Yesterday, a discussion about illegal e-book downloads exploded on Twitter. Some of the comments were illuminating, others sanctimonious, still others plain illogical. It makes for frustrating reading. (You can find the unedited discussion here.)
In brief, though, lots of readers appear to believe that illegal downloads are “like a library card on the Internet”. There are lots of problems with this assumption and today I’m just going to pick at the 3 most basic:
1. Libraries buy books and lend them as a community service (paid for with your taxes). “Free ebook” sites steal books for personal profit.
2. When you borrow a library book, you agree to return it after a short period. You are under no obligation to return a stolen ebook.
3. Authors are paid for their work when libraries buy their books. Authors earn nothing from pirated ebooks.
Basically, downloading illegal copies of ebooks is theft. Authors who can’t get paid for their work may soon be out of work. Publishers who can’t earn back the cost of producing books may reduce the number of books they publish.
This is extremely simplistic, of course, and I hope you don’t feel personally patronized. But for much of yesterday’s Twitter discussion, this was the level of discourse and so I started with the basics.
And now I’m tired, and jaded, and these specious comparisons of book-thieves to librarians make me want to soothe my spirit at a real library: one with ebooks and traditional books, one staffed by smart, bookish people with plenty of great recommendations, one that’s a vibrant part of my community. I hope you’ll join me.