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Confessions of a Book Pirate
January 26, 2010 12:44 PM   Subscribe


 
The three RRRrrrrs.....


sorry
posted by The Whelk at 12:48 PM on January 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


GOOD.
posted by clarknova at 12:49 PM on January 26, 2010


Digital books are too expensive, but Sony just isn't much of a competitive threat to Amazon, so there hasn't been much downward pressure on prices. We'll see what happens when Apple joins in tomorrow.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:51 PM on January 26, 2010




I'm writing an article in support of the U.S. publishing industry.

You can read it for $9.99 ($15.99 Canadian) plus tax.
posted by burnfirewalls at 12:54 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the fact that the industry isn't in full blown shit yer pants mode is insane. I mean, do you have ANY IDEA how many e-books you can get in the same storage space as an MP3 album??!?!?!

Answer: about 100-300. <- that's including pictures ffs!

There is no future at all in publishing. When e-readers finally get down around $100 or less (next Christmas) it'll make MP3 adoption look downright glacial......
posted by lattiboy at 12:55 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


If only there were a place where I could get books for free legally. Hmmm....
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:55 PM on January 26, 2010 [27 favorites]


Also, it's region-locked, so you EU citizens can take your Euros and jam them into your socialized medicine fund for all I care.
posted by burnfirewalls at 12:56 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have a friend in the publishing industry. Their comment on things like book piracy is that the current business model is stuck - there's no profit in it with books priced much below where they are now. So a move to $10 'hardcovers' would entail a massive shakeup of the entire publishing industry, and quality would go down. Books wouldn't be as well proofread, or as well edited, or as well marketed.

It makes me wonder what other forms of popular expression have died - or haven't been born - because of a lack of profit in their market.
posted by Fraxas at 12:56 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm deranged, but I actually think that books will have a better time than albums in avoiding the financial crunch of the free/replicator movement.

In order to maintain financial viability as industries, books and music will both need to increase their values as physical artifacts. That seems easier to do with books, i.e. I would rather have a hard copy of a book I love than a hard copy of an album I love. I am alone there? (i.e. how many books a year are signed by authors, compared with albums?)

Also, the smartphone/pda/netbook/tiny pc movement will likely have a major effect on books. I have downloaded a few book titles (mostly SF), but I still almost exclusively read dead trees because of the portability. I don't have a portable reading device. Yet.

(Pet peeve: I'm tired of the term "pirate" being used to describe people who download copyrighted content without authorization. It is really accurate? (Yep. Sure is.)

Personally, I think it should only be used for those who traffic illegally in the unauthorized sales of copyrighted content. I'll get to work on changing that definition ...)

posted by mrgrimm at 12:56 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Offline Book "Lending" Costs U.S. Publishers Nearly $1 Trillion

...from the "ha ha, only serious" category.
posted by Maximian at 12:56 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon, how much do you think digital books should cost?
posted by roger ackroyd at 12:56 PM on January 26, 2010


We'll see what happens when Apple joins in tomorrow.

I have it on good authority that Apple's reveal on Wednesday will not be a tablet, but a short series of pulses and high-pitched tones directed at anyone using an iPod, iPhone, or macbook.

And then, FIRE
posted by The Whelk at 12:57 PM on January 26, 2010 [13 favorites]


I'd love to know what these people think of libraries.
posted by Effigy2000 at 12:57 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


If only there were a place where I could get books for free legally. Hmmm....

I'm not sure if you've visited your local branch lately, but my library is not quite as comprehensive as I might have hoped. And I likely live in one of the better areas for libraries.

It makes me wonder what other forms of popular expression have died - or haven't been born - because of a lack of profit in their market.

Too true. I have made some wonderful tunes with my nose flute, yet no one seems to want pay for them. Damn pirates.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:59 PM on January 26, 2010


Manjusri: "Go To Hellman Blog: Offline Book "Lending" Costs U.S. Publishers Nearly $1 Trillion"

When jessamyn gets arrested for facilitation of copyright infringement, this won't seem so funny.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:59 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Go To Hellman Blog: Offline Book "Lending" Costs U.S. Publishers Nearly $1 Trillion

First, I know it's a joke. But seriously, the price sensitivity argument is legit. Libraries buy a whole lot of books that would otherwise never get sold. Pirates are stealing books many of which wouldn't ever get sold either. This doesn't make piracy right, but it's economic impact is always, always vastly overstated.
posted by GuyZero at 12:59 PM on January 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


It makes me wonder what other forms of popular expression have died - or haven't been born - because of a lack of profit in their market.

textile arts. I mean, when was the last time you bought something some one crochted???
posted by GuyZero at 1:01 PM on January 26, 2010


I'm not sure if you've visited your local branch lately, but my library is not quite as comprehensive as I might have hoped. And I likely live in one of the better areas for libraries.

Mine is actually not half bad, which is nice. Do they have the latest and greatest? Not always. But more often than not, I can pick up, or at least ILL, something interesting I hear about.

Some people were telling me last week about how great their Kindles were and I thought, hey, that sounds great, maybe I should get one. And then I realized that I actually can't remember the last time I bought a book.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:07 PM on January 26, 2010


Interesting (in the sense of the alleged Chinese curse). You'd think that book publishers would have learned from the music industry that what's required is a new business model, not a legal assault. Legislation won't work; we don't currently have the technology to detect and prevent sharing. But I guess hope springs eternal in the dinosaur's breast.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:10 PM on January 26, 2010


In the past month, I have uploaded approximately 50 books to the torrent site where you contacted me. I am much less active then I once was. I used to scan many books, but in the past two years I have only done a few.

Who the fuck has the time, concentration and dedication to scan 50 books??? At least with CD and DVDs, the process is automated.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:11 PM on January 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I wonder what the piracy rate for audiobooks is. I listen to them while driving, while doing menial lab work, and at the gym. They're ridiculously expensive compared to the dead tree and ebook versions, though, which may prompt a lot of people to pirate them.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 1:12 PM on January 26, 2010


I'm not sure if you've visited your local branch lately, but my library is not quite as comprehensive as I might have hoped. And I likely live in one of the better areas for libraries.

It's not perfect, but interlibrary loan is pretty effective if what you want isn't locally available. Also, many university libraries offer community borrower cards for a small fee (if not free) --I pay $20/year for mine, which is a kickass deal.
posted by cog_nate at 1:15 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Summer of 2002. Broke as dirt and working my first office job (with very little actual work.) #bookz on undernet -> 3rd party PDF writer -> PDF to Acrobat for Palm Pilot converter -> A summer spent reading Zelazny, Herbert and Pratchett on a Handspring Visor Deluxe.

Hell, the first time I read Neuromancer it was a pirated copy, read in the green glow of the Visor Deluxe in a goth club blasting VNV Nation.

Who the fuck has the time, concentration and dedication to scan 50 books???
There is a giant community devoted to scanning, proofreading and formatting books. Certainly not as big as the 0-day games couriers, but large.
posted by griphus at 1:19 PM on January 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm weird on this issue; I've actually downloaded a couple of what are clearly copyright violating books, (Snowcrash, for instance) but that was so I could quote a block of text from it easily without transcribing.

Because I own about three copies of the actual physical book.

I generally don't like e-books, because I don't have a way to ingest the media more comfortably that I get with a hard copy, but this is likely to change once I get an e-book reader. Particularly when confronted with some excellent stuff made available for free in an electronic format.

Still, I have illegal MP3s and I still buy music, so I suspect that this will be more of the same.

[hypothetically speaking, of course]
posted by quin at 1:21 PM on January 26, 2010


Uh, the point of my comment was that there is not a single form of media that at least a small group of individuals has taken to digitizing and distributing. And, much like water flowing downhill, this stuff usually falls into the hands of individuals who get their jollies by serving this stuff up to the masses free of charge.

Data point: Just yesterday I noticed the growing amount of Russian people reading print-outs of pirated novels on the train. Hell, the only reason my mother even considered buying a eBook reader was because my uncle loaded it up with plenty of Russian novels so she'd never have to pay import prices again.
posted by griphus at 1:26 PM on January 26, 2010


alt.binaries
posted by bjgeiger at 1:29 PM on January 26, 2010


Yeah, yeah, yeah, but how much good will your kindle do you during the endtimes hmmm? Prepare for the future -- buy books and candles!
posted by angrycat at 1:32 PM on January 26, 2010


Yeah, the fact that the industry isn't in full blown shit yer pants mode is insane. I mean, do you have ANY IDEA how many e-books you can get in the same storage space as an MP3 album??!?!?!


Analog audio can be reproduced on digital devices flawlessly.

Hardcover books are printed in at least 300dpi resolution. Color books are printed at much higher resolutions. The current monochrome e-ink displays are at most 150 dpi, and their contrast ratio is around 7-1, well below that of paper. LCD displays have a higher contrast ratio, but lower dpi. 200dpi OLEDs are still in the developmental phase. Qualcomm has a full color display technology suited for ereaders, but it is still in the experimental phase.

When ereader displays can reproduce the high quality, high contrast text of a hardcover book and can flip pages instantly and without that obnoxious inverse-flash effect, then publishers should worry. Right now e-readers are to books what 64kbps MP3s are to CDs.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:33 PM on January 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


This madness must be stopped, before children in third-world countries are able to receive world-class education at little to no cost.
posted by mullingitover at 1:34 PM on January 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


At 480x854 on a 3.4" diagonal screen, the Motorola Droid has a screen DPI of about 240 dpi. True, it's a lot smaller than the average ebook reader. It's just a question of time and manufacturing economics. Within a decade you will have a 240 dpi colour screen that's the size of a magazine page and capable of sub-pixel rendering to improve font sharpness.
posted by GuyZero at 1:36 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd say the google deal is showing the way here. We should return copyright to the original 14 year timeframe. After that, authors still have the right to tell any individual entity that they do not have the right to distribute the work, ensuring that large publishers still pay up, but otherwise people are free to redistribute, and critically nobody can be held liable unless notified by the copyright holder.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:37 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Argh, I hate hate hate those "x piracy is costing y million trillion billion dollars in lost revenue" stats because they are always bullshit on the highest order. They way overestimate the amount of piracy going on by making intentionally questionable inferences from very limited data, and then assume that every single "estimated" pirated copy would have led to a sale. Falling for that bullshit makes me angry, so please stop.
posted by aspo at 1:40 PM on January 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


David Pogue blogged about piracy and the effect on his book sales for the NYTimes not long ago:

My publisher, O’Reilly, decided to try an experiment, offering one of my Windows books for sale as an unprotected pdf file. After a year, we could compare the results with the previous year’s sales.

The results? It was true. The thing was pirated to the skies. It’s all over the Web now, ridiculously easy to download without paying.

The crazy thing was, sales of the book did not fall. In fact, sales rose slightly during that year.


More about this on O'Reilly's Tools of Change for Publishing blog (required reading for anyone who is interested in figuring out where publishing is going).
posted by carrienation at 1:41 PM on January 26, 2010 [12 favorites]


Great article. I don't advocate piracy, but I do teach people to build their own book scanners.

Most of us have shelves loaded with books. Right now, if you wanted a digital copy of a book you've already paid for, you'd have to go buy it from some online store. It will probably come in a device-specific format, with DRM. Want your books on your Kindle? You'll be re-purchasing books you already own, just like you re-purchased your music on vinyl, tape, CD, and now MP3.

In my mind, that's unacceptable. So for the moment, the best thing is to scan your own books -- a clear case of fair use format shifting, perfectly legal. And the fact that you can Do It Yourself puts pressure on these publishers to improve what they're selling. What they're selling, right now, are broken books -- books with DRM (inaccessible to the blind, inaccessible without a network connection or sanctified hardware), books that cannot be annotated, books that can't be loaned out, books that go away when their registration servers die. Highly flammable pocket libraries of Alexandria.

I don't advocate piracy. But I do think people need to be proactive, right now, in applying consistent and insistent pressure to this industry to ensure that the future of books is not a future full of "snippet views", authorization servers, and book formats that ignore the needs of everyday people and the disabled. We need digital books with all the irrevocable advantages of paper books.

Right now, if you want that, you'll have to scan/make the books yourself, but I sincerely hope the industry makes all that hassle irrelevant by producing a really good book product -- with features impossible in scanned copies -- at a price that makes home-scanning irrelevant.

Not holding my breath.
posted by fake at 1:42 PM on January 26, 2010 [19 favorites]


A couple of authors' thoughts on piracy.
posted by Caduceus at 1:43 PM on January 26, 2010


MetaFilter: Reading Neuromancer in the green glow of the Visor Deluxe in a goth club blasting VNV Nation
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:43 PM on January 26, 2010 [6 favorites]



This madness must be stopped, before children in third-world countries are able to receive world-class education at little to no cost.


What are the using to read pirated e-books?
posted by drezdn at 1:43 PM on January 26, 2010


So a move to $10 'hardcovers' would entail a massive shakeup of the entire publishing industry, and quality would go down. Books wouldn't be as well proofread, or as well edited, or as well marketed.

That's pretty much already happened, can't blame ebooks for that. You might blame media consolidation and underpaid/overstretched staff, though. And a ridiculous retail system involving returns and millions of pulped and shredded books, despite the high cost of paper and ink and the pollution involved in creating all those unread books.

As with the music industry, the things bringing publishing down have been endemic weaknesses for a long time; digital distribution may be a coup de grace, but the diseased inefficiency of the industries in question is not technology's fault.
posted by emjaybee at 1:45 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


What are the using to read pirated e-books?

Jacked OLPCs distributed by conscientious Somalian pirates.
posted by griphus at 1:47 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


"What are the using to read pirated e-books?"

Good point, the hardware needed to display text on a screen is still pretty bleeding edge and far out of the reach of nearly everyone.
posted by mullingitover at 1:49 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


It makes me wonder what other forms of popular expression have died - or haven't been born - because of a lack of profit in their market.

There's a significant difference between the creations of popular expression, or marketing of of such expressions. People will still create if there's no realistic hope of making a lot of money. I'm sure there is more productivity due to financial incentives, but that's not the same as creativity.

I mean, do you have ANY IDEA how many e-books you can get in the same storage space as an MP3 album??!?!?!

But "ripping" a book takes a LOT more work than ripping a CD. A book requires a decent scanner, image editing software or at least a knowledge of image scanning settings, and a LOT of patience if you get into proof-reading OCR output. Ripping a CD can be as easy as putting it into the computer and pushing a button, depending on what software you have installed and the control over output you want. Plus, you can rip a CD with a laptop, so you could probably copy many albums within the library itself (should they stock CDs), while copying books probably takes a day, unless you actually tore up the book to allow for semi-automated multi-page scanning. Now buying a DRM-protected e-book and unlocking it with some shifty program, that could be as easy as ripping a CD.

Hell, the first time I read Neuromancer it was a pirated copy, read in the green glow of the Visor Deluxe in a goth club blasting VNV Nation.

griphus, this scene makes me happy for the dark, neo-gothic past. My inner goth just went "squee," which is part of why I was never a real goth.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:50 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Blazecock Pileon, how much do you think digital books should cost?

Much less than they cost now. The middlemen in this equation seem fat along the spectrum. Right now, the bulk of the cut of sales appears to go to the publisher and the distributor (Amazon), along a business model that is based upon printed books. Perhaps 30-25% of the current price scheme, with whatever percentage of that, which would preserve the author's originally due royalties (60-80% of the reduced price, roughly, depending on advance numbers?). That would drastically reduce profits for publishers as they expand digital publication, but at least it would keep them alive in the long term.

In any case, the precise numbers seem immaterial, in that people are already pursuing alternatives. This should clue in the publishers, writers, and the only-game-in-town distributor that their current business plan is not ideal for maximizing sales, assuming that is their goal.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:51 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


...which is part of why I was never a real goth.

Yeah I've still got the timer on for when the requisite deathrocker (compleat with giant tousled mohawk and shredded .45 Grave or Alien Sex Fiend tee) shows up here to tell me that it wasn't a goth club and that VNV Nation are as far from goth as the Spice Girls are from Punk Rock.

Whatever, imaginary dude.
posted by griphus at 1:54 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


A couple of authors' thoughts on piracy.

...

"I never really thought much about the fact of my friend’s piracy or about their reasoning legitimating their actions until piracy became very real for me, as an author."

Gee, really? Total reality disconnect.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:57 PM on January 26, 2010


OK, I see how it is OK to share one's own books by converting them to another format, and I also can see why for some authors pirating might provide for consistent or higher demand.

BUT this article still makes me gnash my teeth (yes, just like an ogre) because Mr. The Real Caterpillar is a thief, as he acknowledges, with a thief's usual rationalizations:

In truth, I think it is clear that morally, the act of pirating a product is, in fact, the moral equivalent of stealing… although that nagging question of what the person who has been stolen from is missing still lingers.

I’ve done a lot of out-of-print stuff, and when it is not out of print it’s books by authors like John Barth – someone who no longer sells very well, I imagine.

I’ve debated doing some newer authors and books, but I would need to protect myself better and resolve the moral dilemma of actually causing noticeable financial harm to the author whose work I love enough to spend so much time working on getting a nice e-copy if I were to do so.

Here's the problem: the authors he loves write because they expect to get paid. From selling their books. For money. And the publishers publish the books he steals and provides to others because they expect to get paid. For money.

I love books too much (and for example currently have an audio book, hardcover, and ebook going) to steal from the people who make them possible.

I also despise thieves, particularly the variety that steals because they can, not because they have any need.
posted by bearwife at 1:57 PM on January 26, 2010



At 480x854 on a 3.4" diagonal screen, the Motorola Droid has a screen DPI of about 240 dpi.
posted by GuyZero at 4:36 PM on January 26


Well, hell, I had no idea that display resolution on LCD's had gotten so high. If they can break the 300dpi mark (and maybe they already have) then and LCD based reader would be an expensive but very usable device.

Maybe that's what's got Apple convinced that the tablet device can work - a high dot pitch display would solve a lot of UI and usability problems.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:58 PM on January 26, 2010


I'd say the most interesting part of the FPP is the article's like to the Baen Free Library^, which is clearly Best of the Web and deserved an FPP long before just another news article about copyright.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:01 PM on January 26, 2010


Also, it occurs to me that the droid's resolution scaled up to the form factor of a hardcover book would consume laptop-scale power, necessitating a heavy battery. The advantage of e-ink is the very very low power requirements, resulting in very light devices.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:01 PM on January 26, 2010


This madness must be stopped, before children in third-world countries are able to receive world-class education at little to no cost.

One Laptop Per Child already went live, with laptops sent to school children in Peru and Uruguay, amongst other places.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:01 PM on January 26, 2010


Everything should be free for ME. See post on newspaper above.
posted by Postroad at 2:03 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is a giant community devoted to scanning, proofreading and formatting books. Certainly not as big as the 0-day games couriers, but large.

There is? How can I join? I'm not trying to be trashy or encourage copyright infringement but most pirate ebooks are pretty bad. I can't see the casual reader being seduced away from paper books by the amusingly bad ocrs and unwieldy pdfs.

From the torrent sites it looks like audiobooks get pirated too. Probably because it's so much easier to deal with them as mp3s than as cds.
posted by irisclara at 2:03 PM on January 26, 2010


In my college years I used to visit ebooks channels on IRC to hunt for e-versions of "required" textbooks. Unfortunately I was rarely able to find academic books on those channels. They had huge amounts - I mean probably tens of thousands - of all sorts of sci-fi/fantasy and romance novels, and a decent selection of programming books, but nothing academic or non-fiction, and sadly lacking in more highbrow literature. I found this strange since any local used bookstore is guaranteed to be selling stacks of paperback fantasy novels at pennies each. If I were into that sort of thing it'd be the last type of book I'd feel the need to download for free.

I've wondered what motivates people to spend hours OCR-ing paperback novels and hosting them on IRC channels for free, but I guess you could ask the same of those who pirate music or crack computer games.
posted by pravit at 2:08 PM on January 26, 2010


Most of us have shelves loaded with books. Right now, if you wanted a digital copy of a book you've already paid for, you'd have to go buy it from some online store. It will probably come in a device-specific format, with DRM. Want your books on your Kindle? You'll be re-purchasing books you already own, just like you re-purchased your music on vinyl, tape, CD, and now MP3.

In my mind, that's unacceptable.


I feel much the same way when a cell phone comes out that eclipses my just-purchased model. But I can't say that means I can take a new one. What you already own is, not to put too fine a point on it, what you already own -- which happens not to be the scan, even if you are right about fair use.

So for the moment, the best thing is to scan your own books -- a clear case of fair use format shifting, perfectly legal.

I agree that this is the salient point. Suffice it to say that prior ownership in a different medium is just one factor. Scanning the whole thing is another.

And the fact that you can Do It Yourself puts pressure on these publishers to improve what they're selling. What they're selling, right now, are broken books -- books with DRM (inaccessible to the blind, inaccessible without a network connection or sanctified hardware), books that cannot be annotated, books that can't be loaned out, books that go away when their registration servers die. Highly flammable pocket libraries of Alexandria.

I don't advocate piracy. But I do think people need to be proactive, right now, in applying consistent and insistent pressure to this industry to ensure that the future of books is not a future full of "snippet views", authorization servers, and book formats that ignore the needs of everyday people and the disabled. We need digital books with all the irrevocable advantages of paper books.


It might be the case that this puts the right kind of pressure on publishers and not the wrong kind of pressures on, say, authors. Nowadays, of course, if you buy a "broken book" in a form you don't like, you have yourself to blame as well. And the idea that scanning books strikes a blow for the disabled is a little rich, unless you encourage circulation of scanned books to the disabled (but see the above discussion of fair use).

As soon as I scan this little red book, the revolution!
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 2:11 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


You'd think that book publishers would have learned from the music industry that what's required is a new business model

Any ideas on what this model should be, exactly? They're not exactly springing up, here.

Oh wait, right, performance and T-shirts. It's high time those poets were filling stadiums anyway. If they can't, then obviously people don't value their work and they should just die or become tilers already.
posted by bonaldi at 2:21 PM on January 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


The current monochrome e-ink displays are at most 150 dpi

Actually Pastabagel, your link cites displays at 200 dpi, but they are only 5" across.

I use a Sony PRS-505 with a 6" diagonal display. I find that it has plenty of contrast and the 166 dpi display seems sufficient: it is just barely possible to identify individual pixels. The biggest usability issues for me are the relatively small display and the slow time to change pages.
posted by exogenous at 2:23 PM on January 26, 2010


Pastabagel, you seem to think that large numbers of people will only start reading pirated books when the reading technology is equal to that of reading a physical book. I think this is rather unrealistic - yes, there will be some people who won't move over, but you'll find plenty of people who'd be happy reading books on inferior devices, assuming the price is right.

Even at its current price, and even with overpriced eBooks, the Kindle is thought to have solved well over a million; add in all the other eBook readers, and you've got a decent number. I'd certainly *prefer* to read a book on a high resolution, fast updating, high contrast display - but if Kindles cost $100 and books cost $3 (or nothing), I wouldn't be complaining.

But let's assume that publishers don't need to worry about eBook piracy until we have the device you're talking about. So, let's see, maybe they have 3-5 years?
posted by adrianhon at 2:25 PM on January 26, 2010


It'll be just like the music biz; we authors will just have to make our bread by touring.
posted by Mister_A at 2:28 PM on January 26, 2010


I see bonaldi already said what I said.

That makes it 2x true.
posted by Mister_A at 2:30 PM on January 26, 2010


"HELLO, BARNES AND NOBLE!"

*holds up two peace signs*
posted by brundlefly at 2:31 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Clyde M, are you totally missing the distinction here? Scanning does not equal distribution. I have the right, and you have the right, under Fair Use doctrine, TO SCAN your own books and read the format-shifted copy.

That's not distribution and it's not theft and it has nothing to do with cell phones. A backup copy, or a format-shift of something you already paid for, that's perfectly legal.

And the idea that scanning books strikes a blow for the disabled is a little rich, unless you encourage circulation of scanned books to the disabled (but see the above discussion of fair use).

Umm, I have disabled people in my forum who scan books for themselves. By way of example, one forum member can't read well with his eyes, but can hear books just fine. So he built himself a scanner and now he has access to all those textbooks he's required to buy. That's a "blow for the disabled". Actually, it's a net benefit for the disabled.

And there's a whole service which is dedicated to distributing scanned books to the blind. Which is legal, due to the Chaffee amendment. If you don't understand the deeply disadvantaged, ignored state of blind readers, I recommend you check out this talk. Scanning is a very important part of how they get books.

Your "red book" comment is just asinine.
posted by fake at 2:36 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


fake, I am not an expert on copyright, so forgive me if I err. But I am aware that scanning is not the same as distribution, which you helpfully bold for me; the nub of the problem, as I understand it, is that scanning is reproduction, and reproduction violates copyright, unless there is a fair use exemption. So the issue is, as you and I agree, whether scanning a book -- rather than buying an electronic version -- is fair use. Where you and I part company is in your hypothesis that it is settled by the fact that one format is owned by the (supposedly solitary) user. That is, to my understanding, only one factor, under a doctrine that you find much easier to fathom than lawyers who practice in the field.

BTW, if you wish to concur that any use of your assistance to distribute books to anyone not owning the original is certainly illegal, regardless of the above, that'd be welcome. Not everyone agrees with that.

As to the disabled point, that is a small part of the clientele, as I understood it; if your forum is confined to the disabled I have more sympathy, but I didn't understand you to be saying that. Oh, and the fact that there's a legal exemption tells you something about collateral activity in the absence of such an exemption.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 2:51 PM on January 26, 2010


bonalid: "Any ideas on what this model should be, exactly? They're not exactly springing up, here."

The reason they're not jumping on the inevitable model is they don't want to dissolve their now-irrelevant businesses and give the lion's share of profits and distribution rights back to the authors.
posted by mullingitover at 2:51 PM on January 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


Clyde Mnestra: You're aware of the court case ruling that time-shifting TV shows with Betamax is fair use? Scanning a book that one owns for personal use seems analogous to that, more than anything.
posted by Jeanne at 3:00 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jeanne: I am familiar with that case, and I don't mean to say that the fair use analysis here is clear to me. But Betamax has only limited application. For one, I'm not suggesting that manufacturers of scanners are liable; were I, we'd worry about the proportion of authorized media-shifting and unauthorized media-shifting. The analogy is to whether the unauthorized time-shifting there that *was* deemed fair use dictates anything in this context, and the court's analysis makes very clear that it depends on the effects on the market, which is what the OP was about.

P.S. Just as an incidental point, the court supposed that time-shifters would watch the show and erase. Not sure that's true here.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 3:11 PM on January 26, 2010


One thing is for sure, if your into pirated books, the word hoard has never been better.
posted by stbalbach at 3:16 PM on January 26, 2010


>
It'll be just like the music biz; we authors will just have to make our bread by touring.

And those guys sitting on street corners, at busy intersections of major cities? The types with a cardboard sign and tin cup, or perhaps an open guitar case, and with, on occasion, a story to tell you?

The vanguard!
posted by darth_tedious at 3:22 PM on January 26, 2010


Also, it occurs to me that the droid's resolution scaled up to the form factor of a hardcover book would consume laptop-scale power, necessitating a heavy battery. The advantage of e-ink is the very very low power requirements, resulting in very light devices.

We're definitely in the middle of the S-curve for e-ink technologies, not at the end. They will get better pretty quickly. Whether they get commercialized remains to be seen. But they will improve.

As for 300 dpi screens, sub-pixel font rendering makes 240 dpi better than 240 dpi for fonts but it's not exactly like getting x% more pixels. A big version of the Droid screen would be super-expensive, pretty power-hungry (although LED backlighting would cut the power draw) and yes, super beautiful.

e-ink has to get to a real monochrome 300 dpi but I think that's possible with current tech.
posted by GuyZero at 3:25 PM on January 26, 2010


The reason they're not jumping on the inevitable model is they don't want to dissolve their now-irrelevant businesses and give the lion's share of profits and distribution rights back to the authors.

No, seriously: what inevitable model is that, precisely?
posted by Amanojaku at 3:26 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


When ereader displays can reproduce the high quality, high contrast text of a hardcover book and can flip pages instantly and without that obnoxious inverse-flash effect, then publishers should worry. Right now e-readers are to books what 64kbps MP3s are to CDs.

No, that's wrong. The quality of the reading experience is not tied to digital fidelity in the same way as it is with listening. The display of my Kindle is more than suitable for reading. Also, not much of an inverse-flash effect with the newer models, for what that's worth. And, being able to rotate the display, hold thousands of books, immediately download new books as desired, and read them aloud - well, all that stuff makes using my Kindle much more enjoyable than reading physical books. I read a lot more now than I did before, even though I bought lots of books, because it's easier for me to read a bit here and there.
posted by me & my monkey at 3:27 PM on January 26, 2010


This sort of labor-intensive piracy doesn't seem like it will really ever amount to much. Perhaps I'll eat those words at some point (and a pre-assembled, fully-automatic book scanner for under $250 coupled with good OCR software and ubiquitous ebook readers would probably do it), but it seems like too much work to create enough of a library of content to serve as an alternative to Amazon.

Some people will surely pirate, but those people are likely to be the ones who are so cheap they wouldn't have bought anyway. It's only when piracy becomes commonplace enough that it's not only cheaper, but actually easier and offers better selection, that the white market is totally doomed. As long as the legitimate market can offer good selection and an easy buying process, as the iTunes Music Store does and Amazon's Kindle Marketplace seems to be trying to do, I don't think they'll lose completely.

They just have to get over themselves and realize that regardless of what rights they might have de jure, in the de facto world, they're going to have to compete with piracy. The sooner they accept this and start trying, the faster they'll move out of the digital-transition Death Valley; a place where the more slowly you move, the more likely you are to never leave.

In many ways the publishing industry is probably better suited to this than the music industry was; they've practically always (in the last century or so anyway) had to compete with "free" — in the form of libraries. Yeah, sure, libraries are legal and piracy isn't — although I'm not sure libraries would be legal if publishers had their way — but to fixate on the legalities is asking for death. Libraries are competition; piracy is competition. You either play the game or go out of business.

Plus, besides outright piracy, technology is opening up lots of methods for sharing content that aren't outright illegal, but could seriously undermine current business models. For example, sites like PaperbackSwap. It automates and simplifies a perfectly legal activity, and in doing so almost certainly costs publishers revenue. (How much? No way to tell, because you can't say that every "book swapped" is even close to a "book not purchased." But doubtless a few of them are, so there's some revenue hit, just like libraries certainly cost them business too.) If publishers dig in their heels and try to fight a legal battle against piracy, surrendering ease-of-purchase, selection, and ease-of-use, they might defeat widespread piracy only to discover that they've pushed consumers into alternative, legal channels that still don't get them anything.

The only winning move is not to play — dirty, that is: don't screw around burning money on lawsuits and shifty DRM schemes. Give consumers good selection, a fair price, and an easy-to-use product that doesn't treat them like criminals from the outset. If they do that, the publishing industry might just stand a chance.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:35 PM on January 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


I confess that a couple of times in the past few years I've downloaded pirate e-book versions of books I already own, so I can perform searches on the text, which is tedious (at best) with a physical copy.
posted by hippybear at 3:45 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a bit of a prophetic post for me since it appears on the same day that I received an alert that our self-published book has yet again been offered as a free download (with time spent filling out the Blogger DMCA form). I often wonder what the motivation was to scan our book and put it on the internet and the article gives me a good insight.

I do realize that downloading and file sharing are realities now and there is a grey area regarding it. I don't consider everyone who participates in it as a dirty, rotten thief. I also don't believe the economic figures for the damage are entirely accurate. However; there are some points regarding this that trouble me.

The first is that most of the sites that have been offering our book (that I have found), also prominently display a donation or subscription link. It's one thing to offer it out of the kindness of the downloader's presumed heart, it's another to profit from it. When we first became aware of our shadow book, this is what pissed me off the most.

The second point is that the discussion invariably involves the big publishing or recording companies and the economic model they use and enforce. But small, independent publishers are much more reliant on sales of older, not as popular titles that the Book Pirate says he is much more likely to duplicate.

An analogy I thought of (which is probably deeply flawed but hear me out) was that of Mickey Mouse versus Calvin and Hobbes. Disney is a huge corporation; teeming with lawyers who scour the known world for any misrepresentation of Mickey, and then come down like a ton of bricks when they find it.

On the other hand, Bill Watterson is now out of the newspaper syndicate and probably has a diminished ability to protect his work, hence all the Calvin pissing on Chevy or Ford logos I see on every other truck in town (I won't get into what a great contribution to the public domain that is).

It seems to me that illegal downloading will hurt the independent artist while the larger entities will be able to sue and spit out content. If we can't find a way to pay for our art will satisfy the Book Pirates of the world, I think we'll have fewer media outlets and fewer artists.
posted by jabo at 3:50 PM on January 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


No, seriously: what inevitable model is that, precisely?

I'd guess tipping followed by patronage is most likely. You put a book or two out for free, and ask people to pay you what they think it's worth. Most won't, but some will. The further your book spreads the more likely it will be to find fans who want to tip you, so working as many distribution channels as possible will be important. Once you have a few good books under your belt, you might ask your fans to chip into an advance on your next book. There are certainly author's I would have stepped up to support in return for a next book. Here, popular series types of books may make that more likely.

There are also print on demand souvenir copies of signed books. I don't want any hard copies of books anymore, but I know there are lots of people out there who do.

In the area of non-fiction, self-help kind of stuff, there's also good money to be made on speaking tours.
posted by willnot at 3:52 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Side note, legality aside: I just noticed that (a) the source of the estimate is an anti-pirating outfit; (b) it originally linked to unauthorized copies of the books in question, until it was asked to remove them; (c) its study still provides a list of 25 sites for downloading, at least for the time being.

These guys, at least, have a perfectly sound business plan.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 3:54 PM on January 26, 2010


So if I can fit six million books on a USB stick, what good will my bookshelves be doing me? What am I supposed to put on them? Cocks? Dozens and dozens of eviscerated cocks, floating in jam jars of formaldehyde? And little piles of teeth? Is that what you want? Because that's what's gonna happen!
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:56 PM on January 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


Whenever the inevitable "media companies will have to change their model" discussion comes up - shortly followed by "So what model do you propose?" I think to myself, "I have a model that would probably work given the realities of the world we now live in."

I'd tell you for free, but why should I?

"Pay me"
posted by mock at 4:13 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Amanojaku: "No, seriously: what inevitable model is that, precisely?"

Realistic pricing (of the variety that takes into account the total absence of promotion, printing and distribution expenses), convenient purchasing, sharability on par or greater than with physical copies. Authors making $x per copy continue to make $x per copy, but $x is the price of the book.
posted by mullingitover at 4:16 PM on January 26, 2010


Well, I'll say it.
The crime of theft is depriving the owner of his possession.
A mere copy deprives the owner of nothing. Whatever it was, he still has it.

If someone really thinks he can sell the same thing a thousand times, he should tell his troubles to a baker, who bakes and sells each loaf at most once. He will get all the sympathy he deserves.

And I can't support the idea that removing the possibility of outsize remuneration for artistic productions will result in lower-quality art. Lower quality than Dante, than Shakespeare, than Chaucer? I think we could live with that.
posted by hexatron at 4:36 PM on January 26, 2010


E-books basically remove most of the transportation and exposition costs, which can be huge, so book piracy is just anticipating the future. There's an huge profit potential in ebook for editors, who will be able to take a big bite of these costs.
posted by elpapacito at 4:45 PM on January 26, 2010


Well, I'll say it.
The crime of theft is depriving the owner of his possession.
A mere copy deprives the owner of nothing. Whatever it was, he still has it.


I think the idea is that you are depriving the copyright owner of potential income. As a test, consider whether sneaking into a SRO concert, or into an unoccupied seat at a concert, or into a unoccupied hotel room (that you thereafter swift up) -- assuming no wear and tear -- poses any problems. I think for many, the moral intuition is that it does, but not as much as with usurpation.
You might be interested in a recent NYT column about replacing bottles in a minibar, which is at the extreme end of this spectrum.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 4:49 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised you found so much pirated fiction and so few textbooks pravit. Aren't gigapedia.com and gigle.ws are almost all textbooks and references? I'm not sure western students know about these sites, but they're pretty widely used in poorer countries. I learned about them from the students when teaching for a semester in Istanbul.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:55 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'd be a lot more sympathetic to the complaints of copyright infringement if the concept of a public domain wasn't utterly dead and gutted. Until the public domain starts to grow again (and at a reasonable clip), you won't find much sympathy from me at all.
posted by entropicamericana at 5:28 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have a friend in the publishing industry. Their comment on things like book piracy is that the current business model is stuck - there's no profit in it with books priced much below where they are now. So a move to $10 'hardcovers' would entail a massive shakeup of the entire publishing industry, and quality would go down. Books wouldn't be as well proofread, or as well edited, or as well marketed.

No there's 2 options, not 1 definite scenario like your friend points out:

1. Just like your friend says, publishers don't invest enough in proofreading, editing, marketing, etc...
2. The publishers keep the level of quality they are used to...but decide to not pad the pockets of the higher ups like they're a bunch of hedge fund managers.

Upon re-reading...yeah...seems like #1 will be the scenario...never ever ever #2.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:48 PM on January 26, 2010


The crime of theft is depriving the owner of his possession.
A mere copy deprives the owner of nothing. Whatever it was, he still has it.


So ask the copyright owner, see if he's cool with that. Many are.

But if they aren't, if they want to get paid for their work, pay a few bills with the proceeds, then have a little respect. Do you have any idea how hard it is to make a living as a writer/musician/artist? Or do you just not care?

Hell, I think authors/musicians etc should get a kickback every time their work is checked out of libraries. I also give to buskers.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:49 PM on January 26, 2010


When jessamyn gets arrested for facilitation of copyright infringement, this won't seem so funny.

No...it'll be totally badass. Information should be free...well...ok, free-er than what we're used to. I'm not saying we shouldn't pay the writers...I'm just saying there's too many people claiming money between the artist and the buyer.

The more middlemen you have the grab that money, the more likely that:
1. Your product will cost more.
2. Your potential buyers will want to get it...without paying top dollar.

So yeah...when I hear of "marketing a book"...I automatically want to steal that sucker....even if I don't want to read it.

Anybody want a few spare copies of Dr. Oz's new book?
posted by hal_c_on at 5:52 PM on January 26, 2010


Re. mullingitover, entropicamericana, hal_c_on:

I realize that there's mismanagement and profit-taking in the publishing industry, and copyright extension has been insane and an assault on the public domain. Maybe the compromise is the following: following honest and good faith attempts to determine whether a practice is consistent with copyright and fair use, those with deep-seated objections to the system who engage in the practice should tailor it accordingly. If your objection is to the dwindling public domain, step over the line only with respect to those works you defensibly deem to be in the public domain (not one of Dan Brown's execrable books); if you complain about managerial fat cats, do it with respect to companies you can identify as robbing authors to line the pockets of fat cat VPs; if you think that electronic versions should be priced at marginal cost or have it all go to the author, cut the check and mail it.

Otherwise, one suspects that these stances are just self-serving. And in that regard, they really aren't any different than the position of someone who steals the loaf of bread and blames the Man, except in this case those doing the ripping off more reliably hover around the median income.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:08 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


When it comes to novels or academic works, I read books, not LCD screens. Here's to being the weirdo 40 years down the line who doesn't turn on his book to read.
posted by Atreides at 6:22 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Some jackass keeps scanning books I've written and uploading them to the pirate sites. Me, I was more amused than anything...seriously, you just spent HOW long scanning a 128-page book about knitting? really? Sad.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:23 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Right now e-readers are to books what 64kbps MP3s are to CDs.

(This is dorky.) I think 128k is a bit more appropriate, where connoisseurs think it's shit, but the average Joe doesn't care. And 128k MP3s are what killed the music industry.
posted by smackfu at 7:07 PM on January 26, 2010


I only listen to all my audiobooks in lossless FLAC format. You will find that hearing the narrator's eyelids sliding moistly over his cornea and the post-prandial bacteria multiplying on his tongue as he reads from paragraph to paragraph adds immeasurably to the experience of something like Best Werewolf Erotica IV: Lupine Nights. It's like the difference between Blu-ray and drawing in gravel with raw sausage.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:16 PM on January 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


So a move to $10 'hardcovers' would entail a massive shakeup of the entire publishing industry, and quality would go down. Books wouldn't be as well proofread, or as well edited, or as well marketed.

Given the pittance jobs in book publishing pay already, I'm sure books would be okay in the proofreading and editing senses, even if that does happen. But I agree that the model needs work.
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:20 PM on January 26, 2010


I wish people wouldn't pirate books. I wish even more that the publishers would realize that if they really want to discourage piracy, a good start would be offering e-copies that aren't worse than what the pirates have.
posted by Zed at 7:29 PM on January 26, 2010


Clyde Mnestra: I cannot believe you're suggesting there's something morally or legally wrong with scanning a book you own.

I did precisely this with my copy of Firestarter, which I got from Bookmooch. After a trip through first my bandsaw and then my Fujitsu ScanSnap, I was able to read this book on my e-reader. Eventually I'll make a device of Fake's design and won't have to rebind my books after these steps.

Please tell me which step of my process I should be legally prohibited from performing. Is it the bandsaw? What about the scanning? How many pages should I be able to scan before it's a crime? Perhaps it should be a percentage of the total.. or is it the compilation of the scanned data into a readable form that should be outlawed?
posted by odinsdream at 7:47 PM on January 26, 2010


Clyde Mnestra: I do not diminish the income of anyone by not paying for something I would never pay for.
As for minibars--I hate the damn things, and have never sampled a single item from one.
I saw the NY Times article about replacing items rather that paying for them, and just thought it was weird. What's the morality of pissing into the minibar? You've taken nothing. It should be dealt with just as a hotel guest's pissing on the floor--the hotel, so to speak, eats it. No, I have never done that, or anything like that.

I did stay in a little hotel in Las Vegas that had a shop on the first floor. It has snacks, simple drugs, brushes, ... , the usual stuff a hotel guest might really need or want.

It was unattended.

There was a lock-box with at slot. You could put cash in it (this was the 1980s), or fill out al little slip with your room number and what you had taken. I couldn't imagine stealing from such a wonderfully laid out shop.

I will note that you needed a hotel key to get into the unattended shop. I do not know if there were hidden cameras, but I suspect, as a business decision, not. There is something to be said for not actively and obviously hating customers, as reasonable as that attitude may be.

And again, the best art is not necessarily the product of the artists most devoted to making lots of money. Hard as that may be to fathom. In fact, thinning out the herd of greedographers and greedsicians might let some of the less ... noisy ... artists be better served.
posted by hexatron at 8:00 PM on January 26, 2010


mullingitover- Authors making $x per copy continue to make $x per copy, but $x is the price of the book.

I agree that ebooks (and any other media/art/etc.) should have a realistic price and I'm all for this economic model seeing as we are a DIY operation with no middlemen or employees. However; I've worked for other small publishers and many of them have editors, proofers, typesetters, photographers, secretaries etc. that add to the cost of producing books, whether or not they're digital.

I like the direct to the artist model but that doesn't work for everyone. Some books, music, movies, whatever, need more people to help create/sell them.

hexatron - If someone really thinks he can sell the same thing a thousand times, he should tell his troubles to a baker, who bakes and sells each loaf at most once. He will get all the sympathy he deserves.

Except that putting together the same set of ingredients to create the same product day after day isn't really the same as producing a novel or a symphony. And if creating art does become synonymous with baking muffins, the end result is pretty dreary.

more hexatron - And I can't support the idea that removing the possibility of outsize remuneration for artistic productions will result in lower-quality art. Lower quality than Dante, than Shakespeare, than Chaucer? I think we could live with that.

The authors you cite often relied on wealthy patrons to finance their work. While I think there is some similarity with modern corporate media, I think it's a good thing that I don't have to go hat in hand to Donald Trump to make my living.

hal_c_on - ...when I hear of "marketing a book"...I automatically want to steal that sucker....even if I don't want to read it.

I hate marketing. It's the least artistic endeavor I have to deal with as a self-publisher. But everyone who makes something to sell will have to deal with it sooner than later. Especially now that more people are fighting to get fewer customer dollars.

I understand the frustration surrounding big mega-media companies that strive to squeeze out every last penny from their customers and stifle any independent creativity. But I think the consequences of free file sharing are more far reaching than a hit in the pocketbook of fat cat executives. It goes to the heart of whether we will have sustainable, independent media/arts and it is something that creator and collector will need to think about.
posted by jabo at 8:07 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


odinsdream: Clyde Mnestra: I cannot believe you're suggesting there's something morally or legally wrong with scanning a book you own.

Look, to say this again, I am not saying I know how the fair use analysis works, and I am sympathetic to the claim that such an activity constitutes fair use. What I keep resisting is the claim that no copyright interest is being invaded or that something objectionable about the system warrants disregarding whatever is not protected as fair use. To be honest, I am not sure everyone is talking about the same kind of scanning activity; I believe I was originally reacting to the facilitation of scanning and posting works to a forum, but even that wasn't painstakingly described.

But anyway, to address your incredulity, I will tell you what little I can recall about this precise point. There was an agreement hammered out during revisions of the Copyright Act that permitted teachers to copy a single chapter from a book for limited educational purposes. (It should be in legislative history; if you can't find it backchannel me.) There is also part of the U.S. code that allows libraries to make a single copy under limited circumstances. To me, this implies that even owners of a work are restricted in creating single copies, but for fair use, and that fair use -- on the scale of copying a whole book -- is not the no-brainer that you indicate.

The morality of the point is undoubtedly more complicated.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:31 PM on January 26, 2010


jabo got me a little curious--I really know nothing about Dante past 'loved Beatrice'. So I went to wikipedia. He didn't have a patron. He wasn't rich enough to matter. But his life situation was apparently so complex that we should just be thankful he found time to write in a life and place that was, by our standards, extremely complex.and dangerous.

Shakespeare--that one's easy. No patron. Just, no play, no pay.

As for Chaucer (about whom I am equally ignorant) I copy the following: "He also worked as a courtier, a diplomat, and a civil servant, as well as working for the king, collecting and inventorying scrap metal."
Not exactly patronage, but I really like the scrap metal connection. Too few artists travel this path to inspiration.
posted by hexatron at 8:32 PM on January 26, 2010


Clyde Mnestra: I do not diminish the income of anyone by not paying for something I would never pay for.

This is a complicated point, in my view. First, and not to impugn the honesty of any particular person taking this position, I think there is sometimes self-deception on this score -- usually what is meant is that the person would not pay as much as the asking price, and sometimes what is meant is that they would not pay the asking price given a technologically available alternative.

Second, it is the case nonetheless that you are taking something that someone else has provided, and provided only with the expectation of payment. In the case of a book, it is the process that yields the book that can be copied and read in a semi-pleasant way; in the case of a minibar, it is either the teeny bottle of hootch or, if replaced by the sneaky guest, the service of having said hootch at the ready.

As a spur of the moment thought experiment, imagine your noble family put its ancestral heirloom in a display case in a room that no one visited, with the assertion -- backed by the state, and published broadly -- that no one could move it, or perhaps that if they did, a set fee had to be paid per use. Your family cared about that rule. Person A defied that rule, took the heirloom, and put it back before anyone noticed it was missing; the only harm is the violation and/or the fee. Person B paid for one use and, strangely excited by it, went back a second time and used it without permission or payment. I take it you would forgive Person B if she said she wasn't inclined to pay for round two? Not clear to me whether you would excuse Person A, or what the difference might be.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:45 PM on January 26, 2010


But seriously:
I had no money growing up.
I consider myself about
25% family
25% friends
10% school
40% THE BROOKLYN PUBLIC LIBRARY!

...and I had good friends.
Information, freely distributed, created me.
It is not for everyone, but it is vital for some.
posted by hexatron at 8:45 PM on January 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Clyde Mnestra: (re thought experiment)

That sounds like a textbook example of what I always understood trespass to chattels to be. In most legal systems, you have to show damages to get any sort of remedy. Liability isn't necessarily automatic, in the same way it would be if you took something and consumed/destroyed it. I don't think you can play out the experiment without delving into that.

(Of course, in reality, I don't know if 'trespass to chattels' is a tort that comes up much anymore, and how it's treated by the courts, particularly since it seems to have gotten stretched into a strange area with regard to email spam. I'm just addressing the concept. It's clearly something that has been addressed historically; it's not a new problem.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:24 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Point taken Hexatron. I too have felt the unbridled, rusty lure of scrap metal.

Like you, I hung out at the local library/bookstore. Please don't interpret my comments as saying that free information is bad or should be outlawed.

Perhaps I could substitute Michelangelo or Da Vinci?
posted by jabo at 9:35 PM on January 26, 2010


Oh and… Dante, Shakespeare, Chaucer (scroll down).
posted by jabo at 9:53 PM on January 26, 2010




I guess it figures that a book pirate would sound so literate in an interview.
posted by graventy at 10:41 PM on January 26, 2010


Ah, "trespass to chattels." Yes, that is the closest to the hypothetical. We could mess with the borderline of conversion by having the chattel actually be moved (and then returned), etc. But the question is, of what value is the common law distinction? It may be that it sheds light on whether legal or moral injury can exist in the absence of actual damages in the present situation, but I doubt it -- formally, it's not applicable (given the statute), I doubt the requirement of actual damages was based on a fundamental moral or legal insight, and the statute's legal position has at least plausible moral resonance (imagine, in a new hypothetical, that the only wrong is that your family heirloom has been copied and that copy put somewhere else, and we might be closer to the situation -- I can understand both those who would disturbed by the disturbance of the original's singularity and those who would react by saying no harm, no foul).
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 5:54 AM on January 27, 2010


I think ultimately book piracy is depriving the copyright owner of at least some possible income but that the numbers are dramatically inflated.

As others in this thread have indicated the production of a pdf file is a one-time expense. After editing you are already likely using some sort of desktop publishing software to prepare a document for printing, spending a little time and adding bookmarks, a searchable index, and converting to .pdf is not that difficult of a process. If you want to be fancy you could even optimize pictures for printing, or add in features that are cost prohibitive to print.

If you are a self-publishing author you can then put that e-book copy on your site and sell it for whatever you think the market will support. Your only continuing costs are the hosting/bandwidth costs which for the most part are pretty nomimal these days.

In contrast if you are self-publishing a trade paperback (or god forbid a hardcover) you are paying for x number of copies in an initial print run or you are setting up some sort of agreement with a print on demand company (which generally means lower quality product). You are out that printing cost, any warehousing costs, and distribution costs. You'll probably have to pay something for marketing if you want to sell anything beyond simple word of mouth advertising. At the end of the day you'll either have unsold product or you'll be lucky and sellout and need to do a 2nd printing.

An author working with a publisher is able to outsource some of the labor and avoid some of the upfront costs, the publisher generally has a stable of full-time editors so you aren't having to pay someone for editing the document. They probably have full-time page layout person to do that work as well. Finally they are willing to pay for the costs of printing, warehousing, marketing and distribution (although I imagine most publishers will send final copies directly to a third party distributor from the printer). On top of fronting you the seed money for printing x number of copies they are generally kind enough to front you some cash so you can eat ;) Of course they are betting they can recoup their costs and even make a profit on your work so it's not altruism by any means. A publisher that sells .pdf versions of your book is simply able to generate nearly pure profit on each sale after the initial costs of production are exceeded.

So even though .pdfs have an incredible small unit cost to for the publisher, the publisher can't sell the .pdf at a point that will cannibalize his hardcopy sales. He needs to recoup the costs for the editor, the layout guy, the cover artist/illustrator, the advertising budget, printing costs, overhead costs for the office, any advance given to the author, and presumably provide a return on investment to the investors.

One option that I think could work is that .pdf documents are some fraction of the base cost of the book, this should base cost should include production costs (editing, authors, advances, overhead, etc) but exclude the printing costs and the distributor/retailer markup + some x factor (you can't completely undercut your distributor/retailer completely if you want to get warehouse/shelf space). Sometime after you've recouped your costs + reasonable profit you drop the list price of the .pdf through the floor. At this point your .pdf price reflects your actual production costs. Books that are never going to make a profit are never going to make a profit anyway so you should probably make them available for cheap after 2-3 years. You'd probably reduce your profits on some evergreen books but overall you'd reduce the incentive to pirate.

Some people might bitch that they had to pay $10 for their .pdf copy of generic mystery bestseller while the person downloading it a year later is only paying $2 but early adopters always pay a price premium for getting the new stuff first.
posted by vuron at 7:50 AM on January 27, 2010


>I think the idea is that you are depriving the copyright owner of potential income.

The problem is that there is no limit to potential income. Potentially, I'm a millionaire.

I have a computer model that will prove this.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:33 AM on January 27, 2010


You should package and market said model, so that when I steal... err pirate said model, you can claim economic damages and sue me for lost revenues.

I think you can easily claim economic harm if someone replicates a patented product and sells a knockoff of said product. By a similar token a pirate is providing a copyrighted product at no cost is reducing the value of your full-cost product, as a result they are causing you economic harm.

The obvious problem is that there is no real easy metric for determining what percentage of "stuff I got for free" is equivalent to "stuff I'd be willing to pay for". Presumably if a product has value to you at zero cost (enough value to violate the law and take time to download said product) it has some economic value at a higher cost. The problem is that if a product is infinitely available at zero cost in the pirate market it's hard to convince people that they should pay some set value without the threat of criminal or civil liabilities.
posted by vuron at 11:15 AM on January 27, 2010


"Some people will surely pirate, but those people are likely to be the ones who are so cheap they wouldn't have bought anyway. It's only when piracy becomes commonplace enough that it's not only cheaper, but actually easier and offers better selection, that the white market is totally doomed."

If not already here it will be soon. Back catalogues of books are ridiculously small compared to the number of books that have been published. If you don't want something published right now then you may just be out of luck. With pirated e-books consuming so very few resources, availability will outnumber printed books eventually and I'm predicting sooner rather than later. It's easy already to grab a single .torrent of a mostly complete TSR or Games Workshop back catalogue. Hundreds of books available and on your machine in about the time consumed by the average commercial break.

"I confess that a couple of times in the past few years I've downloaded pirate e-book versions of books I already own, so I can perform searches on the text, which is tedious (at best) with a physical copy."

Me too. I own pirated versions of all my 40K books for just that reason. The inability to grep a dead tree is a serious failing of every hard copy reference document.
posted by Mitheral at 2:03 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I do not diminish the income of anyone by not paying for something I would never pay for.

But if you take it anyway even though it is not freely offered, then you are a leech. Similar to the guy who is never at the bar when it's his turn to buy the next round. Shabby.

And multiplied many times, it will have wider consequences. It's not just your one act of selfishness, it's you and everyone else starting a new tragedy of the commons. If no one buys books, then the book biz gives up and we get nothing but self published work, and if you think finding good titles is hard now.... I trouble the local library a great deal, but I also make a point of buying a few new books for full price every year as an act of respect to the authors and because I don't want the bookstores to close. Same reason I give folding money to buskers. People who claim to love books but cheap out on this entirely are not my friends.

As to the guy being profiled, assuming he isn't just a figment of someone's imagination, I have to think him more than a little deranged. It's a lot of work to photocopy entire books. I've done so for out of copy right impossible to get anywhere else titles when I absolutely positively had to have them, but it's not fun. To do so when the above conditions are not in play - that's kind of creepy. As well as anti-social for the reasons put forth above.


The problem is that there is no limit to potential income. Potentially, I'm a millionaire.


Realistically, of course, there is, unless you're J.K. Rowling, but even if not, why is this a problem? I hate Harry Potter, but I don't begrudge Rowling her billion. Or are you arguing that no one should be entitled to a million dollars?
posted by IndigoJones at 6:12 AM on January 28, 2010


The problem is that there is no limit to potential income. Potentially, I'm a millionaire.

In a court of law, you'd be expected to prove what potential income would likely be. So if unpublished Joe Schmo comes out and says that his book, which was pirated, was going to make him millions, it's likely he wouldn't get much in the way of damages. If someone like J.K. Rowling comes to court, points out that due to the piracy, she failed to make X amount of money, whereby all previous books she made that X amount of money, she would have a better chance at recovery. Course, the defense would argue that there are other factors besides the piracy for why she didn't make X, or that piracy had nothing to do with, and it'd be the judge's or jury's job to weigh the facts.
posted by Atreides at 6:32 AM on January 28, 2010


Public Lending Right is more about supporting the authors, not compensating the authors and publishing industry. Also, PLR is limited to the authors lifetime, unlike copyright. Even so, the IFLA has observed that the PLR put forward by the European Commission is a violation of human rights. It's fine if a nation like Denmark counts library checkouts when deciding what native language authors need sponsorship, but it's rather stupid for Canada's library system to pay the U.S. millions of dollars a year.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:18 AM on January 28, 2010


> Presumably if a product has value to you at zero cost (enough value to violate the law and take time to download said product) it has some economic value at a higher cost.

I'm not sure I follow that logic. Some products have value at precisely zero cost, and no higher.

Assuming it had some value at a higher cost, that doesn't mean it's what you think it is. Nor is it the same for everyone. That's the logic behind the 'name your price' downloads that have cropped up recently. Some people are desperate to support their favorite artists, and some people are curious who this person that their friend raving about is.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:33 PM on January 28, 2010


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