January 29, 2020

Ebook piracy is bad for everyone


Stealing is, for the most part, bad. That’s pretty much a universal value we all learn when we’re very young. But thanks to the Internet’s ability to provide us with basically anything we could ever want, a certain type of stealing has become rationalized and even accepted in some circles: the online piracy of ebooks. 

In a recent Fast Company article, Nick Kolakowski identifies a huge contributing factor to ebook piracy—the popularity of Slideshare, a hosting service owned by the social media company LinkedIn. According to Kolakowski, Slideshare—originally meant to serve as a storage site for visual presentation tools—has been infiltrated by pirates, who are posting “a vast warehouse of illegally pirated books.” Everything from bestsellers to small indie books to textbooks are easily available and downloadable. 

How to solve this problem? Well, in a statement to Fast Company, LinkedIn said: 

We use a combination of technical and human measures to detect content that could be in violation of our Terms of Service and when we find it we take action. We encourage members to report any content they find questionable, including any potential copyrighted content, to us. Our teams work swiftly to address every incoming copyright infringement report to help SlideShare remain a site where content owners’ intellectual property rights are respected and is a place where they can safely share their ideas and work with their communities.

So if someone reports that a book is posted illegally, LinkedIn will remove it; however, that does absolutely nothing to prevent it from being reposted. Kolakowski writes of how he’s reported links to his own books, only to see them back again a few months later. 

This is, obviously, detrimental to authors and publishers. A common argument among ebook (and music and TV and film) pirates is that they’re “sticking it to the man”—they are vindicated from any guilt because they are stealing from large, multi-million dollar companies who won’t miss their $26.99 they could have spent on a hardcover. 

But that is the argument of the willfully ignorant. Inside those companies are normal, everyday people—editors, publicists, graphic designers, human resource managers—just trying to make a basic living, trying to pay off our student loans and our medical bills and maybe even save a little bit for the future.  The Authors Guild estimated that book piracy costs publishers roughly $300 million annually. That money comes out of somewhere. Sometimes it is employees’ salaries; sometimes it is from, as Kolakowski says, “revenue earmarked for authors’ royalties—which means that piracy has a very real impact on whether authors, particularly midlist and indie ones, can continue to practice their craft.” If an author’s books don’t sell, the chances of them getting a future book deal shrink dramatically, no matter how many copies have been illegally and enthusiastically passed around online. So people stealing ebooks are hurting themselves, too. 

A final reason to stop illegally pirating books is also the most genuine: pay for the art you consume. Honor the creator who put in the hours making something for your consumption. Honor the people who helped bring it into the world. Until the collapse of capitalism, we all still need to pay our bills. 



Stephanie DeLuca is the director of publicity at Melville House.