A Philosopher's Blog

E-Book Piracy

Posted in Business, Ethics by Michael LaBossiere on February 22, 2010
A 17th-century pirate flag.

Image via Wikipedia

Music, software, and movies are readily available via various pirate sites. Now e-books are finding their way into the cargo holds of the electronic pirate ships.

While e-book pirating is still fairly limited, the rise of readers such as Amazon‘s Kindle and B&N‘s Nook will no doubt help increase the volume of piracy (much as the music players helped drive up music piracy). As such, this will be a matter of growing concern for publishers.

As is so often the case, the corporate masters are attempting to fight piracy in ways that actually tend to encourage it. To be specific, some publishers are refusing to release certain titles as e-books in the mistaken belief that this will prevent (or curb) piracy. However, pirates simply scan print copies of the book and make these available. As such, not offering e-books does not protect a book from piracy-it merely means that the pirates have to make their own pirate copy. And, of course, some people do simply make their own copies without any intent to distribute the copies works as pirates.

Lest anyone misinterpret what I have written, I am not claiming that pirates or copiers are justified in pirating or copying a book simply because the company refuses to create an e-book version. My point is that not offering an e-book version of a book does not protect it from piracy. Ironically, it actually deprives the company of revenue since some folks who get the pirated version would no doubt be willing to pay for a legitimate copy.

Companies should, of course, take steps to protect their e-books. While it is easy enough to see piracy as a shot at the “fat cats” and “corporate masters”, it also hurts authors. After all, a stolen book provides no royalties for the person who wrote the book. I assume that many people who read pirated books work jobs of their own and I infer that they would not like to spend a week at work and then have their paychecks stolen from them. This, I suspect holds even if the person in question works for a “fat cat” company or for the “corporate masters.” Stealing books is the same sort of thing.

In my case, I do not make a living from my writing (if I did, I’d be dead now) and I willingly make many of my works available for free. But, this is my choice-they are my works and hence I have the right to decide whether people should have them for free or not.  People no more have a right to steal my work than I have to force someone to work for me for free.

Yes, I do admit that there is a certain appeal in getting something for free. It is especially appealing when a person can rationalize by thinking that she is getting back at a big corporation. I’m no fan of how most big publishing firms operate and authors are often exploited, so I am well aware of the temptation. However, stealing e-books is not a blow for the author or for the common man; it is mere theft. If you want to strike a blow for the common man against the corporations, then start a publishing company that sells books at reasonable rates and pays authors fairly. That would strike a real blow. At the very least, if you must steal e-books to strike at the “fat cats”, then send the author some cash anonymously.

Of course, some people steal e-books and “justify” this by pointing out that the big authors are very wealthy. Hence, stealing a book from that author does no real harm. For example, pirating a Harry Potter novel or even all of them still leaves Rowling with her millions. It it can be argued that stealing from the rich is not as bad as stealing from those with less (after all, less relative harm is done). Of course, that is somewhat like saying that stabbing a tough person is not as bad as stabbing a weak person because the tough person can take more damage. This might be true, but it rather misses the point.

If someone wants to steal stuff because they’d rather not pay, then they are just parasites. That is all I have to say about that.

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2 Responses

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  1. Simon said, on April 11, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    Great post, piracy is such a huge problem

  2. book publishers said, on May 24, 2010 at 1:08 am

    Piracy is a massive burden.


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