Sunday, August 12, 2012

Why the Top 3 Reasons for Ebook Piracy Don't Hold Water

In case you were unaware, rampant piracy of e-books abounds. Some pirate vessels brag openly about their dastardly deeds. Others run silent and deep, like U-boats lurking in the murky waters of 21st century publishing.

Last week I engaged in several discussions with writers and agents bemoaning the piracy of their books. Without exception, all victims of piracy were irate, so most conversations were liberally laced with both profanity and swashbuckling imagery.

I find it fascinating that a blogger who innocently infringes on image copyright can get seriously sued while bottom feeders who openly and maliciously steal content are serially scott-free.

Why is piracy a problem?

I'm glad you asked. To find the answer, let's take a look at some of the most common reasons pirates give for their actions and deconstruct what they're actually saying:  

Scurvy Reason #1 for Piracy:  "I can't afford to buy it."

Poverty of income doesn't mean you also have poverty of ethics. Besides, in order to pirate an ebook, one must first own a device capable of reading an ebook. If you can afford the computer / phone / tablet / e-reader, you sure as shooting can afford a few bucks for a legitimate download.

Here's the thing: if you can't afford a new car, should you just steal one? If you can't afford a new jacket, should you lift one off the rack? No. Members of civilized society unanimously agree that such actions warrant mandatory "time outs" from freedom in order to contemplate the error of one's ways. Stealing is stealing is stealing.

You want to talk poor? Consider the fact that no book writes itself overnight. It takes each author a significant portion of his or her allotted time on this planet to write what pirates blithely steal. Every author sacrifices family time, hanging out with their friends, sleep, and staying current on news, movies, books, and in some cases, reality TV in order to create a manuscript. Every book sold through legitimate channels earns the author the rough equivalent of $.000007 cents an hour. Ask me how I know.

If "Power To The Poor People" is truly the pirates' mantra, they'd put their money where their mouth is and pony up the few bucks to support a writer rather than begrudge him or her the funds to buy a cup of coffee to keep the muse fueled.

Rather than poor pirates, I blame poor parenting. Perhaps the pirates' parents never taught them the value of a work ethic. Here's the thing the rest of us learned while we were still in grade school: if you can't afford something, get a job, work, save your money, and use it to buy the stuff you want. Until then, learn to do without what you can't afford.

Rascally Reason #2 for Piracy:  "If I love it, I'll buy it."

This translates to "I will first read a bootleg copy. If -- and only if -- it moves me, changes my life, opens my eyes to a new paradigm, and transports me to realms hitherto unimagined, I will then leave the dark alleys of Pirateland and purchase a copy from a squeaky-clean source."


So what this means, when one decodes the pirate-speak, is that it's perfectly OK to steal books one likes but does not love. It's the pirate equivalent of "Sleep with me first. If you're any good, I'll leave some money on the bureau in the morning."

In agent-speak "I just don't love it" means "I won't rep it." That's bad enough. But in pirate-speak, "I just don't love it" means "I read it but won't pay for it," which is infinitely worse.

Scallywag Reason #3 for Piracy:  "I'm a big supporter of books I love."

What does this mean, exactly? "If I illegally download something I really like, I tell all my friends and get them to illegally download it, too?"

Because, really, do you expect me to believe that if a pirate downloads a bootleg copy of something, loves it and tells all of his (or her) pirate-y friends about it, he (or she) will direct those friends to a legitimate download site?

What kind of friendship is that, I ask you? Everyone knows there is no honor among thieves. I sincerely doubt those thieves will often pass up the opportunity to drag others into their underworld. Rather than send their friends to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords, fer instance, to get an ebook that really moved their blackened hearts, it's far more likely that they'll direct those friends to the same site from which they stole downloaded their own copy.

Here's something those who attempt to defend their illicit acts tend to forget: multiple illegal downloads doesn't translate to "support." It just means that instead of being responsible for a single theft, they're responsible for many.

I'm not so naive as to believe that a little blog post like this will somehow make ebook pirates see the error of their ways and stop embezzling books. Naw -- I just live for the day we authors can embed a code in ebooks that's benign if downloaded legally, but that goes ALL EBOLA when pirated. ~maniacal laugh~

All photos from


BaraccudaBen said...

I fully agree with your view, and I can feel your pain points. That is why I started Tell My Friends, a counter-piracy distribution platform that rewards readers for buying AND sharing the book. Well, actually a link to the ebook. Do contact me if you need help to sell your ebooks this way. Check us out at Also, google "Tell My Friends Piracy" and you will read many independent articles about us.

Ami Hendrickson said...

Thanks for the comment. What a great idea for an honest way to share electronic media! Keep up the good work.