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Do We Really Have To Explain Why Pirating Books Is a Bad Thing?

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Miscellaneous | March 6, 2019 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Miscellaneous | March 6, 2019 |

books stock image

Literary privacy is a major problem in publishing. Your book can be available to download free and illegally within hours of its release, and the endless cycle of takedown notices can leave you exhausted. I know way too many writers this has happened to. Hell, I’d hazard a guess it’s happened to all of them. This week, the problem became headline news when a site called OceanofPDF, which was offering free PDFs of thousands of books that were still in copyright, many of which were brand new releases, returned to the internet after being closed down in 2018. Publishers like Penguin Random House and HarperCollins had issued thousands of takedown notices to get it to happen, and authors as major as Malorie Blackman called out the site on their social media.

The site itself previously claimed that what they were doing was making knowledge and information ‘free and accessible to everyone around the globe […] There are many developing countries where you cannot easily buy your favourite books. They are literally out of reach of many people. Secondly, Amazon doesn’t deliver to many countries and not everyone has the financial means to buy stuff from the internet.’ Last year, one of the founders of the site gave an interview to The Bookseller, wherein they said they’d keep the site up as long as possible and that there were some authors who had graciously provided their own books for free download on the site. They never named said authors.

At the time, one author, Michelle Harrison, shared on Twitter a response she had received from one OceanofPDF user after complaining about finding her work available for free download. The ‘fan’ said she was ‘unworthy of being an author’ and that she was ruining her own readership by denying access to free material.

And now the site is back. The last time I checked it, they had 2604 pages of free downloads. Their available titles included various self-published romance novels, among many other books.

They’re not the only culprit either. Far from it. Another notable example is Ebook Bike, run by Travis McCrea, a man who also brags about how authors’ anger at his illegal activities only makes his site more popular.

Okay, do I really have to tell you that stealing isn’t good?

Here’s the thing: Authors don’t make all that much money. Sure, there are some out there doing very well for themselves, but on average, they’re living below the breadline. As one 2016 study revealed, the average annual earnings for British authors are about £12,500, which is well below the minimum average. A report by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society, published last year, showed that median earnings had plummeted to under £10,500 a year in the UK, with women earning about 75% of what men do. Not only does this put a hell of a lot of people in poverty, it risks making the already old white male posh world of publishing even less inclusive because it means few can actually afford to write, and it further devalues the arts.

One of the driving forces behind this ‘elitism’ bad faith cry is the notion that artists should just be grateful that they ever get to write, paint, craft, and so on. You’re doing what you love and that’s worth more than mere money, right? It’s just too far for you to claim you should be fairly compensated for your full-time job. Hell, I don’t even write books and I hear this claim all the damn time. You’re a Writer. You don’t need money. The sheer entitlement at the heart of this is staggering.

But then there’s OceanofPDFs’ claims that what they are doing is somehow beneficial to the world. They’re making literature accessible to those who don’t have the money or means to read these titles. They’re providing authors with readers! They’re making culture more open to the world, including developing countries! Surely that is worth a hit in your sales?

It’s true that Amazon isn’t accessible to many countries and that it can be frustrating if your favourite author’s latest isn’t available where you live. Been there, done that. But let’s not pretend that your hunt for an illegal copy of said title is done out of altruism or some benefit to the author. Do you know what happens to authors whose work is illegally downloaded like this? Their advances get chopped to pieces because publishers see those drops in sales and decide to invest less in them. That series you loved so much that you had to pirate it on day one? It probably won’t get finished because the publishers see those low sales and think nobody is reading. We can all pretend that the perfect book pirate is a book loving child who doesn’t have the money or means to read their beloved authors’ newest, but the reality is that most of these people are readers who can afford the books, who have easy access to them, and who probably have libraries nearby, and they just choose to not pay.

There are bigger factors at play here, of course. The decreasing investment in local libraries doesn’t help. The consistent devaluing of culture and the arts in our society by government and media only further fuels this entitlement, as does the prevailing image of an artistic career being a luxury rather than an accessible reality. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, but let’s not pretend that book piracy is the Robin Hood freedom fighting cry of a wider systemic problem.

Kayleigh is a features writer and editor for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to her podcast, The Hollywood Read.

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