Why Piracy Is Never Okay
Updated: Apr 5
The Guardian lately ran an article about book piracy and it revealed some shocking truths and quoted some shocking opinions. I am going to address a few of them in the following article while trying not to scream.
"Pirating eBooks is not stealing, because eBooks are 'not a physical thing'."
Apart from the fact that there is such a thing as intellectual property, let's just quickly talk this through. So stealing a physical book is theft whilst stealing an eBook isn't? Okay, so what is the difference between them? One is a thing, made of paper and with a cover, the other one is a file. What do they have in common? There are words inside them which make up sentences which make up a story. The story is the same. Would the physical book be worth the same to you if it didn't have these words in it? I very much doubt it. So, if there is worth to the words in their printed form, where does that worth go when the words are in eBook format? Does it evaporate?
"I don't have money to afford buying the book."
Most people who pirate books are actually middle to upper class, so they aren't exactly starving. But let's take this at face-value for the sake of the argument and pretend this is true. Firstly: eBooks are already dead-cheap. Secondly: If you can't afford the 3-5 bucks they cost, there are many ways of getting your hands on books without stealing them. Libraries don't only allow you to borrow paper books but also eBooks. Thirdly: You can buy books second hand (look further below why I feel this is more okay than stealing them).
"There are no libraries where I live."
Again, let's take this at face value and pretend that we don't know that a lot of the people who say this haven't even looked into whether or not there are any libraries near them. Online libraries exist. On the upper end there would be the infamous Kindle Unlimited or Sribd with 9.99/monthly giving you access to all the books you want. Not cheap enough? Project Gutenberg has a lot of books that are in the public domain for free.
An earlier version of this article linked another page here, which claims to be a valid and legal ressource. I have since come across some evidence to the contrary and have therefore removed both the mention of and the link to the page in question.
"Authors are greedy."
Authors spend a lot of time on writing their books and creating content. Writing might be a hobby, but it's also hard work. Turning a rough draft into a publishable piece takes blood, sweat, tears and a huge amount of time. It is work. Do you think work should be paid? Do you think builders and scientists and lawyers and bakers and taxi drivers should be paid for what they do? Yes? Then, why would you think that authors should offer their services for free?
"I only steal from those authors who can afford the loss."
Trick question: How much do you know about the author you're stealing from? Did you research whether they can afford the loss? Do you know what authors get paid even if they are top notch names? No? Let's pretend you're a really good author, then you might get an advance payment of 20k for your next novel. An advance means that you won't see a penny more until your book has been sold often enough to make up these 20k. So the more people pirate a book instead of buying it the less likely you will ever see a single cent more than that advance. The publisher might consider not publishing your next book, or might pay you a lower advance the next time. They might even decide not to publish your next book at all.
"Reading an author's work is a bigger compliment than ignoring it./ It's free promo for the author."
Again, at face value, this belief is simply wrong. Following the last point I made, copies that are pirated don't count as sales to the publisher and hence they will either not give the author a decent advance the next time, not do as much promotion for your next book or - worst case - not publish your next book. An excellent example what 'not enough sales due to piracy' can mean, is what almost happened to Maggie Stiefvater's 'The Raven Cycle' series. Another excellent exmaple for what happens if you don't sell enough books is the fact tha Stephanie Garber's 'Finale', the final part of the 'Caraval' series, will very likely not be published in the French translation, because 'Legendary' (the second book) didn't do as well as expected on the French market. These are big names and big books. And the consequences are dire!
"It's not different than buying from a second hand bookstore."
Yes, it is. Because there's finite amount of printed books available in second hand bookstores and after having gone through a couple of hands they are very likely to fall apart and die. A file shared online has no life-span. It is immortal and it can be shared not a couple of times, but hundreds, thousands, millions of times without losing any of its original quality and content. Also, the second hand bookstore books will most likely not influence a book's sales in the first couple of months of its existence, which are the numbers that determine what will happen to the author in terms of future advances or further publishing.
"I like to pre-read books before buying them, because I have been disappointed by purchased books before."
In every life a little rain must fall. But will you really buy the actual book after you read the pirated one? My guess is: unlikely. Also, this is just something that happens. It's not great, but in case it happens, you can still re-sell your book via the usual re-seller pages (I am not linking them here, because they happen to be different for different countries). But it's like buying groceries. You might buy a banana one day and it's perfect and buy one the next day and it's mealy and disgusting. If you try a new type of pasta and like it, you're likely to buy pasta from that brand again. If you try it and don't like it, you'll steer clear of that brand in the future. This is very similar to the process of reading a book by a new author and liking or disliking it. Same process. Fun fact though, if you're insecure about whether or not you will enjoy a book, there's many legal ways of 'testing' (see the section about libraries).