Tuesday 7 December 2010

Torrenting and opinions

I stated in a recent review that torrenting a book is wrong and thievery.

Here is the comment received in response:

Hi,normally I don't post comments but I found myself somewhat offended by being called a thief.

I am a huge fan of Jim Butcher, and I've BOUGHT and read ALL of his books in printed (and sometimes ALSO audio) format, but then again I've downloaded them from from torrents as well.

I guess that could be called piracy but then again the prices for e-books could be called idiocy, highway robbery and profiteering in the worst way possible.

Why I did that? Because I couldn't wait for the books to get my corner of the world...because I couldn't afford them at the time (and I had to work hard and save a lot to buy some books in my life)...and number of other reasons which not only, in my opinion, doesn't make me a thief but also gives me a right to tell you to get of your high horse and consider that there might be people in the world without money or access to public libraries (especially in other countries) who would like to read that book...and also the most important part that most of the people who will download a pirated BOOK are also the people who spend the most money in bookstores...

It got deleted - presumably by Anonymous who posted it in the first place - but I can't stand thieves also being cowards and hiding. Have at it people - have fun!

EDIT - here are some of the sterling responses from followers of my blog:

Adelie High: Anonymous - funny how you can't afford a book, but you can afford access to quite advanced computer technology.

Pablo Cheesecake: Curious what part of stealing doesn't make you a thief ?

Spencer: Wow Anonymous, I don't think I could ever list myself a true fan of an author if I illegally obtained a copy of a book regardless if I've purchased dozens of hardback, paperback, and all the audiobooks. I've got all the above incluiding ebooks for the wheel of time series but still would not ever download a torrent of a scanned copy of Towers of Midnight. You are stealing money from the author by doing so. You are one of the most shameful and despicable types of " fans." A fan is someone that will do what ever it takes to get the material. Cost is a non-relevant matter. If you have the ability to download torrents just fine then you should have the brain power and ability to purchase the book from an online book seller. You can not nor deserve the title of Fan. You deserve the title "Thief of Mr. Butcher's Money." Enjoy the new title you inconsiderate puke.


  1. So Mr Anonymous, by your reckoning it's not theft if 1) you can't afford it and 2) It's not available in your corner of the world.

    I wish i'd known that they are perfectly valid reasons to take something without permission or payment.

    I can see a really nice Lexus out the window of my office, I can't afford it and I know you can't get them in my little corner of the world, does that mean I can get it? Fantastic yey, free car!

    Reality check, it DOES make you a thief (at least in most countries) and it never, ever, ever gives YOU the RIGHT to steal someone else's hard earned work. So you can't afford it, that's life doesn't give you the right to steal.

    People that download pirated material don't spend more in book stores, that's actually an urban myth brought about to make those pirates feel better about what they are doing.

    The simple fact is if you download copyright material without permission from the copyright holder you are a Thief and no excuses about the ebook being too expensive (some publishers do actually sell the ebook versions for a very reasonible price) is going to justify the action of theft.

  2. It's not a justification for copyright infringement, but piracy is not theft. It's really not even piracy, which has a connotation of plunder for resale.

    That said, I'm glad authors take the rights to their properties seriously and I hope they make all the money they can off their work. I do wish, however, there were some path to the public domain that didn't involve waiting until everyone who was influenced by the work was dead and buried. I also hope that publishers loosen their restrictions and start to sell ebooks rather than license them.

  3. You know, I live in a country where most SFF isn't readily available in the bookstore, let alone the library, purely because English is a foreign language and most books usually are only stocked/bought in the translated version. But I've never decided well to hell with it, I'll just torrent the books. That just isn't an excuse!

    Torrenting IS stealing, even if YOU buy the books too, the several hundreds other people who download the book probably don't. And that old saw about but people who torrent spend more money on the legit stuff, whether it be books, music or films, is just that: an old saw to make people who deep down know they're doing something wrong feel better. It's just not true.

    Unfortunately, as much as we can all argue with anonymous (and we should) the sad thing is, he or anyone else who thinks like he does, won't be convinced by any of our arguments, because he really thinks he isn't in the wrong, which says more about the world today than we want it to.

  4. Isn't part of the point that the best-selling authors make money for publishing companies that they can then plough into new and upcoming writers. There is money to be spent in publishing long before there is money to be made, and we all want new talent to be encouraged. How far down the line do we get before real talent is lost because of this kind of activity, whatever you choose to call it?

  5. I agree with Ant completely, but what puzzles me most about the original comment is that s/he had to apparently save a lot to buy some books. Which books? First editions of Alice in Wonderland? A 16th century copy of the King George Bible? Books are not that expensive as a form of entertainment. And if a book isn't available in your country, well, you can buy books from abroad via the Internet or make contact with individual bookshops overseas via email or the ye olde speaking tube. That isn't illegal. Sometimes there are even special perks too for making the effort. Recently Greg Rucka was offering signed special limited edition covers of his latest book if you ordered it from a specialist bookshop in the US, and at the time it was not out here in the UK.

    I guess we shouldn't feed the troll though.

  6. The Other problem of course is that search engines such as Google are not clever enough and not policed enough to prevent these dodgy torrent sites from appearing.

    Does that not in some way make them also accountable for advertising an illegal activity?

  7. Putting my head above the parapet here, but if an E-Book isn't available, you've bought the book in hard copy, and you don't share it, where's the harm?

  8. I agree with Tobias re. "theft" - a simplistic misnomer that only industries (e.g. record industry, movie industry, videogame industry publishers) actually use. Would be interested to hear what authors think.

    Secondly, if this person has actually bought the books before (the buying of physical books being a laudable act, imo, unlike buying ebooks and contributing to the death of the written word by making this rather soulless alternative a more viable financial proposition for the publishers) then why on earth can't they download ebook versions as backups or reader copies to spare their considerably more valuable paper copies?

    Isn't making personal backups perfectly within the law, by the way? As far as I know it is in terms of music and videogames - you're perfectly within your rights to rip a CD you've bought to MP3 for instance. The author/publishers have already profited from them that initial transaction.

    Readers, unlike videogamers and music fans (I know many/most of us are all three) are actually quite an honest bunch. Most actually like to own the book and support the author. Is book piracy really that big a deal? I'm sure it's nowhere near industry-threatening levels yet. Let's have some persepctive.

  9. The best you can do is make sure legal download options exist and work on encouraging those who are willing to pay by making it as simple as possible to purchase. That removes the "I had to steal it because it wasn't available" argument. Note that although the situation is improving it is still overly complex to buy ebooks, and formats, platforms and DRM introduce their own problems. As far as I am concerned that is reason to support people like Angry Robot who are actively trying to improve the experience for customers, it is not reason to go and steal stuff.

    The rest of the arguments to support theft are all just rationalisations that we have seen in other digital markets. The important thing to beware of though is that not every download from a torrent represents a lost sale. That is a bogus statistic used by the music industry in particular to inflate claims of lost revenue, and to inflict bizarre DRM schemes on their paying customers.

  10. Sorry for all typos by the way. Typed that in a rush, at work. Also I meant to say "the printed word" rather than "the written word".

  11. PS: - I'd say the above is no more morally wrong than buying a second hand book from a charity bookshop.

  12. Anonymous: you aren't just cheating your author of royalties - it's not just a couple of pennies here or there. You're cheating them of a *sale*.

    A sale which may, when their publisher comes to their end-of-year review, make the difference between getting another contract, or another print run, and not.

    And no contract means no more books. Surely, as a fan, you can see why that would be a bad thing?

  13. @Willard: The harm, as it is presented by publishers, is that in licensing ebooks rather than selling them, they are able to put a tollbooth in front of every transaction. It has been tried with print books as well by via "shrink wrap licensing" but the first sale doctrine hasn't been torn down yet.

  14. I pass books I like to friends and they do the same, isn't that the low tech equivalent albeit on a smaller scale?

  15. Anonymous states that he/she actually buys physical copies of all of said books eventually as well as torrenting. Why're you all ignoring this? I think I prefer such a person to one who merely buys ebooks. Given their ridiculous pricing and lacklustre library collections, I think that torrented ebooks might actually serve a very valid purpose, however, for try-before-you-buy. Like it? Buy a PHYSICAL copy. Don't? Then it's a purchase you'd never have made anyway, so no money lost.

  16. Willard does make a good point about buying from 2nd hand book stores - there is no money to be made by the publishing companies and authors by doing it through that medium. That could also be said about the sellers on Amazon, Abe Books, Ebay, Play, etc, etc. Is that wrong too?

    I agree that torrenting is wrong, but it is part of the world we live in and it will continue like it has, and it will probably become more commonplace as technology advances.

    Can every single person who has commented in uproar about this hold their hands up and say they haven't done anything similar in the past?

  17. Sadly I cannot afford lots of things and therefore (pay close attention here because this is profound) can't have them.

    Such is life. Where did we get the idea that stuff we can't afford should be ours anyway?

    Having said that, I can't help but find a measure of truth in what Alex says above. Anonymous did say that he has bought them all as well. That must not be ignored amidst the righteous bollocking of pirates, yaaaar!

  18. The piracy issues as well as the availability in internet must be worked through to get the balance between the authours (of music, books, science work, etc) and consumers. The same situation with poverty in one part of the world and richness in another one. Water scarcity vs water profusion and etc. It is everywhere! We only need to work through to make some changes and create the balance so everybody would be happy. I study wetalnd water balance and from it I see that we need balance everywhere, that we are in one big delicate system, which is very easy to disbalance and very difficult to balance it back. But possible! So, I believe there are plenty of smart people who can do something with the piracy situation. Is it possible to put away torrent and the data it has? Is it possible to bring the books, music, movies etc to people via internet across the world? Possible, we - people managed to rubbish the space and moon (mars is next), I am sure we can do something with the piracy and stuff :) I wish everyone nice, warm, calm and balanced evening!

  19. @ T.N. Tobias - I see that argument *if* an E-Book is available.

    I've had my E-Book reader for ages (got one for writing an article on a class action lawsuit against amazon ages ago) and there's tons of books that are absolutely not available in E-Book form - old novels, for example.

    My favourite book is Winged Victory by VM Yeates (which is fantastic btw) - as the publisher has no interest in e-publishing it, if I want it on my Kindle, what other choice do I have?

    I'm not sure this ethos of "you should pay for absolutely everything, even if the product is substandard" is entirely right. There's a free and a paid E-Book of Greenmantle for example. The free one has lots of interesting commentary from the original 1916 edition, and is a real labour of love by fans. The paid for one is a soul-less block of text.

    Am I morally wrong for choosing to download the free one when a still in copyright but worse edition of a 94-year old book still exists?

  20. "First editions of Alice in Wonderland? A 16th century copy of the King George Bible? Books are not that expensive as a form of entertainment."

    Oh, yes, let them eat cakes. Do you have an idea how much does a Belorussian or, lets say, Nigerian person earn? Do you think you are paying them a proper price for growing your coffee and chocolate? And isn't that stealing?

  21. I don't think that buying used books is comparable to downloading a torrent. A used book can only every be held by one person at any given time, while a torrent is equivalent to accepting a free photocopy of a book from a stranger on the street.

  22. On a slightly different note, and I am not being facetious, but Willard, why don't you just buy the book? Why do you have to have it in e-book form? I'm assuming you own a physical copy, since you mentioned it was your favourite. And unless you are going on holiday/an extended break etc, why do you need to carry more than one book around with you at once? Therefore, logically, unless it's extremely rare and expensive and you're afraid of damage/loss, can't you just carry the book with you?

    Morally wrong, I don't know, but I just don't see why you need it in an electronic format when you probably already have it.

    Lasitaja - If you want to talk about the wages of people in third world and developing countries then by all means, but I don't see what that has to do with the original topic of piracy and how the original post claimed it was his/her right to pirate books.

  23. @Willard, RE: No ebook available: I don't know that morality enters into the question. You obviously cannot purchase something that doesn't exist. Making copies for personal use is something generally covered under copyright laws (at least in the US) and wouldn't be a violation unless you conspired to distribute your copy (at which point you would be engaging in piracy in the actual sense of the word).

    Re: Greenmantle. This book is in the public domain. The free vs paid is simply the choice of the publisher. It is perfectly legal to publish versions of books in the public domain and charge for them. Again, there is no moral dilemma. You are not personally benefiting from the copyright owners rights. If the copyright owner (in this case there isn't one) had the right to sell an ebook edition and you got it for free via nefarious means, you would be guilty of copyright violation and could be subject to civil penalties.

    But that is a different quandary from outright theft. Theft is deprivation of property. The act of infringement does not deprive the copyright owners from continuing to exercise their rights on the IP.

    I think that most reasonable people feel it is inappropriate to freely consume media that they would otherwise have to pay for but that doesn't release the publisher from their obligation to treat people fairly. Is it a moral imperative to limit purchase rights of ebook licencors to a greater degree than paper copy owners? Is it too much to ask that publishers not treat their customers like criminals by asking for more than the law allows in order to read in a different format? That's where the battle lines are drawn for me.

  24. Nice to see I sparked such storm...

    First of all I'll remain Anonymous (because I live a couple of thousand kilometers away from you so it doesn't really matter what my name is and it is as good an internet nickname as any).

    And the reason I posted it as Anonymous in the first place is I don't have a profile in any of the places offered or my own website and not because I'm some cowardly villain out to do God knows what...

    Secondly...O.K. you think I am a thief...I don't..I am at worst a copyright infringer.

    And like T.N.Tobias rightly said:
    "Theft is deprivation of property. The act of infringement does not deprive the copyright owners from continuing to exercise their rights on the IP."

    Downloading an e-book from a torrent (WITHOUT ANY INTENTION OF RESELLING IT OR DISTRIBUTING IT FURTHER)is exactly the same as buying it from a second hand store or gifting it to a friend after you have read it. Hell, it is the same as borrowing it to every member of your book club or reading it aloud to a group of children in kindergarten. Nobody (and here I mean the author or the "sainted" publisher) gets any sale points or money or anything ...a bunch of really miserly thieves those kindergarten teachers...they should buy a copy for everyone.

    Thirdly you have quoted only those who happen to agree with you and more often than not insult me...great moderation by the way...so it would be nice to see if you'll publish this as well.

    Lastly you name me not only a thief but also an inconsiderate puke, now inconsiderate I might be but I don't see a reason to call me a puke except you being a very rude person.I will not be so crass to say what I think of people who cannot argue their stances without resorting to name calling.

    P.S. I would really like to adress so many of the posts here but unfortunately I don't have the time to do so and most of you would call me a long winded bore anyways if you had to read all of that...

    P.P.S. and for those of you really interested in considering copyright infringment and publisher attitudes and the book market read a little...Internet is a very interesting place...don't go around parroting other yelling it's a theft, it's a theft...

  25. Oh and I forgot to say....I didn't delete my first post...I don't know who did that or why

    Best regards


  26. oh...and my apologies to the graceful hostess of this debate...I wrote it all in a hurry...

    the Lastly...comment is meant for Spencer only...

  27. Speaking as a intellectual property lawyer and a huge fan girl (who just wrote an entire thesis defending User Generated Materials and Fan fiction), I would say that calling torrenting books (or movies, or music) priacy is actually not entirely accurate. More to the point: it is an over simplistic way of looking at a very complex body of laws that are in themselves very ambiguous, and territorial based.

    What I mean is, peer-to-peer sharing (which can be a form of torrenting) is not illegal in a place like Canada, for example, but in parts of the US it is. In fact, there are states in the US that don't prosecute it, and there are those that do. Right now, as it stands, the bodies of law that regard this are not conclusive.

    From a moral standpoint, I see your point: it's like stealing someone's livliehood. But that too, is a very simplistic way of looking at it. Contracts do not necessarily reflect the amount of books made, first of all - here's an example, J.K. Rowling's books in the original series will not surpass 7, so regardless of how many fans buy more of her books, she will not make more. Her copyright also extended to her characters and plotlines though, so she further dealt with movies deals, merchandising, etc.

    Again, I am not advocating any particular course of action, except maybe clarity, but I do find the overwhelming negative response very ... well rude. I understand everyone has opinions, but to call someone "puke" does not seem within any ethics code I can think of.

    Anyways, my two cents.
    Carry on :)

  28. Oh, and just an addendum for consideration: if you borrow a friend's copy of your favourite book, is it the same as torrenting a file to read, and then never reseeding or sending it off (or whatever, tech terms are not my thing), and if it's not - then what is it that makes it different?

    (Logically speaking)

  29. For me the difference between borrowing a book from a friend and torrenting a file but never seeding lies in the fact that I have a reasonable expectation that my friends has actually paid for their copy, while it is possible that the original source of the torrent was not legally obtained. Also, when something is loaned there is the reasonable expectation that it will be returned, while a torrent allows a permanent possession by the downloader without the original owner losing their copy. It all goes back to my original comment of one versus many copies of the material in question.

  30. I'm all for tor renting. I really want to rent Glastonbury Tor for my birthday and have a kooky New Age party on it, with crystals and joss sticks and stuff.

    And if it's not for rent, I'LL JUST STEAL IT.

  31. You can torrent books? *crawlsbackintoludditehole*

    Oh, and if you do it's stealing and if you want to do it then at least admit that to yourself

  32. O.K.
    now I'm getting slightly worried...
    my posts seem to dissapear at a rather regular rate. So I cannot even defend my position...just lovely and oh how awfully convenient.

    and now @EVERBODY moaning about stealing Lexsuses and renting Glastonbury Tor....GROW UP!
    It is not the same, it will never be the same, and it is childish even trying to compare torrenting and property theft.

  33. I just want to make it very clear that I am NOT deleting posts - when I have a discussion point on my site, I want both sides to be able to put their views across. And their have been interesting and rational points from both sides, thank you very much! So... I have no idea why these posts are going missing :-/ It isn't something that I've experienced on my website before.

  34. Ahhh, thanks to a helpful friend I found the posts - they were caught in my spam filter which I only check irregularly. So I do extend my apologies to Mr Anonymous for accusing him/her of deleting their posts through cowardice!

  35. @Magemanda
    I apologize for making what seem to be unfounded allegations...but I hope you can see it does look a little bit strange.

    Although now that I look more closely there do seem to be other posts missing, especially at the begining of the discussion. I hope it's only a temporary problem.

  36. I see you fixed the problem. Thank you for returning the posts.
    This is a topic I feel rather strongly about and I do appreciate this opportunity for airing some of my feelings...even if they are sometimes somewhat jumbled and inconsistent.

  37. Justify it as you ike. Tell yourself whatever you want to mnake yourself feel better. But it is stealing.

    I have downloaded music files from the net. I am quite aware, for whatever reasons, that I am stealing them and it is wrong. Some songs i already have on CD... it is still stealing.

    If the torrent is not put up to download for free by the author or publishers. Then I fail to see how it is anything other than stealing.

    And you all know that the second hand book store argument is a very weak one.

    I dont know you anonymous and please dont think i am making a personal attack or anything. but i think you have got caught up in this argument and are lying to yourself to make yourself feel better. Its not a good look dude

  38. Me? I torrent. As an example, I got my digital hands on an ARC of Stephen King's Dark Tower (volume 7). I got it two days before the physical release and was able to read the conclusion to a series I'd enjoyed for almost two decades. Now I look on my shelf and see three copies of that book, including a Grant artist edition (signed by Michael Whelan) which set me back over AU$100. Who was hurt by my "thievery"? Steve King? Hell, one could argue that he doesn't need the money anyways, yet I still parted with my hard earned. And I did so despite already having read the book, despite already having in my permanent possession a "stolen" copy. Kind of like anon.

    How about another example? I own PS editions of Steven Erikson's KB&B novellas. All of them in hardback, signed by the author. I also have the PS omnibus collecting the first three. And for a long time, before the recent release of the TOR and Bantam omnibuses, those hideously expensive editions of mine were the only source for the tales. I bought them as collector pieces. I didn't want to risk damaging them. So when Blood Follows surfaced online, I gladly "stole" a copy so I could finally enjoy the book I'd already paid 30 pounds for. Gods, I'm such a monster!

    I just hope that every one of you calling for anon's head are as good and pure as you would have the rest of us be. Have you never downloaded an mp3 before? Just one? No? Because if the answer is yes, you're a thief. A dirty, rotten, no-good, parasite. Gutterscum. Filth. Puke.

    Pirate. ("Yarr!")

  39. FROM BOTH AN AUTHOR'S AND PUBLISHER'S PERSPECTIVE, I'm pasting here a post from another blog on this subject. Some of this is relevant, some not.

    The OF Blog wrote:
    "...a system that reduces art to something that can be bought, sold, traded, or stolen, what does that say about us when capitalist exchanges have come to pervade even those products of human labor that we might like to think ought to remain above that dirty, mundane business?'"

    While I very much appreciate your perspective of literature as somehow above the capitalist fray (Frey?), the reality is that the decline of our capitalist culture's valuation of art, as in reduced humanities courses and grants, is the result of the view that the writer's "wares" are without monetary (read "tangible") value and should be provided to the public gratis.

    The only writers who make a living through writing are, with rare exception, the less and least artistic. People like James Patterson and Sandra Brown are manufacturers very much along the lines of toilet paper manufacturers: you can make it softer, thicker, more absorbent, but it's still toilet paper, i.e., a product. As a writer of high-aesthetic (e.g., hybrids) literature, I pay more for one roll of toilet paper than I earn on the sale of one copy of one book that took me ten years to complete.

    Those writers who practice writing as an art form, shifting boundaries and seeking to reflect contemporary culture via not just the storyline but also the shape and sound of the language, are fortunate to earn $100 a year in royalties. Poets' royalty statements are sometimes in the negative; that is, their publisher received more returned books than were sold. Great writers work two to three jobs. One of them is writing. It has as much value as waiting tables, does it not?

    Royalties are typically 7-10% of the list price of a book. That's an earning of $0.70-1.00 per download of a $10 ebook* -- if there is no advance. (An author must earn back the full advance before any royalty is paid. And they earn it back in royalty percentage, not retail.) A pirate steals this pathetic coinage from a writer who may have spent years on a novel or story collection.

    Also, publishers do not make the other full percentage left over from royalties but must distribute it to the reader platforms (e.g., Sony, Amazon, Apple) and overhead (except in the case of presses like mine wherein the publisher wears nearly all hats and receives no salary). And the platforms themselves are the result of expensive R&D, including salaries of many who make six figures as software designers.

    Like the universe, everything is a system. As in Hollywood, the writer is as the bottom being swallowed up by scavenging catfish -- that now may include pirates.

    Again, your respect for the writer is laudable, but the age-old "art for money demeans the art" is a lie our culture, ironically, has been sold.

    *all of Jaded Ibis Press ebooks are priced below $10.00