27 Thoughts on Book Piracy


This is my daughter, Selina. She is not really a pirate (yet).

Here are 1-25.

Yesterday, Chuck Wendig wrote a lengthy post at his blog on book piracy and his complicated feelings about it. He summed these feelings up by generally being against it, while expounding on the many ways in which even being generally against it are nuanced in his mind.

Then, he unofficially declared today to be the day of talking about our feelings about book piracy, so here I am.

I liked Chuck’s list and agreed with it on a theoretical level. Theoretical, because I don’t really have any books for sale yet, therefore, while I think I would or will feel a certain way about having my own work pirated, I can’t be sure until it happens. With that caveat, I think I might feel a little less offended than Chuck does, because in some ways, getting my book out there and having it enjoyed is an end in and of itself, as well as a probable boon to my career. Chuck has a good strong fan base right now, so he needs that exposure less than a newbie like me, and perhaps I’ll feel differently someday.

(I reflect here on how my feelings about writing nonfiction for free have changed over the years. For a long while I didn’t mind writing for “exposure.” Now when someone tells me I’ll be paid in “exposure” I sort of want to kick them. My writing is labor and it deserves pay. But I don’t so much need the exposure of nonfiction blogging or other short e-formats these days. may that happen to my fiction someday too!)

Anyway, I wanted to add a couple of things that Wendig did not include on his almost exhaustive list, that I also feel about piracy.


Wendig mentions (I think it’s point #24) that piracy is a cultural thing and to fight it, we must fight the culture of piracy, rather than individual cases of it. In my experience, he’s right, but I also have a thought on whose culture it is.

I have a handful of 20-something friends (it happens when you have kids who need babysitters) and all of them happen to be artists–musicians, writers, comic-makers–and most of them (all of them?) are very nonchalant about their torrents. They shrug and say “stuff ought to be free.”

I tell then that if “stuff” were all free, people who like to make “stuff” wouldn’t be able to afford to make it anymore. They shrug some more (they shrug a lot) and insist that they make stuff–even though they also have meaningless day jobs–perhaps, indeed because their day jobs are so meaningless–and insist that the true Artiste (but they don’t really say “Artiste” they just imply it in their attitudes) will be driven to creation by a fire in the soul and will keep making stuff even for no money at all.

Well. That may be true of 20-somethings with meaningless day jobs, but for lesbian housewives like me, with exactly one hour of brain life between the kids’ bedtime and collapsing in exhaustion, myself, the stuff-making time is precious. It is not something I can afford to just give away based on the fire in my soul alone. The fact is, I have responsibilities to many others and if I am going to spend a valuable, much-tugged-at hour on my soul, well, I better have something to show my family for it.

(My family doesn’t insist on this. But I do. It’s called multitasking. Unless I can make some grocery cash at the same time, I can’t be following my bliss for no reason–certainly not for a whole hour every day or the occasional several weekend hours in a row. It’s also why so many people in my demographic do stuff like knitting or sewing or baking–those are creative pursuits with added value to the rest of the family.)*

People in my generation need to be able to make some money to justify the time we spend making stuff.


One of my 20-something friends (well, most of them, really, but one especially) is poorer than a small poor animal who lives in a poor place. He is also smarter than a six-pack of some of the most privileged college students I’ve ever taught. And he loves to read. He will read a book a day if he has ’em and he will read anything. So he pirates. He pirates enormous libraries called “200 e-books” with no other information, then asks me which ones I think he ought to read first. Many of these giant, anonymous e-book packages turn out to be in the public domain anyway. These are books that people who aren’t literature professors often call “classics” and that I call “old books”–Henry James, George Eliot, HG Wells, Charlotte Bronte–that kind of thing.

But not all of them are. Some are more recent and might have cost him $5-15 if he paid for them either in e- or paper form. But even if only one of the books he reads per week is one he might have (ought to have?) paid for, and even if it was at the bottom end of that price scale, that’s still $250+ a year he doesn’t have to spend on books.

And seeing as I am (or more accurately, have been) a literature professor, I just can’t bring myself to begrudge him those pirated books.

Before e-books, he used the library. He still uses the library. But he reads, as I said, a lot of books. Maybe when libraries really figure out the e-book thing (or is it e-books that need to figure out the library thing? I don’t know…) this little conundrum will be solved. But until then, I have to say if a reader like him was pirating my books, I think (theoretically) I’d be okay with that.

* Which makes me wonder if I might be able to excavate this enough to add: 28. IT’S A GENDERED THING to this list, eh?


11 thoughts on “27 Thoughts on Book Piracy

  1. I think you’re right about it being a generational thing, Shannon. I get the same reaction from my kids about music. They cite the vast amounts of money that the popular artists already have, and say they don’t need any more. Of course, the successful artists don’t. Problem is, they aren’t all successful and rich.

  2. Not to mention, how do new artists break in when no one is willing to pay them anymore? Who wants nothing but top 40 for the rest of ever?

  3. Piracy is against the law, pure and simple. Of course, laws are made to be broken. We all break them in small and, sometimes, large ways. I’ve done it myself. I used to record movies on the VCR. Then, one day, I realized that it’s against the law. I stopped doing it. I wasn’t thinking about the artists and their livelihoods, I was just thinking about myself. As a writer, I don’t want my writings pirated. We all need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Of course, we all fail sometimes. And, if someone pirates one of my writings, I won’t have a heart attack over it. Like you said, at least someone’s reading it.

  4. Were you selling the movies, Richard? Or charging people to view them? Because otherwise it isn’t against the law.

  5. No, I wasn’t selling or charging people to view them. I’m no legalize expert, but the FBI blubs don’t mention that, just it’s against the law to copy them, if I remember rightly. Maybe I misunderstand the law. Hm.

  6. I’m afraid all of my thoughts about piracy (music, movies, books, art) and all of this entitlement culture involve excessive use of expletives and not a great deal of rational thought. But it’s nice that others can engage in a rational discussion over it :>).

  7. I actually think people are entitled to a lot of things that nevertheless, capitalism denies them. I would put art on that list. But seeing as we are sadly stuck with capitalism for the foreseeable future, I can no more write for free 100% of the time than I could treat people for free 100% of the time if I were a doctor. I do what i can to even the score between the haves and have nots, but this particular society requires an awful lot of self-interest.

  8. Yes
    Also fyi it is generally publishers who need to figure out the library ebook thing–libraries are mostly *desperate* to get ebooks into the hands of their patrons, who are desperate to have them. But publishers are balking at giving libraries access, because…piracy. Ironic, no?

  9. Ahh, capitalism…When one works really hard to create something and expects some reward for all that work. I’m sure you get paid a days wage for a days work. If you can’t afford to pay an author for their work, there’s always the library.

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