Dear Broke Reader and your sense of entitlement (Part 2)

book by Ricardo Vasquez/

book by Ricardo Vasquez/

So, a funny thing happened earlier this week. Someone on Facebook wrote a post asking for links to pirate sites–and then defended her actions by claiming to be poor. While many berated her for illegally downloading books, thus defrauding authors of their royalties, many defended her actions (and theirs) as well.

On Monday, I wrote a post with my reaction to this sense of entitlement on the part of readers who illegally download and share files. It was just a typical Monday for me, in which I jotted down some thinky-thoughts on a subject that had been preying on my mind for a while now.

Apparently, I struck a chord with fellow authors and readers who legitimately purchase stories.

That’s putting it mildly. I’ve had over 50 K hits on the website since Monday. To date, the post has been shared on Facebook over 10 K times, and has over 300 comments. At first I tried to respond to every comment. Hey, that’s the only polite thing to do, right? But I’d never written a post which triggered such a response before. The traffic was so heavy the site crashed repeatedly. My inbox exploded with Facebook, Twitter, and comment notifications. I am working my way through them, but realize it’s probably not possible to address them all and still make my writing deadlines. I confess, I wish I’d timed this post with my upcoming release, but I had no idea it would attract so much attention!

I’ve learned a couple of things since Monday’s post. First, there are a LOT of people who feel the way I do. Who believe that getting stories free through pirate sites or uploading an stories to torrents for thousands to download without paying for them is theft of that property and denies the creator of the payment due to them. However, I’ve also learned that technically this isn’t theft as it is legally defined. It’s not theft because no one has removed the original work from my hands. At best, it can only be considered a copyright violation, and besides, none of these people would have purchased your story anyway. Consider it free advertising. Once I release something into the wilds of the internet, it’s no longer mine and I have no right to be compensated for it. Copyright laws are full of crap anyway, and have no purpose in today’s digital world. Authors shouldn’t be paid forever for sales of digital books–it is unfair.

I call bullshit on that mindset. That is exactly what I mean by ‘sense of entitlement’. The irony is your sense of entitlement is depriving me of what I’m actually entitled to receive.

Frozen HeelsWhile some of the defenders of illegally sharing and downloading files might be technically correct in the fact that these acts aren’t thefts per se, they are still robbing me of income. Let’s take the example I was given after I compared buying books to buying shoes. One person responded to this by saying I have no say in what someone does with a pair of shoes after they buy them. I agree. I can buy a pair of shoes, take them home and decide I don’t like them or don’t want them anymore. I can give them to my BFF, or donate them to Goodwill, or throw them in the dumpster. Someone else can get them for next to nothing or even without paying a dime. (I wouldn’t do that, though because I *love* shoes)

What I can’t do is upload the shoes to the internet, where thousands of people can grab a pair for free. I can’t do it because it is physically impossible. I don’t do it because it is morally wrong. It’s wrong because if thousands of pairs of these particular shoes are available online for free, then the chances are good the sheer availability of ‘free’ shoes will cut into the market of legitimate shoe sales. So you can tell me that illegal downloaders would never buy my stories in the first place, but even if ten percent of those people were forced to make a purchase because they couldn’t obtain the story in any other way, that would make a huge difference in my bottom line. On one torrent alone, a bundle of four of my books has been downloaded over 16 K times. I keep bringing up that number because, yeah, sixteen thousand illegal downloads. From one site. And there are hundreds of sites. So don’t tell me *none* of these people would have purchased these stories legally if there were no ‘free’ downloads available.

As I said in the previous post, I get ‘broke’. Honey, I’ve collected aluminum to buy a tank of gas and sold plasma to help pay the rent. But not only are there many options for legal free reads, I honestly believe the truly poor represent a very small number of these downloaders, much as I believe the people in foreign countries with no access to libraries don’t represent a large number either. I think the vast majority of the I’m broke, therefore I have to get my books illegally camp are really saying, “I have spent my discretionary income on things I can’t download without paying for them.”

Fellow author Suzan Tisdale has put together a poll for authors in order to get a feel for how pervasive battling piracy is. The information is confidential, so if you’re a writer who is frustrated by the ongoing battle to keep your works available only through legitimate channels, consider dropping in and answering some questions.

In the meantime, I have one book in edits and another on a deadline. I plan to continue answering comments on the original post–it’s just going to take me a while to go through them all, and more are coming in every day. I just want to say how much I appreciate everyone spreading the word and entering into the discussion, even if we don’t see eye to eye on everything.

87 thoughts on “Dear Broke Reader and your sense of entitlement (Part 2)

  1. The shoe analogy is the first sale doctrine. It’s been around since the 1800s. It says that once the first sale of a copyrighted work is complete, the purchaser can do whatever they want with the physical copy. They cannot, however, reproduce the contents without permission of the copyright holder. Even Amazon allows purchasers to lend out ebooks they’ve purchased. If an author or publisher chooses to give a book away, that’s one thing. It’s quite another when someone else does it.

  2. I find the sense of entitlement as mind-blowing as you do. However (and this is NOT in any way condoning piracy) I think there is a legitimate question to ask about how many people who read the pirated edition would have actually read the book if it were not available as a pirate copy.

    Eric Flint has argued fairly persuasively his belief the number of people who would pay is a minuscule proportion and that therefore these sites are not in fact depriving you of much actual income. This then leads to the question of what should be done about it.

    Things we know don’t work include DRM. DMCA takedowns also appear to be minimally effective as you noted. Depressing as it may seem, it is possible that there is no effective way to stop it although I hope there is.

    Based on other internet related criminal activity (the malware authors and internet pharmaceutical spammers) where I know how people have had some (temporary) success, the basic answer seems to be to identify the money flows and stop them so that there is no money to be made from these activities. I’m not sure where the money flows are in the bittorrent piracy world, but I’m guessing that ad revenue is one stream. I also suspect that it may be possible to hurt them on the outgoing side by causing their cost of business to go up a lot. This could be done by forcing them to move from the cheap hosters to more expensive ones.

    • I suspect that out of the number of people who read pirated copies, the percent of them who would legitimately purchase the book is quite small as well. I think it would be far greater, however, if the illegal downloads weren’t available. And that lies squarely with the people who put these files up and the people who download them. And that, really, is the purpose of these posts. To say that illegally downloading stories from a favorite author *does* have an impact, potentially one that can affect the author’s ability to continue writing stories. I realize I’m just a voice shouting in the wind, but when every penny counts, ‘not depriving you of much income’ takes on a very personal meaning.

      And yes, sending DCMA notices can be futile, but I report the violation to Google as well. At least that way, the url is blocked in a search for my titles. I may not win the battle, but I’m not going to make it easy for anyone, either. πŸ˜‰

    • “I think there is a legitimate question to ask about how many people who read the pirated edition would have actually read the book if it were not available as a pirate copy.”

      No, it’s not a legitimate question at all.

      People have zero right to steal the bicycle on my carport simply because I haven’t ridden it in two years or because they cannot afford to buy one.

      And they have zero right to steal something I wrote and then read it.

      I don’t have to care whether they want to read it and cannot afford it. And, if I am writing that work for a profit, I only care whether those who stole it pay the copyright infringement fine.

      If you feel differently, send me your address. I have some broke friends who will be glad to stop by your home and “liberate” all the things they feel entitled to and can’t afford.

  3. This idea that we should just let our creations be downloaded from people who would have never bought them anyway because, you know, free publicity?
    A book takes me six months to write.
    Submission to my publisher can take 9 weeks to hear back.
    Then if it’s accepted, the process of editing, art, blurb, etc takes more time. I can finish a book in June and not have it published til the following February.
    All of that is time and time is money
    You don’t have a right to this material.
    Garth Brooks made a perfect statement when he discussed things like youtube, spotify, etc. and that was that content used to be king. Writers made a shit ton of money because they were the foundation for most of the arts. The songwriters, the story writers for television and movies.
    Now, because of technology – they’ve taken the largest hit.
    So what’s the answer?
    Ebooks digitize your work and that can be downloaded and uploaded and published to pirate sites where people take your time and your money and waste it. And no, this idea that it’ll be free publicity takes away an authors right to choose whether or not they want to give something away – or not.
    I think publishing houses should invest in a coding system that – should the books be pirated – scrambles the information until a proper code can be entered (by purchase alone) and then unlocks the manuscript.

      • That’s exactly what I was thinking too. πŸ™‚ It seems to me, that it is precisely the ebook sellers that have made this problem of piracy so easy. You don’t even need a Kindle for instance, to download a book from Amazon, because they in their wisdom, made a Kindle for PC program, whereby you can purchase a book and have it downloaded direct to your computer. If you buy from Smashwords, you have a bunch of download options, including an eBook download to a PDF file or something similar. All these make it easy to ‘share’ that file to other people, and sites. So having a specific code that has to be entered is a good idea, especially if it can only be used once. This is so you can’t just pass it on to someone else along with the file or torrent. I really hope that this is something that these eBook sellers will take seriously in the very near future, and be willing to implement.

        • I think they will *have* to, or more and more publishers will go out of business.

          Amazon doesn’t care. They aren’t booksellers–they sell *products*. They sell e-readers. If we let all the publishers go out of business and leave things up to Amazon, we’ll find out pretty quick how little Amazon values ebooks as well. Heck, as it is, I’ll go on Amazon and discover one of my stories drastically marked down. I have no idea how or why that happens.

          But that is a blog post topic for another day! πŸ˜‰
          Sarah Madison recently posted..Dear Broke Reader and your sense of entitlement (Part 2)My Profile

          • Yeah, Amazon really doesn’t care about books at all. Bezos apparently thinks that unedited, self-e-published excrement is the obvious replacement to quality, well-prepared writings; furthermore, he seems to think that Amazon represents an evolution over all the publishers he’s driving out of business, rather than a parasite that kills the host.

        • I absolutely agree with the main premis that people should pay for what they read, and I think the idea of including a code in the ebook format that scrambles it until purchased is an excellent idea.

          BUT – you appear to object to Amazon allowing people to read books bought for kindle to be read on a PC. Please consider that those with sight problems like my husband would be able to read no more than 15 – 20 words per page on a kindle as the screen is so small compared with the size of font they require. He buys at least 4 books a month from Amazon to read on his 32″ monitor and your comment would appear to suggest that he should be deprived of this pleasure.

          • Unfortunately, there is no easy or perfect solution to the problem. While I agree Amazon is an excellent site for buying books (the ease of purchase and delivery is unparalleled), I know if you buy from my publisher directly, your purchase allows you access to all the digital formats available: mobi, epub, pdf, and so on. I believe that’s the case with some other distribution sites, such as Smashwords. Amazon will never go along with that because they want you to buy their Kindles, too. I wish there was a solution that met everyone’s needs, but it may require changes in technology before we see them. In the meantime, we can only ask people not to upload/download our stories illegally–which is pretty much like shouting into the wind. πŸ™

  4. Two things:

    1) a lot of people don’t seem to realize that “buying an e-book” is actually buying a software license. These freeloaders should read the fine print at the beginning of the e-book sometime, because the two transactions are not the same at all.

    2) I received Google alerts about pirating one of my most recent books yesterday and today. I consider it my best book, but people feel free to steal it. No wonder I don’t make much off it.

    • And yet those same people argue they wouldn’t have bought it anyway. I bet if even a fraction of the thousands of people who’ve downloaded our work for free were forced to by it if they wanted to read it because it wasn’t available as an illegal download, it would result in a significant amount of money in royalties.

      BTW, I find Google Alerts frequently misses torrents and pirate sites. I routinely search for my name and book titles to find the majority of illegal sites.

  5. Here’s what can happen. We stop writing. I have stopped.

    Not because of the torrent sites where “people who would never have bought the book anyway” risk getting nasty viruses. But because I have found several of my fans — FANS!!! — people who loved my books, people who valued my books, people to whom my books were so important that they felt everyone should read them — either offering free copies to all and sundry or asking where they can find free copies of the ones that aren’t free on Amazon.

    I spent ten years of my life, completely self-financed and without a day job, writing my books. I ran through my retirement savings and my inheritance to write those books. It’s not the loss of income I mind so much. My books are earning me a modest pension (I’m 72), and given those ten very lean years when I was writing, my needs are as modest as my income. It’s the disrespect that hurts. Here’s a book you loved, a book you said you read more than once, and yet you feel fine about refusing to reward that author for her gift to you. (Yes, it was a gift. I quit a job as a software engineer to write the books. I do not yet regret that financially irresponsible decision, and I hope I never do.)

    There is a real human being behind those creative works you download for free. And this real human being is through writing.

    • But because I have found several of my fans β€” FANS!!! β€” people who loved my books, people who valued my books, people to whom my books were so important that they felt everyone should read them β€” either offering free copies to all and sundry or asking where they can find free copies of the ones that aren’t free on Amazon.

      Doesn’t that just cut you right to the quick? It’s bad enough when the people uploading your stories to these sites couldn’t give a rat’s ass about you or your work. But when the people downloading your work claim to love your stories and yet can’t even be bothered to shell out the equivalent of breakfast at a fast food place to buy a copy legally, you really do wonder why the heck you even bother. Add to that the fact people seem to believe you shouldn’t be paid ‘in perpetuity’ for your work… we can’t make ends meet as it is. The lack of respect is truly discouraging at times. More than once I’ve considered quitting myself. πŸ™

  6. Here’s what it comes down to. The pirate is a person who has decided (through whatever reasoning makes them feel okay with their decision) that what they want — to read genre fiction for free — is more important than what the author wants — to be paid for their work.


    That’s essentially what you’re dealing with. And all the rest of it is frankly just smoke and mirrors. We can argue every philosophical and ethical angle until we’re out of words, but in the end you’re either the sort of person who cares about other people or you’re not. And the pirate does not care about the author or what the author wants. The pirate firmly believes that what *they* want is more important.

    Is it depressing? Yes. And not just because it eats into our potential earnings. It’s depressing because that kind of indifference to the feelings and needs of others, is sad–and does not bode well for our world.

    On the bright side, most people think piracy is a scuzzy way to behave and continue to pay for the things that they want–including supporting artists in their creative efforts so that they can afford to continue to create.

    • You make some very good points here. I know you’re right. The original post was born out of frustration but on some level I hoped I could reach the blindly ignorant–that small percentage of downloaders who really had no clue regarding the potential harm of their actions. Twenty years ago, that could have been me. I’ve been known to be fairly clueless before! πŸ˜‰
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Dear Broke Reader and your sense of entitlement (Part 2)My Profile

    • “What I WANT is more important than what you NEED” is I think the more accurate narrative here.
      I would never, ever, ever download a book for free. Most of my writing is published in journals and magazines, so I just get a flat fee up front. But I know a fair few book writers who face this problem and it sucks (to put it mildly).
      I really hope that a way can be found to shut down the illegal download sites. Good luck (sincerely, not in a sarcastic way)!

  7. A few months ago I also wrote a post about Piracy taking on a lot of the excuses pirates make and popping them.

    One thing I think a lot of authors should do is make sure their website is listed in their books, and make sure they have a PayPal donation button available, just on the odd chance some pirate is struck by a bout of conscience and thinks you maybe should get paid.

  8. [I’m posting this on part II, also, partly because my comment part I was buried under somebody else’s comment]
    I believe I have read at least 90% of the thousand comments here and some of it seems to verge on bickering. Let me state that I’m NOT an attorney and don’t claim expertise about much of anything. But as a librarian for nearly 30 years, I do have a good grasp of copyright law.
    Let me move on to my point. Some here have made a distinction between creative work which is paid for once an β€œconsumed” once versus creative work which can be used (and illegally duplicated) multiple times for use by multiple consumers.
    I don’t want to argue that either.
    Let me just point out that some [ ? most ? ] recording artists are paid residuals whenever their works are played on the radio or are used in any type of programming or broadcast. Also, some [ ? most ? ] actors/actresses β€” along with the script writers (I think) β€” are paid residuals when their syndicated shows are aired in re-runs. If that’s correct (and I believe it is), to me it tosses out the argument (that some here have made) that writers should not expect to be paid for each β€œuse” of their created work.
    Please, folks, be kind and civil in your responses. I’m not here to argue or make enemies. And, as I already admitted, I am NOT an expert in these matters.

  9. As a reader, I agree totally with your comments.
    For all the pleasure I have received from reading, I want my favorite to get paid and keep writing.
    After all if I don’t buy books I’d only blow it on food or rent.

  10. Another frustrating facet of the issue is when you’re about to buy something legitimately, but someone says, “hey man, you don’t need to waste your money on that; you can download it for free!”
    Don’t discourage buyers like that!! I get enough beef from writers about buying second-hand; I’m not interested in pirating.

  11. I used to run a French meetup group. The cost to maintain the group was $19 a month, which I paid out of my pocket for about five years because whenever I asked the group for donations people wouldn’t pay and it just got awkward. Eventually added an option to force members of a group to pay dues or they’d be kicked out of the group. I set the dues to the lowest setting allowed, which was $1.50 a month, IIRC.

    As soon as I enabled that function, my inbox was flooded with outraged emails from members. The tales of financial hardship and woe that filled the (sometimes several-page-long) emails were truly jaw-dropping, but I’ll never forget the anger and venom. The accusations that I was being vindictive and greedy and a terrible person for asking, after five years of paying for the group out of my own pocket, that the members begin to offset the costs of the site.

    I stepped down as the organizer and have never been back. I can’t even think about looking those people in the eye again after they way they acted over $1.50.

    • That is so sad–and frustrating! I’m sure most of those people felt they were being ripped off to be asked for money for something they thought was free all along–it just goes to show that sometimes being generous can bite you in the butt. But a $1.50? Really? Seriously? That’s like buying a Coke. πŸ™

  12. I did indeed see your post on FaceBook about piracy. As a reader I had no idea. So, I then bought one of your books.

  13. In the case of uploading an entire book to the Internet without the permission of the author or copyright holder, it is theft *and* copyright violation. Many of my books were uploaded and given away for free before they were EVER put into ebook format by my digital publisher. This month my royalty check from my digital publisher (who pays a much larger royalty than most digital publisher) is $29.11. Is this the “huge amount of money authors make” that justifies all this theft? Methinks not.

    • Exactly. That royalty check is small, and this isn’t my hobby. I started doing this professionally because I need options. I have zero respect for thieves and shills, and that’s all this is. It’s stealing, and justifying that by claiming someone who has worked for their dimes owes you a nickel just because you deigned to read their work. Ridiculous!

  14. Amazon has a lot of free books every day, 2 year ago I started to buy free books, and today there is over 3000 book in my online library, There is different site where you can see today’s Free Kindle Books. I’m using 10 min. every day to see if there are any interesting book and buy them. I’m never going to read them all. But I find that this is a great way to get the first book ind a series or of a new author. If i like the book, I’m adding book number 2 to my wish list, and when I can afford it, I buy the book, and some time I get lucky and the author has the book for “free” a single day, I have whole series I have gotten that way.
    There are so may way to get legally free books. so there is no excuse to steel them. I’m just happy that there are people who loves to write books that I am fortunately to be able to read and some author who are so generous to offer theirs book for free for a period.

    English is not my native language so I apologize in advance for typos and grammatical errors

  15. What no one is mentioning is another form of stealing books. eBook returns. It’s an epidemic. Readers buying eBooks, reading them, and returning them. 100% of their money is returned, and the money deducted from the author’s earnings. Robbery.

    Amazon must eliminate the return policy on eBooks.

    • I agree with you there! Especially since Amazon’s policy allows the buyer to keep a book seven days before returning it (and also given that Amazon tells you when you’ve already purchased the same ebook, which would be my only reason for returning something–forgetting I’d already bought it!). In seven days, a person can read and return a book–just like someone buying an expensive dress, wearing it to an event without taking the tags off, and then returning it to the store. Not cool. πŸ™

      • On the other hand, there ARE a lot of rotten and misleading eBooks out there. Books that don’t mention they’re a Teaser, or the start of a “Subscription”, badly formatted PD works, or “Instant Books” that some scammers sell to talentless folks who want to “Cash in on the eBook Revolution!”. So Returns are reasonable, and a 7 day limit is pretty strict. Wal-Mart gives you 90 days, for contrast.

        Yeah, Returns peeve me as well, but they’re actually pretty rare. They seem to be a regional thing. A friend of mine gets them mostly from Germans. I’ve only had one, from a Brit.

        • True, but I wouldn’t need 7 days to come to that conclusion. 7 days allows someone to read a book in its entirety and return it without penalty. While I appreciate the analogy–to return a product to Wal-Mart, you have to physically return it. That means going back to the store or sending it via a shipping service. Granting more time to do something like that seems more reasonable to me versus simply filing a return claim online and clicking a button. I see your point, but 7 days just seems too long to me.

          • well, and seven days are long enough to scan an entire book and “give it out for free” on piracy sites. as they get their money back on the return they are almost paid for this act. there should be a return possibility but not without giving a reason within the scope dr. mauser listed.

          • 7 days for one book, I will have read 7 books in that time.
            I do get free books, copyright expired. I probably download 3 or 4 a year, from a legitimate site though.

  16. I’m still trying to work out how a ‘poor’ person can afford a computer and to pay for internet to be able to steal these books. Even if they accessed them in a library, they have to be read on something that cost money. Argument just doesn’t hold up.

    • I’ve been the person whose financial circumstances changed dramatically. Keeping the internet connection was necessary for work, so I gave up cable TV. However, I suspect the vast majority of people who claim poverty as the reason for illegally downloading books have spent their discretionary income on things that can’t be pirated. They’re paying for those smartphones, tablets, and e-readers. πŸ™

      • I’m a single mom struggling with a disabled child who won’t stay in school too many years. I invested for my kids in a computer and internet connection (saving money on entertainment by like 60 percent, I might add, so that my kids can have something to do in spare time like other people) because I wanted to try this. Had to do something. Winter is coming. I have it because I’m writing. So, I get poor, and not the discretionary type. I mean the “we gotta make hard choices and food and medicine come first” type. The world requires internet more and more, so I don’t make this judgement. It can go even farther. I’ve seen people argue that poor people aren’t poor because they have a microwave. Yeah, but what if that was the cheapest or only thing they had, what then?

        My point is that poor isn’t what we’re dealing with here. The people who are truly poor, well, I’m the exception, not the rule. I’m trying something here because the day is coming when I’ll be literally stuck at home with a disabled child. And, we all know that the world doesn’t care why you’re poor, only if you can pay. Most of these people have phone internet. I work a job that requires I have a phone. Phones and devices aren’t really luxuries anymore. Also, you wouldn’t believe what I get paid along with that requirement. It’s not exactly fair. ebooks are a pleasant side effect of having a phone device, but it may not be the only reason they have that device.

        The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter if they are poor or irresponsible pretending to be poor. It’s an entitled attitude. The idea that because something is something you want, it should just belong to you. I go without books sometimes. Had to cut back on some of our discretionary spending this month to make ends meet, and 2.99 ebooks are out for a bit. Here’s the kicker. I won’t go out stealing them just because I want them. I adjust. Heck, I need to focus on writing my own if I can get this scrivener issue fixed. Self-discipline is an art form, and I suspect the majority of the “poor” who feel stealing ebooks is okay, don’t actually know what poor looks like. Poor is scrambling for rent and meds. Poor is eating Ramen to keep the power on. I know poor. Poor is scraping up enough to keep access to the marketplace and sell your books in hopes of one day offsetting the really lean years. Yeah, that’s poor. It can’t be defined by what you use, but by what you have to do to get by. You only get to use the Jean Valjean defense if you’re stealing BREAD.

        • Jolie: I appreciate both your honesty and your struggle. Hang in there.

          Truly, for the vast majority of us, writing *is* a job. In many cases a second job, but a job nonetheless. Like you, writing is something I can squeeze into my already hectic schedule because my other commitments are full time, they don’t allow for a traditional second job with set hours.

          It doesn’t matter if it is a job or a hobby, though. When we put our stories out there for sale, we’re setting up a contract with the reading public. We expect to be paid, much as you would pay a plumber or your phone bill.

          I agree, I think the truly poor make up a very small percentage of the ‘broke’ readers. Ironically, those that illegally download instead of paying for stories frequently winding up hurting people who are counting on that income to pay *their* bills. That doesn’t seem to matter to them, does it?

          You only get to use the Jean Valjean defense if you’re stealing BREAD.

          This? This is effing brilliant. I want to shout it from the mountaintops. You, my dear, win the internet!

          Please share with us where we can find your work–either posting here or send me an email!
          Sarah Madison recently posted..Dear Broke Reader and your sense of entitlement (Part 2)My Profile

  17. Ms. Madison,

    Thanks very much for writing your pair of essays. I encountered them on the Facebook timeline of John Derf Backderfer, a cartoonist and graphic novelist who remarked that he frequently encounters his own work offered for “free” and has to take action.

    I shake my head at the idea that people think “information is free,” as one downloader war chant goes. While I didn’t write fiction, I was a journalist many years ago. That was my living, and I was angry that anyone would steal the physical newspapers that paid my salary and those of everyone else in the company. How anyone can fail to understand that writing, music, photography, film making are jobs — no matter how noble — puzzles me.

    Harlan Ellison, a writer whose work I enjoy greatly and whose morals I appreciate most of the time, has written about living in NYC as a young writer, barely making the rent and scrimping for food. Without any show of regret in this particular essay, he talked about stealing books and records. And, yet, he once sued AOL, the monster itself, to force a user into taking down a transcript of one of his stories. There’s a bad, mixed message in that.

  18. Years ago, I admonished a young person for the sense of entitlement they were expressing…can’t remember over what. But my diatribe went something like,

    “Young man, your sense of entitlement is ASTOUNDING to me, so let me educate you to to some truths about life that you should learn sooner rather than later.
    No person, no thing, no institution owes you a goddamn thing. The sooner you internalize that, the more amazed you will be at how much easier your life will become. Your mere existence is because someone thought you were important enough to thrive. But you’re importance pretty much starts and stops there. If you want something, be willing to work for and/or pay for what you want because there is nothing in this world that is owed to you.

  19. Great blog…both of them.

    You don’t have to respond. I understand how busy you are. I just wanted to add…

    1) Illegal downloaders are under the mistaken impression that it’s up to them what should be free. It’s not. It’s up to the product owner. In the case of books, the copyright holder. It’s not the downloader’s choice what should be free.

    2) The people complaining about being broke, that they work so hard and are underpaid and underappreciated, only encourage the underpaid/underappreciated cycle by devaluing an author’s work. I guess the logic is they should be paid for everything they do, but no one else should.


  20. I don’t read romance, but seeing your post shared on FB made me at least want to see who you are. Sure, some people can’t afford to read books. Whatever happened to going to the library?

  21. Thank you for these two posts.

    I have never used a torrent site, because I believe it is thoroughly unethical to deprive an author or musician of their due royalties, which are (as far as I can tell) mere pennies per sale.

    I finally subscribed to Kindle Unlimited because I was spending $100+/month on mostly dreck that I never read again. If I find a series that speaks to me, (Sara King’s science fiction and fantasy series are among them) I buy it separately. King, btw, says that her royalties from KU are higher than titles priced lower than $2.99.

    Kudos to you for explaining this in such a relatable way. Now I’m off to purchase one of your titles.

    • Aw, thank you! Yes, KU can be a lifesaver for some prolific readers–and it certainly has been economically advantageous for some authors, too. I have my doubts about whether KU is a good fit for me (I’m not prolific enough to keep that particular audience, I fear) but I know some people who are thrilled with their returns. I hope you enjoy the story–what I write is not everyone’s cuppa! πŸ˜‰

  22. People confuse the fact that they have NOT yet gone to jail for theft with the reality that stealing in any form is a criminal offence. Give them my example. ‘If YOU park YOUR car on a public street, does this mean that it is free for anyone to use as transport?’

    I’ve written about copyright many times, and the deliberate ignorance never ceases to amaze me. It also cuts both ways too. Many people are up in arms when their own copyright material is stolen, but they have no qualms with using images and even fonts that are not available for commercial use.

    Everyone thinks that if it is on a search engine then it is free. I’m going to post a picture of their house, car and piano on the net and then claim it for myself. πŸ™‚

  23. I’ve read both of your posts this week. I’m a reader, not a writer. And I couldn’t agree with you more if I tried.

    I’m also a book blogger, and I’m getting a lot of my reading material for free these days. Either authors or publishers are sending me the books, or I am requesting them from Netgalleys. But you know what? If the free books stopped coming, I’d go back to buying the books I wanted to read. And I’d buy most of the authors I’m reading right now because I like their books. I’m not stupid. If someone offers me something I want for free, I’ll take it.

    But there is a huge difference from the owner offering me something for free and me going out and stealing it. That’s what these sites do. Back in the day, I remember the controversy surrounding this in the music industry. It was wrong then. It’s wrong now with books.

    It’s sad this is where we are as a society.
    Mark recently posted..Book Review: Eclair and Present Danger by Laura Bradford (Emergency Dessert Squad #1)My Profile

  24. Part of the problem is an industry still operating on the premise that they are only producing physical products – i.e. books. The business model needs to change.
    DRM is effective, but easily broken. In a household where we have both Nooks and Kindles, I crack the DRM on all purchases so that we can share the books, as we would a physical book.
    As another comment mentioned, Amazon are a problem because they aim to be the single player in every market, hence the Kindle proprietry format, which is incompatible with every other eReader technology. It’s as if a publisher started issuing books that could physically only be read by women. There’d be uproar. But with Amazon the industry just accepted it.
    That’s not the only problem with the publishing industry, but it illustrates my point that authors/creators of all artistic work need to devise a new business model. Until then, people will steal because the publishers and distributors encourage it by not discouraging copyright theft effectively.
    Wish I had a new model to offer, but unfortunately, I haven’t devised it yet…

    • The kindle format isn’t really all that hard to use, and it’s not really proprietary. It’s basically an HTML file with any images attached to it in a big .zip file. There are other programs that can read it (particularly Calibre, which can transform any format into any other, more or less, handy for eBook creators too). As for leveraging the format to sell kindles, The fact that they give away the razor, i.e. free reader software for virtually every platform that can support it, kinda puts that to lie. OTOH, it’s really nice to have a dedicated reader.

      • Hi, I use Calibre myself, but you have to use non-standard plug-ins to crack the DRM. Which, to a degree is what Sarah’s posts are against (my argument for my actions is ‘personal use’). However, the majority of eReader owners aren’t going to do this because they are unaware of or unable to use the technology.

  25. I read Part One of your well-written response against Internet piracy and find myself in total agreement with Part Two as well. It totally burns to have done my best on a novel and then find out some people want it for free because of a misplaced sense of entitlement. I wish I had the answer as to how to stop such a thing from happening; I don’t. I can only hope that most readers will do the right thing.

    To be honest, I think most do. It’s just those relatively few bad apples who spoil it for the rest us, both writers and readers alike. Prices can get high, especially on Amazon, as they’re the main player and they set the rules. However, the customer has the right to say “no, I’ll wait ’til the price drops”. That’s fine. Even if there’s a slight downturn in profit, the writer still gets a cut, tiny though it may be. I just wish there was a way to stop all the ripping off. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is any way to stop it, unless some new software can be devised to stop the uploading of said (book) document to a pirate site. That calls for a more intuitive mind than mine.

  26. Legal or not isn’t the point for me, because morally corrupt people or those with a sense of entitlement don’t or won’t care about that. I like my authors. I like that they continue to write books. The only thing I can do to help keep that happening is to buy their books. It’s quite simple actually.

  27. You are on a ‘good’ roll! Thanks for saying what needs to be said about this important issue. Entitlement is a ‘shifty’ thing. I like how you have ‘carefully’ thought this through and how you have ‘carefully’ chosen your words to express more than one side of the issue (both sides of a magic coin). I’ll be following this thread to see where it goes.

  28. Part of the issue though is that the ebook publishing system is so screwed up right now. There are no set standards, so, while I agree that piracy is wrong, I can also see certain issues and frustrations that could lead to it as well. For example, if I pay $10 for a physical copy of a book, should I have to pay another $10 for the Kindle version to read on my phone, and another $10 for the Nook version to read on an eReader? Or should I be forced to pay more for a digital copy than a physical copy, when it costs very little to produce comparatively? For example, I found a relatively new book by a favorite author of mine on amazon the other day that I hadn’t read (1st book in one of his new side series). I went to purchase it, and was looking at the various prices. A hardcover copy was $17, a paperback was $9. Fairly standard pricing, it made sense to me. However, the Kindle price was $14! Why is a digital copy, that had effectively no “overhead” cost, more expansive than a physical copy? Just a few things to consider from the consumer’s viewpoint. (Note: I still haven’t purchased that book, I’m waiting to see if the publisher will ever bring the digital pricing to a reasonable point)

    • All I can tell you is unless a book is independently published, the author has NO control over the selling price. None. I also know if you buy directly from some publisher (for example, my own) you are granted access to all the digital formats the story is available in for one purchase price. And if you buy a print copy, you get the e-book version at a fraction of the original cover price.

      Just the other day, I went to check out a story of mine on Amazon and discovered its price was set at 0.99 cents. I have no idea who authorized that–it certainly wasn’t me. 24 hours later, the price was normal again. πŸ™

      • Yeah, I understand that authors have little or no control over those types of things. Just thought I would mention it as a reason why some people might be turning to piracy out of frustration with the current system. That definitely doesn’t make it right by any means though. But I’d like to think that fewer people would pirate things like that if they had better options and were more aware of the way it affected the author. I personally prefer to buy ebooks directly from the author or someplace like smashwords that gives the author a higher percentage of the purchase price, but the average consumer has no way of finding things like that easily, at least currently…

    • If that book was published by one of the “Big Five” publishers, the high eBook prices is because they don’t WANT to support eBooks. Amazon has all the sales data in the world to tell them that eBooks don’t sell as well at prices above $10, but that doesn’t matter. they believe in Print, in part because the distribution system is so messed up they can lie to the authors about how many books have actually sold (Between remainders, returns, and all kinds of other chicanery).
      Dr. Mauser recently posted..If there is hope, it lies in the Proles FansMy Profile

  29. You know what the sad part is? That shoe analogy isn’t even 100% accurate anymore. I’m a big fan of 3d printing, and there’s a cottage industry in copying PHYSICAL OBJECTS now. Many licensed statues, games miniatures, and the like show up on sites to download and print. Wrap your head around that for a minute. Nothing is safe from digital piracy.
    Myself, I think a lot of the defense of the practice stems from the fact that we call it theft when it’s really counterfeiting (making a copy which devalues the original.) People don’t consider it theft because the original still exists. Whatever we call it, though, it’s wrong.

  30. I buy books and I have a low-paying job. Broke? Ha. I don’t even get a salary, but a stipend that’s really not enough to live on even if I moved to the inner city, so I’m living with my parents. (In fact, I’m eyeballing Starbucks because they make more. Even panhandlers make more – a LOT more.)

    And yet, I STILL buy (and review) books. Because 1) I’m proud to support authors, and 2) it’s such a small price to pay.

    I know how to save money. Being raised poor, I know how to make no-brainer value decisions, like this:
    – A latte costs around $4 and has empty calories.
    – A good book also costs $4, lasts longer than 20 minutes, has no calories at all, and provides almost total sensory gratification.

    Um…. no contest.

    It pisses me off that there are so many whiney, “broke” people. It’s embarrassing, because they’re like babies. They don’t mean “I can’t affooooord it…” They really mean. “I’m so disappointed I can’t buy everything I want, and that makes me *special.* The world has to jump in and fill this hole in my life because I’m feeling disappointed. Even though I can’t manage my money, I think I should get everything I want, so… I’m just going to take it.”

    Ugh. Children.

  31. I have a deal with one of my kids, a fan of a particular type of graphic format from another country that is commonly pirated, scanned, and uploaded to streaming sites for illegal dissemination around the world. We had a few discussions. We’ve been through the money argument, and their getting a part-time job was the result. We’ve been through the “I’m liable for your behavior” argument, which carried really no water at all. I recognized that I can’t police that kid’s habits entirely. One of the kid’s arguments was that the material isn’t always translated or available in “legit” channels. Our deal was this: that if the kid reads a single work by an author that was appreciated, the kid MUST support that author by purchasing anything else by them that can be purchased. Because the kid, after our discussion, recognized that it was only fair. Given the collection on the bookshelf, the kid is keeping the promise at least in part. Which is some victory, I suppose. And we parents try to set a good example, and purchase/rent our TV shows and books in a visible manner, as a legitimate use of our discretionary money for entertainment.

  32. The contents of books, movies, and music are non-rivalrous. When a copy is made, the original is not lost to its owner. That’s why those contents are not like shoes, and why infringement is not theft.

    Big content – the TV, movie, and music industries – has desperately tried to stop infringement, and has failed. That means that you, an independent author, isn’t going to succeed either. Getting angry at the infringers may feel good and justified, but it will not accomplish anything.

    That’s why I suggested a subscription model. This is something Amazon should implement – an author puts up a sample of an upcoming work, its price, and a threshold amount of money (either open or hidden). Amazon collects payment promises from customers, and when the threshold is reached, asks the author to supply the full work, charges the pre-payers, and releases the work to them. Then it goes on regular sale like any other book. (There would also be time limits both for reaching the threshold and for the author to provide the work once the threshold is reached.)

    The advantage of this model is that the author decides the minimum amount of money the book must earn, and doesn’t release it until that amount is earned. This solves the piracy problem for the baseline amount.

    • The solution to piracy will never be a technological one, only a Social one. So we attack the justifications for Piracy, rather than the act.

      The dangers of the subscription model are the author not finishing the work, or the author putting in the necessary work and having the subscription fail to reach its goal.
      Dr. Mauser recently posted..If there is hope, it lies in the Proles FansMy Profile

      • Your analysis of the Hugo voting proposals is wrong and wrong-minded, so I would doubt your other opinions.

        A few millenia of religion haven’t stopped sin. You’re never going to convince more than a handful of people not to infringe, with no more justification than because they can.

        The solution to piracy is to get paid before the work is released. If not finishing the work becomes a pervasive problem, the vendor will simply require that the finished work be delivered before it goes on subscription. If the subscriptions consistently fail to reach threshold, then some aspect of the price is wrong, or the writer now has information that a different career might be necessary. And the ood model is still available if desired.

        • Thank you for visiting my site. Can’t really discuss your comment since you really didn’t give me much to go on, although I would note that the proponents of EPH are the ones who are now discussing 2SV now, since their analysis proved EPH did not have the effect they desired using last year’s data.

          That said, your solution to piracy is wrong, wrong wrong, so clearly, your opinions on everything else are bad too. πŸ™‚

          • You appear to believe that there is a cabal of non-puppy SMOFs who wish to control who gets Hugos, and that the voting proposals disenfranchise fans. Neither is true. Nor is anyone trying to “counter human behavior with math”. They are using math (in particular, expertise in voting systems) to counter the effects of a small but coordinated bloc vote so that the final outcome better satisfies more voters. Analysis and discussion are being carried out in public. You can argue for your own proposals and try to convince enough people that they’re worth trying.

            I’m going to be at Worldcon this year, so I’ll actually get to vote for the new voting schemes. Should be fun.

  33. It’s an interesting reply. I always struggle with this. I work with refugees, in a very poor part of the world, and earn less than $100 a month, which mostly goes on essentials. I hate downloading, but whether books, music or movies – the only way to access these is illegally. If the owners of material could come up with a way to make prices reasonable in places like this, maybe people would stop downloading. I don’t know how, but surely different regions can be charged different prices, and the Internet can verify where someone is?

    • I suspect your situation is somewhat different from that of most people, who have easy access to libraries and used bookstores. All I can tell you is unless the author is self-published, he or she has ZERO control over the price set by the publisher. I recently self-published a story that allowed me to set the price point where I wanted. But I had to pay for the cover art, editing, and formatting up front. The book has done very well, breaking into the top 100 in its genre, but I still have as yet to recoup the financial investment I’ve put into it.

      I wish there was a solution that met everyone’s needs–including my own–but I’m darned if I can think of one.

    • Well, not *everyone* has access to libraries and used bookstores, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. I think in the case of the reader with the sense of entitlement, they’re not saying,”I don’t have any books to read” as much as “I want to read THIS book RIGHT NOW and I don’t want to wait for a sale price or promotional offer.” πŸ™

  34. I know I’m coming into this months late. A friend of mins shared this the other day on FB. You see, I’m a former pirate. I use to download movies, TV shows, and books – even software at times – Adobe the most because of the expense. Sometimes just to get it earlier than others, sometimes I pirated just for the thrill of it. And I made damn good money at an internet engineer.

    But then, one day, it just hit me – this isn’t right. I stopped, cold turkey, in just one day. The thing was that Stores like Amazon, Adobe, and movie studios made BUYING what I wanted easier. They came out with the Kindle, which brought down the cost of books just enough where I could buy a few a month. Software sites came out with renting their software for less than $10 a month, this meant that I was able to legally use Photoshop far cheaper than the $1000s it costs to buy outright.

    Also, site like Netflix and Hulu made it easier for watching movies and TV shows without commercials. In other words to me this made everything so convenient as I thought illegally downloading did. For less than $50 a month I have access to all of the above and I have a clear conscience.

    I deleted any content downloaded content on my computers and destroyed any DVDs I had burned with the illegally downloaded material. While I still know the ins and outs of piracy I haven’t done it in about 6 years when I first quit. My thing was, especially with movies, is that I bought them anyway so I just needed to be more patient and wait, though sites like iTunes releases digital content 3 weeks before the physical Blu rays are released.

    I’m proud that I support the artists, writers, and actors, even though I purchase them through monthly fees.

    • I think wanting to see or read something *right now* is part of the drive to pirate, rather than wait until something is legitimately available. I also think, like you before, some people simply don’t realize the impact it has on the creator. But that’s kind of like saying ‘my vote doesn’t matter’, when we’re seeing all too well these days that every vote counts.

      Glad you came around to your current POV. As creators, we appreciate it.

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