brokeEntitlement seems to run rampant in fandom these days. One post making the rounds calls fandom “broken” because fans are now in the habit of throwing public tantrums any time a media rights holder does something with its property fans don’t like. But another aspect of the problem has to do not so much with what the rights holders do, but what with fans do to those rights holders.

Romance novelist Sarah Madison remarks on a controversy lately making the rounds on Facebook, wherein someone asked for help in finding good pirate e-book sites. Many Facebook users rightly called out this person for depriving creators of money, but Madison was surprised by just how many others came to her defense.

Madison noted the arguments seem to fall into three basic categories: people who profess to be broke and can’t afford to pay for entertainment, people who think creative works should be free because creativity is all about telling stories and sharing them, and people who think writers make too much money anyway.

Of these three arguments, the one about being broke is the most sympathetic, but there are plenty of legitimate ways such people can get reading matter—from their public library, and from free e-book sites such as Project Gutenberg. But being broke doesn’t entitle you to download work from pirate sites. The other two arguments are self-evidently silly, and I don’t think they even call for any refutation on my part—though Madison does a good enough job of it in her own blog post.

But why is there so much entitlement and fan anger these days around the most potentially innocuous of things? Sarah Madison observes fans lashing out with threats against the very people who’ve been bringing them such enjoyment, and writes:

I have some theories about why we are so angry these days. I think in part it’s because we’re all so hungry. We’re emotionally, financially, and in some cases, physically starving. We work our asses off at our jobs to barely make ends meet and at the end of the day, we want our reward, damn it. Be it our favorite television show, or that bottle of wine, or that tub of Rocky Road ice cream, or the latest release from our favorite authors.

To that, I would add that we also have significantly more avenues of connecting with the creators of our favorite material, given that so many of them have social media and web presences these days. For book authors, this is driven at least in part by what a terrible job publishers are doing promoting most authors, forcing them to the necessity of doing it themselves. Building communities is seen as a great way of promoting yourself to your closest fans.

Consequently, where twenty years ago the only way of reaching your favorite author might have been to go to the effort of writing a letter to their publisher and hoping the publisher deemed it worth showing them, now it’s often just a matter of tagging them on Twitter or Facebook. Unfortunately, between GamerGate, Sad Puppies, and just random entitled fans, this is becoming considerably more unpleasant for the thin-skinned.

In addition, it’s super-easy now just to reach out and take what we want, giving little thought to the impact it might have on others. It takes almost no effort, and we won’t get caught, so why not do it? We can justify it to ourselves by saying we wouldn’t have paid to buy the book anyway, so it’s not as if they’re losing any money from us that they actually would have gotten. Or we can say it costs too much, or that they don’t deserve to get paid for some reason or other (politics, religion, or maybe they just killed off your favorite character), or come up with a myriad of other reasons. As Jeff Goldblum put it in Jurassic Park, people are so busy congratulating themselves on what they can do, they don’t stop to think about whether they should do it.

In the end, I would hope that enough people will come around to supporting the efforts of their favorite authors and creators to make up for the ones who don’t. And maybe people should try to step back and cool down before they get mad at their favorite author for not doing what they want.


  1. My favorite exemplar of the “I’m entitled to steal, because I’m poor” isn’t fandom, but student populations in certain impoverished countries. They brazenly organize to steal the books that they want. And they’ll get extremely irate if anyone suggests that this might possibly not be legitimate.

  2. So what’s the difference to an author or publisher between someone who acquires a used book vs an internet download?

    Uh, don’t think too hard about that, Skippy, because there isn’t a difference. So, how come you aren’t ranting about all those used bookstores and how *they* are low-life thieves??

    Fact is, this is a tired argument that has been disproven, time and time again, in the music industry. A) Distribution, by whatever means, sells future work and B) those who download wouldn’t have bought, anyway. Want to sell more books? Spend more time on improving your writing and less time on bitching.

    • While that’s true, the key difference is that buying from used bookstores does not involve breaking the law, but downloading illicitly from peer-to-peer sites does.

      Even if the actions are effectively equivalent as far as making the author more money goes, and you’re not likely to get prosecuted yourself even if you do personally break the law, it seems to me that on the whole it’s probably more defensible to do something that’s not illegal than to do something that is.

  3. I’ve always thought this when I’ve read the various discussions about piracy.

    I think it also applies to books (or music or whatever) that we think are “badly priced” (a.k.a. “too expensive”), most prominently titles from the Big 5.
    We may think the publishers are misguided, stupid or just plain greedy but this doesn’t give us the right – legal, moral or otherwise – to pirate the content.
    If we don’t think their offerings are worth the money the solution is simple; find alternatives that are.

    And there ARE obvious differences between used books and pirated downloads. The former involved previous individual sales for each used book sold and deteriorate in condition over time. The latter can be infinitely copied and don’t deteriorate over time.

  4. Regarding the used book argument, we might elaborate on this by pointing out that rights holders have unilaterally nullified the first sale doctrine and the secondary book market via the use of digital technologies. They did not seek nor were they given permission to do this so would it be fair to say that rights holders (and their assigns) have engaged in theft? Not snatch and grab theft but theft by conversion. There’s just no honor among thieves. 😉

    • I think you’ll find the answer to that is buried in the small print when you “buy” (or license) an ebook.
      In many ways it’s not dissimilar to software licensing where it becomes possible to sell the license on in some circumstances. The difference is that the value of most individual ebooks and other aspects of the sales process make selling the license on impractical. (Imagine the drop in numbers if each ebook had to be “installed” and have a license key entered?)

  5. Piracy is a tool to force the media monopolies and the artists into a more consumer friendly business model. The whole notion of copyright etc is that the public has the right to the information, but artists need incentives to create. This has morphed into some notion that art belongs to the artists instead of society in general. If we focus solely on the incentive to create, today’s copyright regime is completely unnecessary, at least as applied to consumers who wish to casually share and mash up creative content. There are countless artists out there who do quite well for themselves giving their copyable content away and then finding other sources of revenue.

    What is morally wrong is supporting a corrupt system with your money. There is nothing that can prevent piracy so do it. All the moralizing is simply tools of the oppressors to keep the sheep in line. Piracy is not only best for the individual, but it is also best for the group. It’s objectively the better option.

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