Monday, February 18, 2008

Ebook Sharing

This next bi-week the Diner staff is going to be talking about computers, the Internet and similar technologies and how they have affected the writing process. Since I noticed several discussions of P2P (peer to peer) sharing networks and ebook pirating recently, I thought I'd tackle that topic to start out.

Is ebook pirating only a concern for ebook authors? Well, technically a lot of authors who think of themselves as conventional or print authors are ebook authors as well. Many publishing houses, mainstream or otherwise, release electronic editions for readers who like 'em that way. Some mainstream houses have begun releasing exclusive ebooks and some small presses release only ebooks. Especially in small press, a book sold as an ebook typically nets its author a higher royalty percentage but also increases the ease with which that book can be pirated.

Granted, ebook pirating is a larger concern for authors whose primary income is from ebooks, as a few hundred pirated downloads can really affect them, but as readers move more and more into Star Trek land (a slow and insidious process!), it will eventually be a huge concern for anyone who wants to make money from writing. Technology has changed and we need to keep up! No use hiding your head in the sand because then you can't see what's about to bite you on the ass.

While your opinion of what is and isn't ethical, legal or "grey" might seem clear, this blog entry is about my opinions :). It surprised me while skimming various discussions about ebook copying that different people see different shades of grey on a topic that for me is pretty clear-cut. For some, it is almost as if because it's easy to share ebooks, that makes it okay to do so, while similar behavior with print books is clearly wrong (eg creating copies). Some individuals were very defensive about the positive aspects certain types of sharing, while others were very aggressive about the negative aspects of any types of sharing. Some had the attitude of how the criminals who pirate ebooks aren't going to buy them legally anyway, so why should it matter? Others feel that the pirated ebooks will eventually result in an increased number of real sales as the pirates in question decide the books are worth real money.

But for me, it's just not that murky. Here's my vll (very long list) of Not-Grey and Grey areas re: ebook or anybook copying:

Not grey area:

Buying any book in any form legally and keeping it.

Getting any book from the library (that said library legally purchased or received via legal donation), reading it, and returning it, to the extent that any electronic file borrowed is no longer in your possession.

Buying a hardcopy book legally and donating/trading/selling online, with a used bookstore, a friend, a thrift store, a garage sale, to the extent that the book or copy of the book (should you have been so insane as to make a copy either physically or electronically) is no longer in your possession.

Buying an ebook legally and letting someone other than you read it while it is on your ebook reader or computer or your personal print-out.

For me, buying an ebook legally and giving it to a single entity and then deleting all copies of said file from your possession is not a grey area, but since you can't guarantee the next in line to own said ebook won't do illegal things with it, for many it is a grey area. Plus, according to the copyright notices in most ebooks, you cannot do this with said ebook.

Grey area:

Buying an ebook and sharing it with a few friends (people who do not live in your household) while keeping a copy of said ebook in your possession. This involves installing a duplicate copy of the ebook on someone else's computer or ebook reader. If you're crazy enough to create print-outs for people and give them away, as opposed to sharing your own print-out and getting it back, that is also included in this grey area.

Getting a free ebook or reader copy from a publishing entity for promotional purposes and sharing said copy with friends, unless the publishing entity encouraged you to do this.

Receiving an ebook from a friend (who either purchased it legally or received it for promotional purposes) that your friend retains in his or her possession.

Darker grey area:

Obtaining an ebook from a p2p network that you own legally in a different format (say you have the hardcopy and you're dying to read the ecopy on your computer but don't want to buy the book 2x).

Obtaining an ebook from a p2p network but then purchasing it legally at some point thereafter.

Not grey area:

Creating a copy of a hardcopy book (whether said copy is paper or electronic) and sharing it with anyone.

Owning an ebook and sharing a copy of it via whatever p2p network you have chosen, whether or not said ebook remains in your possession. This is not the same as deliberately sharing with a few friends, even if your p2p network is a closed circle.

Obtaining an ebook from a p2p network, whether or not you choose to re-share said ebook. (Exception: if you are the author or author's agent and the download is part of the process of shutting down the p2p network)

Creating a p2p network for the purpose of sharing ebooks with people and getting ebooks from people.

Really not grey area:

Obtaining an ebook via whatever means and selling it for personal profit again, and again, and again

Accepting "donations" at your p2p file sharing site

DUDE. This is not advanced ethics class. If you want to read a book and have minimal cash, you can try to get it free in a promotional giveaway, borrow it from a library, or purchase it cheaply from a legit source selling used books. If it's a hardcopy you can try to borrow it from a friend and if it's ecopy you can try to convince your friend to give it to you and erase it from their computer or read it on their computer. Otherwise, you don't get to read it until you can afford it. That's how consumer products work.

What are your grey and not so grey areas about ebook sharing?

Jody W.
A SPELL FOR SUSANNAH--Available now from Samhain Publishing *


  1. Jody,
    Thanks for clearly laying this issue out.

  2. I don't have a problem with someone sharing an e-book with a friend or family member. It's like saying, "I just read the greatest book. Try it." We do it with print books all the time. I see it as a way to introduce authors to readers who might not otherwise try them.

    But I do have a problem with websites selling pirated e-books and profiting from it. That's stealing. How was Napster stopped when this struck the music industry? This is something that will affect every published author and we should be very worried about it.

  3. Something all writers have tot hink about.


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