Steal This E-BookSteal This E-Book
Sick of reading about MP3 and movie piracy, and how it's killed the music business and is destroying Hollywood, too? Then let's take a break and talk about e-book piracy. The usual suspect -- Cory Doctorow -- posits that the author's real enemy is obscurity, not piracy. Wrong. It's a different "p" word: Poverty.
May 15, 2009
Sick of reading about MP3 and movie piracy, and how it's killed the music business and is destroying Hollywood, too? Then let's take a break and talk about e-book piracy. The usual suspect -- Cory Doctorow -- posits that the author's real enemy is obscurity, not piracy. Wrong. It's a different "p" word: Poverty.The back-story here is that we've spent the last decade listening to bloviating from the "Web is free" crowd, which is a de facto alliance (running, from best to worst) among online absolutists (Richard Stallman), anti-DRM ideologues (like Doctorow) and outright pirates (picking someone who won't sue me, I'll go with the Pirate Bay guys).
Of course, it's easy to take a position in favor of other people giving up stuff. File-sharing advocacy has been made easier still by the ham-handed responses of "The Man" (read: the RIAA), whose strategy has been to sue the crap out of grandmothers. Add to all this the reality, as security guru Bruce Schneier aptly puts it, that data is like water. (His actual quote is: "Trying to make digital files uncopyable is like trying to make water not wet.") Which means that, functionally, the Web really does want to be free. As a business model, though, this is a non-starter. [It occurred to me the other day that there appear to be only two really viable Web business models: Google's, and Craigslist's disgraced but unlikely to vanish "adult" ads. But I digress.] Which brings us to today's subject, which is the poor author who finds his work ripped off by online thieves posting up e-book versions of stuff you previously could only access in hard copy form. I'm not talking about an author like J.K. Rowling, who has been in the news over the years for trying to tamp down illicit editions of Harry Potter. She's about as sympathetic a figure as Sheryl Crow, the multimillionaire who's always whining about music piracy, and whose CDs sport annoyingly large FBI warning notices. (I know because I'm a Sheryl Crow fan. Of her music.) I am talking about hard-working writers like Peter Wayner, author of computer texts like Compression Algorithms For Real Programmers. E-book piracy of works like Wayner's is becoming an economically impactful form of theft because of the emergence of e-book readers like Kindle. Most of these ripped-off PDFs are actually read on PCs, but Kindle has put the e-book business into public view. That was the thesis of a New York Times article on May 11, entitled "With E-Readers Comes Wider Piracy of Books." Cory Doctorow, who also writes books in addition to his better-known role as BoingBoing co-editor, tells the paper he believes free books, even unauthorized ones, entice new readers. "I really feel like my problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity," he's quoted as saying. Which for him, wearing his fiction-writing hat, is true. But not for Peter Wayner, who posted up a response on the Times's Bits blog, " A Book Author Wonders How to Fight Piracy." Wayner wails:
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