On piracy and justification.
Recently, a very active online pirate has been discovered. He’s been offering thousands of books for free downloading, and is very adept at justifying his particular brand of copyright violation. Some people are actually buying some of his arguments, mostly because he uses terms that mean something completely different from the context in which he uses them. So, I wanted to take a moment to offer a few rebuttals to his attempts to justify what he’s doing, in case you’re thinking about going to his or another pirate’s site and getting a few books for free, and wanting to believe some of his arguments to make yourself feel better about yourself. Because if you’re an honest person, none of his arguments are going to make a difference to you.
“But, I’m stealing your work for a good cause!”
The first, and I think one of the lowest things he attempts to do is hide behind the idea that because he claims to be using all the proceeds to send books to poor underprivileged children in South America via a charity, his unlawful distibution of other peoples’ work is somehow justified. With this, he’s attempting to cast himself in a positive light, while casting the efforts of his victims to make him stop ripping their work off as some kind of villains. If you think that is justified, you’re in luck, because as it happens, I’m also a lawyer for the estate of a very rich man who just died in Nigeria…
Here is where that argument falls apart. First, he won’t disclose the name of any charity he’s donating to, and so far, no one can find any evidence of it or any other way he’s contributing to the literacy of the poor, starving minds of Bolivian children. He isn’t listed on the CRA Charities listing, and he has either ignored or refused to answer requests for this info. So, this is a claim he doesn’t seem willing to back up with actual facts. And believe me, if you’re doing something so noble, why hide it? Why not ask people to DONATE books for this noble cause? Instead of, you know, violating the original author’s copyright on them. And doing everything on the sly, and only exposing this grand and noble cause after you’ve been called out on what you’re doing? Why isn’t the WHOLE WEBSITE set up for that singular, noble sounding cause from page one?
Here is another thing he isn’t mentioning, because, well, it won’t make him look like some kind of dashing hero: He isn’t the only person who donates to charities. And, because I can’t speak for anyone but myself, I’ll use my own situation as an example. Parts of the proceeds from my books go to The A21 Campaign. So, while he claims to be helping the little children of South America, if he were to pirate my book, he would be taking potential donations from another endangered population: the victims of human trafficking. And I know I’m not the only author who does this kind of thing. So, if he wants to make me out to be the villain, then he has to claim that my personal choice, helping stop sexual slavery and forced labor through donations to a known and respected (let’s not forget openly named) organization is a bad thing…but his claims to be motivated by donations to an unnamed, unsubstantiated cause are inherently good enough not only to take money from A21’s target group, but to say that I’m bad for wanting my money to go to them.
“Copying isn’t theft!”
This is the one that he thinks is hardest to combat, I believe, because some publishers do provide a free digital copy with their printed books. So, let’s take a look at the difference between content shifting, what pirates say they do, and content sharing, which is what they really do. Content shifting allows you to make a copy of something you’ve purchased for PERSONAL USE. Once you make that copy, you are not allowed to give it to someone else. When you make that copy, you get it with the actual purchase of a book by that author. That decision to allow you to make said copy originates and ends with the publisher, not the pirate. Anything outside of that is ILLEGAL. Even if you’re giving it away for free, you’re still taking work that isn’t yours and depriving the person who did create it of the income that sale would have generated had the person who you’re giving to bought it instead of being a cheapskate.
So, in simpler terms: make a copy in a different format for your own PERSONAL use equals content SHIFTING. Giving that copy away to thousands of other people who would otherwise have to buy it equals content SHARING. One is for convenience. The other is infringement of intellectual property rights. So, you can yell at the top of your lungs “Copying isn’t theft!” all day long. I don’t care. Copying IS illegal. And I will help any author whose work you copy and share hunt you down and sue you into abject poverty.
“But other authors give their stuff away all the time and they’re doing just fine!”
Quite simply, that is their choice. Not yours. What I do with my intellectual property is my choice. Again, that means it is NOT yours. I respect their choice to give their stuff away. I do not even RECOGNIZE your right to give my stuff away, much less respect your decision to do so.
More importantly, the law recognizes MY right to sue you into Third World levels of destitution when you attempt make that decision for me.
Finally, here is the most arrogant of the claims:
“Case law is on my side!! Copying is NOT theft!!! The Supreme Court said so!”
No, case law is not on your side. First of all, those who knowingly create a site for the intent of sharing copyrighted works are going to lose. Napster found that out the hard way. Secondly, you’re only half right. Copying IS copyright infringement, which, as I’ve noted previously, is still illegal. The court case that armchair lawyers like to quote to make you think their violation of someone else’s copyright is okay is Dowling v United States, which they will claim states unequivocally that copyright is not theft. It was a case that involved bootlegged records, though. Not digital copies of books. It stated that the bootlegged records themselves were not stolen, because the bootlegger made them himself instead of stealing them from the record company.
There are several things that copyright violators will not tell you about this case, however. One, the decision they are quoting was an appeal where the defendant had already been found guilty of nine counts of copyright infringement for making and selling the records, as well as several counts of conspiracy to transport stolen property in interstate commerce, interstate transportation of stolen property and mail fraud. The convictions of copyright infringement were never appealed. Two, the case states that copyright infringement does not EASILY equate to theft. Not that it isn’t. It just isn’t easily done. The decision is summarized thusly: Copies of copyrighted works cannot be regarded as stolen property for the purposes of a prosecution under a statute criminalizing the INTERSTATE TRANSPORTATION OF SUCH PROPERTY. (emphasis mine) The decision goes on to state: “Infringement implicates a more complex set of property interests than does run-of-the-mill theft, conversion, or fraud.” Again, does not say it is not theft. Nor does it say that it is not illegal. It only says that it is not the same as theft for transporting goods which infringe on a copyright.
So, to sum up:
1) Sharing content that you do not hold the copyright on is illegal whether you make money on it or not. Result: Napster lost. Case law, not on your side.
2) Copying IS illegal. Result: Dowling was still guilty of copyright infringement. Again, case law, not on your side.
None of these things make what book pirates do in any way right. Nor legal. And when you get down to it, none of these people are actually authors. None of them are willing to put their own work out there for free. In fact, almost every pirate site is a source of income for the site owner. That’s another thing they won’t tell you. They’re not in it to “create a better world”. They’re in it to make a buck off of the people who fall for their particular pitch. There are numerous ways to monetize any website, and you should never believe that they don’t make sure they make as much off their site as possible. When you go to their site to get something for nothing, you’re helping these people make money, and they’re doing it at the cost of a lot of hardworking authors who don’t get a lot of money from their work anyway.
So, in the end, ask yourself this: if they’re willing to use an author’s work without their permission, what makes you think they’re telling the truth about all those noble ideas they’re spouting? Truly noble ideas require sacrifice and integrity. Copyright violation represents the distinct absence of all three.