a file and hit ‘send’. And if that’s where things stopped, with one person sending one song to one friend, it wouldn’t seem any different to people than one friend sharing a paperback book they’d read with another. But that’s not where it stopped. Millions of people started sharing songs with millions of other people, thanks to the glories of the internet, and suddenly it was clear that the once-minor sharing had grown into full-blown theft.

I have to be honest – I never gave it a huge amount of thought. I stopped using Napster when the word went out that it was stealing, and these days I pay for my music online because it’s the right thing to do. But I never really thought about how illegal downloading might affect me, the writer. A couple of months ago, when an acquaintance told me she’d downloaded a copy of my book online to read on her e-reader, I wondered at it, since my book isn’t available for e-readers, as far as I know. I tried asking about it, but the acquaintance avoided any straight answers, and I assumed she’d actually not read it at all. Then I saw this post – Free Books Aren’t Free.

She’s right, you know. Downloading books for free is stealing, and you’re stealing from the writer. The only reason we are able to produce books for readers to enjoy is if those books make money for the publisher. When readers steal books off the internet, that’s one more sale we don’t make. Every sale I don’t make is one more tick against me ever selling another book again. Yes, it’s convenient to download books, and it’s lovely not to have to pay for them. But the retail world doesn’t support products that don’t sell, and publishing is a retail market. 50,000 people may have read my book, but if 45,000 of those readers stole the book, it doesn’t matter. They can sing my praises on their blogs, but the market will only notice the 5,000 people who actually bought the book. 5,000 may seem like a big number, but in terms of book selling, it’s not. So now I have people who like my work, but apparently don’t like it enough to pay for it. I’m glad you like me, but I’m trying to make a little money here. A great dentist wouldn’t be expected to give his patients free cleanings just because they like how he works, right?

Some people say they paid for a copy of the book, so illegally downloading another copy for their e-reader is okay, because they paid for it once. Let’s look at it like this… you bought the hardcover, and you love the book, so you want to keep the hardcover perfect, and just have a paperback for rereading. Does that mean you can walk into the store, take a paperback off the shelf and walk out again without paying? Of course not. This is the same thing. Taking a product without paying for it is stealing, no matter what justification you can attach to it.

So folks, if you hear people talking about all the books they downloaded for free, steer them in the direction of this post, and the one I cited above. Tell them how they’re hurting their favorite authors, and hurting themselves by ruining the author’s chance of ever selling another book. We’ll be grateful!

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36 comments to Free Books Aren’t Free

  • Misty, I’ve tracked some of down the sites that sell/give-away (steal) my own books. It’s big business. Hopefully, some eager lawyer somewhere will get in volved and take a few of these theives to court, just as they did to Nap. It’s sad that writers can’t protect our rights and have no power to fight back.

  • Mikaela

    I download free books, but only if they are offered by the author or the publisher. Or through the library. ( Hint: Philadelphia Free library accepts out of state patrons( incl. international), for an annual fee of 15 dollar) I pay for most of my books, though.

  • Thanks for writing this, Misty. There are actually authors in our field (not naming names) who feel that copyright is outmoded and that books ought to be free for download to whoever wants them. I find this mind-boggling. This is how I make my living. If I made pizzas for a living, you wouldn’t feel entitled to eat them for free. Why should the fact that I write books change that equation?

  • Akheloios

    Copying isn’t theft.

    Many authors started out by distributing their books online for free, building up a fan base who then buy their new releases. See Cory Doctorow’s webpage for more details.

    http://craphound.com/

    Not only that but all independent studies show that free availability of works online actually increase revenues for individual authors and artists. It’s counter-intuitive I know, but your work is the best advertisement you have, the more people who see your work, the more people buy it.

    It depends if you’d want to try to get 100% control of your works, and have 100% of the revenue from x books sold. Or make your works available online to advertise yourself and have 20 times as many people read your books, and have a tenth of them buy your next release, which is a double the readership you’d normally have in a Quixotic attempt to control the Internet.

  • Unicorn

    Shudder. Now that is FRIGHTENING. It probably springs from the writing’s-not-real-work-at-all assumption that some people have… so hey, why should writers get paid for it? Let those who steal books try to write a good novel and publish it. Growl.
    Thanks for writing this, Misty.
    Unicorn

  • I fear some folks don’t understand the difference between “not really free, you’re stealing” and “no, really, it’s free.” That is, there are lots of books on Amazon’s, kindle or BnN’s nook that are, in fact, free. Copyright has expired, they’re a hundred or more years old, etc. Oscar Wilde isn’t getting screwed if we download “Picture of Dorian Gray.” I don’t download music for free, or books for free, or anything like that because of this fact. And for those who say “all books should be free…” well, there is a library (like Laura said!). Go rent it and read it there! (I admit, I’m intrigued by the notion that “renting” could be possible with e-readers… you’ve got the book 2 weeks and then it’s gone…. I wouldnt’ do it because I’m always buying something and then it sits on a shelf for six months to a year until I feel like reading it.) Of course, you also can’t get an author signed e-book, either.

  • I went looking for reviews for Arrgh! Thar Be Zombies! and the first half dozen sites or so that came up were torrent sites. :(

    This is one of the reasons why the e-reader market scares me. Some people argue that soon print books will go the way of the dino, but I just can’t see that happening as long as it’s incredibly easy to torrent e-book formats. No one will make any money. Not the author, not the publisher, no one.

    I tend to use libraries as proving grounds, and it’s often been a good thing. When I do find an author that I like I end up buying the other books, and ofttimes the book I already read (I like to reread favorites). I can’t help feeling bad when I have to get a book from the library or a used book store (due to being OOP or hard to find) because I know it’s a lost sale for the author.

    I agree, word of mouth and praise only goes so far. If there’s no sales to back it up, that author you love but couldn’t be bothered to buy a legit copy from may just disappear due to lack of sales. And speaking of which…I need to call my local B&N…they still say David’s Forelands book is unavailable. :(

  • Akheloios, Cory Doctorow gave his books away, and it was his choice to do so. If I had the remarkably large online fan base that Doctorow does, perhaps it would be worth my time to give away my work. But sales numbers are sales numbers, and until mine are on the same level as his, I won’t be able to just hand my hard-written words over for free. Which means anyone who copies them without my permission is stealing.

  • Yes Akheloios, copying IS theft. If an author CHOOSES to give away copies, that’s another issue entirely. If a reader chooses to take a copy without the authors permission, that’s stealing.

  • Sarah

    Thanks Misty! I don’t have an e-reader and I spend too much time staring at a computer screen for my job, so I’ll most likely be the last person on the planet who starts reading e-books. BUT, just in case, how does one reliably tell if one is getting a stolen copy or a legitimately free copy? Or is it really obvious when you actually download?

    And Akheloios, Widdershins already succinctly nailed the basic moral issue here, so I’ll just address the financial one. The studies that have been done aren’t unanimous on this issue at all. The ones I’ve seen indicate that in the music business free singles may (but don’t always) translate to greater sales over time because they build media buzz that leads to contracts/gigs for bands. Also, bands like Radiohead that already have a massive fan base can make money by the “free” album plus electronic tip jar method, but only massively popular bands can make money that way. It doesn’t work for small to medium bands at all. And when the music is stolen, rather than voluntarily given up through the band’s promotional mechanism, the buzz created is smaller. Bands can lose money and market presence this way.

    Furthermore, what works for recording artists doesn’t translate well for authors. The art is different, the medium is different even if you’re downloading both music and books, and the reading experience-response-follow up is different from the listening experience-response-follow up. Like Pea Faerie said – we often buy books we don’t read immediately. Who does that with music? As the author Misty linked to showed rather conclusively, stolen books can actually damage a writer’s career.

    I live in LA, so music and movie promoters are a dime a dozen out here. A few months ago at Starbucks I had a long conversation with one over our latte’s. He stressed that it’s not e-copies vs hard copies that’s the issue, it’s brand control. When an author (or musician’s) work is downloaded without their consent the artist has lost control of his/her brand. That translates to lost wages and opportunities. People don’t remember the artist as a source of good music/books. They remember a single experience and then seek to follow it up with a similar experience. Thus, for example, the person who got an illegal copy of Misty’s book is more likely to go back to torrent sites and download more books that way. They associate the free site with the pleasure of the read, not the author. They may read voraciously, but they don’t buy books. On the other hand, a person who bought Misty’s book, whether online or in person, is more likely to think “Misty Massey. Yeah, I liked her first book. Wonder if she’s got another one out?” and go buy that book from her. The issue is brand control and pleasure association. People have to associate us with our books, not the torrent sites. Otherwise, we lose our wages.

    (Okay – “us” is stretching it a bit. I’ve only sold one short story. But you get the idea.)

  • This is such a scary thing.

    About a decade ago a friend of mine, an avid SF/F reader, was heavily involved in downloading books, for the sole purpose of being able to read them. In her defense, she’s blind, and the pickings at the library were slim. She could at least feed the e-text into her braille computer display. But even she got fed up with them; now she scans her own books.

  • Akheloios

    Cory Doctorow has talked about that argument before. When he was a new author, people said that he could afford to give his works away for free to advertise himself because he was unknown. When he’d become a successful author, people said that he could afford to give away his books for free because he was successful. There’s a direct link to him giving his books away for free when he was a new author and his current success.

    Cory Doctorow gives away his books on his website, that means when anyone wants to read try out his back catalogue, they can go directly to the website, no torrent sites, no intermediaries. When they get there they run straight into the advert for future releases, creating huge pre-order sales there and then.

    Copying is definitely not theft. Theft is depriving someone of their goods or services without reimbursement. Copying deprives the author of nothing. There seems to be a persistent myth that 1 copy = 1 lost sale. It’s simply not true. When someone goes into a used book shop they are doing exactly the same thing as copying a book, the author gets no direct reward, except for the advertisement of their skills.

    Scandinavian studies have shown very clearly that copying leads to increased revenue for an author or artist. The key point is that 1 copy != 1 lost sale, a copy is a test to see if you like the product. Where a customer would have refrained from trying out a 1st time author, or experimenting with the works of a, new to them, author, copying allows them to try it out without being hit with a payment up front.

    The evidence clearly shows that when given the option to try a new author or artist out before you are committed to buy, this generates new sales from readers that would have never tried the author before. The evidence also shows that ancillary revenue goes through the roof, in the case of music artists, that’s T-Shirt sales and live appearances, with an author, book signing of your new book and super deluxe hardback editions.

    1 copy != 1 lost sale. I can see why someone new to this idea finds that hard to understand, if everyone who copied and read a book paid for it, the revenues to the author would go up by an order of magnitude, this seems like it would be a good thing. It’s just not possible though, copied books and copied music are now a price of doing business, like advertising. Copying raises revenue for an author, trying to have complete control over a work is counter-productive, you actually lose money by missing out on the free advertising and ancillary sales that come from copying.

    Worrying about people who do not pay you for reading your work but would never have bought a book from you in the first place is insane. Instead of bemoaning that fact that you gained no revenue from the 10 people who downloaded your book and never got past the 1st chapter, be happy about the fact that in for every 10 people who don’t, 1 completely new customer will visit your website, buy your new book 6 months before its release, and come see you in their local bookshop when you are promoting it.

  • The evidence clearly shows that when given the option to try a new author or artist out before you are committed to buy, this generates new sales from readers that would have never tried the author before.

    Which is why the first chapter of my book is available for free on my website. Always has been. There’s also the local library, where anyone can try any book they like for free. Downloading work without permission is stealing, regardless of how much you want to try and convince me otherwise.

    …copied books and copied music are now a price of doing business
    This is the same argument people make in favor of shoplifting. Which is a crime.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Copyright is legally binding almost everywhere. Unless an author specifically gives up their copyright, copyright infringement is illegal. It doesn’t matter if you think the author is stupid for not giving up their copyright. Legally, you have wronged them.

  • Copying music is illegal. Copying books is illegal. Do people do it? Yes. But people do all manner of evil and justify it to make themselves feel better. That does not stop it from being wrong and illegal.

    In *my* perfect, future world, all used bookstores will have to pay the author / publishing house, 25 cents (or more!) from every single used book sold. It is only fair. Paying the musician is also now the standard for the music industry for used CDs, etc., to generate sales to the musician.

    Stealing is illegal. Period. Do you have to like it? Nope. But it is still illegal.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    also, copyright and patent laws were created for a very specific reason: to ensure a population WILLING to produce new intellectual property. The continued production of new IP is one of the big drivers of any economy (and culture). Think of the huge boon to the US when scientists fled Europe during WWII.

  • I think, ultimately, if we like the work of and respect the authors, then I think we should respect their feelings. If, like Cory Doctorow, the author wants their work given away for free, then sure, go ahead. Authors like John Scalzi, who are happy to be paid once for, say, a paperback and are then okay with someone downloading a copy of that book, then I say okay. If Misty and Faith are against it – then we should respect that, too. Whatever keeps the writers writing, because if a writer ends up deciding that it’s not worth it and they can’t keep food on the table… then we will all be missing out.

    With that said, I’m still undecided on the “buy a hard copy and download a digital copy” issue. From a writer’s perspective, I absolutely believe that an author should be paid, every time. *I* would want to be paid. If they aren’t paid, they don’t write, and if they don’t write, I don’t get new stories and that would suck. But from a reader’s perspective, I find it really darned annoying to pay $8-25 for a hard copy and then to have to turn around and spend $5-15 more just because I’d like a portable version. If I could get a mass market and an ePub together for $10-12 then I’d be thrilled to pay that, but paying full price twice just irks me from a consumer point of view.

    I’m at a point where I can’t keep any more books around. I have close to 1000 with more every month (and those are just mine – my husband is also a reader and has hundreds of volumes of manga) and I’m allergic to dust. I just can’t keep that many books with my health problems. So, now I’m faced with either re-buying hundreds of volumes or trying to scan them all into digital format myself. (One thing I know I won’t do is download them illegally.)

    So I guess my question for the MW authors is — how do you feel about people scanning a hard copy in for their own digital use (aka, no sharing)? I don’t know as I’ve seen that aspect of things addressed before.

  • Sarah

    Okay Ahkeloios, let’s have a link or two to the studies. I’d like to examine their methodology. And let’s not conflate musicians and authors too much. An entire novel is not equivalent to a single. It’s not a “sample,” it’s the entire work. And revenue is not generated in the same way for musicians and writers. Only the biggest name authors make money from public appearances, and many of them not even then. (I understand Neil Gaiman can charge obscene amounts for a speech, but he’s an anomaly.) Certainly none of the authors on this site are making money off t-shirt sales, concert appearances, and autographs.

    And I’ll beat the dead horse a little more. Copyright is just that – it’s a right. I refuse to accept the “I’m doing you a favor, so it’s okay to violate your rights” argument No. It’s not. Unless you’re violating my right to privacy by hauling my butt out of a burning building, my rights are mine to give up or not. They are not yours to violate based on your presumption of good intentions.

  • If I could get a mass market and an ePub together for $10-12 then I’d be thrilled to pay that

    Kiara, I think this is a marvelous solution. It’s already happening with BluRay discs through Amazon; if you buy certain BluRays, you automatically get a digital copy to load on your iPod. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work beautifully for books as well.

  • I’m not a published novelist, but I can say that if someone bought my book, make a copy of my book, and read that copy, I’d be fine with that. That’s also not illegal, I think. I think that you can make a copy, just like you can a copy of a musical recording that you own. I don’t understand why they don’t do what Kiara suggests and combine the e-book and traditional book sales. They do it with CDs. My boyfriend buys a lot of indie/hipster music, and he’s getting back into buying vinyl. Most of the records he buys come with a code (sometimes three or more!) so he can go online and download the album for free. Artists know that it is hard to take a record and then listen to the music on an ipod, so they provide both. I would think that a similar thing could work for books.

    I also think that authors should put things like, oh, first chapters online–chunks of their for-sale work. I do read bits of things like that, and they have led to me buying stuff. So have recommendations from other people.

    But if you get the work for free, you’re stealing it, unless someone is giving it to you. It isn’t the same a reselling, where one copy of a book in a used book store went from one person to another. That’s a zero-sum game. Yes, the author only gets recognition from it, but it doesn’t change the net amount of their work in the market. Having a torrent site does. You go from, say, 100 copies, to 50000 copies, or whatever, and that extra 40900 aren’t giving any profit to the author.

    I don’t know if this will go the way of music, where the downloading eased after a while, after lawsuits, or not. Books are more expensive than songs, and sell less.

    And the basic fact is true: if you don’t pay artists for art, you won’t get anymore art. People have to live. All of the “so and so put his whole book up online for free and sales went up!!!” stories I hear are from mega authors. I mean, let’s be real, shall we? Neil Gaiman could put up a drawing he made with his own spit and people would download it and probably go buy it. (They might be more wary next time, and fwiw, I’m a big Gaiman fan, so I’m not knocking the author at all!) But just take a look at vanity press and predatory self publishers. Those authors can’t give their books away.

    If the whole “free leads to sales” thing really worked, 100% of the time, then publishers would have vanished by now. They haven’t because most people still want some sort of gatekeeper. They want to buy something, or they want to steal it, but they want to know that it is worth some money. A touch ironic, actually. They wouldn’t download for free something that they didn’t have to pay for elsewhere, because if they didn’t have to pay for it elsewhere, how would they know it was worth downloading?

    And the people who do it, most of the time know they are stealing. They couch it in “it should be free anyway” (really? I need medical care, shall I go hold up a hospital then, and take it? Oh, wait, Denzel Washington did that in a movie already, and if doctors didn’t get paid, there wouldn’t be any!) or in the “really, by my taking it, they’ll make money later” or “I’ll buy it if I like it.” *shrugs* Stealing is stealing is stealing. It’s not bread and the folks aren’t starving.

  • Wow, what a kettle of fish caught with a tin of worms!
    In general, the digital age is transforming and in some cases destroying markets. The difficult thing is when the market you are making a living in is changing in ways you can’t easily predict. Such is the case with books/music/movies. It makes me ask the question: What are you really selling?

    In the past a writer would write a book, then sell the rights to publish that book to a publisher. The writer sells into the publisher market. The publisher then prints a ton of physical bound pages and sells them to retailers, retailers then sell to the customer. The publisher has to pay the writer because otherwise the books would just be blank pages. My point being that the writer is selling content, not books. It just so happens the payment model for the writer is based on the number of books sold because the publisher makes their money by selling a distributable item that people want and can only get from the retailer who buys from the publisher.
    Now in the present day, the market is changing. Customers no longer need to go to a book store to purchase a physical book, the retailer has lost their market because a publisher can, with very little cost per author, sell direct. BUT, more than that, an author can theoretically sell an e-book direct to a customer. So a customer is now directly paying for content, but customers are used to paying for distribution, not content. Since distribution costs are essentially zero with digital distribution (obviously there is some small cost, but zero for all practical purposes), the customer feels little problem with getting a copy for free. I think the market needs to change, authors and customers need to change their ideas about where value comes from. Customers associate distribution with product, eg: physical books, and authors associate their created content with the distribution process. This is causing problems.
    The solution: I don’t know, gee, what am I? An Oracle?
    But I do think one possible direction would be for authors to sell content to aggregation companies. So a customer pays for the service of searching and matching their taste in content with authors. This produces a pool of money from which authors are paid proportionally to their readership size. In such a model the customer is once more paying for distribution in a way they understand. That is, the service they subscribe to (or pay per use) would be a better and more efficient way of searching and matching their tastes than piracy, and a better way of obtaining content than piracy (Currently, piracy is better and easier than going to a bookshop and it is easier to find books you like. If a book is published in the US and not Australia, it is much easier to download a pirate copy). It would also mean that popular authors would be encouraged to expand the size of the overall market because they would then get a large payout figure, and free books going out would likely result in more people already subscribed choosing their books to download. In this possible scenario, retailers are left with niche interest and “collectible” works that would still be published to paper format, much like vinyl records are still produced today.

    Oh, and copyright is a pretty recent idea. Art was being produced waaaaaay before people were paying for it. I mean cave paintings didn’t have an admission price to view. Also, I don’t get paid for any of the art I produce and yet I’ve written 2 novels and composed three or four songs, not to mention all the poems, essays and so forth produced at school. Value comes from scarcity, when discussing possessions. The same works for good service. I’ll pay a premium to a bank if they would just call me back about my home loan. :)

    PS: before anyone jumps on me, I agree that making copies of paid for books is not really the correct thing to do. But Misty, have you tried adding a Paypal link on your home page where people can give you money if they like what you do? It doesn’t cost anything to set up and you might be surprised at the number of pirates who would drop you a dollar or two. :) (of course may also not be surprised that you don’t get anything, but at least you’ve given them an avenue to compensate you.)

  • In the end it’s more about sales than money. It’s not about the livelihood of the author (though that is some concern), but the sales numbers. As the MW gang has mentioned on here a number of times, if you don’t get the sales, you’re a risk. No sales means no pick up on future books. No pick up means no more books published from that author, no matter how good the author was. Other companies will also see that author as a risk and not pick them up. So, it doesn’t matter how much Joe Download touts the author, if in the end his and hundreds of others non-sales hurts the possibility of the author getting signed on for another book because they can’t make the sales numbers.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Copyright might be a recent (hundreds of years old) idea, but previously serious artists were supported by patrons. If an artist (or scientist) can’t make money at their craft, the time put in and therefore the quality of that craft goes way down. Most famous dead scientists were wealthy noblemen.
    But this is in the American constitution:
    “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_Clause

  • Kiara, I think this is a marvelous solution. It’s already happening with BluRay discs through Amazon; if you buy certain BluRays, you automatically get a digital copy to load on your iPod. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work beautifully for books as well.

    A couple things I see with this based on what little I know from RPGs. Eden Studios offered a free PDF download with the pre-order purchase of ATBZ. But, the company selling the book (meaning the individual game stores) had to actually set the method up through Eden. Now, at a guess, I’d say the publisher would have to deal directly with the sellers of the books to offer a deal like this whereby the purchaser was given a code on their receipt, or some bar code thing on the receipt for it to work and the code would only work once. Just using the bar code on the back of the book would just have people who really wanted a free copy writing down the numbers on the book in the store and entering it for the online copy, then the legit purchaser of same book would have a problem with his legit claim. Just two issues at a glance. Quite a few of those free downloads, IIRC, are in codes inside the sealed and theft-magnetized DVD box. But then again, I’m sure there’s other more knowledgeable folk out there on the subject.

  • Sorry to be late to the party. This is a great and important post, Misty. Thanks. I’ve recently come across my books available for free download and yes, it’s illegal and yes, it’s theft and I will do everything in my power to prevent it. I’m not interested in studies or arguments that say otherwise. This is my work and someone has to pay for it. Period.

  • Scion, I know lots of people do it, and thanks for the suggestion, because I know you meant it kindly. I don’t want to put a Paypal link on my page because honestly, that feels like begging. I don’t want someone to steal my book, then take pity on me and throw a couple of dollars my way. What I want is another book contract, and another. I want to be able to write as a career, which means I want to make sales that my publisher can track.

  • Misty,

    I recently read the opinion of a well-known author (no names) the view that once he’s been paid for his writing he doesn’t feel the need to be paid again if a reader wants to purchase another format of that same book. Even an e-Book.

    Honestly, this surprised me.

    The problem with that view is that readers aren’t just paying for the authors words; they’re also paying for the “container” too. And while this author and perhaps other authors as well may not like the idea on principle of being paid twice, the actual costs to create the various book formats are the publisher’s.

    Anytime someone obtains a book “for free” which wasn’t provided legitimately by the author or the publisher, it’s stealing.

    Great post!

  • “Scion, I know lots of people do it, and thanks for the suggestion, because I know you meant it kindly. I don’t want to put a Paypal link on my page because honestly, that feels like begging. I don’t want someone to steal my book, then take pity on me and throw a couple of dollars my way. What I want is another book contract, and another. I want to be able to write as a career, which means I want to make sales that my publisher can track.”

    … On the other hand, … look at it from another perspective, not the ‘begging’ one ……lets think about that patron thing that Hepseba mentioned… lets suppose that the Paypal link worked and more people than those feeling guilty about illegally downloading contributed…. at the very least this would be another income stream, and tell me of a writer here who would refuse that?… a reader who likes your work and would like to do more than send a ‘thank you’ email would be able to do so …. all sorts of legal and ethical issues raise their heads I know… but it’s a concept that deserves more thought.

  • Razziecat

    To all those who say it isn’t stealing because it “doesn’t deprive the author of their property”: Let me explain something to you. Say I walk into a store and steal a coat. Is that considered theft? Yes, but not because the store can’t bear to be parted from that coat. It’s theft because I deprived the owner of the profit they would have otherwise made when someone paid for that coat. It is the market value of the coat that counts. So it is with books.

    Please don’t give me that tired old argument that “you can’t copyright an idea.” A book may begin with an idea (”what if…”) but the finished product has been grown; developed; worked on, by the efforts of the author. It takes work to make a book, just as it takes work to make anything. Everything begins with an idea. A chair, a microchip, a cake, a painting, even a piece of paper. The simplest, easiest-to-produce product in the world, whatever that might be, started with an idea but took actual work to produce. The materials to make it cost money. The space used for the manufacturing process costs money to rent or buy, to heat, etc. Why would the chain of compensation end at the person who performs the work of creating the item?

    An author’s education took time and effort (for which someone was compensated). The work they put into creating a story may take years. There is nothing wrong with asking to be compensated for this. If you choose not to buy that author’s work, why are you “entitled” to it anyway? If an author chooses to give away their work, that’s fine; but it must be their choice. What gives anyone else the right to say, “you must create for my consumption and be given nothing in return”?

    Barter may be making a comeback, but until the grocery store, the medical clinic, the utility companies and the dept. stores agree to accept a service or an in-kind exchange, we must pay with money (which may be nothing more than a concept too; credit cards don’t deal in cash, yet everyone knows that all credit must be backed up with cash, somewhere). The internet itself is considered “free”, yet we must pay to have access to it unless we are satisfied doing it only when we can find someplace with free wi-fi.

    Sorry for the thread-jack. This subject’s been coming up on several sites lately & I’ve been steaming about it.

  • Razziecat

    To all those who say it isn’t stealing because it “doesn’t deprive the author of their property”: Consider this, please. Say I walk into a store and steal a coat. Is that considered theft? Yes, but not because the store can’t bear to be parted from that coat. It’s theft because I deprived the owner of the profit they would have otherwise made when someone paid for that coat. It is the market value of the coat that counts. So it is with books.

    Please don’t give me that tired old argument that “you can’t copyright an idea.” A book may begin with an idea (”what if…”) but the finished product has been grown; developed; worked on, by the efforts of the author. It takes work to make a book, just as it takes work to make anything. Everything begins with an idea. A chair, a microchip, a cake, a painting, even a piece of paper. The simplest, easiest-to-produce product in the world, whatever that might be, started with an idea but took actual work to produce. The materials to make it cost money. The space used for the manufacturing process costs money to rent or buy, to heat, etc. Why would the chain of compensation end at the person who performs the work of creating the item?

    An author’s education took time and effort (for which someone was compensated). The work they put into creating a story may take years. There is nothing wrong with asking to be compensated for this. If you choose not to buy that author’s work, why are you “entitled” to it anyway? If an author chooses to give away their work, that’s fine; but it must be their choice. What gives anyone else the right to say, “you must create for my consumption and be given nothing in return”?

    Barter may be making a comeback, but until the grocery store, the medical clinic, the utility companies and the dept. stores agree to accept a service or an in-kind exchange, we must pay with money (which may be nothing more than a concept too; credit cards don’t deal in cash, yet everyone knows that all credit must be backed up with cash, somewhere). The internet itself is considered “free”, yet we must pay to have access to it unless we are satisfied doing it only when we can find someplace with free wi-fi.

    Sorry for the thread-jack. This subject’s been coming up on several sites lately & I’ve been steaming about it.

  • Razziecat, I agree with your point about a loss of market value, but copying isn’t theft because no goods are lost. If I walk into a store, see a coat, go home and create an exact copy of that coat, is that theft? According to you it is. What if I retell a joke I heard Seinfeld tell? Have I just stolen a joke and should I be arrested and thrown in jail? Obviously if I go into a book shop and steal a book, that is theft and I have removed something from the store owner. But if I read a book my mum bought, rather than go in and buy the book myself, have I stolen a book because I have deprived a book shop the opportunity to sell a book?
    Copying copyrighted works, such as novels (or rather the story itself) is clearly an illegal activity and in the current market it hurts the author’s career when expanded to a large enough population. But trying to lump it in with actually taking physical objects is far more complicated than straight out theft. I also think that just focusing on copying as theft prevents people from seeing the larger picture and working out ways to make money from the obvious demand the copying represents. If people don’t want a thing, they won’t copy it (in general), so we need to find ways to enter the supply side of the equation and extract value from the demand. At present, pirate sites are making money from advertising. This doesn’t work well for non-pirate sites because the cost to get content is too high. But I predict the person/people who figure out a good way to make use of the desire people have to copy, will become stinking rich and everyone else will just ask “Why didn’t I think of that?” So you can get cross at people copying and you can try to criminalise yourself and your friends (because we all copy something, sometime -like the comedian’s joke) but that won’t make the problem go away.

  • If you make the same exact item, however, and try to sell it that would be infringement, which is also illegal. Different, but sort of related problem. If you take someone’s book, print it out, and then slap your name on it, going back to the book issue, that’s illegal. There’s a difference between a joke and a copyrighted, marketable item. If you read a book your mom bought, that’s not theft. If you go online and download a book that costs money that you don’t own and you don’t pay for it, it’s the same as if you’d stolen it. Except the store isn’t hurt, just the publisher, the proofer, the set typist, the writer, etc. And the writer worst of all, because crap rolls downhill, even a lack of sales due to people downloading a book that costs money for free instead of paying for it.

    So, yeah, copying a book you already own isn’t theft, but those thousands of people who download it when you post it illegally online through infringement is.

  • Nicki

    Few people seem to realise that preventing copying will NOT boost sales. In my view people copy (ok, amongst others) because they do not have the means to fulfil their needs for books/music/software. If you prevent them from copying, it’s not going to change much for the paid markets.

    When I was a teen I copied whatever software I could get my hands on, because – through no fault of my own – I couldn’t afford to buy it. Prices were way out of my league, but advertising targeted MY age group (perversity of our market system!). Sending the cops after me might have made a big impression, but it wouldn’t have resulted in even ONE more buy.

    As a university student, I couldn’t afford to buy Word, but my teachers required us to submit documents in Word format (no, we didn’t get to use the facility’s computers, and it was waaaaaaay before Open Office, and even now, I know of a few schools who resist or outright refuse Open Office documents for various reasons).

    I borrowed books from the library (maybe you want to label that stealing too?) and I rented vinyls and CDs from the local mediatheque (legal lending library for music & video) because again, my wallet could not keep up with my reading demands and my eclectic choices of music. I became an informed and educated citizen largely because of doing all these so-called illegal things, and I daresay I’m proud of my achievements.
    You might like to know that now that I’m older and have a dependable income of sorts I pay for whatever software, books or music I like/want, because I can still get food on the table at the end of the month even if I indulge myself.

    I realise in our society people want and need to make money. But why is everyone trying to get it from the little man/woman who barely scrapes by, while governments are wasting billions on trying to control petroleum sources, fluke wars against terrorism etc? Why are so many of you people ranting against folks who have a smaller budget than yourselves?
    We live in a system of purposely (government and industry) maintained scarcity and ignorance, and like good little citizens, we walk the little treadmills set out for us. Why don’t we start thinking OUT of the box?

    I produce art for which people can pay if they want to, but people without money can download copies of my paintings for free from the internet. And yes I have a Paypal Donate button on my site, and no, I don’t feel like that’s begging.
    I consider access to art (and lots of it at that!) as a basic human right, whether one’s finances are in good health or not. Art is uplifting and those in financial trouble need a hell of a lot more uplifting than the rest of us.

    I write and paint and sculpt not for a salary but because that is what I want to do with my life. The creative urge is there and will come out, regardless. I consider artists who wouldn’t create anyway (regardless of size of pay check) as phoneys, but hey, that’s just my opinion…

    In MY ideal world, I (and everyone else) would pay – for instance – a doctor a small monthly fee as long as I (his client) am in good health, and stop paying him when I am ill. In such a system it is in doctors’ best interests to keep patients healthy, whereas in current society doctors get rewarded (paid) for keeping people ill. In the same vein, the whole of society would pay artists their living because they make the lives of everyone more beautiful.

    We’re not there yet, but I wholly applaud people licensing their stuff under GNU/creative commons licenses. And for the record: one of my favourite authors put two complete novels downloadable for free on her site. I read them, liked them, and guess what, I’m now buying all her books religiously. Just saying, you might want to adapt to a new style of thinking…

  • I read them, liked them, and guess what, I’m now buying all her books religiously. Just saying, you might want to adapt to a new style of thinking…

    It’d be nice if it stopped there, but the cold hard fact is that it doesn’t. I’m not gonna champion the law. It is what it is. You infringe, you ruin a livelihood. Write a book, have it posted for free on the net and lose your chance to get a contract because you don’t make enough sales to continue writing and give the rest out for free. The well known can afford it. Newbies cannot.

    I’m out.

  • Misty, the only issue I see with your argument is that your book is not available in eBook format, so the only way to get it on an eReader is to steal it. Perhaps for your next publishing effort, you will be more aggressive in getting it published as an eBook so that people who want that format can pay for it instead of stealing it.

    With respect to Daniel Davis’s comments, it seems to me that people who are so scared of being shut out of the book publishing market, yet have already been published, are the best candidates for moving to self-publishing via eBook and Print-On-Demand. You already have an audience, and you can sell to that audience and keep 70% of the revenue instead of something like the 8% that I believe authors usually end up with. You can get the same amount of money with slightly better than 10x less revenue with that model. Now is the time to seize the opportunity and take advantage of the emerging eBook market – especially since you already have a fan base. It just seems like publishers these days are only focused on authors who can sell big numbers (which I believe is supported by your comments), and while that may have been the only option in the past, you, as an author, have the opportunity right now to take control of your work and do what you want with it instead of letting someone who doesn’t care a wit about you go out there and market a book that they’ll drop as soon as they can if it doesn’t fit with their money-making math.

    Instead of looking at the emerging eBook market as a negative thing that is hurting you, perhaps when you finish your next first draft, you can take some time out to figure out how to use the digital channel as a positive thing, and a way to actually make more money.

    I’m not sure if this is related to the misconceptions of the internet and digital media, but requiring user registration on your site in order to leave a comment is a terrible inconvenience. Making it easy to comment (just like making books available in digital format) is a way to encourage fan interaction and keep people coming back.

  • Faith said: “In *my* perfect, future world, all used bookstores will have to pay the author / publishing house, 25 cents (or more!) from every single used book sold. It is only fair. Paying the musician is also now the standard for the music industry for used CDs, etc., to generate sales to the musician.”

    That’s flatly terrifying.

    Let’s have a bit of precision here. Fair is where there is no copyright, and anything anyone writes is available to everyone else. Under “fair” authors can’t really make a living off of their work, and I can make a copy of your work if I want to, because it hurts no one. That’s fair, but it doesn’t mean it’s good.

    Good is when we back off of fair a bit because there’s a social good that we’re striving for: we want authors to write books. Because it’s so important to us that authors write books we give them something special: copyright. We (as a society, and as a government) give authors copyright because we get something in return: lots of works of literature.

    But that means that “fair” is absolutely the wrong way to think about the issue. If, as an author, you want to put the debate in terms of fairness you’re chopping off your own foot, because on those grounds copyright is, frankly, indefensible. All those people out there who have thought about the issue a little bit and have achieved what they believe is the grand insight that copyright isn’t fair are, in the end, absolutely right. The problem is that they haven’t thought far enough, and unfortunately too few authors have thought even as far as they have, so they’re not in a position to argue effectively with them. Copyright is important for the same reason it was enshrined in the US constitution: to promote the arts and the sciences. Any argument for copyright, or against illegal copying, has to come down to this: does it promote the arts and the sciences? It’s failing to think about the issue in the proper terms that leads to the sort of egregious over-reach that turns people off, such as arguing that used bookstores and libraries are theft. If you make that argument you’re taking the first step down a road that can only end with the abolition of copyright.

    Much better is to realize that copyright is and must always be a compromise between fair and good. It’s important that authors can make a living, but it’s also important that society actually have as much access to the works that authors create as is possible. The former is important because it’s the only way to achieve the latter, and if making sure that authors get paid begins to mean that people no longer have access to the works authors have created then it means that copyright has gone too far and the rights of authors should be scaled back. That’s why there are concepts such as “fair use” and “first sale” which limit the rights of authors to dictate in perpetuity the use of their work.