Book pirates

    Thanks, everyone, for sharing your Christmas traditions. Not long before Christmas is here! I haven’t decorated anything, or baked a single cookie, or bought a single gift, so I’m going to be busy.

    I’ve spent the past several days protecting myself from pirates. Yes, book pirates.

    It seems that out there in cyberspace, some people have decided that stealing novels electronically is the thing to do. They have hundreds, if not thousands, of titles available for immediate download by anyone with Internet access. Among the titles of mine that were available was one that hasn’t been converted to e-book format yet, which means that either someone forwarded an electronic ARC — or someone scanned it.

    One of the women who was “sharing” books posted on her blog that she didn’t see what was wrong with “sharing” books and that she was tired of getting threatening letters and emails from publishers about copyright infringement and that she would continue to “share” books.

    I wrote her a personal email and explained exactly what is wrong with stealing — not sharing — books in this way, and that’s what today’s post is about. This post isn’t directed at the FOPs — that’s Friends of Pamela — because I know they wouldn’t steal anyone’s books. Their respect for authors and for the work that goes into fiction writing is too high, and they’re also wonderful women. This post is directed for the many faceless Internet users out there who are engaged in book piracy.

    Let me explain why it’s wrong to share electronic versions of books.

    When you download a book off the Internet without paying an authorized bookseller, you deprive the author who wrote that story of money that would otherwise compensate her for the hard work that went into writing that book. You also deprive her of credit for that sale. The publisher won’t count your download toward her sales record. When they go to decide how much to pay the author for her next contract, they’ll pay her less than they might otherwise have done, thanks to you.

    Much of the world operates under the misconception that all authors are millionaires. Most aren’t. Most hold jobs and struggle every week to carve out writing time in order to craft the stories that readers enjoy. Taking income from these writers is like stealing food from their refrigerator. Even if the amount of royalties they might have earned from your single download is small, that’s still stealing. Because you’re not the only one stealing, it adds up. But even if all authors were millionaires, stealing from them is still wrong.

    The publishing industry doesn’t have a huge profit margin, and right now it’s struggling. Each publishing house employs lots of ordinary, everyday folks whose job it is to edit, lay out, print, box and ship these books. When you pirate books or download them illegally, you hurt not only the author, but these people, too. As more and more people pirate books and download them off the Internet, more and more money is lost, meaning that publishers are faced with printing fewer titles — yes, fewer books — paying authors less, and cutting back on staff. So not only does your illegal file-sharing hurt the author, it hurts a chain of people you don’t know and will never meet whose job it is to prepare these novels that you so enjoy.

    It’s illegal. Would you walk into a store and steal stuff? Would you expect to be able to get your groceries, your gas, your clothes for free? Then why do you expect to get books for free? Illegal file-sharing and downloading books for free is just as wrong as stealing something from a store. And, yes, you could get busted. If you’re not clear about what it means to spend time in prison, please read my book Unlawful Contact. Based on four real-life investigations and my own time as a journalist going behind bars, it will highlight some of the more exciting possibilities for you.

    It’s immoral. A lot of us live with the attitude that we are entitled to whatever we want. If we want something, that justifies what we do to get it. But we’re not entitled to anything. The world does not exist to meet our every whim and expectation. Wanting something does not justify stealing it. If you want it, earn it. Work for it.

    I know as much as anyone how tough it is to make one’s way in the world. As a single mother, I was forced at one point to rely on food stamps and Medicaid for my kids. I know what it’s like to stand in line at the grocery store and have people sneering at you because you’re paying with food stamps. I know what it’s like to struggle to pay rent and utility bills and medical bills. But I didn’t steal to solve my problems. Being poor doesn’t justify stealing. My solution? I worked my behind off.

    I still work very hard, both at my day job and as an author. I don’t have television. I rarely go to movies. I rarely go out with friends. Because my dream is writing fiction, I spend every spare minute I have writing stories. And when you pirate my books and share them with people illegally, you spit on that hard work, even while you enjoy the benefits of it.

    Yes, your illegal book sharing is wrong and bad and mean. I expect the publishing industry will step up its enforcement as this problem grows. But rather than waiting to get busted, how about you stop it? Take down your sharing sites. Remove the links. And start paying for what you’re taking. If you can’t pay, then check out your library or the local used bookstore.

    But don’t steal.

    And now back to our regularly scheduled program...

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