by Pari

“Piracy.” It sounds so romantic, doesn’t it? The high seas. Adventure . . .

But there’s nothing romantic about the case in Minnesota where a woman was fined $2 million for illegally downloading 24 songs and sharing them with others. Last Friday, the judge slashed her fine dramatically – by more than $1.8 million — saying the initial punishment was too much.

However, he still fined her.

And guess what? She’s fighting against paying even the much reduced amount.

Piracy has been on my mind lately because of the Google Settlement deadline. (It’s Jan. 28, Kids, in case you still haven’t decided what to do.) And the fact that I think the terms are so iffy and squirrely that it verges on a landgrab.

And then I read about the Minnesota case in Huffington Post. Last Friday’s decision stimulated an interesting conversation in the comments. Many readers implied that the woman was a victim of corporate greed. Indeed, they asserted, she was the one wronged.

Wait a minute . . .

Am I missing a crucial piece of information here?

Was she forced to download these songs?

Did someone hold a gun to her head? Threaten to kill her children?


The woman willfully took items that didn’t belong to her. She took them because she didn’t want to pay for them.

Um  . . . correct me if I’m wrong, but the last time I looked that was called “stealing.”

If someone walked into her house and took 24 things she’d spent months or years making, do you think she would’ve stood for it?  Or would she have called the police to report a robbery?

My bet is on door #2.

So why is piracy tacitly condoned in many circles? Why do normally intelligent and considerate people think that it’s perfectly okay to pilfer someone else’s work? (I’m talking about taking it. Owning it. Often sharing or selling it . . .)

Some of you might be thinking, “Pari, chill out. Each song would’ve only cost her a few cents, maybe a dollar or two.” I can see you shaking your head at me in pity. “Don’t we have bigger problems in the world than a couple of bucks?”

Not if you’re a novelist.

And if you are a novelist and you’re not paying attention to piracy, you’re worse than the proverbial ostrich. By not standing up against it – and by pirating other’s works yourself – you’re helping destroy your own career.

Simple as that.

Every day I hear of – and see — more and more sites that are distributing full copies of our works for free. Without our permission. Without our publishers’ permission.

In my case, I own electronic rights to my works. That means these people are stealing directly from me. And my children.


Punishable by law.

Yes. It may be only a few cents per work, but it’s my effort on the line. Here’s a little secret: I didn’t expend so much time and energy to get published so that someone else could feel entitled to rip me off.

I might not have this reaction if novelists and other writers were paid one-time high fees for their work. But most of us aren’t. Our money comes from advances and then royalties tallied against actual sales. Wholesale, mind you. Not net. As far as I’m concerned, every time someone downloads one of my books without paying – it’s an active slap in the face. It’s wrong and needs to be stopped.

I’ve had discussions with my creative friends – writers, photographers, painters, songwriters – and we constantly come to the conclusion that creativity in our society is horribly undervalued. It’s as if people seem to think that anyone could write Jane Eyre or The Raven. That once a book – or other creative endeavor – is produced, it should enter the public domain.

But how are creatives supposed to live in a society that doesn’t want to pay for their work?

I don’t know. Can you tell me?

And why would anyone think that we should work hard  . . . for free?

What’s going to happen to our culture, our society, if the most original and creative people decide it’s not worth the trouble? I wonder.

This takes me back to piracy.
It’s not innocent.
It’s not okay.
It’s not cute.

It’s stealing.
It’s theft.

It’s fucking wrong. 

And I’m sick of it.


What about you?
Do you think it’s all right? A act against “the MAN?”
Do you think I’m being unreasonable, that it’s a brave new world and I’d just better get with the program?

I look forward to this conversation.




76 thoughts on “Piracy

  1. JD Rhoades

    I don’t think anyone here is going to disagree that piracy is wrong. To me, the unanswered questions are (1) how do you stop it without pissing off your customers (something the record companies never managed) ; and (2) If you can’t stop it, how do you make a living anyway?

  2. PK the Bookeemonster

    The fight also has to include education. Remember this is a society who applauded when Mark Mcguire finally came out an admitted he cheated. He cheated. This is a society who has shielded its younger generations from failure. One who laughs at rule followers and makes fun of people trying to do right.
    But it also takes people who see what wrong and do something about it and that is also where we fail. No one wants to step up to take action because they’re too busy or someone else will do it.
    Just sayin’.

  3. tess gerritsen

    I’ve been mulling over just this topic over the past few weeks. Based on what I’ve been able to gather, it seems:
    — Book pirates tend to be young men
    — Not surprisingly, the pirated books tend to be those of interest to that demographic (the 10 most popular pirated titles of 2009 focused on sex, photography, and home repair. The only female-centric novel to crack the top-10 was by Stephanie Meyer.
    — Many, if not most, of hose who upload the books haven’t even read them. They just share the files because maybe they like screwing the system.
    — Those who download the files do so for a variety of reasons, not just because these are free books that they want to read. Sometimes it’s because they just don’t want to be seen owning (or purchasing) a book that might embarrass them. So erotica may be high on the pirated lists.

    What does the future hold, based on this?
    — Traditional romance fiction is probably safe for the moment, as those consumers are happy to buy real books. And those titles may not be uploaded as often by male pirates.
    — any traditional female-centric fiction may be okay for awhile. Which means mysteries may not be suffering as much as others.
    — Science fiction, fantasy, and erotic are going to be the first genres in real trouble.

  4. pari noskin taichert

    I actually do think many, many people consider piracy just fine. That it’s their right because the artists, writers etc are getting ripped off by the big corporations anyway. I know it’s twisted logic, but I’ve found it in places I would’ve never imagined.

    And yes, we don’t want to piss off our customers — but are people who rip us off "customers" in the first place?

    I just don’t know.

  5. pari noskin taichert

    I think your comment is on the money. It’s like the person who flips you off for going the speed limit or stopping at a yellow light — the law just doesn’t apply to them.

    I can tell you this: I almost didn’t post on this subject because it makes me so angry and people are so willing to pirate all kinds of works — without even any kind of acknowledgment of the artist — that I thought I’d be slammed down for being too conservative.

    We’ll see how the day’s conversation goes . . .

  6. pari noskin taichert

    Where did you get your stats? I bet there’s even more I could learn.

    I will say that the piracy sites I go to often have writers like Charlaine Harris on them too. I don’t know what I’d call her books — fantasy, romance?– but it’s the television tie-in that probably counts for a lot.

    And it seems to me that the science fiction and fantasy fans have always felt that they sort of own works once they’re published . . . I’m thinking of fan fic and how some authors like it while others really, really don’t see it as a form of flattery at all.

    So your read of those who are most at risk might be right. But on one of the listservs I’m on — with many romance writers — the problem seems to be pretty bad as well.

  7. Jane

    Pari, I hear ya. I have friends and relatives who pirate books, movies, games, you name it. They”ve all got reasons: I can’t get legit movies here in China (yeah, but you brag about the deal you’re getting); I thought they were legit (you bought eight books for five bucks on Ebay); HBO’s prices are unreasonable (so don’t buy their service; finding the price unreasonable doesn’t give you the right to steal).

    I guess part of the answer lies in making it socially unacceptable to pirate, by speaking out when we see someone doing it — even if they’re a friend. Not that that’s any fun whatsoever.

    I will say that even $200,000 seems a bit out of proportion to the crime though. For all we know, that’s the woman’s entire net worth.

  8. tess gerritsen

    here’s an interesting news bit I just came across:

    "Within just one week of implementing Europe’s Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive (IPRED), Sweden has already seen legal digital music downloads double, according to one digital media distributor.

    One report last week said Sweden’s overall internet traffic was down by 30 percent a day after the law’s introduction. A 100 percent hike in pay-for music downloads seems unlikely – but that’s what digital white-label distributor InProdicon tells Sweden’s English-language TheLocal.se site, which says the company supplies half of all Sweden’s legal music downloads."


    So passing and enforcing copyright protection laws really does work to increase legitimate sales. At least in Sweden. And pirates really do rob our profits.

  9. pari noskin taichert

    The $2 million was out of line. The judge ended up charging her something like $2500 per song. I think that’s reasonable since she DID commit a crime and needs more than a tiny slap on the hand.

    Your point about people bragging is true. Tess wrote about the demographics of pirates, but I’ve met middle-aged women who feel entitled.

    And whenever a court decides in favor of the artist/publisher violated, there’s this odd outrage against them as if they’re greedy and horrid.

    I don’t know how we raise awareness that piracy hurts everyone, not when we’ve got a society that’s always looking for the lowest –rather than the most REASONABLE — price. What could be lower than free?

  10. Alafair Burke

    When I was at my little hippie college in Portland, some of my fellow (idiot) students justified shoplifting. According to them, it was OK to steal from Safeway because the corporation was "the man," but it wasn’t OK to steal from the locally owned grocer across the street. Otherwise honest people pirate because they assume the people they’re stealing from don’t need the money. After all, Diddy just gave his son a Maybach for his 16th birthday. Can he really claim poverty if some woman in Minnesota illegally downloads Mo Money, Mo Problems?

    The problem, of course, is most people who live off their intellectual property aren’t rich, and we’re certainly not "the man."

  11. Rob Gregory Browne

    I think piracy is COMPLETELY wrong, but in the case of the woman you mentioned at the top of the post — Jammie Thomas — I’m not sure any evidence against her was actually presented. I’ve read up on the case and it seems to me this was more the music industry bullying someone in face of their own fear about illegal downloading. She was one of thousands of people the RIAA accused of piracy, but one of the few who refused to be bullied. She went to trial based only on the RIAA’s say so and not much else.

    She may WELL have been a pirate, but frankly, I think when you accuse someone of something, you should actually have evidence that goes beyond a user name and an IP address. Such things can easily be faked. There are millions of "zombie" computers in this world, and if you’re using a PC right now, yours may well be one of them. If your wireless connection is an open one, your neighbor could well be downloading kiddie porn on your account as we speak.

    So until there’s a more definitive way to prove someone is willfully pirating material, then I have to stick with reasonable doubt. I guess since this was a civil case, the standard would be a preponderance of evidence, but I’m not sure that standard was met.

    BOOK piracy is certainly a problem, but I don’t think it’s THAT much of a problem for these reasons:

    1. Most people aren’t Internet savvy enough to know where to go to download pirated books.

    2. Most people are honest and would just as soon pay for books. Especially when they can go to an ebook store that has just about any book they could want without having to search all over the Internet for a "free" copy.

    3. You can download and read ebooks for free from your local library. Audiobooks as well.

    I’m not completely convinced that pirates rob our profits, because I think that most people who download pirated material NEVER had the intention of paying for it in the first place, and would not pay for it even if the pirate version was unavailable. The same is true of software and music.

    All that said, I think piracy is wrong, wrong, wrong. But I just look at it as the price of doing business, like the hardward store owner who has to worry about someone slipping out the door with a wrench under his shirt. You put precautions in place, then stop worrying about it.

    My two cents, anyway.

  12. Gar Anthony Haywood


    This can all be traced back to computer software piracy. The very word "software" gives people the impression that the product is a trifle — it has no tangible shape or form, other than the CD it was burned onto and the box that CD came in, so what could possibly be the harm in stealing it? How can you steal something that doesn’t PHYSICALLY exist?

    Also, there’s another bit of wrongheadedness at play here, and that’s the perception people have of writers and musicians as BILLIONAIRES who wouldn’t miss the royalty on a 99 cent download if they tried. We’ve all been confronted with it a thousand times, the ridiculous misconception many people have that if you’re a published author, you must be swimming in dough. To these people, we ARE "the Man," so there’s no reason to lose sleep any over depriving us of our take on a measly $20 worth of downloaded intellectual material.

  13. tess gerritsen

    rob, the second phase of the Attributor study will address just that question: how many illegal downloads would otherwise have resulted in a legitimate ebook purchase? At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be any hard data.

    The result of the Swedish law’s passing, however, makes a pretty convincing argument that illegal downloads of music really do take away from legitimate downloads. When legal downloads increase by 100% within one week after a copyright protection law passed, you have to believe that at least some current thieves would have bought the books.

  14. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Pari

    Great and highly intriguing post! I wrote about my own worries on eBooks a few weeks ago, but you’ve gone into the subject of piracy much more thoroughly, I think.

    Rob made a very interesting point, though: "I’m not completely convinced that pirates rob our profits, because I think that most people who download pirated material NEVER had the intention of paying for it in the first place, and would not pay for it even if the pirate version was unavailable."

    It’s a little like the true definition of a bargain. If you go into a store intending to buy a particular item at a given price, and when you get to the shelf, the item is marked down by 50%, that’s a bargain. Going into the store and coming out with a completely different item than the one you were actually shopping for, and (if truth be told) you don’t really need, just because it was half price, is not a bargain. It’s an impulse buy.

    People browsing a list of illegally copied eBooks or movies or music, might decide to take a punt on something purely on the basis that it’s available in front of them, rather than because that’s what they were after when they went to the site in the first place. Yes, the big names and the international bestsellers are going to be pirated, and pirated fast, but for the rest of us it’s more likely to be a crime of opportunity rather than prior intent. Not that I’m saying that makes it better, mind you …

  15. Zoë Sharp

    OK, that’s what happens when you get interrupted in the middle of typing a comment, and by the time you post it, other people have made much more intelligent remarks on the subject … ;-[

  16. Rob Gregory Browne

    I HATE to say this, but some might argue that for those of us who are not on the bestseller lists, piracy could well give us exposure that we wouldn’t normally get. Which might lead to a widening of readership.

    Now, if those readers are merely pirating our books, then the benefit is, of course, lost. But I do know that many independent unsigned musicians got a following thanks to the exposure of illegal downloads.

    Just saying. Doesn’t mean I endorse the practice. But, believe it or not, I always like to look for a silver lining… 🙂

  17. Rob Gregory Browne

    Tess, you have to understand that Sweden can’t be compared to the United States. Sweden had NO piracy laws whatsoever. Downloading was completely legal and therefore considered mainstream.

    So the theory that people who downloaded were not interested in buying in the first place does not apply as it does in the U.S. and the rest of the world.

  18. JMH

    From what I understand, the overwhelming majority of piracy comes from a handfull of big, recognized filesharing sites. What publishers need to do is monitor those sites for illegal copyright infringements and then enforce their rights via letter, civil action or whatever is necessary. The pressure needs to be applied agaisnt the sites themselves, in addition to the people uploading and downloading.

  19. pari noskin taichert

    I think you’re right about the attitude. I know when I was younger I might’ve felt the same way: "Those rich money-grubbers don’t need my $2."

    I don’t know how we educate people about the reality for most of us since the myth of wealth persists and is often encouraged.

  20. pari noskin taichert

    I wonder about this Thomas case. Why did the jury buy the corporate line so fully, with such a huge fine, if she had nothing to do with it? I don’t know. I’ve read about it too and came to a slightly different conclusion, I guess.

    I do believe that piracy is a big problem that will only increase if we don’t speak out against it — or at least try to educate people about what’s at stake for those of us who aren’t making megabucks.

    And I remain upset that someone feels it’s okay to take my work without some kind of reimbursement. Libraries are different IMHO but I’m not sure I could articulate why I feel that way in light of this particular issue.

    Thanks for presenting another view.

  21. pari noskin taichert

    You may well be right but, again, on the listserv I’m talking about these aren’t wildly well-known authors who consistently have their works pirated. They’re mainly romance writers who churn out 3-5 books a year and don’t get a lot of money for any of them. Their success rests entirely on sales numbers and I do think piracy is having an impact on them.

    I might be wrong. That’s why I brought up the subject in the first place. I wanted to know what others in our ‘Rati community think.

  22. pari noskin taichert

    Thanks for the history on the word in this context. I appreciate it.

    And you’re absolutely right about the "wrongheadedness." I wonder how we counter it, though? If we creatives talk too much about money, it upsets our audiences. But how do we weaken the myth?

    I will say that when I give talks to book clubs, I always ask if they want to know the economics of being an author. Many say "yes" and are astounded when I tell them how advances and royalties work . . .

  23. pari noskin taichert

    I have heard that argument before and it’s possible it’s true. I liken it to sending out ARCs. But after 20+ years in marketing/pr I’m more unconvinced than ever that handing out entire books for free results in future sales — at least in any numbers that justify the expense in the first place.

    So . . . the jury is out on that one.

    I would’ve agreed with you a year ago, but now these sites are popping up all over the place. Small ones.

    You are correct in that publishers/organizations with clout need to address the piracy sites directly. It just seems as if they’re proliferating like overly fertile bunnies.

  24. Rob Gregory Browne

    Pari, I’m certainly not trying to suggest that piracy is okay. And I think we should speak out against it as much as we possibly can.

    But I have to consider that in the hard copy world, our books are constantly "pirated" so to speak. When someone buys a copy, they pass it along to a friend. Used bookstores make money off of our work and we never see a sent of compensation.

    You can argue that when a pirated ebook is passed along, then TWO people have a copy. Or three or thousands. Whatever. And that’s a concern. But there are also thousands of used copies made available the SECOND a book goes on sale at Amazon, sometimes for as little as a penny and shipping, so I’m not sure it’s all that different. Yet, the publishing industry still manages to survive.

    As for Jammie Thomas, I think the reason the jury found her guilty was because they simply don’t understand technology. I encountered this problem first hand, when I was on a federal grand jury for a year. We heard a case of a so-called "hacker" whom the prosecutor wanted us to indict and send to trial. But the evidence just wasn’t there. Those of us who knew about computers (about six of us on the jury) could clearly see that the evidence against the accused just wasn’t sufficient to indict.

    But because the other jurors (there were twenty or so on the grand jury) didn’t understand technology, they believed the prosecutor and overrode our objections and indicted the guy anyway. He subsequently went to trial, encountered another clueless jury, and is now serving twenty-five years in jail. For something I KNOW he didn’t do.

    So when it comes to cases involving technology, I tend to view them with a grain of salt.

  25. Rob Gregory Browne

    As for the Google Settlement, I’m personally disgusted by it. It’s my understanding that the "opt out" provision that is offered to authors is in regard to OUT OF PRINT books only. So all of my books are currently in print. How am I protected that when they go out of print — which is bound to happen at some point — that Google will leave them alone? I don’t see any mechanism to prevent this.

    And I think this is worse than any piracy currently going on right now.

    I’d also like to know why the Author’s Guild is negotiating on my behalf, when I have nothing to do with them whatsoever.

  26. JD Rhoades

    And yes, we don’t want to piss off our customers — but are people who rip us off "customers" in the first place?

    Good point. But when people see something that looks so wildly out of proportion as 2 million dollars for 24 songs, or when they see record companies going hammer and tongs, not just against big file sharing sites but against people with 24 pirated songs on their hard drives, they’re courting a backlash from people who may not have even thought of downloading at all. The record companies already had an image problem when the price of CD"s never came down, even after it became cheaper to make and distribute them. I’m seeing the same discontent from readers over Kindle books that are the exact same price, if no more, than hardcovers, despite the cost savings to the producer.

    When you look like a greedy bastard, people get less upset when the pirates take your stuff. Which is why all the pirate movies show the pirates going after people who "deserve" it. Remember in Pirates of the Caribbean 3 when they were hanging women and little kids for ‘aiding" piracy? You have any sympathy for the English after that?

    BTW, anyone have any figures on whether illegal downloading decreased once legal downloading got cheaper (as in .99 or less a song) and more convenient?

  27. Eika

    I think I may be in a unique position in this discussion. Do I buy CD’s? Yes. Do I buy songs off iTunes? I wish I could, but I’m not a member and can’t afford the $20 gift cards. But I also get some music illegally, and I’m okay with that, but I wish I weren’t.

    I don’t pirate music because I want to, or because it’s easier. I do it because there is literally no other way for me to get the songs.

    There is a band called Blacktop Mourning; they have a song called Future’s Gone. There is one youtube video with the song as music; it is a horrible version taken at a live performance with a camera phone. I have checked every store in town, in the nearest three shopping centers, in both malls within a three hour drive, and every place I can get to without a car at college. I can literally only listen to it online, usually through illegal venues. Would I buy it if I could? You bet. I love the song; it’s in my top ten. But I can’t, and there is no public library for music.

    The same goes for other things. The band Story of the Year, my favorite band overall, has several songs that are only available overseas… or through illegal download. I’m a college student working at McDonalds when I can, unable to get a job at college though I qualify for work study (too many applicants), who saved over $10,000 in high school through willpower alone and have a good desktop computer and a twice hand-me-down monitor to cut costs, and I’m already in debt to loans. If I spend money on nothing but college until I graduate, I should have less than $17,000 in debt… ‘should’ being the key word, and using impossible parameters.

    I don’t understand book stealing, because libraries have lots of books, and with a bit of patience can get almost any book after a request. I don’t know of anyplace or thing that can do that with music. And, the few CD’s I own are because I heard the music illegally- the only place I’d have ever heard it, likely- fell in love and bought it. It may not mean much, but it’s how I justify it.

    If- when I get published, I would rather people buy my stuff, but if they use a library because they can’t afford it, I’m okay with that. If my book’s not available to be bought online, it’s only published in my country, and they’re overseas with no way to get a copy, then it’ll sting if they get it illegally but I’ll understand. What other options are there?

  28. pari noskin taichert

    Again, I bow to your knowledge on this. I’m not a technophobe, but I’m also woefully ignorant in many areas and am only slowly making headway in learning. BTW: If you know some good websites to help folks like me understand these technologies . . . I’d love to know them.

    And the Google settlement — as far as I understand it — isn’t just for out of print books though that’s supposedly what they were saying was their "altruistic" reason for digitizing them.

    I’ve opted out. There’s an easy form if you look at the site, much better than it was a few months ago. I opted out on all my books. I know for a fact that at least two of them –and they’re all still in print — were on their list.

  29. Judy Wirzberger

    Unfortunately, I think we started out with the wrong word way back. Piracy – what does it bring to mind? Errol Flynn, the amazing Mr. Depp, the poor, sad, defeated Captain Hook. Do you cringe? Does bile creep up your throat?
    Now pick another word. Something to do with stealing. Say, Plagerism – what does this word bring to mind? Dishonesty, thievery, scum.

    Piracy is Robin Hood on the Internet. They take from those with percieved wealth for the use of those "less wealthy." And it’s wrong. No matter what kind of polish you want to put on it to make it shine, underneath it’s theft, stealing, whether it’s a candy bar from the corner grocer, or $5 from Bill Gates. Bet a lot thought taking $5 from Bill Gates wasn’t all that bad. If so, go steal a book from St. Martin’s.

  30. pari noskin taichert

    Yep, yep, yep.

    I know my husband and I have this discussion about CDs and how expensive they are considering how much the medium costs. It’s illogical. So I understand people being pissed off about ebooks costing as much as trade paperbacks or hardcovers — or expensive mm paperbacks.

    But I get my pants get in a wad when I think about how devalued original creativity is in our culture. Why should everyone be looking for the cheapest way to get art, literature, music? It’s kind of like looking for the cheapest food even though that doesn’t reflect at all the real cost of growing it.

    I just don’t know . . .

  31. Chris Hamilton

    Some publishers are actually giving away books to spur sales of other books (Link to article). Obviously, this is different than piracy. If I own it, I decide whether and when to give it away. I think if you have a series with several published books, this is a good idea–except it re-inforces the idea that free is appropriate.

    Demographically, I think it’s tech-savvy people who tend to think intellectual property is worthless. After all, I can get a Word-compatible word processor free, if I use open source. If you have the mindset all that should be free, why should books be different.

    As a yet-to-be-successful writer, I spend an awful lot of time I could be spending with my kids or exercising or whatever, writing books. It’s already maddening to think I might be wasting my time at it. To think I’m never going to make money…if that’s the case, what’s in it for me? I hate to be so mercenary, but considering the opportunity cost, I need at least a chance at a payoff.


  32. pari noskin taichert

    I’m really glad you spoke up. Thank you. Your points are important to this discussion. The fact that you’ve heard so much music illegally and have opted to get some that way, too, is your decision.

    I simply appreciate the fact that you wrote about it so that I could understand more about the reasons someone might do it.

    Re: books
    Libraries are doing a tremendous service. I guess I could say that someone borrowing a book feels different than someone taking it home and keeping it. But I’m not sure how far that argument would hold in this digital age. To me, the issue still remains — taking something for nothing.

    Even if bands or writers had donation buttons on their websites where someone could give a few pennies, that — at least — would be better than just taking it, period.

    But, again, I don’t have the answers. All I have are more and more questions.

  33. pari noskin taichert

    Yeah, "Piracy" does evoke something that’s good in a dangerous way. And a new word would be better.

    That’s why I used "stealing, robbery, theft" and pilfering.

    Words do influence our emotions. Even stealing from Gates sounds worse than "piracy."

  34. pari noskin taichert

    I think you’re right on on all accounts. I often use Open Office in place of MS Word (though I do have a purchased copy of the latter) and look to other open source materials.

    But the people who write those are doing it because they want their work to be for free. I didn’t start out with that intention nor do I intend to base my writing career on it. Like you, my writing time is time taken away from family. I’ll always write — but either it’s going to be my career or simply a hobby. I’d prefer the former.

    The giving away of ebooks and how they’re driving sales seems to be a model that’s working for some publishers. I don’t know if this will hold true in ten years when more and more people become accustomed to using e-readers. Once the technology is close to half — or even the majority — of the method for literary distribution, it might be a very different story.

    That’s also when publishers might reassess the above model.

  35. Gar Anthony Haywood


    What part did an ignorance of technology play in the original verdict against Jammie Thomas-Rasset? She willfully downloaded and distributed music she didn’t pay for. Granted, the award was way out of whack, but I don’t think a jurist had to be a techno geek to accurate assess her basic crime in the case. Am I missing something in the story?

  36. tess gerritsen

    Libraries are a different animal entirely. They purchase the book, and lend it out to one patron at a time, and don’t allow that patron to repeatedly photocopy that book.

    Piracy allows limitless numbers of people to download a book. Limitless, and forever.

    Within days of Dan Brown’s new release, 100,000 pirated copies were downloaded.

    In a few decades, when everyone has an e-reader, that number could be in the millions, all downloaded within days of a book’s release.

  37. Fran

    Let’s not overlook the fact that libraries do purchase the books they lend. They do contribute to the cause, and while, when we say "library", we tend to think of our own library, remember that there are thousands around the country. If every library in the country bought one copy of your book, you’d be doing nicely for a bit.

    Granted, libraries have their own fiscal concerns, but that’s another issue.

    Pari, I honestly think a lot of this theft stems from that word "entitlement" and people’s lax attitude toward stealing. How many times do you see people eating food at a grocery store, treating it like a wandering buffet? That’s theft, but no one hollers about it.

    "It’s just a grape."
    "It’s just a song."
    "It’s just a story."

    Rationalizations and the idea that people are entitled to what they want without working for it, buying it, are rapidly becoming an ordinary way of thinking.

    I have no idea how to stop it. Teaching children from the very beginning that theft is wrong? I don’t know. But book theft is a serious problem, and it seems to only be getting worse.

  38. pari noskin taichert

    You should know.

    And yes, part of the problem is how common small theft — the grape in the grocery store (which I NEVER understood anyway) — is. All I know is that I AM teaching my children about stealing and that even if it’s small, it’s still against the law.

  39. Rae

    I occasionally have the piracy conversation wherein some cabbagehead says "All art should be free to the people." To which I always reply, "And how are the artists supposed to, you know, eat and pay their bills and have a place to live and stuff?" Sometimes light dawns for the cabbagehead, but sometimes I get the whole diatribe about "the masters of society are evil fascist hobbit-squashers and all artists should be housed and fed by the freed proletariat". Which is a lovely fluffy idea, I agree, but people have rent due next month, and turning Western Civilization upside down is probably gonna take a couple of minutes 😉

    Seriously, though, I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there around writing / writers, which contribute to the idea that piracy is really no worse than borrowing a book from the library (the most common excuse I hear for it). I’ve had people insist to me that all romance novels are computer generated. Many think that, by definition, being a published writer means you’re wealthy. The vast majority of readers have absolutely no idea how much time elapses between receiving that first advance, and the first royalty check – and how small some of the numbers are. It feels to me like a good communications program of some sort might be helpful – not quite sure, though, how it could be managed, funded, etc.

    Piracy sucks, and the people who make me the angriest are the ones who, understanding that they’re literally taking the bread out of someone’s mouth, just don’t care. But I think Rob’s right – the only thing you can do is fight like hell to get decent laws and monitoring in place, and then continue to be watchful and fight for enforcement of said laws. Which is all very wearying and cranky-making..

  40. tess gerritsen

    Let’s not forget the immortal words of Harlan Ellison, who thinks e-book piracy is theft, and he’ll do what it takes to stop you:

    “If you put your hand in my pocket, you’ll drag back six inches of bloody stump.”

  41. pari noskin taichert

    I’ll take your "cranky" anytime if it manifests in that WONDERFUL first paragraph of your comment. Just wonderful. I burst out laughing because I’ve had those same conversations again and again with people who think everything should be free.

    But Utopia has always seemed an odd concept to me. When people don’t have to work at all, when they get what they want when they want it, everything loses its value.

    The whole patron of the arts concept is a nifty one. I don’t know though how it worked in practice or if the artists and composers in past centuries censored what they really wanted to do in order to keep on the payroll.

    Again, there aren’t easy solutions.
    We need to talk about it. We need to educate ourselves and others. At least that way we’ll feel like we’re doing something of merit.

  42. tess gerritsen

    And more from Harlan Ellison who is, um, rather passionate about this topic: (his caps, not mine. And I’m still laughing about "rodents")





  43. Rob Gregory Browne

    Gar, I’m not an expert on the case, but it’s my understanding that Jammie Thomas’s defense was that she didn’t download the songs in question and that her computer had been compromised by someone outside, unknown to her. This may sound ridiculous, but such things are not only possible, but are not uncommon. Spammers put viruses on our computers all the time. So do kiddie porn distributors. You could have a trojan horse virus on your PC right now and not know it.

    It’s also my understanding that Thomas provided her hard drive to the court and there was no evidence of the songs in question or the program allegedly used to download them. Now, obviously, she could have erased the evidence, but as far as I know — and as I said, I don’t know a lot about it — there was no physical evidence produced by the plaintiffs.

    So, in other words, we’re simply supposed to take their word for it? If a jury doesn’t know that such technology as I describe above is possible — if they think it’s a ridiculous or "science fiction" notion — then they’ll be inclined to believe the plaintiff and think the defense is merely looking for excuses.

    And that may well be true. But there’s doubt. And when there’s doubt, I think we should err on the side of the defendant.

  44. Gar Anthony Haywood

    Rob wrote:

    "And that may well be true. But there’s doubt. And when there’s doubt, I think we should err on the side of the defendant."

    In a criminal case, yes. But this was a civil case. "Beyond a shadow of a doubt" doesn’t apply here.

    I’ve read Thomas-Rasset’s excuses and they don’t fly. There was no ghost in her machine. The guilty party used HER UNIQUE USERNAME (which she used all over the Net) to download and distribute those songs because the guilty party was she.

    Consider this, taken from a story I found here:


    "Two weeks after MediaSentry noted the infringement of "tereastarr@KaZaA" (and notified the user via KaZaA instant message that he or she had been caught sharing files) back in February 2005, Thomas-Rasset hauled her Compaq Presario down to the local Best Buy. There was a problem with the hard drive, so Best Buy replaced it under warranty.

    "That might sound like no big deal until you realize that Thomas-Rasset later provided this new hard drive—and not the one in the machine during the alleged February infringement—to investigators and to her own expert witness. It becomes an even bigger deal when you realize that she swore under oath—twice—that she had replaced the hard drive in 2004 (a full year earlier) and that it had not been changed again since."

    Oops. The jurists may have had a problem grasping technology, but it seems Thomas-Rasset sure didn’t.

  45. Claudia Dain

    Harlan, as usual, makes a passionate, eloquent argument. I just don’t understand why the perceived or actual wealth of either the victim of theft or the perpetrator is ever part of the piracy discussion. This is a moral issue. Stealing something that doesn’t belong to you is wrong. It’s wrong in every culture on Earth.

    If you can’t afford what you want, you do without. If you can’t find what you want, you do do without. That’s what it means to be a responsible adult.

    The fact that we’re talking about artistic theft and the death of artistic endeavor is a side issue in my opinion. The core issue, the heart of it all, is that someone is taking something they want, for whatever reason, and not paying for it. There are a thousand rationalizations for it, but it doesn’t change the fact that taking whatever you want simply because you want it is theft.

  46. Nancy Laughlin

    Hi all,

    I’m another person in a unique position to comment here. A few years ago one of my nephews was arrested for pirating music and movies. As well he should have been!
    He was fined $10,000 and the police took his computer. They searched everything! The looked for the music and movies, checked his email to see if he shared with friends and then installed software to retrieve any deleted files. When he eventually got his computer back, the harddrive was fried.

    Rob, I’d be very surprised if the police didn’t do the same to Jamie’s computer and email. They said she had 24 songs (a pretty exact number) and that she shared them with friends. How do they know she shared with friends unless they had the emails, etc.?

    One thing I will say, getting arrested scared the heck out of my nephew, and the $10,000 he had to pay, out of his own pocket, helped too. He now pays for music and watches movies at the theatre.
    I’m all for the arrests and fines. They do make a difference.

  47. Emma

    Great post and some great comments too.

    Libraries are different from piracy as they do buy the book to lend out and the library system in the UK has a method of recording how many times a book is borrowed and the author gets a very small payment based on that. It’s not going to make a writer rich, but it does at least acknowledge the writer should get some payment.

    The additional problem with piracy is that it sets up the expectation that things can be got for free so only "idiots" pay. This in turn devalues culture because it forces artists to seek other ways of making a living which takes time and creative energy away from the art. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked to donate an original, unpublished poem for free to help out a new magazine/webzine and then had a negative reaction when asking about payment as if I was the one being unreasonable.

  48. Rob Gregory Browne

    In a criminal case, yes. But this was a civil case. "Beyond a shadow of a doubt" doesn’t apply here.

    Gar, I mentioned in my first post that the standard for a civil case is "a preponderance of evidence." But whether a trial is civil OR criminal, the standard is never "beyond a shadow of a doubt." That would be an impossible standard to reach.

    But from what I’ve read — and again, I haven’t seen the transcript and don’t know all the facts — but from what I’ve read, I’m not sure the "evidence" against Thomas was a "preponderance." The servers apparently pointed to her MAC address, etc., and yes, her online nickname was used, but to hackers that means nothing. Once they take control of your machine they can do anything they damn well please.

    Do I think this happened in Thomas’s case? Not really. But then that’s not really the point.

    By the way, the company that accused Thomas — through the RIAA — ran into some legal hot water of its own and the RIAA subsequently stopped using them, without explanation. And that, to me, raises even more red flags.

    Rob, I’d be very surprised if the police didn’t do the same to Jamie’s computer and email.

    Nancy, as far as I can tell, the police never raided Jammie Thomas’s home. She got a cease and desist letter from the RIAA, in which they demanded she pay a fine. She refused and let them take her to court. When she went to court, she presented her hard drive, which was free of any pirated materials.

    I could be wrong. I haven’t spent a lot of time delving into the case, and have only read a few accounts.

    All that said, I don’t think any of us should discuss this any further without all of the facts in front of us. I’ve done more than enough speculating.

  49. Patricia Rice

    I can’t add to the arguments already made, but I would like to know–if stealing from musicians and writers is like sticking it to big corporations and "The Man,"–where exactly are these pirates getting scanned copies of print books? Last I heard, bookscanners are expensive pieces of equipment. Without "The Man," where would they get scanners?

    How do we, as a community, get rid of such shortsighted vision? It isn’t just selfishness and greed driving this trend. It’s lack of insight and poor thinking.

  50. JT Ellison

    Proud to share a last name with Harlan – I agree – I hate piracy. It’s just wrong. There’s no justification for stealing, whether it’s a song, a story, or a grape. (Nice one, Fran!)

    Great topic today, Pari. After Tess brought this up last week, I went and found several copies of my books on the pirate sites. All have been logged and legal actions proceeded. We have to fight this, just like the music industry did. There will always be the person who loves our work and shares it with a friend. I have no issue with that, in fact, I applaud it. But to take it for taking’s sake is immoral.

  51. tess gerritsen

    Hmm. I read the link that Gar provided about Thomas-Rassert’s case, and it seems she lied under oath repeatedly. She exchanged her hard drive for a new one, and then claimed that new one was the hard drive in question. She even lied to her own defense expert, who realized that the year of the hard drive’s manufacture proved she was lying.

    I don’t think she’s a character one wants to stand behind as a victim of the big bad corporations.

  52. Rob Gregory Browne

    I guess I’m unusual in thinking that we need to question the actions of prosecutors of any kind, whether or not the defendant in question is a scumbag. If they’re playing fair, then all is good. But if they aren’t, or if there is another reasonable explanation for events, I think it’s only fair for us to consider that explanation.

    That said, I’m certainly not trying to put Jammie Thomas up there as some kind of poster child of injustice. My only point is that we need to approach these things carefully, legally, and without the emotion that’s usually attached to such things.

    Whatever the outcome of her case, whether she was a liar or not, or whether she was guilty of doing what she was accused of doesn’t matter.

    Tthere’s is NOTHING that excuses actual proven piracy of music or books or software. It’s just wrong.

  53. JD Rhoades

    I don’t think she’s a character one wants to stand behind as a victim of the big bad corporations.

    Not trying to do that. But you can be completely legally and morally in the right and still create a public relations problem.

  54. pari noskin taichert

    It seems to me that the woman in question lied several times under oath and that, more than the big bad music industry, was what fried her testimony in the end.

    While I’m with you, Rob, that often trials aren’t at all about innocence or guilt . . . in this case, there’s a lot of doubt in both directions — as Gar’s comment shows.

  55. pari noskin taichert

    Yeah. You make an important point. It’s stealing. Period. No matter how "wealthy " the artist.

    Pretty simple, hunh?

    Boy, that was sure a wake-up call, wasn’t it? Why did he attract attention? Was he selling the stuff? And how was he caught? I’m fascinated by this.

    I feel your pain. I remember one magazine that told me they wouldn’t be paying me but that I’d get incredible PR from it. I asked the editor if she did her work for free . . . The next thing I knew they were offering me the rate they paid their freelance reporters.

    You are so right. And I don’t think it’s only young people who might not have the sense here — or might be making those arguments that art should be for free. You know about the romance downloads. Many of those readers are middle class- middle aged women. They’re shortsighted too.

  56. Gar Anthony Haywood

    Rob, I’m right with you on the "questioning authority" tip. Prosecutorial misconduct happens every day, and a lot of innocent people get hurt because of it. As I indicated earlier, I think the damages found were way out of whack in this case — the RIAA and jury were tripping in setting the price-per-download so high — but that doesn’t change the fact that piracy almost certainly occurred in this case and that the defendant a) blatantly lied about it; b) tried to cover it up; and c) has yet to show any remorse whatsoever for her crime.

    There may well yet be a lot of innocent people caught up in the RIAA’s zeal to punish music pirates, but Thomas-Rasset was most definitely not one of them.

  57. Chris Hamilton

    If you want all writing to suck, then make it all free. I can make money writing by being a technical writer, a marketing writer, or lots of other kinds of writing. Steal my work at a high enough volume and I’ll do what I need to so I can put food on the table.

    I’d love to find out a way to embed a program in my work that sends a note out that says "Dear FBI, I have bad pictures on my computer, but you’ll never, ever catch me. Nanny nanny boo boo." If you don’t have a token of some sort that proves you bought it, it sends the note to everyone in your address book, and to tips@fbi.gov.

  58. BCB

    I agree with everyone who has said that stealing is wrong. Period. There are no exemptions for poverty or inaccessibility or adolescence or anything else. But let me play devil’s advocate for a minute (Sorry, my dad was a debate coach and a good debate requires you to take the opposite side and make a case for it. Really.).

    At what point does sharing become stealing? Way back in the pleistocene era when I was planning my wedding reception, I decided it would be fun to have background music of my choosing. Party music. We were poor and the budget was non-existent (no live band), so I gathered together all the records (yes, those round flat vinyl things, a favourite of dinosaurs at the time) and cassette tapes I had (all of which I had purchased) that contained fun party songs and waded through them and recorded several cassette tapes — a party tape mix. I’m fairly confident many of you have done the same thing for similar occasions. And I shared that music with everyone who came to the wedding reception.

    No one asked for a copy of those tapes, but if they had, I would have made one for them. Hell, if EVERYONE asked for a copy, I would have been delighted they enjoyed it so much and made a copy for everyone. Fast forward to current times (sorry, didn’t mean to make you dizzy), and I can report that my son has attended the weddings of several friends in the past year and more than one of them gave out CD’s of "their special wedding music" as party favours. (IMO, they should have waited for someone to ask.)

    What does this have to do with books? The analogy is that theoretically someone has to first buy a book in some format before they "share" it. Logically, the original has to come from somewhere and I doubt they’re hacking into the database at Random House (or whoever) to get it. At some point, someone bought the book. Then they duplicated it in a format that was easier to "share," and then they spread the word to all their friends.

    At what point does this sharing become theft? When I gathered all my records and cassette tapes (which I paid for) and copied various songs from them into a different more easily shared format, was that theft? When I shared those songs with my wedding guests, was that a crime? Had I duplicated my homemade cassettes for those guests, would that have been theft? If they had then copied them to give to their friends, would that have been a crime? At what point do you draw the line?

    Is ANY duplication of the original a crime? What if I had made that compilation and played it only for my own enjoyment? Is it only a crime when the distribution of the duplication goes beyond a handful of people? What is the cut-off figure? Is it only a crime if those people are not friends, but strangers? Or is it a crime depending on intent, when the purpose of duplication is not joy in sharing something wonderful but rather a duplicitous "getting away with something" intent?

    And how do libraries fit into this argument? They purchase several copies of a book and then "share" them at no cost with several people who are not their personal friends, as many times as possible. Forever. At what point might that be a crime? And why isn’t it? And how is that different from a "hacker" who buys a book, converts it into a more convenient format and "shares" it online? Is it because there is no expectation of it being returned? Can you ever "return" a story once you’ve read it? Doesn’t it stay with the reader forever?

    Oh crap, it’s 9:00. I should wrap up all this argument with something coherent and meaningful, but "24" is on. Yes, I am that shallow.


  59. BCB

    Two Three hours later, I will follow up with a few thoughts, even if everyone else with even a modicum of sensibility is already in bed. [I do wish these comments had date/time stamps, BTW.]

    It seems to me that we writers mostly get incensed about "stealing/sharing" when we perceive it’s having an impact on our income. We see 10,000 illegal downloads of a book and in our minds convert that into income. And it’s upsetting. Of course it is. I have not yet published a book, but the thought of all that lost revenue would make me livid. Except I honestly do not believe that those 10,000 people would ever have obtained the book if it were not somehow available for free. Nor do I believe most of them will even read it.

    Publishers get an even larger slice of the pie and incur proportionately larger "losses" — what are they doing to prevent theft? One would think they’d be proportionately more upset about it. Are any of us upset that publishers are not better caretakers of the rights we’ve sold to them, that they’re not doing a better job of protecting our work from theft? I’m not saying they aren’t doing anything, but I don’t know any publishing type people and have no idea what steps they might be taking. Anyone know?

    I hear so many writers say they write because they have to, that writing is not a choice but an imperative. They say that even if they never got published, they’d still write. Granted, mostly this is something professed by unpublished writers. But I do think it’s a truth all of us have believed at some point. At some point early on, the goal is not so much to make money but to reach out and connect with readers, to tell stories, to be heard. It seems to me that somewhere along the way that goal shifts to making a living. And I’m not sure why or how that happens. I know it’s a reality. I know it’s not an unrealistic expectation. But frankly, if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s also a feeling of entitlement.

    So it seems to be more than a bit hypocritical that our primary objection to "stealing/sharing" comes down to how it affects our pocketbooks. I do find it horribly ironic that the act of "stealing/sharing" on a massive scale has the potential of completely satisfying our pre-published I’m-not-doing-this-for-money goals of reaching out and connecting and being heard.

    Yeah, I’m cynical as hell.

    /taking off my debater’s hat and going to bed

  60. Denise A. Agnew

    As a small press author and ebook author, I don’t see my epublishing, (yes I do get edited, and I have been rejected and yes I have an agent) as a stepping stone to traditional publishing.

    As Tess said:

    ((Think about it. The book you spent a year sweating over has only a day to turn a profit, and then it’s dust.))

    In a worse case scene, yes. Do my books make a profit beyond the first day, yes they do. To me epiracy sucks. Think of it this way. You go into work every day digging ditches and you have to do it for a reduced wage or for free. Or you’re a lawyer and you have to do it for free…that’s what epiracy amounts to. But the people who steal our work don’t see it that way because they are morally bankrupt people. I don’t have any sympathy for people who steal. If a book is give away by the author and the publisher as a promotion for a short time, that is their choice and that’s different. When people deliberately steal my wages from me, that’s all it is. Stealing. Plain and simple.

    Denise A. Agnew

  61. pari noskin taichert

    Your comments were fascinating and I can see some of your arguments. I’ll always write. At least I think I will. But why bother going through all the effort of making sure my product is high quality? Why work that hard if my books, stories and so forth are so undervalued?

    Right now, writing IS my profession. The piracy means that people are getting something that doesn’t belong to them for free. Libraries, at least pay for the product once. And there are a lot of libraries around. I DO wish we had a system like in the UK where we got a tiny reimbursement for every time someone checked out our books; that would be more reasonable.

    The example you gave about the music at your wedding is apt. We’ve all done things like that. And it’d be wrong to give those tapes or cds or dvds to someone else. Yeah. I know. In the past I might’ve done it. Now, knowing what I know –and respecting the people who create as much as I do — I no longer even would feel comfortable doing it.

    I don’t even put pictures on my blog posts very often — even though I’d always credit them and link to the artist if I could — because I don’t feel comfortable taking their work without reimbursement and that might cost me too much. I do use YouTube because the assumption is that those pieces are for public distribution . . .

  62. pari noskin taichert

    Also, BCB, I’m not a cynic. I still hold the hope that more people will eventually value quality and will understand that they’re shooting themselves in the foot if they refuse to pay for it.

    Call me a "dreamer."

  63. Emma

    Hi BCB

    I think your wedding party music scenario is a little strained. I presume you didn’t copy a full album onto your wedding party tapes but a series of singles from different bands and distributing the tapes did two things 1) give those guests who asked for copies a memento and 2) let them go away and track down the albums of the artists whose songs they particularly liked. Hence a limited private distribution may have actually increased sales (albeit in small numbers).

    Piracy is not private distribution to a limited number of people (eg passing a book around a group of friends, one or two of whom may then go and buy their own copy or even buy other books by that author). Piracy is making illegal copies available to anyone who wants one, effectively ensuring that the original artist never sees a penny from their efforts. Some lawyers do pro bono (effectively free) work for non profit organisations or where individuals can’t afford to pay and the lawyer thinks they have a good case, but even these lawyers insist other clients pay for their time.

    I think the difference is in intent: are you passing on a copy of a book/music track because you know your friends are interested and may go on to buy a copy of the original or other work by that artist or are you just making free copies available to anyone who wants one and hence cheating the artist of an opportunity to be paid?

    Yes, I’ve borrowed books from friends, but bought a copy or bought copies of other books by that author. I use You Tube to check out music and if I like it I buy the album. If I’ve bought an album on CD, I may copy it so I can play it in the car but all I’m doing is changing the format of the original purchase which I’m still using for my private listening.

    I don’t really buy the argument that authors starting out should make their work available for free to get their name known. All you achieve is the expectation that all your work will be free so you won’t be able to give up the day job and push all your creative energies into your art.

  64. BCB

    Pari, I’m only a cynic when I’m not busy being a naive starry-eyed optimist. And actually, most of my "arguments" are pretty clearly addressed by copyright and fair use laws — laws not understood by most people in the general population. It was extremely difficult to try to make a case here *for* something, even if I was mostly just posing questions, that I’m so opposed to (piracy). It’s wrong. [I hope anyone reading this understands I was raising issues solely for the sake of argument.]

    Emma, I agree that new authors shouldn’t give away their work in order to get recognition, but there is ample opportunity through blogs or even newsletters to give readers a sample of your writing and a feel for your voice with shorter pieces. And there is evidence that giving away free copies of an older book for a limited time (especially one in a series) just before the release of a new book will increase sales of the new book. I think that’s an interesting concept.

  65. Emma

    Hi BCB

    I recognised you were playing devil’s advocate and were raising issues to make a valuable contribution to the discussion.

    I agree that blogs and/or extracts can be a useful way of promoting an author’s writing. But when writers blog they’re fully aware they’re not going to get paid and it’s a promotion opportunity. Likewise when you stick a first chapter up the aim is to entice readers to buy the book to read on, not giveaway work for free. Publisher often do stick the first chapter of the next book in a current book to tempt the readers to buy the next one too.

    The problem with piracy is it takes control away from the writer/publisher/agent and puts it in the hands of people who have no investment in the art and so no interest in getting a return for the artist.

  66. pari noskin taichert

    Emma and BCB,
    I just love that the two of you had a conversation here. A real conversation. If only more people would communicate w/o pugnacious emotions, we might actually come up with some real answers to this problem.


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