Copyright, Piracy, Libraries, Novels, and You…

(c) JordyR (Creative Commons - Flickr)

(c) JordyR (Creative Commons – Flickr)

I've been reading a lot of posts and articles lately on how piracy is killing authors–or their bottom lines, that is. There have been articles (okay, more like facebook rants, really) on copyright and intellectual property.

Unlike I normally do, I'm not sharing links to these discussions. Why? They aren't mine to share, and I don't know if my friends and the authors I talk to want their thoughts shared. You'll have to take my word that these discussions exist. They do.

This is my take on copyright, piracy, libraries, and novels.

I'll begin with a library. A library is a collection of books, where readers can loan a title and read it–for free. The author sees one payment. The library may loan a title hundreds of times in the book's lifespan, if the lenders take good care of the title.

One payment, hundreds of loans. This is okay, because we all know that library lending makes authors popular, right?

It's okay that authors only get paid once, because the books are loaned from a library.

Authors are okay with this. We get paid for that one book. The rest is exposure–a lot of exposure.

Yet, authors are so damned touchy about copyright and piracy. I spoke about this before, about how I acquired a book, and the copyright notice was so threatening I was offended by it. I got the book legally. What did I do to deserve six pages of warnings on what would happen to me if I dared share the book with anyone?

I own the legal copyright for all of my books. It's a $50 formality, really–but a necessary one. If something happens I do not want, I'm protected.

But, I'm about to say something unsettling:

I'm okay with libraries, because I know and understand that reading books is expensive without them. One year, I spent far over $1,000 on books. Closer to $2,000. I've paid the piper so many times. This year alone, I've spent several hundred dollars on books. I love to read.

I love paying authors for the chance to read.

But I'll be among the first to admit that I will read books for free, be it from amazon's sampling system, or a horrible text pasted to some website. I use the internet like I do libraries: I test books before I buy them. Kinda like cars, except a little cheaper if I make a mistake.

I do it with comics, too. I don't buy a comic without sampling it. Usually this means reading the entire thing and buying it because I liked it. You can walk into a comic book store and do this all day long, so long as you leave with a stack of comics you are buying.

With hundreds of thousands of bad books out there, I take fewer risks with my money. I use the internet like I do a library: a place to check out new books, so I can buy the ones I like.

I like owning my own books. I always have.

I like using libraries, because owning books is expensive.

I'm okay with libraries. An author gets paid once per copy. That's it, that's all. Yet we're okay with this–I'm okay with this, because it spreads word about our novels around the world.

Yet, we're not okay with pirated copies of books. Is it scale? Is it the thought that someone paid for a book and then shared it?

Or is it because it is so easy for people to purchase a book and then refund it–after they've read it? We're not sure if we got paid for that one precious copy when something gets pirated. The scale is larger. Instead of hundreds per book, thousands of people are reading the books.

That's a problem! It's a money problem. It obviously shouldn't be allowed…

… or should it?

Piracy costs people money; I'm not denying that. I'm not denying that I'm worried about what will happen if more people get my books for free than they do paying for it. Those payments make or break me.

But libraries exist because literacy isn't cheap.

I like to think I'm on to something here–something about our nature, about our opinions, and about our wallets.

We've put a price on literacy, and it's quite a high one–for my titles, up to $5.99 a book. And people will pay that, because they enjoy my stories–even when I make mistakes and mess them up. With each book, I try harder. I want to tell great stories.

I want to tell stories people will pay $5.99 for.

I want to tell stories that people who can't pay $5.99 for are so desperate to read they'll use piracy–the internet's illegal public library–to get a copy of one to read.

I want to tell stories that people enjoy so much that after they've gotten that free copy from the internet's illegal public library–also known as pirating sites–that they take the $5.99 they get later and pay me for a legitimate copy of the book.

But each of these statements starts with one key phrase: I want to tell stories.

And it ends with this: I want people to read my stories.

I'm okay with libraries.

By extension, I'm also okay with piracy.


Because literacy is important to me.

Literacy isn't cheap. Reading isn't cheap.

I had to sit for a long time and use my brain about this, thinking outside of the box for longer than I like admitting. Why did it take me so long to acknowledge that piracy of books is the same exact situation as public libraries?

It shouldn't have taken me so long.

Because it is.

Yet we fear piracy.

Why? Maybe it's because we don't control the flow of books. But we don't control the flow of books at public libraries, either. Librarians choose whether or not a title is picked up, not the author or publisher. Getting into a library is difficult. Yet we threaten readers if they do not pay for the book legitimately. I've had books threatening fines for more than I've made in my entire lifetime if I got the book other than their allowed venues.

Yet borrowing a book from the public library is okay.

Of course I want people paying for my books. Those payments put food on my table and allow me to keep writing. But literacy is more important to me. Not falling prey to a stupid double standard is also important to me.

I support public libraries because I support literacy. I support people being able to read, be it for knowledge or pleasure.

And I guess that means I approve, at least a little, of piracy–because that's the internet's public library, albeit illegal.

Maybe I should just join the times, and instead of forcing pirates to grab the books that way, upload them to torrent sites myself, with specialized copies of the book–complete, specialized copies of the book, with a line at the very end.

It would read: Thank you for reading this book. This was uploaded to your favorite torrent sites by the author. Enjoy this book? Consider supporting the writer of this book by purchasing a copy for yourself or a friend from amazon, kobo, or your favorite vendor. Your support is appreciated!

Because if I can't get into the legitimate libraries, maybe there is something to getting into the internet's illegal one–except it wouldn't be illegal, would it?

Because I would be making the choice to allow people to download that torrent.

How much do we as authors and readers really care about literacy?

Or have we gotten to the point that our bottom line is all that matters? Sure, there are thousands of libraries in the US–that could be tens of thousands of sales for a single author. But authors like me aren't in those public libraries.

We're on the internet.

And our public library has become bittorrent sites.

Now that's something to think about.

Leave a Comment:

Hendrik Boom says September 16, 2014

Cory Doctorow seems to make all his books available for free download on his own website. A think I’ve notieced one he didn’t do that for, but I think that was co-authored, presumably with an author that didn’t follow that policy.

He said he did it to become known to the readership when he was starting out. It seems to have worked out..

    Hendrik Boom says September 16, 2014

    And I still don’t seem to have learned to type and proofread correctly.

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