Once upon a time, books were only available as hard copies. Digital formats didn’t yet exist. The pricey hardback edition came out first, and if it did well, a paperback edition followed.
Readers could buy the book, borrow a copy from the library or a friend, or shoplift a copy from a retailer. Stealing from bookstores is a bigger problem than I would have thought. I just expected readers as a group to have more integrity.
Talk about naive…
All readers aren’t criminals, of course, but stealing is against the law. Anyone who shoplifts knows it’s a crime. I’m not sure readers understand that sending ebooks to friends or downloading from a pirate site is stealing too.
What happens after a book is purchased? The owner might lend a hard copy edition to any number of friends, one at a time. Sharing in this manner is perfectly legal. The copyright hasn’t been violated because no additional copies of the book are created.
Sharing an ebook is different. Loaning your Kindle or other reading device to a friend is fine — like lending a hard copy. Sending ebooks to anyone, however, is illegal, because the sender creates another copy of the file.
I often search the internet for new reviews of my books. Two or three times a month, one or more pirate sites offering free downloads of my novels turns up. I’m a little flattered that someone wants to read my boo bad enough to steal, but mostly, it pisses me off.
Sending files to a few friends, though illegal, is one thing. Making free copies available to anyone the way pirate sites do is much worse. No telling how many copies of my books have been stolen this way, but each one is money out of my pocket.
But writers have money to burn, right? I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Other than Steven King, James Patterson, J.K. Rowland, and other big names, authors make very little money. Were it not for day jobs, most would starve.
With a few exceptions (and they’re not getting rich), the authors I know do well to cover expenses. For many, writing is more of an expensive hobby than a money maker. With four novels and an anthology in print, by the time I pay for one trip a year, web site expenses, and other costs, I spend more than I earn in royalties.
File sharing is not a victim-less crime. I have no way of knowing how much money I lose to free file sharing. But it’s really not about the money. It’s the principle. Stealing is wrong. Period.