|Photo by Connor Tarter, used under the Creative Commons License|
Here’s the thing: I honestly think some people who download illegally aren’t out to hurt anyone, and are truly not aware that stealing ebooks is, in fact, stealing. If more people thought about it that way, maybe they’d realize it’s ridiculous to defend something that is actually a crime.
So I think we should stop calling illegal downloading “book piracy.” It makes it sounds fun and jokey. What it really is is theft, and if we think about the arguments for illegal downloads in terms of any other product, we see that it’s something decent human beings would never do.
Argument 1: “Some people can’t afford books, and it’s difficult for them to get to libraries, so what choice do they have but to download illegally?”
Nope! Wrong! Try again. Downloading illegally is STEALING. At what other times in life would a person say, “I can’t afford this, so I’m going to steal it,” and think it was okay?
A book is a product. An ebook is not less of a product because you can’t hold it in your hand. Of course a story is more than just a thing, too, but at its base level, it is as much of a product as a pair of sunglasses or a box of brownie mix or a new iPad. On top of that, a book is a luxury item. It may be a basic human right to have food and shelter, and even education, and this is why there are free public schools and government assistance programs for those who can’t afford basic necessities. Luxury items are not basic human rights.
Let’s pretend there’s a beautiful pair of shoes that I can’t afford. Am I entitled to them just because they exist and I want them? No, I am not, and if I go in to the store and try to walk out with them, I’ll get arrested. I need to wait until I can afford those shoes. And if I can’t, I don’t get them. If I really NEED them, like for a specific event, maybe I’ll wait until they go on sale, or borrow them from a friend who owns them already. Or maybe I’ll settle for a cheaper, similar pair I can afford. Maybe I’ll even go to the thrift store on half-price day and get a similar-enough used pair for $0.99 if I really have to. There are lots of possibilities, but none of them involve stealing the shoes, because that’s just not a thing you can do.
Argument 2: “I’m not even sure I’ll like the book. Why should I have to pay for something I might dislike?”
Would you steal a cake you’ve never had from the grocery store because you’re “not sure you’ll like it”? And then say, “Maybe if I do like the cake, I’ll pay for it in the future, or maybe I’ll pay for more things from this store”? You wouldn’t. I hope. You might try a sample of it at a tasting the store has. (Ebooks have this, too! You can read a sample of almost any book you want to buy.) You might try it at a friend’s house before you purchase a whole one for yourself. (Like borrowing a book from a friend!) You might decide to stick with a tried-and-true or cheaper alternative. What you would not ever do is steal it.
Argument 3: But wait, shoes and cake are different. Books are educational! Would you deny our children/teens/people who don't have money to buy books literacy?
I completely agree that reading is one of the most important things children and teens and adults in all walks of life can do. And guess what. There’s a great solution to that—libraries!
Libraries are magical places where you can read books FOR FREE. And LEGALLY! (If they create such a thing for cute shoes and/or cake, let me know, mmmkay?) Sure it might be slightly more difficult to go to a library than to type in a couple words on an illegal download site, but it’s also slightly more difficult to stand in a long line and pay at Target than it would be to wheel your whole shopping cart straight outside without paying, and we don’t do that, right? Because we live by the moral and legal rules of our society, and it’s wrong. (And also, we’re too cute to go to jail, am I right?)
Libraries make it really easy to use them. Getting a library card takes moments. If a library doesn’t have a specific book available, they can request it from another library and get it sent to the one closest to you, or can order it for their collection. And in the meantime, you can check out another one of the thousands of books they do have available! What’s more, most libraries now have an ebook collection. Once you have a library card, you can get ebooks from your couch! It is so easy, and so mind-blowingly cool.
Argument 4: Doesn’t it all just come down to money? Wow, authors are so greedy/are elitists who don’t think poor people deserve nice things/writing isn’t a Real Job anyway so why should anyone get paid for it/etc.
Well, yes, this is how authors make money. People seem to have no problem paying most professionals for their work. You wouldn’t expect a hairdresser to cut your hair for free because you couldn’t afford it that day. Your tax guy doesn’t do your taxes for free. Of course not! That would be silly. This is the same thing. And if the hairdresser did tens of thousands of haircuts for free, he would be out of a job because he wouldn’t bring in any money. Guess what—that happens with authors, too. There are authors who don’t get a new contract, or even don’t get to finish a series, because sales are too low on their books, while they see the thousands of copies that are stolen slip away. It sucks. If wishing to get paid for the work you do is greedy, then yes, authors are just as greedy as bus drivers and lawyers and chefs and every other person who works.
So can we start calling illegal downloading what it really is? It’s stealing. And it’s wrong. The end.