I recently found (and retweeted a link to) what I thought was a nifty little blog entry from Rachel Vincent that helped clear up a bit of the process for whether or not someone had committed some e-piracy. I liked the blog (obviously, or I wouldn't have linked to it) in that I thought it did very much what it set out to do: help explain to people that might not know what they're doing when they file-share some e-books. Neat.
Discussion began from there, and as always, I found the discussion enlightening. I thought I'd put up a blog entry (or a few, since I'm pretty sure the topic is too unwieldy to handle in a short-and-sweet piece) on the topic. Opinions obviously vary, and I'm not intending this as statements of fact; these are just my thoughts on the topic. I will say, however, that I have a base premise from which I'm working here:
My premise is this: Authors deserve to be paid for the reading experience they provide.
Okay, so right off the bat, I've got my own bias here. I'm (barely) an author. Consider this flag dutifully waved, and don't come back later and tell me I've got a stake in this discussion. Of course I do.
So. E-book piracy. It's just like lending a book you've bought to someone else, right?
File Sharing Isn't the Library
I'm not a librarian, though I do know quite a few of them. I know that the budget for buying books for the library is - generally speaking - much like the budget schools get for buying books. By this I mean pitiful. The librarians I know work their asses off to make sure they get the books their clients need on the shelves, and rotate selection and topics to be wide enough to serve everyone and specific enough to make it good for the individual.
Holy crap do I love librarians.
That budget I mentioned, though, is one of the significant differences between file sharing and a library. A library buys individual copies of the book (and, in the case of at least my local city library, they also buy individual e-copies of the book) and those copies are loaned out to library members. If they buy three, they have three copies to share among their clients, be that e-book or physical book. Those purchased copies count as a sale for the publisher and author. The author gets paid for the sale of three books, and in some awesome countries, there's even a kickback on loaning numbers - ie: the author gets a wee payment depending on how many times their books are checked out by various clients. Those three copies could potentially serve thousands of clients before they fall apart (in the case of physical books), and when they start to fall to bits, the library can even earn a bit back for their buying budget by having one of their friends of the library book sales.
A file uploaded to a file-sharing site isn't being borrowed or shared in the same sense. It's being duplicated. Everyone who shares that file ends up with a copy of their own. On the surface, the numbers seem to say the same thing: what's the big deal? Someone had to buy at least one copy to do this, right? (My understanding is actually that's not necessarily the case, but I'll go with saying that's true.) Thousands of people can end up reading copies of the file - so the end result is the same. Except it's not. The author (maybe) got paid once rather than my randomly assigned three copies for that one library. And if you're in a country with kickbacks from library loans (Canada or Australia, for example) that's not just a loss of two sales.
And there's more than one library, and authors may write more than one book. If a book sees no traffic or requests at the library, why would the librarian purchase the next book for the library's collection? The same applies to the publisher - if the author's first book doesn't sell, why would they contract the author for another book? Those thousands of people who downloaded a copy of the book didn't contribute to the author's impact on anyone's bottom line (except for the file-sharing service, if they use ads) and while they read (and may have loved) the book, the author is the one who sees nothing.
So. Piracy is just like a library? No, I really don't think it is. Especially in Canada and Australia.