Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Piracy

Pirates have been in the news a lot lately, but my thoughts have less to do with Somalis, snipers, or even swashbucklers, and more to do with internet pirates - those who illegally distribute copies of licensed, copyrighted ebooks.

A reader commented on Jess Dee's blog post on the Samhain Blog yesterday, complaining that the restrictions on sharing ebooks were unconstitutional and that Samhain's policy regarding ebook sharing was "unethical".

It's funny, this is another case of me assuming everyone thinks exactly like me. It didn't even occur to me that others would have such a diametrically opposite view on this situation. I sort of thought that people who pirated books knew it was wrong, knew why it was wrong, and did it anyway.

So, just to give my side of the tale and help anyone on the other side understand my rationale, I'd like to present my thoughts on why ebooks should not be shared online. I am not a spokesperson for Samhain, I do not represent them or their views, but I do believe they are an extremely ethical company. (And I'm a little amused that this strongly anti-Samhain sentiment came to light on Samhain's very own blog.) I would also like to state that I am not a scholar in copyright law and these are just my opinions. The opinions of one lowly author, trying to make it in this biz.

I share print books. I read a lot and I don't have a lot of disposable income, so I have to get my books from alternate sources. My aunt sends me boxes filled with books she bought and read and liked. I buy books from second hand books stores (my absolute fav being Title Wave in Anchorage, AK - woot!). I use my library card to the point of exhaustion - and many libraries are beginning to have ebook selections available for checkout (with timestamp expirations). None of this is illegal. So why, you might be wondering, is sharing ebooks?

Ebooks do not have a physical product to be bought or sold, so like other nonphysical proprietary items (software, mp3s, etc.) they are licensed and sharing is forbidden. I think this is just and right. Here's why: My aunt lending me a book she read is not the same thing as my aunt making a thousand (or a million - with the internet there is no control) copies of that book, then walking over to the local Barnes & Noble and handing them out on the sidewalk out front.

If you share an ebook by a new author you just discovered with your next-door neighbor, the Feds are pretty darned unlikely to come after you. However, if you post my ebook online for anyone to download, they should come after you. They probably won't, because ebook piracy is not as important to them as it is to lowly little us who are having our livelihoods stolen, but I might personally ask you to take it down. And Samhain might ask you to take it down. And I, for one, am grateful that they will. That doesn't make Samhain unethical. That makes them a business. Do you get mad at Target for stopping shoplifters?

My book costs $3.50 (less at some legal vendors who have it on sale). Is it really so unreasonable to shell out $3.50? I bet you spent more than that on a bucket of popcorn last time you went to the movies. As I've said before, we authors aren't rolling in our millions, taking baths in tubs filled with hundred dollar bills. The more people who actually buy my books, the less time I have to spend at my day job, and the more time I have to write more books for you to read.

You want to read ebooks for free? Become an online ebook reviewer with a reputable site. Or go check out your local library's selection. But please do not support online piracy sites - it's stealing.


Anna Richland said...

Really, she said ebook anti-piracy devices were unconstitutional? Lawyers roll our eyes over those rants. Things are only unconstitutional when done by government or a government actor (police, mayor, schools, planning board). Samhain can do whatever the heck it pleases, it's never ever going to be unconstitutional unless we elect Angela James POTUS. It may be illegal under some other law, but not under the Constitution. Guess what, if I fire someone for saying something, it didn't violate the First Amendment. I can do that. They can try suing me for discrimination under various civil rights laws passed by Congress, but private people or businesses are not bound by the Bill of Rights. The state of civics education just ticks me off. Arrgh, now I'm ranting! Vivi, you got me going! (not that that hasn't happened before)

Vivi Andrews said...

Well, technically she didn't use "unconstitutional". It was "contrary to the doctrine of first sale" and "an illegal restraint of trade" as well as "contrary to established Supreme Court precedent" ... so yeah. Details.

Vivi Andrews said...

Un-American! That's the word I was looking for! Okay... so pretend I said "un-American", 'kay?