Recently, author Ellen Hopkins noticed that someone had uploaded an Advanced Reader Copy of her not-yet-released YA novel Tilt to a pirate site. She was, understandably, upset by this. Her book isn’t even out yet and people are already stealing it.
The problem isn’t ignorance. Most people who illegally download things like books know what they’re doing. But on the off-chance you aren’t sure, Author Rachel Vincent has a good post on what piracy is. And Author Ally Carter has an old but timeless post on why it’s bad for everyone.
SO FIRST! Confession time. I’ve pirated books. There, I admitted it. I did and I feel really shitty about it. When I first got my Kindle, friends linked me to book sharing communities and it was a little overwhelming, like being in a book store. I just wanted to grab everything. I knew it wasn’t legal but I told myself lies about it not being a problem and justified it to myself and downloaded probably a dozen books. For the record, I have since deleted these illegal copies and legally purchased all of the books I pirated to assuage my guilt. It doesn’t make what I did okay, but I hope I can be forgiven for the error. As an aspiring author myself, I feel sick thinking about it, but let’s look at how people (even me) have justified this kind of theft:
1: It’s the Same As Getting It From the Library
It is not the same. I’m not a librarian, so I’ll leave it to people who know better to correct me if I’m wrong here, but from what I understand libraries purchase special copies of books at higher prices. A single copy of a book may cost them $80-100. This is because the book is purchased with the knowledge that it will be lent out to lots of people, and helps cover the cost to pay the author and the publisher. There are also things like how its popularity at the library indicates things to publishers, but again, I don’t know much about it. All I know is that illegal taking a book is not like getting it from your local library.
2: Authors Make Tons of Money Anyhow – My $10 Won’t Make a Difference.
This is so not true. I can name at least three authors off the top of my head who are reasonably successful and still work day jobs to make ends meet. Also they’re paid based on sales, so your money not only helps, but stealing is like sneaking into their house and taking their wallet. And not only are you ripping off the livelihood of the author, but also the agents, editors, and publishers who worked hard to produce the book. Plus, even published authors have to sell new books to publishers. If a book doesn’t sell enough, the publisher might decide that it hasn’t made enough or generated enough interest to buy the rest of the series, leaving the author without a job. So those people who upload a copy of a book and let 10,000 people download it mean the author whose work they enjoy might be out of work entirely due to their theft.
#3: I Only Download Books That Are Not Easily Available:
An actual friend of mine pulled this once, and it’s bullshit. (Sorry, friend.) What does that even mean? Is the book not yet released in your country? Well, not to be crass, but tough shit. Is the book not even out yet? Again, guess what? That means you wait. You can enter contests to win ARCs, or wait til the book is legally released and purchase it. Your impatience is not an excuse to pirate the book. Do you mean it’s not available in digital format? Then get ye to a bookstore, or go to an online book store and order the physical copy and have it mailed to you. You can do that. We live in the future. If you have no more room on your bookshelf for physical books? Donate some or don’t read books that are not available in e-format. It’s still not an excuse.
#4: It’s the same as borrowing it from a friend.
Rachel Vincent addressed this in her post: “When you lend books to your friends, you’re lending them the ONE copy of the book you presumably paid for (or were given). You’re not making a COPY of that book, then enabling THOUSANDS of other people to make THOUSANDS more copies of that book.” And that’s exactly it. If I buy one copy of, say, Clockwork Angel, and I lend it to my coworker, maybe that’s one lost sale (assuming she would have bought it on her own, which maybe she wouldn’t have). But probably she’ll become obsessed with Will Herondale (WHO WOULDN’T?) and buy the rest of the series. If, however, I upload it to a book sharing site and let thousands of people have it for free, that’s a ton of lost revenue and the author may not even be able to get her publisher to pick up the third book and WE WILL NEVER KNOW WHAT HAPPENS and that IS NOT OKAY.
#5: I can’t afford all of the books I want to read.
Yeah. Okay. So like.. do you go to the grocery store and take a package of Port Salut, and insist you can’t afford it but are taking it anyhow because you can’t afford all of the artisan cheese you want to eat? No? Okay then. Why are you doing the same thing to books? How is it different? That’s right, it’s not.
#6: I support the author buy reviewing the books and recommending them to friends.
Good. That’s good. But that doesn’t make stealing the books okay. Getting two people to buy a book you stole (assuming they don’t just steal it too) doesn’t make up for your crime.
#7: The author should be happy I’m reading their work at all, whether I paid for it or not.
*bangs head on desk* No. Should you be happy your boss lets you work even if they don’t cut you a paycheck? NO? Would you happily work for free? Writing is hard work. And as Ally Carter points out, the publishing process is harder. It requires hours and hours of work from many people. They are not working for free. A writer may write for free, but until we can all pay rent with sunshine and rainbows, they need you to legally purchase their book in order to live.
Piracy is stealing. There is no excuse. There is no justification. Downloading a book from a torrent site or a “book sharing” site (a pox on them for making it seem like a friendly swap when it’s really just piracy) is the same thing as going into a bookstore and putting a book under your sweatshirt and stealing it. It is stealing and it is not okay.
How do you stop piracy? Stop pirating. Stop illegally downloading books. If you have done so, purchase legal copies and stop doing it from now on. Leave book sharing communities. Report them to the sites that host them and hope they get shut down.