Piracy-lovin’ librarians: How typical? Not very, as I see it—but read e-novelist Cornelia Amiri’s complaint

image "We all love e-books because you can take that one download and send it to all your friends---so you have twenty of them instead of just one, and the publisher can’t track you down or do anything about it.”

Did a librarian from Baytown, Texas, in fact say the above at a "Sci-Fi Fantasy Convention in Houston"? If so, what's the full context, and might she want to apologize?

The quote comes to us by way of Cornelia Amiri, a fifty-one-year-old novelist with 5,580 friends on MySpace. I don't know Cornelia, aka the Celtic Romance Queen. But I doubt she'd go out of her way to alienate librarians or fans. If anything, she strikes me as more tolerant of pass-alongs than would be most writers and publishers.

Cornelia: Treat E like P

image "I told her it’s fine to pass a copy of a downloaded book to a friend when you’ve finished it the same way you might do with a paperback or hardback book," Cornelia recalls in a TeleBlog comment. "But per etiquette and as a legal issue you are supposed to delete the copy you have. I had to say something, I just had to. The comment made on a panel like that made me feel she was encouraging or endorsing people to do that.

"I knew she knew it was wrong," Cornelia tells us. After all, the librarian had talked about publishers not being able to hunt down the offenders.

Wonders about other librarians

"For a librarian to say that at a convention about books with authors in the audience is crazy to me," the novelist says. "Are other librarians encouraging readers to do this? She was a librarian at the Baytown, Texas, Library."

I looked up Baytown, an oil city of some 60,000 in the Houston area---with a median family income of $40,449, hardly stratospheric but still enough to buy some books.

image Baytown's site for the Sterling Municipal Library is well-done for a small city, and I notice that the system belongs to a consortium offering OverDrive audio and e-books. You can burn copies of audios in some cases. But OverDrive's e-books are DRMed. Does this mean people are cracking the DRM? Or more likely, if piracy is going on, might the nonDRMed works of small publishers be targets---perhaps books not even offered by the library system?

I'm going to e-mail Baytown City Librarian Katherine Brown and see what gives here. Will Ms. Twenty Copies---not the same person as Ms. Brown, I'd hope---come forward without my bothering to do any detective work by talking to people who attended the SF conference? Does Baytown have any specific policies on e-book piracy by librarians, during or outside business hours? If not, will it consider them?

Not calling for firing of librarian

No, I do not want the apparently offending librarian fired, nor the library system punished. But Ms. Twenty Copies should still fess up and give us the full story. Was she simply telling the truth and using "we" in a loose sense? Or is she herself pirating in a major way?

Either way, it would be dumb, dumb, dumb of any book-publishers to even think of prosecution, given the hatred that the RIAA’s Pit-Pull tactics have created against the recording studios.

I’d just like to see what was going on, since if nothing else it is rather bizarre to hear of remarks like this coming from a librarian. We’re not talking about a few copies made for personal reading.

My impression is the best librarians, being fierce defenders of fair use, as well they should be, tend to take the copyright laws seriously. Some librarians, in fact, are themselves content-creators—like one of the other members of the panel.

The DRM angle

Now how about the DRM angle? I myself would continue to urge libraries and others to try to back off from DRM and experiment with alternatives such as permanent checkouts, perhaps mixed with social DRM. Thanks to DRM hassles, my Cybook loaner and Palm TX are currently useless for reading titles from the Fairfax County public library system in Northern Virginia. I know I can eventually straighten things out, but most library patrons in my place would not bother.

At least I also check out paper books (from the Alexandria public library). But many readers of e-books may not have time, and with the present gas gouges, libraries would do well to keep growing their electronic sides. Part of this, of course, means educating both librarians and patrons in the proper use of intellectual property so that incentives will remain for publishers and professional writers to make their works available in E.

Detail: Yes, I suppose Cornelia could have confused the Baytown municipal library with one near by, maybe even a college library; let’s keep that in mind before passing final judgment. Still, her reference seems pretty explicit.

Update, 9:26 a.m.: The good news is that people are reading. Let’s hope that business models and copyright laws can accommodate the new technology while still compensating writers and publishers fairly. TeleRead, anyone? Not to mention ad-supported books in appropriate situations?

Update: 10:53: Just as I expected, Katherine Brown, city librarian, was "appalled" when I told her of her staffer’s comments at the SF panel. I alerted her to the e-mail she’d sent, and I look forward to details. Meanwhile, as long as I’m pointing out an apparent problem in Baytown, let me again zero on a strong positive, the system’s Web site. I especially like the colorful "staff picks" page with links to books that individual staffers like. Congrats to Bing if she’s the Webmaster (she mentions books on Web design and says she provides tech support).

About David Rothman (6824 Articles)
David Rothman is the founder and publisher of the TeleRead e-book site and cofounder of He is also author of The Solomon Scandals novel and six tech-related books on topics ranging from the Internet to laptops. Passionate on digital divide issues, he is now pushing for the creation of a national digital library endowment.

8 Comments on Piracy-lovin’ librarians: How typical? Not very, as I see it—but read e-novelist Cornelia Amiri’s complaint

  1. If so, what’s the full context, and might she want to apologize?

    The context was a talk about “the library of the future.” It said so right there in the comment you at’s the were quoting. Amazing how a guy running a project to promote the digital library fails to notice talk about that library right under his nose.

    As for the librarian’s comment: yes, one of the advantages of e-books is that you can share it endlessly. Why should she apologize for noting so?

  2. Branko, I’d love endless sharing—but with provisions for fair compensation for publishers and writers. If the information on Baytown is accurate, that isn’t happening. But it someday it could be, whether through a TeleRead approach or another. The good news is that people in this case at least are reading, and maybe some of those 20 copies will inspire appreciative people to go out and buy books. Anyway thanks for your own thoughts on this.


  3. The culture angle

    It seems somewhat perverse to delete a digital document after someone else received it, just to mimic the fact that a physical document can not be in two places at once, and that someone has built a business model on that particular shortcoming of physical documents.

    The issue of compensation remains. But please do not mix that moral issue with lobbying for mainaining existing business models.

    For instance, publishers have two roles: they do not only act as an aid to the author (i.e. do some part of the authoring process), but they also act as a gateway that prevents rejected authors to reach their intended audiences. In the past, publishers have been the only gateway. With the publishers toll-booth, the gate will go away, too. Authors can go indie. This has drawbacks, and it will change literature. Change is inevitable. But perhaps the benefits will outweigh the drawbacks. And even if they do not, they will not kill writing, just as shutting down the RIAA would not kill music. There is more creative writing than ever, and I do not see how it is going to stop.

    As a reader, I do not want scarcity of books. I want a copy of every book in existence! Most authors worth reading are dead, anyway. And I am still going to buy hardcovers as presents, and I am willing to donate to authors.

    As an author, I want to be read! As much as possible, by as many people as possible. Do not delete my books from your harddrive, if you happen to give a copy to your friend or colleague. (But I need to make a living, so lets think about business models, too.)

  4. Hi, Joscha. I myself find the better publishers to be useful as editors, packagers and promoters, but I would like them to be much more efficient than they are now.

    As for biz models and copyright, yes, I agree with you. They need to be changed, just as I emphasized in the addendum—about the same time you were doing your own posting.

    While moral issues do arise as I see it, I’d not mix that up with lobbying for existing models.

    I’m just talking about the here and now. As bad as the current laws are, people should pay writers and publishers. Do not confuse them with lobbyists and lawmakers in the U.S. or elsewhere.

    Thanks, and good hearing from you. If you want, maybe you can give as an update on these issues in Germany.


  5. fair compensation for publishers and writers

    I am not really interested in fair compensation for publishers and writers. Nor is your current copyright law. Chiding a librarian for not living up to what you’d wish the law would be is disingenuous, especially since you keep admitting that you don’t know the whole story.

    It seems somewhat perverse to delete a digital document after someone else received it, just to mimic the fact that a physical document can not be in two places at once

    Spot on!

    I’m just talking about the here and now.

    But how do you know that the librarian was doing the same? It doesn’t follow from your posting.

    Update: 10:53: Just as I expected, Katherine Brown, city librarian, was “appalled” when I told her of her staffer’s comments at the SF panel.

    Well, if the librarian does get fired on the strength of your posting, she’ll have a doozy of a libel suit against you.

  6. Branko, I’ve allowed for a number of possibilities. As noted, I’m eager to hear the unnamed librarian’s side. However, if she’s accurately quoted, I do think it would be classy of her to take a stand against mass sharing that goes well beyond Fair Use. As for Katherine Brown, I’m sure she’ll reserve judgment until she finds out what was said—the “appalled” was based on even the possibility of those comments having been made. Put “alleged” in front of “comments” to be on the safe side. Just as importantly, the the staff librarian use “we” loosely”? We need to consider the context. I’ve made all this clear in the post.

    Guess this is the installment 1000 in our debate on copyright. We both agree the present laws are a mess. I just happen to believe in the royalty system, etc., as one option. I don’t want all creations to be free labor or funded by schools, etc. Here’s to choices for creators as well as consumers!


  7. David, I have a question. What is the difference between a library buying 1 copy of your book (print version) and loaning it out to 20 library patrons and a person buying 1 ebook version and passing it out to 20 friends?

    I have a tough time seeing the difference except for this: In the former case, the library patrons have to specifically request the book and so have expressed an interest in it. In the latter case, however, the purchaser has (presumably) read the book and liked it enough to give a copy to friends as a suggestion that they read it, something they probably would not have done otherwise.

    In both instances there has been a single purchase for which the publisher and author have been compensated.

    I know that some people argue that in the former case there is still only 1 copy available whereas in the latter there are now 21 copies. But what does this really mean? The publisher/author is more likely losing sales with the library loaning system than with the friend distributing system — library patrons have to already be interested in the book to request it whereas in the friend distribution there is likely to be little to no interest in the author’s work beforehand.

    Please do not construe this as being opposed to fair compensation. I am certainly not opposed to that. I just find the compensation argument to be a weak argument especially when comparing a library distribution system to some other distribution system.

  8. TheRealBillc // July 1, 2008 at 10:00 am //

    If books, especially e-books were available, priced fairly, and good reads, then DRM would not be needed. As you (and others)have said in other posts, the music model has some things within it that are comparable. As the cost of cd’s escallated, and as themed cd’s went into history, buyers found it less and less appealing to pay a large sum for a few good songs on a cd. The downloading of music at 99 cents each really spoke to that problem, yet no one in the industry, until Apple/Jobs, really understood that (or at least could not fathom that kind of change in the marketing model because the old model was such a cash cow). The rest is history. When will publishers (and apparently authors) get that? We’re not willing to pay $26 for the hard cover and $26 for the DRM’ed e-book. We know there are savings in e-book distribution, and we want to see some of those savings – or we’re not going to play. The reader/”owner” experiance is NOT the same despite what some publishers think. Reduce e-book prices, get rid of DRM, and watch the volume induced money roll in. If the price, availability, and value added content are there, the only people not buying the books will be people (kids) that would not, or could not buy it anyway, but even with them, you will create a love of the author, and reading that will last a lifetime, and they will want to possess some of that when they are able to. Speaking of value added content, why couldn’t the e-book include something more than the paper book to spur sales? How about interviews with the author about the book, story, plot line, their thoughts on reactions to the book? Excepts of books the author is working on at the time of publication? Then there might be a little more excitment in purchasing an e-book, which now is just a copy of the paperbook (yawn).

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