Monday, June 16, 2008


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, 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,,,,,,,,,,, and 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.


  1. Anonymous11:11 AM

    To answer your question Joe..YES.

  2. To be ultimately successful, an author needs volume--a volume of readers, a volume of sales. "Theft" as you described it actually contributes to both types of volume. First, there are more readers, those who have stolen. But, if they like your product, they then spread the word--some of that word will go to people who buy instead of steal, thereby leading to sales that probably wouldn't have happened otherwise.

    So, as far as I'm concerned, the more people who read my books, the better. I don't care where they get them from.

  3. I agree, Joe. The only way to stop a behavior is to make it so the risk outweighs the reward. It's just not feasible (read: financially viable) to police this in any meaningful way, so the risk is minuscule. Free file sharing is here to stay; the companies need to put their efforts into finding a way to profit from this wave -- and stop trying to convince people that it's wrong.

    By the way, I always enjoy your blog and I reference it in one of my posts:

    Brian Crawford

  4. To quickly answer the question: I have borrowed & burned CDs and read book pages off of Google Books, but that's about it.

    Forget morality for the moment. I agree with you, Joe, in that "free books" (whether stolen or given or library lended) will never hurt an author. If I read five chapters of a book online, I am MUCH more likely to go and read it at the library, and if I love that, I am MUCH more likely to go out and spend cash on it. Ultimately, the more people who read your book, the more money you will make-- even if they first read it stolen. Because if they love it enough, they will follow your work and spread the word and... it will mean more cash in your pocket, in the long run.

  5. Anonymous1:36 PM

    Copyright is a tough issue, one that's difficult to define and nearly impossible to enforce--particularly in digital form. Even if writers, musicians, and publishers are inclined to protect their intellectual property from theft, the attempt can do them more harm that good. People are so accustomed to getting things free on the internet that they bristle at any suggestion that they cannot help themselves to anything that's available online, legally or otherwise. The resentment and bad PR can be more trouble than it's worth.

    With this in mind, I take a pragmatic view toward the theft of my work. For the most part, I can't control it. But I CAN control my own actions. I don't shoplift CDs, DVDS, or books from the local mall, and I don't do illegal downloads of music, movies, software, or novels. My sons knew from an early age that internet piracy would NOT be permitted.

    So. Imagine my chagrin when I received a notice from the owner of a certain piece of intellectual property, informing me that someone at my IPS had illegally downloaded a college course. The culprit was my college-aged son. The topic? Business Ethics.

    Irony--it's what's for breakfast, along with a hearty helping of crow.


  6. Anonymous1:57 PM

    Great post. Agree with everything you say and am a firm believer in authors providing a "free" option. Just one fact-checking correction.

    This example is a little extreme:

    "...lending your mom your VHS recordings of House..."

    I'd agree that digital downloads of tv shows would fall under the "stealing" category, but the Supreme Court decision on videotapes from the 80s as well as the FBI's stance on the subject says so long as a profit isn't being made, videotape sharing/trading is not a punishable offense. Time-shifting is considered "fair use," and the House example is essentially "helping your Mom time shift."


    "An article in Newsweek (January 30, 1984 p57-8) explains it: Justice Paul Stevens wrote that home taping falls within the traditional "Fair Use" Exception of copyright restrictions.

    Studies, he said, demonstrated that most taping was done for "Time-Shifting" recording a program for viewing at a more convenient time. Such taping, he argued, has "no demonstrable effect upon the value of copyrighted work."

    However, he drew the line at selling home made tapes. "If the Betamax were used to make copies for a commercial or profit making purpose," declared Stevens, "Such use would be presumptively unfair". This states that time-shifting is "Fair Use" only if the tapes are for personal use and not to make a profit."

    "In a phone interview (conducted 10/31/94) with officer David Grossman, Copyright Squad of the Chicago FBI states "copying videotapes is a violation only if commercial gain is made."

  7. "I agree with you, Joe, in that "free books" (whether stolen or given or library lended) will never hurt an author."

    Never say never.

    I think we're in a transitional stage with the concept of media 'ownership' being phased out.

    Soon, all media will be available online and viewable/readable whenever the person paying the monthly fee wants to see/read/hear it.

    While we've all stolen a song or an article or something, we never steal the internet connection - (or the computer or the e-reader or the iPod) which in a way proves we're willing to pay for the content, just not what we think of as paying twice.

    So, I can easily see in years to come a monthly subscription to unlimited media - or, like cable TV, graduated subscriptions. The media companies will still make money from the ISPs - that's really where the fight will be, but it will be solved by mergers and aquisitions.

    Paper books will be phased out, just like vinyl LPs, even if people would prefer them, just like LPs.

    I just hope we can still convince these guys to throw us some scraps...

  8. Anonymous4:30 PM

    While we've all stolen a song or an article or something . . .

    Speak for yourself. Internet theft is widespread, certainly, but it's not universal.

  9. Anonymous4:52 PM

    The "time-shifting" argument makes sense, but it is extremely fuzzy around the edges. If it's okay to make one copy of a "House" episode for your mom, is it okay to burn ten copies of a Kevin Burke CD for the other members of your Irish fiddling workshop? If you're not charging for these CDs, what's the harm?

    That was the argument presented to me after the session in which I declined, politely and without comment, a CD that was offered by a fellow fiddler. When the teacher asked me why, I explained my views on intellectual property and respect for copyright. He seemed puzzled by this and stated his opinion that music should be available to everyone.

    A few weeks thereafter, Kevin Burke did a house concert at the teacher's place. ("Kitchen concerts" are fairly common in the folk/roots music traditions.) There was a suggested donation at the door and lots of CDs for sale. During the intermission, my teacher came up and said, "You know, I think I see what you meant the other day. Several people from my various workshops are here, and none of them bought any CDs. When I think about all the CDs my students have been copying and passing around, we probably took over $200 of income from this guy just in one night."

    A lot of people argue that piracy does not result in a loss of income to the IP owner, but that argument always struck me as more defensive than logical.

    Another popular argument, equally puzzling to me, is that people who steal stuff will eventually buy something. This is possible, of course, but it doesn't strike me as very likely. If you have no problems with stealing, what would compel you to suddenly start paying for something you can get for free?

    Moral and legal issues aside--as they seem to be and are likely to remain--I think the issue facing writers now is how to play the cards we're dealt and come up with another compensation model. I think the hard-copy, per-unit payment method will be with us for quite a while, but I also think we'll need to come up with new ways to "sell" online content. Google advertisement is all well and good, but it's time to get inventive.

    So. If anyone has had success with new and creative methods, please post them. I would love to steal them.

    ::ahem:: :)


  10. I'm with you, Joe. Authors should look at e-books and file sharing sites as free advertising.

    I've thought long and hard about this issue, and uber-geek that I am, I don't see the printed-on-paper form of the novel ever being replaced with a digital substitute or so-called e-book reader.

    When it comes to non-fiction, in particular shorter-form non-fiction, I'm not as certain.

    But the novel is a unique type of reading experience, for which the paper book is the superior format.

    I've read many e-books on all sorts of electronic devices (PDA, cellphone, laptop, Kindle) and while it's possible to get through an entire novel and enjoy the story, it takes effort, lots of recharging, and far more concentration than does reading a lengthy story in hardcover or paperback form.

    Assuming I'm right, and paper will remain the premium, dominant form of novel-length fiction, the best of both worlds as it pertains to copyright might be to distinguish between "the right to copy" and the right to package and distribute on paper. Then people would be able to learn about new authors via e-books in an "ethical" manner, and authors can still collect royalties on printed book sales.

  11. Anonymous5:49 PM

    The US of A built its publishing industry on the back of European writers without regard for copyright, viz Dickens, Thackeray,D'Orczy,Zola et al. In the nineteenth century the US of A was notorious for ripping off European intellectual output, and not just in the realm of publishing - and look where it is now. No good barking after the hound that's snaffled the pie. China schminer - take it on the chin - suck it up bro'. What goes around etc etc....

  12. Anonymous5:57 PM

    "The most important of these early reciprocal accords was that between Britain and Prussia in 1846, which eventually led to The Berne Convention of 1886. However, American publishers continued to regard the work of a foreign (i. e., non-resident) author as unprotected 'common' property. Thus, although the Berne Convention greatly simplified the copyright process among European nations, numerous unauthorized American re-prints continued to appear until 1891, when the United States finally agreed to discontinue sanctioning literary piracy."

  13. Anonymous6:10 PM

    "The US was very slow to protect the copyright of foreign authors, a constant lament of C19th and early C20th European authors... not to mention the American novelists who couldn't make a living because American publishers found it cheaper to rip off British books than pay American royalties. I guess that's what they mean by "the land of the free"...

  14. Nope. Don't steal. I have about 2,000 songs on my iPod. Oldest daughter has the same--but at leats a thousand of them are different from mine. We have a budget monthly at iTunes. We downloand legally. I joined Netflix. Don't make copies. I don't know that it was ever this moral line in the sand that I drew. Just was how I always approached it.

  15. I have about 2,000 songs on my iPod. Oldest daughter has the same--but at leats a thousand of them are different from mine.

    I'm certainly not going to knock you for being honest--it's an admirable quality, and good for you for avoiding the allure of free music, Erica.

    But this brings up an interesting point, unless I'm reading your post incorrectly. So let's play Devil's Advocate for the sake of argument.

    If you and your daughter are sharing songs, isn't one of you stealing from the other?

    Why is it okay to buy a song for a dollar, then put it on your iPod and you daughter's iPod, but it isn't okay to get the same song as a free download on Usenet?

    It's called peer-to-peer file sharing, because someone originally bought the songs, and is sharing them with other people.

    Is it okay to share with a family member, but not anyone on the Internet?

    How about a cousin? A dear childhood friend?

    What is stealing, and what is sharing?

    And let's look at Netflix for a moment. If you rent a DVD from Netflix, does the writer of the DVD make any money off of you? How about the producer? Director? Actors?

    If I were to rent a DVD from Netflix and copy it to watch later, isn't that the same thing as fair use time-shifting? I paid for the rental, I'm simply watching it at a later date...

    What about used books, DVDs, and CDs? I can buy a used CD for 99 cents, and the artist doesn't get a penny. Same for books. Why is that legal, but downloading a song for free isn't legal? In both cases I have some music, and the artist didn't get a royalty.

    You pay to see your favorite comic. Afterwards you tell your friends some of his jokes. Is that stealing?

    Should we pay every time we karaoke? Why or why not? Why can bands play songs from other bands people live, but not on a CD without paying for the rights? Aren't they getting money to perform live? Shouldn't they share that money with the writer of the songs they're singing?

    How about media that is out of print? I want a song, but the artist died years ago, and no one has re-released the album. Is it okay to download it then?

    How about movies? Have you ever paid for a movie, watched it, then walked into an adjoining theater and watched that one? Yes, it's stealing. But what if you watch the movie, love it, then buy it on DVD? Assume you never would have seen the movie if you didn't walk in for free, and assume the movie theater makes no money off of movie ticket sales, but off of refreshments (and you bought a ten dollar popcorn for the second flick).

    Let's get really picky. I have over a thousand dollars worth of music on cassette and LP. Music that I paid for. Can I download mp3s of this music for free, since I already paid the artist for the right to listen to these songs? Is it my fault the format changed and we switched to digital?

    I bought an RCA video disk of one of my favorite horror films, Evil Dead, back in 1983.

    My videodisk player gets discontinued, it dies, so I have to buy it on Beta.

    Beta gets discontinued, and dies, so I buy it on VHS.

    VHS is discontinued. So I buy it on DVD.

    They release a DVD with extra footage. So I buy that too. Then they release the Ultimate edition, so I buy that one.

    Then HD-DVD comes out, and I buy it again. But HD-DVD gets discontinued, so I have to buy it on Blue Ray.

    I've bought eight copies of the same damn movie. Is that fair? Especially since I could digitally record it on TV for free?

    Yes, the law provides answers for these questions. But are these good laws? Are they still valid? Are the enforceable?

    I just joined an exclusive torrent site, and to date its users have downloaded 5600 terabytes of data. That's over 5,600,000 DVDs worth of media.

    Yet DVD and videogame sales (what this site deals with) are doing better than ever. Is this file sharing hurting movies and games, or helping them?

    My writing, both e-books and audio, has been shared, pirated, stolen, whatever you want to call it. I'm not bothered by this. If it reaches a point where it hurts my ability to make money, I'll need to figure out how to use this new distribution method to my advantage, rather than rage at the injustice of reality.

    In the meantime, I'm doig my best to think outside the box...

  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. Interesting topic for which I land in the "double whammy" zone. I'm a software engineer as well as a writer, which means that I have to protect intellectual property from multiple angles.

    Have I downloaded music/movies/etc? No, actually. The one movie I ever downloaded was "Wild Wild West" (the godawful Will Smith one) -- I wanted my money back.

    Have I gotten movies/shows/music from my friends? Occasionally. In most cases, if I like it enough to own it, I buy it. (I can probably count on a couple of fingers the number of times I kept stuff that I intended to keep without paying).

    The only time I was rampant in warez (do they even call it that any more?) is when I was in college and when I first graduated -- when I couldn't afford software for various purposes. Now, if I need anything for more than a "try before you buy" reason, I buy it. However, most of the packages I downloaded at the time were vastly overpriced things that no non-professional could afford (and I couldn't learn something I have no access to -- the chicken/egg issue).

    Anyway, do I have a problem with people downloading my work? Nope.

    Of all of the people who download it, odds are pretty much none of them would have bought it to begin with, so I look at it as free exposure. And, who knows, maybe I could get some new fans in the process.

    There are two times I hate rampant downloading -- when the person doing it could obviously afford what they're stealing, and when they claim they "own" it (the latter is more of a weird issue with me). Other than that, I don't have any major moral problem with downloading, despite not doing it much myself.

    As for whether or not computer will ever replace paper -- I don't see it happening any time soon.

    First, I love walking in my office and seeing/smelling/touching shelves full of books -- I just don't get the same feel seeing a directory full of ebooks. (I dislike ebooks so strongly that I seriously have dozens of ridiculously thick computer books on my shelves because I can't stand reading on-screen. I even print my own work to read it unless I'm doing quick edits).

    And second, and most important: I won't get into ebooks until I feel comfortable taking a computer-type device into the bathroom.

  18. Anonymous5:06 AM

    i have downloaded plenty of stuff for free, mostly tv shows, which i don't thin is such a big deal, it's not like i would ever buy the dvd's or anything.

    but i have also chosen to pay(donate) for stuff that is free on the web, such as web comics and audio books/podcasts.

  19. Anonymous5:10 AM

    on a side note, if there was a easy way to donate to the creators of my favorite film/tv show that i have ripped of, i would do so, but i'd only do it for shows/films i really like!

  20. Anonymous8:05 AM

    One of the arguments put forth for music piracy is a complaint that CDs are too expensive when you consider what they cost to produce--a dollar or so, the argument goes, and that includes the packaging.

    This ignores the fact that the CD--the delivery medium--is NOT the only cost to creating music.

    I have an undergrad degree in music, so I have some idea what it takes to build one's skills to a professional level. Writing music, practicing, and playing it--that's the work of a lifetime.

    In an ideal world, here's the penalty I'd impose on people caught illegally downloading music: sentence them to a year's worth of music lessons, at their own expense. They must also purchase an instrument of their choice and devote a minimum of two hours of practice a day. By the end of that year, they might not have acquired much technique, but perhaps they will have developed some respect for the time, effort, expense, and artisty that goes into the music they've been stealing because they can't be bothered paying 99 cents for it at iTunes.

    Yeah, I know--not reflective of the real world. But this is part and parcel of an issue raised in a previous blog post and comments: The notion that writers should be grateful for the chance to be published and read, and that any concern with making a living is "unfortunate." It's widely believed that writers, musicians and artists are motivated, or should be, solely by a concern for Art, and therefore they really don't HAVE to be paid.

    There's a major attitude shift going on when it comes to digital media. Many people, if not most people, assume that is is free and that it should be. When I took my older son to college orientation, one of the speakers asked for a show of hands for those who download, much as JAK did with this post. Most people raised their hands. (And then the speaker went on to describe the college's policy, firewalls, and penalties--suspension or dismissal from school.) This college's policy aside, piracy has become the social norm.

    And because it IS the social norm, the notion that people who pirate music, movies, games and books will spread the word, and that this will eventually increase sales, does not seem logical. What would this spreading-the-word consist of? Are people going to say, "Hey, I downloaded a great book at this file-sharing site. You should totally go to Barnes & Nobel and pick up a copy." Most likely they're going to point friends to the file-sharing site. And as this gets more and more common, and as legal and moral opinions continue to shift to accomodate the reality of piracy, the notion of purchasing digital media will become increasing quaint and the practice increasingly rare.

    Granted, this is of less immediate concern to writers than to musicians because a digital copy of music is easy to play, whereas a digital copy of a book is less appealing. I think books will be with us for a very long time. But I also think that piracy shapes people's attitudes and enforces the notion that writers really shouldn't be concerned with making money.


  21. Anonymous9:30 AM

    just one little precision if I may: you list Jamendo along with all those p2p sites sharing unlicensed material.
    The difference is, on Jamendo, artists have made the same choice as you. They willingly give out their creations for free, under Creative Commons licences. Now there's a solution to the legal headache you pinpoint, perhaps.

  22. All criminals--from people who get speeding tickeets to those who commit genocide--have excuses.

    We all can justify our actions. After all, why do anything unless we can rationalize why we do it?

    In the world today, there are a lot of people stealing digital media. They can rationalize why they're doing it, from "it's too expensive" to "I wouldn't have bought it anyway" to "it'
    s not really stealing because there is no loss of physical property."

    Well, as of this writing, according to the law file sharing copyrighted material is stealing.

    But like all thieves, the file sharers don't care.

    I like your comment Chris, because I used to bartend and wait tables, and I think anyone who doesn't tip 20% should be forced to work a restaurant double shift on Mother's Day.

    But it's unrealistic, and it appeals to passion rather than the main issue.

    The main issue, of course, is that digital media wants to be free the same way animals want to eat, sleep, and reproduce.

    You can say that there's nothing inherent in digital media that makes it want to replicate and distribute itself, but there is if you consider it one part of a complex system, like a living creature.

    Elaine and Chris both mention (I'm paraphrasing, perhaps incorrectly) that part of the cost of music is compensating the artist for the yearsof training and instruction.

    A nice idea, but a flawed one, because not every musician who practices for years has a recording contract, or an opportunity to play for money. There is still luck needed to find a producer and a manager to book gigs and land recording deals. Plus, artists really don't get paid much for CD sales--I've heard they get less than 25 cents per album sold in royalties.

    Any artist takes a chance when creating art. The chance they take is public acceptance, one route of which implies financial compensation through sales.

    Let's look closely at these two statements.

    The purpose of art is to find an audience.

    The purpsoe of art is to make money.

    I think the first statement is the broader of the two, because very little art makes money, yet we all have some need to create art. But the purpose of art is to have an audience, even if the audience is yourself.

    Now, if you're an artist, you'll possibly want to make some money while finding that audience. The current model for that is by selling your art.

    But we can look throughout history, and many artists who did eventually find a huge audience did so after their deaths and died in poverty.

    So now we have to add another word to the mix: successful.

    Is a successful artist one who becomes rich? One who reaches a lot fo people with his art? And does it matter if she reaches those people during her lifetime?

    I was watching a (purchased) DVD of Duck Soup yesterday with my son. Groucho Marx could have never envisioned the DVD format, and certainly isn't making any money off of it. Yet his work can still be enjoyed 75 years after it was made, thanks to digital media.

    If your goal as an artist (and it is your first goal) is to find an audience, file sharing allows you for reaching more people than ever possible in the history of mankind. Both the monetary cost and the time cost of production and distribution is now almost instantaneous. This is good news.

    The bad news is that the artist can potentially suffer finacially if people are duplicating and distributing her art without compensating her.

    Assuming file sharing will continue to grow as media stoage gets cheaper and the Internet becomes more global and a bigger part of our lives, we may be facing an age when artists will be the equivilant of a 5 year old drawing a picture the crayons, with the World Wide Web nothing more than a giant refrigerator to post it on.

    Will that be the end of art? No. People will still create art. It's in our nature.

    But how will artists be able to make money?

    The same way most media makes money.


  23. Here's my question for everyone who says they have no problem with people reading their book for free. Would you still not have a problem with it if someone began publishing hard copies of your latest book and selling it for $1 each, and you didn't get any royalty?

    Yes, I'm fine with people checking my books out of the library. I feel like it builds an audience. Same with family members sharing books and people selling used copies. (Shoot, I saw an ARC of my latest book for sale on E-Bay and the hard cover doesn't even come out for 2+ months!)I don't even really have a big problem with digital copies getting around for the same reason.

    But the whole reason I'm okay with that is the assumption that people will read my work and want to buy a hard copy. I figure I'll make more money than I'm losing.

    I'm not sure I'd feel the same way if my product was a music CD that doesn't need a "hard copy." And I know I would have a cow if I saw a pirated copy of my book for sale at the local BN.

    So where does publicity change to piracy?

  24. So where does publicity change to piracy?

    When someone else is making money from your work without your permission.

  25. Anonymous12:22 PM

    JAK, I didn't intend to imply that musicians should be compensated for their years of training. My point, albeit badly made, was that many people assign value to intellectual property according to what a COPY of that book, movie, or music costs to produce. Since a digital copy can be replicated again and again with no cost other than bandwidth, people get out of the habit of thinking of created works as having monetary value. All I meant to suggest in my comment is that people might feel differently if they realized what goes into the created works they so blithely steal.

    Yes, it is passion, not reason, that suggests these people should consider the time, effort, and expense that goes into the creation of music, books, and movies. I know this is not going to happen.

    On a more cheery note, I agree that people will continue to create simply because it is in our nature, regardless of the compensation (or lack thereof.) I'm a full-time writer, but I also play the celtic harp, sketch, do needlework and calligraphy, garden, bake, sew Renaissance costumes and make the occasional fabric sculpture dragon. I enjoy doing these things--I NEED to create visual stuff, for that matter--and I don't expect to earn a penny from any of these activities.

    But. That doesn't mean I don't understand there are people who make a living as harpers, artists, bakers, gardeners, and costumes designers, or that I expect them to provide me with free goods and services.


  26. J Scott -- I think that people selling copies of your work is an entirely different issue (and an order of magnitude worse than what we're talking about here). Someone could still legally buy a copy of your ebook, only to turn around and sell it. It's unfortunate, but it could happen, and something tells me that the original few bucks you made from it wouldn't really help when you see the pirated version for sale on the street corner.

    I think the biggest problem we're facing is how socially accepted this is. Not too long ago (before Napster), piracy was a somewhat dangerous thing. If you wanted files, you had to know where to look, and there were real possible consequences to accessing those servers. Now, with "point and click piracy", it's as anonymous as can be, and, worse yet, people feel entitled to download what they want.

    I've had people look at me like I was nuts because I've refused to take copies of movies and music. (The funny thing is that I have no qualms whatsoever letting people make copies of my stuff -- assuming it doesn't have my name etched on it).

    However, we can't change any of this. It is what it is, and we have to learn to live with it -- within it. We can either go with the flow, or fight the tide until we drown.

    Probably the best approach I've seen is the one that Joe takes -- give some of it away for free. Not snippets of stories, but the actual full-fledged books. Readers will be much more apt to buy your next book if they've had a chance to enjoy some others by you. And, like Joe, you can also sell advertising in it.

    The fact is, there are a lot of people who have to be very picky about what they buy. I hardly have to worry about which books I purchase, but even I tend to shy away from authors I don't know. That's where the "cheap" aisle in B&N comes into play (I've found more authors I liked in that aisle). It's also very handy to get freebies from the author's site, since it allows you to peruse their work, and it also shows they acknowledge how many things need to be done now.

    In many ways, writers have it better than musicians -- most readers still like the feel of paper in their hands, and are also more likely to purchase authors that they like. I have a friend who downloads movies and music, and even the occasional book, but his eight bookshelves are packed to the gills (so it's obvious he still buys lots of books).

    However, they also have it worse -- there aren't a whole lot of ways for writers to make supplemental income (outside of the occasional article or speaking engagement). Ticketmaster won't be ripping people off for tickets to JA Konrath's reading of "Fuzzy Navel". Unless you're popular enough to be a media whore, your name and face won't be selling Wheaties. Ryan Seacrest won't be wondering what you're wearing to the latest book signing (where you can't even charge for your autograph).

    Unfortunately, there isn't much we can do to stop it. It also doesn't help that the idiots in Hollywood actually glorify it by comparing clicking "download" in bittorrent to stealing a car (What marketing moron thought that campaign was a good idea? Hell, now I want to up my street cred by downloading stuff, since now it's obvious to me that getting that free copy of Billy Joel's "Piano Man" is the same as jacking a car.)

    So I say "go ahead and download me". I just hope I make a big enough impact that you're willing to buy the next one. And, if not, odds are, you weren't going to buy it anyway.

  27. Good responses all.

    Chris, did you know that the "cheap isle" in bookstores is full of remainders, and authors don't make a dime off of those sales?

    The publisher doesn't pay royalties on those discounted books. Ditto cut-outs of CDs, cassettes, and LPs.

    Is that the same as stealing from an artist, when the publisher makes some money but the author doesn't? What's the difference between that and a free download?

  28. Is that the same as stealing from an artist, when the publisher makes some money but the author doesn't? What's the difference between that and a free download?

    Interesting question. I was aware (though not positive, so thanks for clearing that up for me) that the authors got little to nothing for those books.

    However, I see it as a double-edged sword.

    I personally (and I know a lot of people like me) use the cheap books to find a new author that I otherwise wouldn't have tried reading (Deaver and Morrell to name a couple). When I like an author, I buy their stuff, so, in a way, the first purchase I made at the cheap aisle has made them good amounts of money.

    In that way, it almost works like hard-copy piracy, but without the moral issue (I won't pay big money for an unproven entity, nor, do I suspect, would you).

    The second area where I think the cheap aisle benefits the author (and this is entirely speculation on my part -- you could provide more concrete information) is sales. Yeah, sure, you aren't getting money from the remainders, but you wouldn't have anyway, if the covers had been ripped off and the books shipped back. What you ARE getting is sales numbers (I assume).

    If the publisher is getting paid for the things, I assume they realize how many have sold, which may help them make a decision for further contracts.

    Even if your first book doesn't sell amazingly, say that you sell a massive amount in the cheap aisle (because your book looks interesting, but people just didn't see it wedged between King and Koontz) -- wouldn't that help the publisher realize that the potential for further sales is there?

  29. Remainders don't count as sales, Chris. They're considered failures for not selling at regular price, and the publisher sells them at a loss.

    Oddly enough, a hardcover remainder is the smae price, or less, than a mass market paperback, so these remaindered books directly compete with an author's ability to make a royalty.

    If your book has a lot of remainders, your next book won't have as large a print run, which hurts you in a very bad way.

    So, for the author, remainders are pretty much like stealing.

    But personally, I love remainders, and libraries, and used book sales, and anything else that gets me read, even if I don't make any royalty off of it.

    I think the point is to become known. Then money will come. If not from book sales, then possibly from Hollywood...

  30. Interesting. It seems slightly bass-ackwards to me not to count them as at least partial sales, but what do I know?

    Mind you, I understand why the remainders themselves count as failures, but I couldn't imagine why the sales of said remainders wouldn't count toward something. To me, it's similar to DVD sales of television shows -- Family Guy was brought back for just that reason. Sure, it didn't do well at first, but it did outstanding "after the fact", and it's resurrection reflected that.

    I guess someone getting such outstanding sales on the cheap shelf would be a rare thing (and I assume that if a publisher saw such extraordinary sales, they would take notice). But I still hold it's better for the author than just "sending them back" -- especially if that author doesn't have the book out in paperback.

    However, from now on, I guess I'll truck over to the paperbacks to buy a book before I pick up the cheap hardcover. (You learn something new every day.)

  31. This is a great discussion. Thanks to everyone who's been contributing...

    Now, as concisely as possible, I'd like to counter to points made up-thread by ec:

    1) "But I also think that piracy shapes people's attitudes and enforces the notion that writers really shouldn't be concerned with making money."

    If you're talking about people bootlegging physical books, you'd have a point, but of course you're referring to digital downloads of e-books...a sub-standard format that should be framed as the equivalent of browsing a book in Barnes & Noble--i.e. free advertising as many have pointed out.

    In fact, I will encourage folks to download e-book versions of my novels *because* I'm concerned with money (among other things), and the more people who download and sample my work, the more readers who will know about it, enjoy it, and be compelled to purchase the PREMIUM, own-able version: the hardback or paperback novel.

    2) You mentioned music in your arguments, so let me address musicians, too, because they should be rooting for people to download their music for free also. Why? Same reason: an .mp3 isn't the premium format for their work. What is? The live concert. And therefore, digital downloads are free advertising.

  32. "When someone else is making money from your work without your permission."

    Which someone almost always is. Nearly all of those download sites you see are making money in one form or another.

    I still get a kick out of how we are okay with remainders being sold--although someone makes money and we don't. But we would have a major problem with someone selling unauthorized copies. That would be free publicity too, wouldn't it?

    I think that as long as we can convince ourselves we will make money in the long run, we are okay. But if electronic books ever became the majority of sales (e.g. paper copies went away) and we didn't make any money on pirated sales of our books, we'd switch sides pretty quick.

    It's not so much that we are pro-free digital distribution as that we feel people will eventually buy the books we make money on.

    As always, Joe, you are great at stirring up the pot.

  33. Nearly all of those download sites you see are making money in one form or another.

    That's a good point. File sharing sites make money like most other websites, by selling ad space.

    But there's a major difference. The file sharing site isn't the one sharing the media. The individual uploaders are the ones seeding. The website is just the distribution forum.

    It would be like being mad at the local bar where you got robbed. Maybe it is partially the bar's fault--they could have had better lighting, better security, etc., but they aren't the one that robbed you.

  34. Anonymous1:00 PM

    But there's a major difference. The file sharing site isn't the one sharing the media. The individual uploaders are the ones seeding. The website is just the distribution forum.

    It would be like being mad at the local bar where you got robbed. Maybe it is partially the bar's fault--they could have had better lighting, better security, etc., but they aren't the one that robbed you.

    Hmm. This makes it sound as if the people making advertising money from file-sharing sites would be shocked--shocked!--to learn that there's gambling--excuse me: PIRACY--going on. ;)

    Your analogy would work better if your hypothetical bar had been set up for the express purpose creating a venue that facilitated theft. It's not as if someone wanders off the street into a file-sharing site looking for a cheeseburger and a Bud Lite.


  35. It's not as if someone wanders off the street into a file-sharing site looking for a cheeseburger and a Bud Lite.

    Though I'm not sure about percentages, a lot of media on file-sharing sites is there legally. It's a fast and convenient way to distribute data.

  36. Anonymous2:05 PM

    ec: "But I also think that piracy shapes people's attitudes and enforces the notion that writers really shouldn't be concerned with making money."

    Jeremy James: If you're talking about people bootlegging physical books, you'd have a point, but of course you're referring to digital downloads of e-books...a sub-standard format that should be framed as the equivalent of browsing a book in Barnes & Noble--i.e. free advertising as many have pointed out.

    Actually, I was referring to bootlegged e-books. (Hey, lookit that--we're BOTH right!) Some e-books are sanctioned by the author, publisher, and/or IP owner. Others are illegal copies--either scanned into digital format and uploaded, or uploaded from a purchased copy.

    As for your point about music, not every working musician makes a shitload of money doing live concerts. Folk and traditional music, for example, is often played in small venues. Ticket prices are modest, audiences are often small. But if people like a concert, they tend to buy CDs; in fact, it's not uncommon for musicians to give "CD release" concerts. I've been at concerts where a little mental math suggested that the CD sales closely approach or even outstripped the total brought in by ticket sales. So you could say that in some cases, the CONCERT is advertisement for the CD.


  37. The only reason that free downloads might lead to later sales is because novels are a pain to read on the computer. So, if you like it, you'll buy a paper copy for $8.

    Once the digital copy is as easy/comfortable to read as the paper version, then free samples will do the author no good because nobody will ever have to buy the paper copy.

    Therefore, this "try before you buy" model is only temporary. It's good now. Might not be in the future.

    And I didn't raise my hand at the beginning. I don't copy CD's, I don't download pirated stuff. I pay for my book downloads at publishers' sites. Period.

  38. Anonymous4:41 PM

    Very thought provoking!

    I work in the DVD industry, and years ago, there was a study done about piracy and spending. The bottom line was that, sure, there are cheap skates out there who will do everything they can to not pay for anything, but for most consumers, if they get something for free, for example download a movie, if they like it, they'll buy it. DVDs are cheap enough.

    I haven't downloaded any books, but I would be willing to bet that it's the same deal. We are a society of collectors. We like to own things. We like to buy things -- books, DVDs, statues of cats -- and display them on our shelves for the world to see.

    Studies about movie piracy look at how much money would have been made if every one of those illegal downloads was a purchase, but they don't know how many of those illegal downloads led to a purchase.

    Also, FYI, when you rent from Netflix, or any video store, yes, the writers, producers, director, actor, etc., anyone with a contract that includes residuals, gets a percent. That's why the Writers Guild went on strike (among other reasons because they finally gave in on getting more from DVD because the studios wouldn't budge) and that's why SAG is holding out for a bigger percent of DVD now.

    So, long and the short, free can be good. Personally, I think "free" coupled with a good price is a lot better than "illegal". Musicians have started to learn this, offering a free download of a song for a time to build an audience, because they know that if the price is right, the audience will buy. They want to own. I think it's the same with books.

    Besides, it's difficult to read a downloaded book on the toilet--sorry, in the "library".

  39. Anonymous10:16 AM

    "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."

    EXACTLY! When I am commercially published, I hope that people are distributing my work by the millions, because at least some of those people will end up buying physical copies of that or future works, not to mention that anything resulting in more people reading my work is fine by me.

  40. Anonymous5:24 PM

    The world's going digital, we all know it. I haven't bought anything illegally, I agree with the last commenter who said if you give them a taste, they'll want more. Paper worked great in terms of me, I always hated audio books growing up. Braille takes up about four Braille pages to one print page, so I found it bulky but necessary if I wanted to get through a novel. Being blind, I couldn't read at my own speed with the old school audio cassettes. so with Braille I had the ability to stop and pay more attention to what I was reading. It made me more aware of situations that I might gloss over when someone read them to me. I really didn't get into audio again until I found Joe's writing and I gave it a chance. Those two narrators, his subject matter have me chomping at the bit to read book five. Alas, it's on hold at my library for the next six weeks. I think there's always going to be that lazy slob who won't pay good money to support the author or musician, or even the makers of a screen reader. Sooner or later, books like other media will be passed around like the proverbial beach ball at the volleyball tournament and here's hoping that brings in more sales. I plan at some point to do what I've done with the Jk Rowling books and buy each one to keep. Joe, any plans to ever give away an audio copy of any books? Just curious, I mean what would I do with a printed copy, feel the script of the letters underneath my fingers and appreciate your fine penmanship? :-)

  41. JA:
    I appreciate your comments and "nitpicking" down to every possible scenario under the sun. For ME, I am reminded of the silly Kleenex commerical--the one with the Buddhist monk, who gingerly puts the turtle to safety and releases a spider . . . and then blows his nose and realizes he's "killing" his germs and has this guilty conscience. I.e., you can nitpick down to where you are almost paralyzed about enjoying anything. In fact, my daughter and I have, at times, paid twice (we both bought the JUNO soundtrack for our iPODs) . . . and I attempt to be honest. You shouldn't steal. Period. But I could never get to some insane point in life where I don't even GLANCE at a friend's book or borrow it because the author hasn't been paid by me. I think anyone who goes to Limewire and downloads free music knows they are breaking copyright laws. I think anyone who took the time to download the "free peek inside" Amazon pages until they had a whole book knows it's wrong. They can justify it all they want.

    I think the person who commented that we will likely reach a point where we pay a subscription and get unlimited content may be correct. There may reach some point in our technological lives where we think in different parameters. It's realistic to believe so. There are already "intelligent" designs for cable and TVs that monitor people's content as far as viewing programs and adjust advertising. It's not hugely widespread yet, but soon there'll be chips for everything. However, until then, I like to think I do the right thing without, on the flip side, tkaing it to an extreme where I ponder every viewing or listening choice.

    P.S. And Joe, as to your response to me about buying the same damn movie in eight different formats (which is SO true . . . I have some duplicates on DVD and VHS and extra content) . . . sometimes doing the "right" thing means you LOSE. Pure and simple. You're on the losing sign of the technology battle and it sucks, but it happens. But I look at it as the cost of doing the right thing sometimes swings that way.

  42. For the subscription model to work, how will artists be compensated?

  43. For the subscription model to work, how will artists be compensated?

    I assume with beer and hookers, just like now. ;-)

    Odds are, it would work very much like DVD rights -- the artists get paid for the original, and also get a percentage based on the number of times it's downloaded.

    Now for the question we've somehow avoided. We've talked all about whether downloading is right or wrong, and whether we like it or not.

    The question is: Is it hurting the industry or helping it?

  44. Anonymous3:04 AM

    I honestly love this blog, but I am so sick of hearing that "artists" will make their money from advertising, blah blah. You guys have spent way too much time online and not enough time in the real world! Believe it or not, most real artists (as opposed to mass entertainers, hucksters, etc) still have some integrity and refuse to cheapen their work. Look at David Lynch's website--there's a subscription model that works just fine for an artist.

    Art challenges, while entertainment soothes and placates. Listen, I don't want to see ads all over my work, and a lot of artists feel that way. Only a pathetic hack would actually hunger for the day when they can whore out their turgid prose for ad dollars! Come on! This rabid technophilia is sickening to me. What a waste of energy. Distribution mediums are just tools. This is like obsesing over a hammer instead of thinking about all the wonderful things one can build with a hammer.

    It's quite fascistic actually--an obsession with the surface rather than the content. Are we taking our cultural cues from the Third Reich these days? I'm sure George Orwell would be amused/horrified to see the sheep lining up to create their own surveillance devices (where does all that Facebook data really go?)

    My prediction and hope: a cultural backlash will occur in a few years when the pendulum inevitably swings the other way. We are stuck in the early 1950s again, fetishizing our technology and with our government demonizing other countries. But look at the upheavals of the 60s and the great liberating things that came out of it. Personally, I can't wait for the revolution!

    Liberate yourself from technology. Stop trying to whore out your own work. Focus more on writing a better book than on how to creat ad revenues. Don't use the word artist unless you are one.

    I have great respect for this blog and for Joe, who dispenses so much useful advice for free. So this is just my two cents, not any sort of personal attack.

  45. Liberate yourself from technology. Stop trying to whore out your own work. Focus more on writing a better book than on how to creat ad revenues. Don't use the word artist unless you are one.

    Thanks for this post. One of the reasons I allow anonymous posting is so we can have some genuine dissenting opinion without fear of anyone's feelings getting hurt.

    That said, you're totally wrong. :)

    As I've tried to beat into the heads of my blog readers since I began Newbie's Guide, you can write the best book in the world, but if no one knows it exists what good is it?

    An artist (and I define 'artist' as anyone who creates something meant to entertain--which is to say something that doesn't feed, clothe, or shelter you) should have zero restrictions or requirements when creating art--unless they want to get paid for it.

    Then is becomes a Job, and all jobs have restrictions and requirements.

    It's very altruistic to think that we should focus on writing good books (whatever that means) and then the world will embrace us. But the world has a hard enough time even knowing we exist.

    This is my career. Yes, I love being able to create stories, but I also need to get paid in orer to eat.

    That means looking at things like market, distribution, demographics, advertising, and yes, technology.

    Lynch is an exception, not a rule. Not coincidentally, his last five films were self-indulgent and indescipherable.

    The world we live in is captialistic. A few quirky iconoclasts aside, it is necessary for artists to consider their audience on both an entertainment and a financial level.

    I'd love to just write what I want to and have all of my needs met.

    As it stands, I have to fight tooth and nail to get my needs met, because writing book is only one part of being a professional writer.

    Hate the game, not the playa.

  46. Liberate yourself from technology. Stop trying to whore out your own work. Focus more on writing a better book than on how to creat ad revenues. Don't use the word artist unless you are one.

    Frankly, I don’t care whether people think I’m an artist or not. My purpose is to entertain. And as long as a large group of readers find my writing entertaining, I’m happy. (And currently they do.)

    And I don’t think I can afford to liberate myself from technology.
    - Another independent bookstore is closing its doors every week.
    - Borders is barely hanging on.
    - Barnes and Noble is publishing many of their own books (mostly how-to for now, but fiction could be next). Anyway, they can only carry a fraction of the total number of books published.
    - Wal-Mart is beginning to clear out all the mid-list titles and only carry best sellers. Target and other stores are sure to follow.

    So, it’s beginning to look like eventually Amazon (and maybe some other online stores) will be the only way to get mid-list novels. And when that happens you’d better be sure you have a presence on the web. How else will readers even know you exist? Oh, sure, they could find your books on Amazon---if they are looking for it. Otherwise, it’s lost among the bazillion other books.

    It's said that people don't like to read books online. Actually, some do. They read mine online in serial format. But it is true that most people prefer the printed book. Even better. As Joe says, give them the free online version and many who like it will buy the print version.

    For those who are reading your book online---if you can build a very high traffic level---put display ads on your site (the kind where you get paid per 1,000 page views---not per click). Of course, I'm talking MAJOR website traffic, like a couple of million page views per month. It's not easy to get that many people reading your book online. But, on the other hand, how easy is it to get published AND sell enough books to live off your royalties?

    Robert Burton Robinson

  47. I have to say that if I had written something that enough people wanted to share around on these sites I'd be quite proud - it would be indicative of how popular I had become.

    Sharing work around is little different to loaning a book to a friend - I do that on a regular basis, either loaning or borrowing, and there are plenty of book-sharing schemes around now. Clearly this will identify the author's popularity, but it won't earn him or her a single penny more than the original royalty.

    That, to me, isn't theft; plagiarising, the blatant copying or abusing of somebody's work, now that - to me - is theft.

  48. Wonderful writing. Hope it's original- jk.
    Great blog.

  49. Anonymous7:10 AM

    You know what I liked best about this thread? The title: "Stealing". The blunt, no-nonsense admission that online piracy is theft. This is refreshingly. I don't think I've ever seen another discussion of this topic that isn't at least 85% focused on justifications as to why it isn't REALLY stealing.

    But the fact remains: people are stealing stuff online. A lot of stuff. And since most people don't see this as a problem, writers need to adjust--not only to the facts of changing technology, but to shifting societal norms.

    FYI, there was a recent entry over at WRITER BEWARE about the growing trend toward giving away books and short stories as a method of promotion. Interesting post. Here's a link:


  50. Am I late to the party?

    I've stolen digital media. Only music; mainly because I haven't been able to afford much new in a long time. If they offered a library version of a music store, I'd totally be there. ;) It hasn't generated any new sales, and I haven't taken any money from the artist... they never would have gotten it anyway, and I never would have known I liked them.

    I do, however, recommend music to those I know can buy it. I'm most guilty of downloading hard-to-find music. The Hoodwinked soundtrack is what I'm on the hunt for right now, because you can't find it in stores, Amazon has outrageous prices for it, and I just can't justify dropping thirty bucks on music. I at least admit it's still theft, every bit as much as if I was taking the CD from the store...

    The only e-books I've downloaded are those provided by the author for free, such as in the Baen free library. As a writer myself, I just can't take another author's book from them... if I want it, I'll go to the library.

    I do have to comment on the whole "artists shouldn't sell out" nonsense.

    Ideals don't put food on the table. I have a child. I'm not going to take food from her mouth, and clothes off her back, for the sake of an ideal. The image of the starving artist, suffering for her work, is very romantic and all, but I don't go in for martyrdom. I want money, dammit. I want money from that which I love to do. And if slapping some coke ads in the middle brings me the big bucks, I'll sign on the dotted line.

  51. Anonymous5:12 PM

    Not only have I stolen...I've been stolen from...and love it. Certain disclaimers apply of course...

    I write novels, military-action-thrillers specifically. In the past two years I put out three full length novels and ten short stories, but no one seemed to want to buy military-action-thrillers from this Alaska boy so I picked up my microphone and started down the road of recording them as audio books and giving them away at my website,

    Now they have been downloaded directly over 100,000 times and counting and I am sure passed on between friends and copied between iPods all over the place. And I don't mind at all.

    The beauty of it is that if my stuff sucked it would not be copied so often, so that means I have something worthwhile. Some folks have even been generous enough to drop a few coins via paypal at my website.

    Therefore...steal away. Someday I'll get some money out of this...

    Basil Sands

  52. Anonymous8:14 PM

    As a reader one of the things that drives me crazy is how hard most authors make it for me to give them money!
    I have a sony e-reader - I love it I can take 200 books with me when I'm travelling for just 8 ounces of my weight allowance.

    Two examples of how I have tried to give (well-deserved) money to authors just this week.

    1: I downloaded (illegally) for free and read the first book in a new series by a new author. It was terrific. I promptly went off to buy it and the just published second book in the series. I like to support authors I want them to keep writing!
    There is no legitimate, purchasable e-book version of the book.
    There obviously is an e-book version because a number of =reviewers mention it - but the public can't buy it. How do I give the author money? I don't want dead tree versions of the books - last time we moved home I shunted 145 cartons of books and decided enough was enough and started buying e-books.

    2. Another terrific newish author who self-publishes her books - and I don't know why a publisher hasn't picked her up? My only option is the dead tree versions imported from the USA. I contacted her via her web site and said please either sell the e-books as you obviously have total control over the distribution or just put up a paypal tip jar I'd be happy to pay you for the books I read - they were worth it - but I really don't want to buy any more lumps of paper to clutter my too small home.

    Her answer? ... I'm still waiting to get it.


Thanks for the comment! Joe will get back to you eventually. :)