Pirating Books: It’s Not a Harmless Download

Photo credit: krissen on Flickr
Every once in a while, when chatting with a wonderful fellow reader about a fantastic book, the conversation will take a turn like this: 
Me: Have you read [book title]? It’s fantastic.  
Reader: Oh! I downloaded that book off [pirating website] onto my Nook not too long ago! I should start reading it! 
Queue internal raging. 

Look, I’m not going to lecture you about the legalities of pirating—we all know what is and isn’t legal, and the technicalities involving laws that are enforced and those that fall between the cracks. This is nothing new. 

Truth be told, what infuriates me about pirating isn’t even the law thing—it’s the wide-spread erroneous belief that pirating is a harmless wrong, like a white lie. But the truth is, pirating isn’t a victimless crime—by illegally downloading books, you’re harming the very people you want to support by reading and enjoying their books. 

I’m talking about the authors. 

Time and time again, when I talk to people who pirate material (whether books, music, movies, etc.), the argument I get is a variation this: the author/artist will be fine. One download won’t make a difference. 

That’s probably true—one download wouldn’t matter much. But that type of argument is making the assumption that you are the only person on the planet illegally downloading that book. And that’s simply not true.  

The other assumption often used to justify pirating is more of a subliminal message: published authors are rich and thus can take the hit from a pirated book. But by and large, this too is a falsification—writers make a living by (surprise!) selling books. And every book that is downloaded illegally is a hard-earned sale taken away from the author. 

With every book that you pirate, you’re basically telling the author that they don’t deserve your support. That you don’t value their hard work. That the book that they wrote is worth nothing. 

You’re essentially stealing from the very writers whose work you’re enjoying.

I don’t just avoid pirating because it’s against the law. I avoid it because if I think something is worth downloading, then it’s worth compensating the creator fairly for his or her work. 

What do you think? Is pirating books (or anything else) an acceptable practice? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Want to help support your favorite authors? Then don't do this. (Click to tweet)  
How is pirating books the equivalent of stealing from authors? One writer explains. (Click to tweet


Jen Donohue said...

I do think pirating books is unacceptable, and unconscionable. Not sure if you're going to like a book? Amazon has "look inside". Or you could go to the library. I also don't personally prefer ebooks, so I'm not the person who gets all excited about the New Book from X that I've downloaded....because I would never read it like that anyway.

So far as music goes....well, in those dim days of Napster's tenuous legality, I downloaded music. During Limewire too. But I know I'm an Outlier, because I would use those services to download 1.concert versions 2. songs I already had on CD or cassette and 3. songs from a new band that I would then purchase the CD of. I didn't have gigs of music I laughed maniacally over; I just didn't want to spent twenty bucks on a CD I hated. Buying individual songs from Amazon has been useful to fill that gap.

Lucy said...

While this is a good point, what about if you're reading books at the library? Thousands do everyday. And it is free. Are they stealing from the author then? Or when you borrow books from your friends. Also no money exchanged. I suppose the issue may be volume here, for when it's at an online site, accessed by very many, that is a lot of "free" access. However, the library also provides this free access.

Ava Jae said...

I agree entirely with what you said about pirating books. I do read e-books, but I can see how preferring print anyway would make pirating e-books not even a temptation. :)

I can kind of understand downloading songs you already have, although I would think that's no longer necessary as you can now transfer CD songs into a digital version on your computer without cost. That wasn't always the case, however, so in a way I can see the argument for that. I think the ability to buy individual songs has truly changed the industry as well--I remember going to stores and looking at CDs and being disappointed because I would love one or two songs off the CD, but that wasn't worth $15-20. The advent of individual song purchases has really made a difference.

Ava Jae said...

To me, the difference between reading a book from the library or reading a book borrowed from a friend is that somewhere along the way, someone paid for that book. I agree with you that the other difference may lie in volume--whereas thousands can pirate an e-book without a single one paying for the book, it's unlikely that thousands are going to borrow the same book from a friend, or even a library. And in the case of either, you can only borrow the same book one at a time, versus thousands of simultaneous downloads and copies of that pirated book.

Tinnis said...

I never download books since I live very close to a couple of amazing libraries and it's very seldom they don't have a book I want to read, so when they don't I can afford to buy it. I do though read some things online, if there is something that because of certain circumstances is not availible for me to buy I tend to read it online and I read a lot of manga online. \

I am the sort of person that could never afford to buy everything I read, I don't have that sort of money and read way to fast. This is especially true with manga since they are both short and expenisve and my libraries don't have them. The choice for me then would be to either use all my money on manga and still not be able to buy as much I would like to read or reading some online. Therefore I read a lot online but I always try to buy some manga to, just to support the authors. If there is a serie I really liked I try to buy some volumes of it, or if there is a serie that's not very popular and the author really need to sell I try to buy a couple. Since I began reading manga I have spent a lot of money on it but sadly it's impossible for me to even buy half the amount I read.

SakuraPandaTeaTime said...

I've never considered downloading pirate copies of books. It just seems silly. You can read hundreds and thousands of books for free on critique sites like Scribophile and through services like Wattpad. If you really want a certain book so badly that these channels are no good for your entertainment and you choose to not pay money for that book and pirate it, you are, most certainly, evil.

Music and movies are a different matter. I occasionally download music, but I always buy the proper version if I like it. Same goes for movies but I am far more picky with movies because they make so much trash.

Ava Jae said...

Using the library is a great alternative when it's not possible to buy everything that you want to read. I personally enjoy collecting books, so I usually buy everything I read (with a couple exceptions, of course), but I also frequently ask for gift cards at just about every gift-giving holiday or situation, so I use those wisely. :)

I can see how the situation may be a little difficult with manga, as a manga series is often extraordinarily long, and, I would imagine, pretty expensive to acquire if your local library didn't own a copy. From what I understand, there are legal online manga reading sites (although correct me if I'm wrong), but I'm not very well acquainted with those, so I'm not entirely sure how it works.

Ava Jae said...

You know, I've never really delved into Scribophile or Wattpad, but I've seen several writers who publish their work on those sites. I wasn't aware that they were critique sites, so that's interesting.

As for music and movies, I would still argue for legal means of acquisition, but I'm glad to hear that you still buy the proper version of both as long as you like what you see or hear.

Tinnis said...

There are a couple of legal online manga sites I, but the problem is that they are usually very hard to find and since I live in a small country like Sweden you can normally not acess them from my country. Which leads to a pretty problematic situation.

Ava Jae said...

Hmm, that does sound tough. I'm not sure if you have an e-reader, but e-books are usually a little less expensive than the print version (although, again, I don't know what it's like for manga). Otherwise, it's a shame that your library doesn't carry very much manga. :/

susan kaye quinn said...

I'm of the belief that my main problem isn't piracy but discoverability. (Note: I don't like people stealing my stuff, but it happens all the time, and in my experience, it hasn't hurt sales; in fact, it may have helped.) When I give away some of my own books, it increases sales of all my other books. The library is essentially a free sampler. I would LOVE to be in (more) libraries. I would donate books to be in libraries, forget about having them pay me. Piracy is an unauthorized free sampler, but it operates much the same way. And if all books were made DRM-free (i.e. making them easier to pirate), I don't think there were would be an (negative) effect on sales. Oh wait... Tor ran that experiment.

The main problem out there isn't piracy, but writing and marketing books that people love to read.

susan kaye quinn said...

BTW Adam Heine has a very informative post on piracy.

Jennifer M. said...

Just to play devil's advocate… how is this any different than borrowing a book from a friend instead of buying it yourself? That's something I really miss in this day and age actually - digital books are virtually impossible to lend out, whereas that used to be a great way to discover and share new books.

Jennifer M. said...

Yes I would tend to agree w/ you on this. I have heard of music artists who purposefully put their music on torrent sites and discovered the same thing. Their sales actually went up as a result because people were discovering them more.

Ava Jae said...

So I'm going to recycle my answer that I used when another commenter asked a similar question...

To me, the difference between reading a book from the library or reading a book borrowed from a friend is that somewhere along the way, someone paid for that book. I agree with you that the other difference may lie in volume--whereas thousands can pirate an e-book without a single one paying for the book, it's unlikely that thousands are going to borrow the same book from a friend, or even a library. And in the case of either, you can only borrow the same book one at a time, versus thousands of simultaneous downloads and copies of that pirated book.

As for lending digital books, from what I've seen some e-readers have allowed lending, but it's usually in a limited capacity. I hope it expands as well, because the only other alternative is allowing someone to borrow your e-reader, which could then mean having to wait to read anything, if you don't have any print books on hand.

A Ranjan said...

same site maker as Topgear.com.

njk said...

There's dozens of writers that I would never have read, and subsequently bought copies of, if I had not downloaded them. I had not ever heard of Kelly Link or Kelly Sue DeConnick or Brian Michael Bendis or Joe Hill or Caitlin R Kiernan or Philip Jose Farmer or Tim Pratt or a dozen other of my favorite writers, and of those writers I've purchased at least ONE book (typically the book I downloaded) of theirs, typically not just one though.

There's dozens of writers who defend illegal downloading. Like Neil Gaiman for one. People who don't have the resources, money or time to go to a library can download at home -- people too ill or too young to actually have autonomy can go online and get a book.

Ava Jae said...

So while I am well aware there are many writers who defend the option of giving away their books for free, (usually for marketing purposes, because this can be an effective way to bring attention to a book or backlist), I suspect most of these would agree that whether or not to give away a book for free should be the author's choice. And when a book is illegally downloaded, that choice is taken away from them.

Here's the thing—I know money can be an issue when it comes to book buying, but that's why there are libraries. And if someone doesn't have the time to go to a library, then they can see if their library has e-book rentals, which is becoming more popular. Or they can buy the book online, via Amazon, B&N, Smashwords or elsewhere. If they don't have the resources or the money to go to a library, they still can see if their library has e-book rentals, which are free and available for (legally) downloading right from your home computer for a limited time.

This also applies to people too ill or too young to go out and get a book—there are plenty of legal online resources available to them, whether through free library e-book rentals or paying for the e-book.

If, someone unfortunately doesn't have the ability to go to a library (or their library doesn't have e-book rentals) and they don't have the money to buy a book or e-book, then I'm afraid they can't get the book. Period.

The thing is, we're not entitled to other people's hard work for free. I'm not entitled to a free doctor's visit, even when the appointments become difficult to pay for and I need to see a doctor (it doesn't work that way in the US); I'm not entitled to a movie for free, or a TV show for free if it hasn't been willingly shared for free by its creators; I'm not entitled to free makeup or free clothes (though wouldn't that be nice?); hell, I'm not even entitled to free food—and we kind of need that to live.

People put in months or even years worth of time and hard work to get the best book available to us (and in the case of self-publishers, a lot of money, too)—and I am absolutely not entitled to steal their work, even if I can't make it to a library, even if my library doesn't allow for e-book rentals, even if I can't afford to buy the book whether online or in the store. Pirating books is taking hard-earned money directly out of an author's pocket, and it's something I refuse to do or endorse regardless of the ifs or buts.

There's no excuse for stealing from an author. If you can't afford their book, then I'm sorry, you can't afford their book, but the least we can do is respect them enough to wait until you can afford to go to a library or a bookstore to get their book through legal channels.

No excuses. No maybes. If an author has opted not to share their book for free, it's well within their rights to do so, and as readers, we ought to respect that.

jervoux said...

I pirate all my books.

Ava Jae said...

I'm sorry to hear that.

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