Monday, June 16, 2008

Stealing

If you've ever stolen anything, raise your hand.

I'm typing one-handed right now.

Yes, I'm a thief. Me and millions of other people worldwide all share the same particular brand of larceny.

We download stuff for free.

Now let's get the legal argument out of the way right now. Copying media, whether it is burning a CD you got from the library, lending your mom your VHS recordings of House, borrowing your friend's Microsoft Office key, or downloading JA Konrath's audiobook version of Bloody Mary on Demonoid.com, all of that is stealing. You do it, you break the law.

Now that we're clear that anything you get for free that normally costs money is stealing, we can (if we desire) approach the moral argument. Is it stealing if there is no actual theft of property?

On one hand, digital media is a bunch of 1s and 0s, which can freely be duplicated and distributed. On the other hand, the originator of the material deserves to be compensated for her efforts.

Morality isn't black and white. Never has been. History has shown that morals are dictated by the majority of any given population at any given time.

Now, in the age of Internet and digital copies, more and more people are sharing data. Movies, video games, computer programs, TV shows, music.

And books.

Books have two main digital formats, e-books and audiobooks. And if you go to the usual places, you will find both formats being shared in substantial, growing numbers.

Chances are, if you're published on audio or as an e-book, you're being stolen.

Usenet is a huge, untrackable source of this piracy, to the tune of 1.8 billion downloads a day. Yeah, I said billion.

Among the top 200 visited websites on the Internet are Rapidshare.com, Megaupload.com, Badongo.com, Mininova.com, Mediafire.com, ThePirateBay.org, ZShare.net, 4Shared.com, IsoHunt.com, Easy-Share.com, Torrentz.com, and FileFactory.com. These are file sharing sites, either using Bit Torrent technology or password-protected file lockers. They're getting millions of hits a day.

Other p2p sites include Kazaa, Limewire, eMule, Gnutella, Kademlia, Megaupload, Overnet, FastTrack, and Ares Galaxy, while other bit torrent sites include BTjunkie, isoHunt, myBittorrent, Torrentz, Suprnova, and Jamendo.

At any given minute, tens of millions of pieces of digital media are being stolen.

And I'm okay with that.

I've long been a proponent of the "give it away for free" school of thought.

I want fans. I find fans in libraries, where 300 people can read my book with me earning no more than the original $3.00 royalty on the hardcover sale. Why wouldn't I want to reach 1000s of people?

"But," the naysayers yell, "you own the copyright. You should be the one to decide who gets your books. I should be allowed make that decision for myself."

Well, go ahead. Make your decision. Then decide what you're going to do when you discover people are stealing your work anyway.

Copyright isn't enforceable in a digital world. Digital media wants to be free. You can object legally, morally, spiritually, however you want to. People are still going to trade and copy your work, and you aren't going to be paid for it.

Changing public opinion isn't an option. People are going to keep sharing files and downloading content for free. No public awareness campaign, stiffer laws, or tougher media encryption is going to change that. People who would never take a grape from a grocery store have no difficulty at all downloading the entire discography of They Might Be Giants on a file sharing network.

So let's take an unofficial poll, to which you can respond anonymously.

What is your definition of stealing, and have you ever stolen digital media?

Talk to me, you thieving little vixens.