Last week a new website became a hot topic on Twitter. The website offers free downloads of digital books, many of them by some very well known authors, but it does this without the permission of those authors or their publishers. The website is offering pirated copies of books, and many are willing to take them, but is there anything that can be done to stop this piracy, and can the reasons people give for distributing or taking pirated books ever be justified?
The website in question, the name of which I won’t be sharing as I don’t wish to promote them, is only the latest in many that have cropped up over the years. Book piracy, like many other forms of digital piracy, is becoming more popular, and arguably easier given how more of us are reading digitally compared to one or two decades ago. The reasons behind it are many, and some of them shouldn’t just be easily dismissed, but the impact of piracy is always bad, and ultimately wrong.
Unfortunately book piracy isn’t a simple black and white matter. While researching this topic I’ve come across a variety of reasons behind it and varying arguments of how badly it affects the industry. While I would never justify piracy, it’s important to consider how different people are affected and the different reasons for it happening.
How does book piracy affect authors?
Anyone who is an author, or even a unpublished writer, would be devastated to find their worked copied and freely available for all to read when they haven’t given their own permission. Perhaps the biggest blow of book piracy is towards authors, as news of any pirated work has a terrible personal effect on how they feel and can affect their future potential to write more, especially if they are self-published.
Some authors who I am friends with have found their own work on pirate sites. These authors are self-published, so a loss of any one book sold affects them greater than any traditionally published author, as all the profit they make comes from those important book sales and not from pre-paid advances.
Traditionally published authors may get their advances but if a large enough amount of their work is pirated it could arguable affect sales. Publishers often decide how many of any future books to publish based on how many books by an author have previously made sales. If the number of sales of a previous book are low, then a future book may not have as many copies published, or worse might not get published at all. Piracy affects both traditionally and self-published authors but the effects are different.
How does book piracy affect the publishers?
As I’ve just explained, future potential sales will affect how many books will be published, and publishers are hit badly by book piracy. The publishing industry relies on selling the books they produce. And they spend a lot of money producing them. Although some may argue that publishers have more than enough money, the publishing industry relies on sales to keep going. If nobody bought books made by publishers they’d, eventually, go out of business.
Reasons people give for pirating books
There are two sets of people involved in the book piracy industry, the people who pirate the books and sell or offer them for free, and those who download pirated books. The reasons people pirate books are many, but the website in question gave some very compelling arguments in its mission statement. They believe that ‘knowledge and information should be free and accessible to everyone around the globe’ and that they are helping people in many developing countries who don’t have access to some books. People who download pirated books will also give arguments such as having no money or, again, that being in a foreign country affects their ability to access some books. All of these reason help the people behind piracy to justify their actions. But should we simply ignore them or give some of the reasons some careful thought?
Affordability of books
Many people can’t afford books. This isn’t just a reason given, this is a fact. Even in modern societies like the US and UK there are people who live below the poverty line and who can’t afford anything but the most basic of things. So books are not exactly easy to get hold of for them and for most they can’t afford the latest releases. However books are available for free in places like libraries and online. In fact many books sold on platforms like Amazon are available for free, and others an be downloaded from authors own websites. So the argument that free books aren’t available doesn’t stand up well.
The argument that people can simply go to the library if they have no money is an easy one to make, and in many respects it’s a good one. Libraries, unlike pirate websites, buy the books they then allow to be borrowed, so the copies are legitimately bought from the publishers. Many people have access to libraries and many now offer digital books on loan too, but there is still restricted access to libraries and not everyone find one where they live.
This is a major issue and is usually the primary reason people give for downloading pirated books. The major publishing industry is still very much a culture of English speaking countries and mostly the UK and US. People outside of those countries can’t always access the latest book releases and distribution to these places isn’t always high on a publisher’s list. People living in countries, even western European countries, are often denied the chance to read the latest books because they aren’t printed in English. Many have to wait a long time to get a translated copy, and even then, only the best selling books may get translated. A successful book is likely to be translated but it all depends on whether foreign publishers can buy the rights to publish those works, and it often doesn’t happen.
People who speak English but live in other countries may try to get their hands on an English language copy. They might be lucky if their libraries stock this but I know from the experience of walking into my own local libraries that the amount of foreign language books is poor and the same can happen for English language books in other countries. Those people who can’t find these books might try to buy them anyway, but the price of English language copies are usually very high and far more expensive than they are for those of us lucky enough to be in the UK and US.
Accessibility of books in countries outside of the UK and US is a big issue and one which the industry needs to address. Even digital sites like Amazon do not always give access to people living in every country.
Piracy is still wrong
Despite the compelling reasons given, the act of piracy, in my opinion, is still wrong. I believe it does still hurt the industry and is something I would morally never be able to justify as right, but the extent to which it affects the book industry as a whole is debatable. Some people argue that some piracy is good, that self-published authors should be grateful for the publicity it brings, and that being unknown completely by the public is worse than having some books given away for free on pirate sites. Other arguments around piracy centre on how many people downloading free books would actually have bought it in the first place. There is evidence to suggest that while a large number of people might take pirated books, only a small fraction of those were actually going to buy the book in the first place, the others would either never be able to afford it (so would never have been a potential sale in the first place) or would never have considered the book at all had it not been available as a sneaky freebie.
Whatever the thoughts are around piracy, it is wrong and immoral, but to simply dismiss the issue without serious thoughts to some of the arguments given, is far worse in my opinion. Piracy is a complex subject and simply ignoring all other issues around it won’t make it go away.
What can we do to stop piracy?
It’s impossible to stop all piracy. There will always be people wanting to go against the system and pirate books, and many others who will always take them. There have been black markets throughout the ages and some form of piracy will probably always exist. But there are steps that we as individuals and as a society can take to reduce the amount of piracy that happens.
For a start we can all buy books from legitimate sources, supporting the industry as a whole and the individual authors who write the books we love. We can also help to educate others on why it’s better to buy rather than take free pirate copies of books. To help people in disadvantaged countries we could help by campaigning and funding for new libraries to be built and to help keep our existing ones open. We can also help to keep our libraries going by borrowing more books, this has been a big issue in the UK for some time with many local smaller libraries facing closures.
Another thing we can do, if we want to, is to let publishers, not authors (unless they’re self-published), know when their books are pirated. I don’t agree with contacting/tagging authors about this. It’s the publishers who deal with distribution and most publishers especially the larger ones have a department to deal with legal matters like this. I’d only contact authors if they are self-published as they are their own distributors.
The issue of foreign access to books is an important one, and it’s something that the publishing industry needs to do more about. As lucky as those of us in the UK and Us are to have so many books published and readable by the latest authors, the fact remains that many people around the globe have restricted access to those books and the publishing industry and governments aren’t doing enough to help change this. Without expanding the English language book market to other countries, and giving them books at decent prices, there are many people who will continue to feel left out and for some of them they will see no problem in accessing pirated copies to read their favourite releases.
Piracy will always be wrong in my opinion but it’s a complex topic and one which has good arguments from both sides. I will never condone piracy, but I can understand (even if I don’t agree) with the arguments some people give for doing it. I do believe, however that arguing with or shouting at people will not solve the situation. We can only ever reduce (and maybe one day) eliminate piracy altogether if we begin to understand its true causes, and discuss (not scream about) the issue with those that do it.
IMPORTANT: I am happy and encourage a free discussion on this issue, however regardless of which opinion people take please do not be vicious or argumentative in your responses to others.
Featured image from Pixabay.com
What do you think about book piracy? Are you against it or do you support the reasons for it? Are there issues around getting hold of books that you have experienced? Let me know any thoughts you have, I’d love to hear from you 🙂
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