This is a resolution I wish many readers would take in 2010. Let me explain why. It was with some excitement that on December 29th I saw my book go on sale, but not a few hours after its official release, I got this from Google Alerts:
Astatalk – How I Met My Countess — Boyle, Elizabeth download request
Romantic Fiction → How I Met My Countess — Boyle, Elizabeth. 29 Dec 2009, 15: 36. Download. Sponsored 50 MBit/sec direct download. Does anyone have this? …
Yes, here was a reader asking for an illegal copy of How I Met My Countess. Damn, girl, Barnes & Noble wasn’t open yet, so you have to steal a copy? Come on!
I really wanted to meet the reader who posted this on one of the myriad of download boards and ask her this: Would you go into Walmart, put a copy of the book in your purse and walk out with it? And when she said (and probably emphatically and in an insulted tone) “No!” and I would have to follow that up with a “Why not?” and the answer is obvious: Because that’s stealing.
When I worked in software piracy, I heard all the excuses about why we should all look the other way on electronic theft–it doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s just one copy. First of all, electronic theft hurts everyone. And it is never just one copy. It may seem like thin air to the myriad of thieves out there, but they are no better than the Mob–you are robbing companies and authors of their legitimate revenue and worse, you are robbing yourself. Because legitimate revenue is taxed: B&O taxes, personal taxes, corporate taxes. Counterfeiting and electronic piracy account for one third of lost revenues in North America–everything from software, watches, purses, toothpaste and baby formula. One third. Think if that revenue was legitimately and fairly taxed? Think of the jobs that could be gained with that revenue. In the long run, we would all be richer with better roads, schools, and yes, health care.
And it isn’t just the authors and publishers who are robbed, it is everyone up and downstream in the life of a book: from the warehouse workers, to the artist, to the shippers who move books, bookstores and their employees, printers, box-makers, gads, even the tape that goes into closing the boxes, the list goes on and on. Because when the electronic book is stolen with impunity online, it cuts into legal and legitimate sales of the hard copy book, which is the lifeblood of this industry. And eventually those losses turn into layoffs, less offerings from booksellers, less bookstores, less books, less authors. Sound familiar? The people who think they are getting a free book are robbing themselves of what they love.
Here is the other argument that makes me shake my head with wonder at the ethics and upside down values that these online shoplifters and thieves use to convince themselves that they are in the right: I read too many books to afford them. Whaaaah? Does anyone else look at this and just shake your head. Do they feel the same about shoes and handbags and lattes that they need to consume gives them the right to steal their goodies from Nordstrom, Macys and Starbucks? I doubt it.
Here’s the simple solution: If you can’t afford the books, go to the library and check out your books for free. At least the library pays for their copy(ies). And if they don’t have the copy you want, I have yet to meet a librarian who wouldn’t track that book down for you and get it for you via inter-library loan. Again, for free. And here’s another question for the “i-can’t-afford-my-habit-so-I’ve-turned-to-crime” crowd: If you can’t afford your groceries do you steal them from the grocery store? Do you break into your neighbor’s house ’cause you’re out of beer or they have a dvd you’ve always wanted? No, of course not, so why are you stealing books?
Now I know that there are no arguments that will stop some people, but I want to add one last image that I ask you to hold in your heart: Tiny Tim. Every author out there has their own Tiny Tim–a mortgage to pay, kids to feed, an electric bill, medical bills and electronic piracy robs their ability to take care of their Tiny Tim, chipping away at his little broken crutch as sure as if Ebenezer Scrooge was standing there trying to make kindling out of it. My Tiny Tim is an eight year old boy with autism. His medical bills run 25k a year–and that’s the part our insurance won’t cover. So when you steal my books, upload them or download them, I want you to envision this child and the speech therapy ($100 per hour) and physical therapy ($85 per hour) that you are depriving him of. That’s my Tiny Tim and when you steal my books, that is who you are robbing of a legitimate chance at a good life.
So I would ask everyone who loves all these “free” books, to realize nothing in life is free, and eventually you are only stealing from yourself . . . and perhaps even this small child. Resolve in 2010 not to steal. Every author, composer, designer and creator on the planet will thank you by continuing to be creative.