Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I Bought It – Why Can’t I Share It?

By Roz Lee

The world is changing, and along with it, my bookshelf. One upon a time, I bought real books. You know the ones—they’re made of paper and you hold them in your hand and actually have to turn the pages. When you’ve read them, they gather dust on your shelves; take up space in drawers and in boxes in the garage and attic because you can’t bring yourself to part with them.

Now I have one of those fancy electronic books. I click a few keys, and before I can find my reading glasses, a dozen new books appear on my virtual bookshelf. I can carry my entire library on vacation with me. I can add to my collection from anywhere, whether I’m at the beach or riding in the car. It’s a miracle. It’s technology.

It’s also the bane of every author’s existence.

EBook Piracy undermines the existence of the publishing industry. Readers download their favorite titles, and then share them with the world, and see nothing wrong with doing so. I’ve had a hard time understanding why it’s wrong too, but bear with me for a few minutes and I think I can explain.

There are two parts to a book. The first part is the physical book. Its sheets of paper bound together. The other part is the CONTENT. That’s the ideas, the story printed on the pages. The Book is what you purchased, the paper and the binding. The CONTENT belongs to the person who owns the copyright. Nine times out of ten, this is the author.

Back when, you went to the bookstore and came home with a book you could hold in your hand. You read the book, and you liked it so much you wanted to share it. You handed the book to a friend or relative to read. You no longer have possession of that book. There is still only the one copy you purchased, whether you gave it away or loaned it. You have not separated the CONTENT from the BOOK. You have done nothing wrong.

Now, let’s consider another scenario. You bought the book and brought it home. You read it. You loved it. You wanted to share it with everyone you know. You take it to work and use the copy machine to run off one, or two dozen, copies and give them away. You have violated the author’s copyright. You have copied the CONTENT of the BOOK. You may give away or loan the paper and binding, but the CONTENT is a separate entity and belongs to the author.

So now, you’ve moved into the modern world and purchased an eReader. You went online and purchased an electronic book (eBook). What you downloaded to your eReader is the CONTENT of the book. If you give or loan your eReader to someone else, and allow them to read the book you purchased, you have done nothing wrong, the same as loaning the paper and binding type book. The CONTENT you purchased the right to read is still in the electronic device you used to read it.

Scenario #2. You download an electronic book to your eReader or computer. You want to share it with one, or a million people you know, because it’s the best book you’ve ever read. You copy the file (CONTENT), attach it to an email and send it to everyone on your contact list, or to just your best friend. It doesn’t matter if it’s one copy, or ten million. It’s still copyright infringement. You have separated the CONTENT from the delivery method – in this case, and electronic device of some sort.

Why is it copyright infringement? Because you have copied the CONTENT of a book and given it away without the consent of the person who owns the copyright (the author), nor has the copyright owner received payment for the use of the material they spent countless hours creating. It’s the same as if you’d taken a physical book and made copies on the office copy machine. It’s just infinitely easier, and faster. And if you can do it, what’s to stop the people you sent it to from doing it too? Nothing.

This is what authors are up against today. Too many people believe that the intellectual work of another should be given away for free. Let me give you a simple example. Let’s say you invent a really great gadget. It’s something everyone needs, or at least, everyone wants. You’ve put in countless hours thinking about it, drawing sketches, making prototypes, testing, perfecting, until it’s the best-darned gadget it can be. You spend your life savings having some professionally made, and you invest in a marketing plan to sell them. People buy them. You are ecstatic! You’ve made a difference in the world. People will know your name!

A few weeks after your initial success, you see that everyone in the world now has one of your gadgets, only you have not sold that many gadgets. Someone else has made these and given them away to everyone on the planet. Now, no one is going to buy yours. You will never be able to reap the profits you deserve for all the time and intellectual talent you put into the concept and creation of your gadget.

Sucks, doesn’t it?

What if you went to work every day for a week, a month, a year, several years? You put in long hours on the job thinking you would be paid when the task was satisfactorily completed. Only when you complete the task, someone takes the fruit of your labor, gives it away, and tells you thanks for all the hard work, it’s really top notch work, but I don’t want pay you. Oh, and by the way, could you do that again please? I really loved the first one!

Yeah, that sucks too.

Let me assure you, very few authors are getting rich from their book sales, whether they are physical books or eBooks. Even in an eBook, there are a lot of middle-men who get their share of the proceeds first. Still, money earned is how society measures success, and authors are no different than anyone else in that respect. A lot goes into writing a book. They don’t just spring out of our heads and then miraculously get published. Like every other worker out there, we want to be paid for our labors, and the way we do that is by selling books.