You Can’t Justify E-book Piracy

Discussion Post

The digital age has changed a lot.  While in the past it may have seemed self-evident to individuals that walking into a bookstore and pocketing a book without paying for it is theft and is wrong, the advent of e-books has changed people’s perceptions of what theft is.  Because they’re not literally picking up a book and stealing it, but instead simply downloading something (something nebulous and intangible and therefore not “real”), readers often feel justified in their pirating.  Besides, isn’t all this knowledge supposed to be free?  Who are the publishers to decide that only people with money get to read Shannon Hale or Ally Condie’s latest release?  That’s totally unfair, right?  Wrong.  Pirating books is still theft and can never be justified.  Here’s why.

Pirating Hurts Individuals

The price of a book is not determined by the amount of paper needed to print it.  The price of the book pays the editors, the illustrator, the cover designer, the marketing team, the author, the people who work to maintain the office housing the company, etc.  Even if you’re buying a digital copy, you’re still paying for these same people and you’re also paying for the people who had to code the work for distribution in different formats.  The price is not about the paper.  It’s about the content and the people who brought it to you.  Every time you steal an e-book, you’re literally stealing money from the people who worked to bring you the book you love so much.  Would you walk up to Sarah J. Maas and take a five dollar bill out of her wallet?  Would you do that to her editor?  If not, you shouldn’t be doing the same thing by downloading her books illegally.

Also keep in mind that authors and individuals in the publishing industry usually aren’t making as much money as you think.  And children’s authors may be getting paid less than adult authors.  For example, if you search the average salary for an editor, it’s around $30,000.   Most publishing houses are in NYC.  Living on $30,000 is NYC is not easy!  These people actually may need the money you’re taking from them when you steal their work.

And the same goes for people who produce textbooks.  Because textbooks have a niche audience, few copies sell (especially due to the used book industry nowadays) and the authors are making almost no money off them from the start.  You can’t justify your theft of their work by claiming they’re “making bank” off that $200 textbook, because they’re not.

But does it matter if the author is J. K. Rowling?  Can you download her books illegally since, hey, she doesn’t need the  money anyway, right?  Absolutely not.  Theft is theft and stealing is wrong no matter who you’re stealing from.  And remember–J. K. Rowling’s books also have other individuals involved in their publishing.  You’re stealing from them, too.

Pirating Prevents You From Getting More of the Content You Enjoy

It’s not a secret that the publishing industry is the U.S. is feeling a little shaky these days.   Publishers are a business and they need money to stay open.  So how do they do this?  They have to publish what’s going to sell, even if they personally don’t enjoy it or even if they think it’s ridiculous trash.  So if Author A sells tons of books, they’re going to offer Author A more contracts.  If Author B is fantastic but sells barely enough books for the publisher to break even, Author B is unlikely to receive future contracts.  If you enjoy Author B and want to see more of their work, you have to demonstrate this to publishers by buying the author’s book.  Otherwise, you can’t really complain when Author B’s five-book series is suddenly stopped at book three.  And if another publisher has to close because of declining sales, you also have no grounds to complain.

But What About Access for the Masses?

The complaints about not having access to the latest YA releases really have no grounds.  No person is entitled to the latest YA release.  No person is guaranteed to have access to the latest release at the exact same moment someone else in the world is.  These things are luxury goods, not necessities of life.  And there are different ways for individuals to access books.  The library is a good place to start.  Even if your library does not have all the books you want, you can still request these books through inter-library loan.  If you cannot get to the library, you still have access to their online downloadable e-book selection.  And if you still can’t get the titles you want? If you can’t get to the library or don’t have a library?  You’re still not justified in stealing.  Someone, for example, might wish they had access to a new television or the latest smartphone–but that doesn’t mean they’d be justified in walking into a store and shoplifting because they wouldn’t be able to afford them or acquire them any other way.

But what about textbooks?  Shouldn’t knowledge be free?  First of all, keep in mind that if you’re in college and in the position to buy textbooks at all, you’re already more privileged than most people. You might not enjoy having to spend $1000 a year on books. You might have to give up that  new video game or even make other sacrifices such as wearing shoes with holes or cutting down on your grocery bill (as I’ve had to do).  Or you might really have no way to get the money for these books.  Can you steal them then?  No, of course not.  Stealing money from other people because you don’t have enough money is still wrong.  Even when it comes to textbooks.

In Conclusion

Stealing is still wrong even when:

  • You can’t afford the item.
  • You believe the item is over-priced.
  • You are upset other people have earlier access to the item.
  • The item is not available in the precise format you wish it to be in.
  • You don’t want the trouble of finding an alternative, legal way of obtaining the item.

And pirating is not a victimless crime.  It may seem that downloading a file is a harmless data transfer, but, in reality, you might as well walk up to the people who created that book and tell them you don’t value their work enough to pay for it and that you’re even going to make sure their salaries are reduced.  Because every time you pirate a book, you are literally taking money out of the pockets of everyone involved.  If it helps, think of your friends or fellow bloggers who are aspiring writers.  Think of any authorial aspirations you have yourself.  How would you feel if someone stole from your friend or from you?  How would it feel to see the numbers of all your pirated books and know exactly how much money you lost?

So we have to decide. Do we, book bloggers who claim to love and celebrate books, want to be the kind of person who steals from authors, editors, artists, and translators?  Do we want to be the kind of person who justifies theft?   Or do we want to ensure that we are truly celebrating art and the people who create it by building a community that supports authors and publishers, and thereby ensures that new knowledge and stories can be produced and disseminated?

Krysta 64

34 thoughts on “You Can’t Justify E-book Piracy

  1. Jamie Wu says:

    Great thoughts! Piracy is definitely theft, even if its something intangible. What are your thoughts when it comes to pirating ebooks of books where you already own the hard copy? I know there’s at least a few authors who are okay with it and are actually trying to get their publishers to include codes to download the ebooks in the hard copy. I feel like it should be more common for hard copy books to include codes for ebook download.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I would still consider that theft. I wouldn’t go into a store and shoplift a blue shirt because I already own the yellow version. If they want to bundle the hard copy and the e-book version I think that’s a nice or at least a clever way of trying to outsmart pirates, but if they’re separate with separate prices, you’re still depriving the creators of some of their income if you pirate the e-book.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jamie Wu says:

        That’s true. Now it has me wondering if authors who say it’s okay to pirate their ebook if someone’s already bought the hard copy is unintentionally affecting the other people involved in the creation of the book too, i.e. printer, publisher, editors.

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          I would assume that higher sales could only help the other individuals involved in the process. When the company looks at their records and they see Editor A had way more sales than Editor B, Editor A might be in line for a promotion or a raise as a result. Of course, we don’t tend to view literary works as collaborations anymore, so it’s easy for us to forget about the individuals who aren’t the author when we discuss the work.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Jamie Wu says:

            Oh yeah, we definitely don’t think about the people behind the scenes when it comes to books. There’s SOOO many people involved in the creation of a novel.

            Like

        • Briana says:

          I think part of the problem is that when we don’t have physical objects, we can talk ourselves into thinking it’s not “really” stealing because it’s not a “real” product. It’s “just ideas” or something like that. Because I have definitely seen some people (authors included) saying “Yeah, sure, pirate the e-book if you own a hard copy.” But I never seen someone say, “Yeah, you can shoplift the paperback since you paid for a hardcover.” Or, “Yeah, you can shoplift a version of the book that has a different cover if you want it for you collection. You already bought one copy.” E-books are just a different format, like trade paperback, mass market paperback, hardcover, etc. But for some reason is the only format we think it’s ok to pirate?

          Liked by 1 person

          • Jamie Wu says:

            That’s a good comparison. We don’t clamor for free paperbacks just because we get harcovers. I think it’s because ebooks are easily duplicated, it doesn’t feel like you’re stealing as much as copying. Like plagiarizing someone’s work instead of stealing the whole thing and putting your name on it.

            Like

            • Krysta says:

              Yes, I think this is the issue. People think that digital texts somehow aren’t real, so it’s okay to steal them. It’s very difficult to convince people (I’ve found) that the cost of a book isn’t about the amount of paper used to print it.

              Liked by 1 person

            • Briana says:

              I think so, too. Something about not having a physical object makes it seem “not real.” I’ve met people who think cheating is fine because “you didn’t take anything from the person; they still have their answers and you just have a copy,” but that’s not really true. You never know if your cheating affected someone. Maybe you kicked someone out of a higher class rank and they lost a scholarship because of you.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Read Diverse Books says:

    Your point about people not being entitled to reading the latest YA releases makes sense to me, even if your absolute claims that piracy can never be justified don’t quite sit right with me. I personally don’t pirate books, ever. But I do understand that there are certain circumstances – in some countries, for some people – where saying “no, you can never pirate a book” becomes harder to say. But for people living in America, Canada, Europe, Australia, or countries with easy access to libraries, I definitely don’t think people should pirate books. But not every country has free libraries, or libraries at all, or easy access to books at all. Absolute statements don’t always sit right with me, but you do make a lot of great points.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      I feel bad for individuals who don’t have access to all the books they want because the international rights have not been sold or they don’t have access to a library. I’ve been in the position (far less frequently, admittedly) where I wanted books that were not published or available in the U.S., and I was disappointed. But I still maintain that you can’t steal things just because they’re not accessible. People don’t make these arguments about other types of goods. They don’t argue that they want the latest video game console but it’s not available to them so they should be able to steal it. So I think that on some level people recognize it’s wrong.

      Like

  3. Shouni says:

    These are some great points. I agree, piracy is never justified but I do understand why some people do it. Personally, I’ve never pirated a book but I do come from a third world country where books aren’t readily available and sometimes, pirating is the only way to read. I was lucky enough to be born in a privileged family but a great many people aren’t. But unless there is no other way for you to read a book, piracy cannot be justified because you’re right, it is theft.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I understand there are some individuals without ready access to books and I feel bad for them. But I still don’t think the answer is theft, and I still think that many individuals think they are underprivileged and so get to steal books when they are not. I have friends, for example, who have comfortable jobs, are able to afford an apartment, go out to eat with friends, buy luxury goods–and yet they still pirate books because they think they’re not wealthy enough to be expected to pay for them.

      Like

  4. Donna says:

    There is nothing that justifies stealing a book, I agree. Still I do believe that sometimes prices can be unfair, or access to books may be restricted. It is in no way a valid reason to steal but I wish there were more ways to make sure everyone gets to access books. I remember failing a test because I could not afford the textbooks required by the teacher. I had been told to “get a student job and stop complaining” There was no point in saying that my student job was to pay the bills and feed myself…

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I think that’s our real issue here–how to increase access to books. Instead of justifying stealing money from artists, we should be looking for ways to support authors AND readers.

      I feel for students with the textbook issue, too. I’ve had to not buy necessities so I could afford textbooks. I had to sell some of my belongings to afford textbooks. I realize they’re expensive. At the same time, I don’t think the answer is to steal them. Stealing them will probably just force the publishers to increase the price more so they make up for all their lost income.

      Like

  5. rantandraveaboutbooks says:

    I didn’t even know people were stealing books. I must be oblivious, but that makes sense because they steal music, movies, and just about anything they can get their hands on online. I’ve shared a few books with a friend on Amazon, but only because the publisher allowed them to be shared, so I didn’t feel like that was cheating or stealing. Another awesome discussion post! 🙌 And a giveaway. That’s awesome. Thanks!🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana says:

      I think there’s a growing recognition that one of the downsides of ebooks was the inability to share them. After all, I’m permitted to buy a physical book and lend it to 5000 people if I want too. No one complains that’s an unfair use of the book because those 5000 could have bought it. So allowing people to share ebooks, in a way that functioned similarly to physical books, where only one person can have it at a time and there’s still only one copy floating around, was probably the smart thing to do.

      Thanks. According to Twitter, this post is “classist and awful,” so I’m waiting for the mob. However, I refuse to back down from my position that stealing is wrong, even if you have limited access to books. (And it’s definitely limited, not no access, because if you’re pirating books you are obviously on the Internet and have access to legally free ones.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Krysta says:

        My question is: If the argument is that it’s ethical to steal e-books because people can’t afford them, why are these people not arguing that it’s also ethical to walk into their local bookstore and pocket a few volumes? It’s the exact same thing, and yet most people would probably argue that it’s not okay to shoplift.

        Like

      • rantandraveaboutbooks says:

        What?!?! How is this post classist and awful? I think it’s a great idea. I didn’t realize that many people get free books the way they steal movies that you’d have a Lynch mob of people yelling about stealing books. That’s a good point about physical books. I think that’s another reason why they’re more appealing to some people. They can buy one book and pass it around for a year if they wanted to and get more than their money’s worth. I wonder if that’s why publishers made most of the kindle books cheaper. To entice readers to pay less but not be able to lend the book. That’s smart, actually.

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          Apparently I am shaming people for not being able to afford books. I maintain, however, that there are legal options that should be exhausted first. Can’t afford textbooks? 1) Talk to the instructor who might be able to direct you to sources or even scan parts of the book for the class (which is legal as long as they own the book). 2) Check the library and inter-library loan. They won’t have actual textbooks but if you have a novel you need to read for class, they can help you out. 3) Ask someone else in the class if you can borrow or scan their book. Once you’ve exhausted all those options, we can talk about lack of access to the book. There are, of course, also outside loans, which some people choose to take out to cover expenses any government loans didn’t take care of. I’m not saying this is a great financial option and I’d suggest avoiding any unnecessary extra debt, but some people do it.

          I believe the really offending line was where I said that if you’re in college, you’re already privileged than most. Which is true. The majority of college students are middle-class or higher and they’ve been given an opportunity other people can’t even dream of because they don’t have the money or they can’t spend four years in college not making money, or they just don’t come from a background where college is even a conceivable goal. I’ve known people who came from really unprivileged backgrounds and they were forced to drop out of college to take care of their family or because of the finances. Even though a majority of high school graduates in America are now entering some sort of college, it’s difficult for everyone to stay there. And I think we need to acknowledge that and maybe change the way the system works.

          I’m not denying that I am privileged. I think the fact that I even have access to the Internet suggests that I am privileged. However, I don’t think arguing that you’re not allowed to steal books because you can’t afford them is “shaming” people. These same individuals would not walk into the college bookstore and shoplift the textbooks. Why not? They know it’s wrong.

          I’m not sure about the e-book prices because I didn’t fully follow all the negotiations there. I think the publishers may have been pressured into lowering them by outside companies like Amazon and Apple, though. The publishers would probably prefer that the e-books are priced the same as hard copies since the price really isn’t about paper costs.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Briana says:

          There’s been no response. Maybe tagging me on Twitter was an accident and she was trying to subtweet? My only guess is that she thinks this post is offensive to underprivileged people, but I think her own suggestion that stealing=an activity performed by people in poverty is probably what’s actually classist. I know plenty of people personally who pirate or have pirated books, and they are perfectly middle class or higher. Obviously this post is not meant to be rude to people who literally have no access to books, but if you’re online you can read plenty of books free and legally. It’s your decision if you would prefer to steal the latest YA release rather than read the free classics on Project Gutenberg.

          And this is definitely a problem related to the fact that people see intangible goods like movies, musics, and books as things that aren’t “really” products and “should be freely available for intellectual reasons.” As Krysta pointed out, the people defending pirating books “because some people don’t have many books” would probably not be as quick to defend stealing a physical product, whether that’s a paper book or a winter coat or a chicken from the grocery store.

          Ebook pricing is definitely something of a mystery to me. On one hand it’s true that the bulk of the cost is in labor and not paper, so there’s no reason the ebook should be cheaper. And publishers are trying to make it the norm that people don’t expect ebooks to be 99 cents. But then ebook prices often ARE lower than paper books.

          Like

          • Krysta says:

            Yes, I think she also missed the point that my post wasn’t really meant to target people who truly have no money, but rather the people who justify stealing books because they’d rather not spend the money they have on them.

            Like

  6. Reading Tounwind says:

    Great thoughts! Also a great topic to bring to life. I completely agree with you that downloading a book illegally is completely wrong. The price of ebooks has really settled out and they are very affordable, plus libraries offer online ebooks now so it really makes zero sense for someone to illegally download a book.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      There are many options out there for people who can’t afford to buy books or can’t travel to their local library. I’m afraid, however, that these options are often more inconvenient than illegally downloading the books, so some people would rather not take advantage of them. But I think it’s important to note that you can borrow e-books from the library and if you’re able to pirate books online you can probably find ways to get legal access to them online, too.

      Like

  7. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight says:

    Oh this post is WONDERFUL. I am never going to think stealing books is okay. EVER. People can spin it any way they’d like, and I am still going to agree with you. The only time I think you can even almost justify stealing is if your actual physical life depends on it and there is NO other way- which, I think is something that is incredibly rare.

    Books aren’t something that everyone has a basic human right to. That’s just the truth. I feel like as human beings, we should feel entitled to have safety, medical care, food, shelter, and water. Everything else… is a slippery slope of need versus want. Am I privileged to be able to buy books, live in a country with library access? Of course. But are there plenty of things out there that I can’t afford but would enrich my life? You’d better believe it! And are there TONS of books I would love to read but can’t afford to buy? Again, YEP.

    And the thing is, the whole debate got even more intense when someone suggested free books, which ARE available- if you have an e-reader, there ARE free books. And since the person in question is pirating ebooks, then they DO have access to technology, therefore free books. There are thousands of free books on Amazon and other sites. The argument then veered off into “well, why should some people not have access to the books they want to read?” which leads me back to… virtually NO ONE can have all the things they want. Some people have more than others, yes. This will always be a fact of human existence. Someone will always have both more than AND less than you, no matter who you are, what your situation is.

    What makes it acceptable to steal from an author? Why is that author not deserving of payment for her work? If WE went to work and our bosses were like “nah, not going to give you a paycheck today, you worked for free”, everyone I know would be LIVID, right? Well why is it okay to do it to an author? Or even a publisher, who is providing a service? The book wouldn’t even BE a thing without the authors and publishers making them so.

    For me, the bottom line is this: Is it fair that not everyone has access to books? Of course not. But is it fair to steal from authors? Also of course not. And doing a wrong thing in retaliation for another perceived wrong isn’t helping anything or anyone. I think this is a super well written and incredibly thoughtful post, and I think you did a wonderful job with such a sensitive topic.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      You said everything I would want to say so eloquently. It’s not right that not everyone has access to books–but that doesn’t mean stealing is okay. It means we need to work on making books more accessible. Because you’re right. We wouldn’t tell anyone else they’re not getting paid for their work or they’re only going to get paid for part of their work. Why do we say that to authors, whom we claim to love and support?

      And, yes, people are overlooking the fact that if you are pirating e-books on your digital device, you actually have access to free and legal books. You can’t argue that you’d rather read a different book so that makes stealing okay. I’d like to watch a bunch of TV shows but I don’t have cable. Or a TV. Too bad for me. I guess I’m left whatever PBS puts online free.

      Like

      • Briana says:

        This is kind of my question. If the argument is that “Well, books are good for you! They’re educational! People shouldn’t have to pay for things that are good for them them and educational!” why are we only suggesting that authors and publishers do not need to be paid? Shouldn’t farmers not be paid because everyone needs food? Or doctors, or teachers, or anyone who is providing a service that is useful to people? In all these other cases, we don’t decide “Ok, farmers aren’t going to be paid because everyone needs to the food they grow. Feel free to walk onto the farm and just take what you want.” Instead, we work on making food more accessible to people through food banks, government aid, charities, etc. This is true for books. There are organizations that focus on getting books to people who truly do not have any. But no one talks about that, only about their supposed “right” to steal books.

        Like

  8. saraletourneau says:

    I wish I had something to add to this awesome discussion other than I agree with your points wholeheartedly, and with what so many of the other commenters have said… But then I’d be like a broken record. *lol* But yes, I agree, pirating books of any kind can’t be justified. No one is entitled to any book from any genre and by any author just because. If I like an author’s work, I will ALWAYS buy their books or rent them from the library.

    I think some of my feelings stem from my time as a freelance music journalist. I frequently received free downloads of new albums in exchange for writing a review so said review would be online before the album’s release date. A couple times, fans got wind that I had said album and would ask me for the download because they “want the new CD but don’t want to pay for it.” I never did, because the last time I wanted was to be responsible for an album leak. And what I’m hearing about here with e-books reminds me a bit of that.

    Also, I bet that whoever said on Twitter that this post is “classist and awful” is probably part of the crowd that disagrees with your points. This is passionate argued and well written, and it’s great to see it being discussed here (and to see other readers agreeing with it).

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Honestly, I didn’t expect a post stating that stealing is unethical, we should support artists, and we should not commit crimes would be so controversial. I think that if some people don’t have money or access to books, we need to find ways to change that, not just say stealing is okay now. It’s not fair to the authors and the publishers. They deserve to be paid for their work just like everyone else.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Briana says:

      There is a segment of Twitter who seems to be under the interesting impression that e-books are stolen only by underprivileged people who have zero access to any other books and are just trying to get their fair shot at an education through reading. They are overlooking that facts that 1) anyone with Internet access can read tens of thousands of legally free books–it’s their choice if they decide they don’t want those particular books and 2) there are plenty of middle and upper class people who are stealing e-books because they just don’t feel like putting the time or money into getting books legally. E-books pirates are notonly people who do not have any libraries in their country or any money to spend on luxury goods.

      And, honestly, actively encouraging people to break the law is not doing them a kindness. People are walking away from this conversation being old “It’s ok. You can break the law and steal things as long as you feel you deserve to own those things.” And the people saying, “Wait. No. Stealing is a crime, and it hurts the people you steal from” are being called bullies who are unfairly “shaming” people who steal books. Someday some of these e-book pirates might find out that stealing actually can have consequences, and I feel sorry that other people are telling them it’s perfectly fine and they have nothing to worry about.

      Of course, the person who called us classist and awful is an author advertising her e-book on Twitter account, and she seems to be under the impression that she should be paid for her work.

      Liked by 1 person

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