On FutureBook, Martyn Daniels looks at the question of piracy, summing up contributing factors and discussing why it is such a tricky problem. Calling it a social problem similar to drugs, gambling, drinking, and prostitution, he points out that it will probably never be eradicated. He points out that almost everybody has done it either intentionally or not, and that it is important not to alienate these people or set unrealistic goals in trying to fight it.

The causes or contributing factors Daniels discusses include free digital content versus industry pricing (and taxes that target e-books while leaving p-books alone, an important factor in the UK where FutureBook is based), fair use and Creative Commons, and the ability to “own” one’s content. He makes a few good points, such as when he discusses the matter of pricing in our current “discount crazy” world.

We would suggest that the heavy discounting of physical books has had a significant devaluation impact on the perceived value of ebooks. It is also crazy to try to enforce a retail price maintenance ‘agency’ regime on ebooks, whilst allowing a price discounting free for all on physical books. Think of the consumer perception of such open hypocrisy.

Daniels concludes that it’s one thing to try to fight the “dealers of piracy” through laws such as SOPA, but it’s only treating a symptom and not addressing the cause. He also suggests that it might be better to set the goal of an “acceptable” level of piracy than to try to take a zero-tolerance approach.

Something I find interesting is that Daniels uses the phrase “addicted to piracy” in the subject of the article, but doesn’t really discuss piracy as an “addiction” in the text. (Though he does compare it to other “addictions” such as drugs, gambling, and drinking.) Do people get “addicted” to downloading free stuff without paying for it? It’s a good question. You do see some people who download a whole bunch of stuff just to have it, rather than actually to use it—compulsive hoarders, like the crazy old ladies who keep hundreds of cats in their houses.

But on the whole, for most people piracy is just a means to an end—they want to consume some media but it costs too much or they can’t get it legitimately, so they pirate it. If there is an addiction involved, it seems more like an addiction to the content itself. After all, drug addicts often commit crimes to get money to buy their fix. Likewise, e-book or music addicts might commit piracy to get the object of their affection.

At any rate, Daniels is right that piracy is a pervasive social problem that is never going to be legislated away. Sometimes I wonder whether, as older generations die out and younger generations grow up with piracy being “normal”, the practice will simply become too pervasive to fight and media companies will have to find new revenue models to stay afloat. Well, the only way to find out is to wait and see what happens.


  1. It’s interesting to see Daniels compare piracy to drugs, drinking, prostitution… which she identifies as “social problems,” not addictions as the title suggests. Yes, piracy is a social problem, but not like drugs, drinking or even gambling, which are clinical problems caused by a medical dependence.

    (Prostitution? Not going there.)

    I would have compared it as closer to fast-food eating and luxury car-buying; these are things that are not good for us, and we are capable of avoiding if desired… but society continually pushes us back to those bad behaviors, by romanticizing them in media or by encouraging tolerance and lionization (as opposed to punishment or ostracization) of those who do it.

    Having the feeling that personal gratification is more important than adhering to the law is, of course, nothing new. It is merely the complete lack of effective identification and punishment of scofflaws that has allowed it to get so bad. Much like creating speeding laws and having no police or technology to monitor the highways; people who know that will speed.

    And the reasons for piracy may be debatable, but most of them are ego-related, as opposed to need-related; who really needs a digital copy of Pride and Prejudice?

  2. Piracy is not a ‘social problem’ and it is ridiculous and self serving to suggest that it is. A social problem would infer that it is somehow detrimental to society or our health or our well being. It is none of these.
    It is also self serving in failing to make any effort to distinguish between pirates, professional pirates, and domestic downloaders or copiers. It is self serving because, of course, it is most convenient to lump everyone together in an effort to mask the true situation and benefit the Media industry.
    Commercial piracy is clearly a simple economic fraud, with no social or customer or social element to it whatsoever.
    Domestic downloading/copying is for the most part driven by avarice and greed on the part of the Media companies, combined with the huge change in technology and convenience. Shifting blame and personalising it is nothing more than the usual nonsense rolled out by the Media when it wants to change the law or plead poverty and loss of sales for any of a thousand real reasons.

  3. Howard: “You’re a bad company, so I’m gonna steal from you” is not an acceptable response to a bad situation. The fact that so many people seem to think it is acceptable, is indicative of the social problem at hand.

    And in saying domestic downloading is caused by media greed, you’ve just shifted the blame away from those actually doing the illegal downloading and sharing. The media might be greedy, but that doesn’t justify consumer piracy… it justifies protest and abstinence.

  4. I do agree that calling piracy a “Social” problem is somewhat misleading. Unlike the addictions mentioned, it does not, in itself have a tendency to destroy the life of the “pirate”. Nor like prostitution does it directly exploit and trap a particular group in what often amounts to slavery.

    Piracy is an economic problem. Publishers and authors (and in the case of other types of media the artists, producers, etc.) have a legitimate right to attempt to make a fair profit for their efforts. On the flip side, unlike other property, intellectual property is not a natural concept for people. Only one person can use a spear (at least at a time), or eat a particular piece of meat so therefore ownership of physical property is fairly deeply ingrained in our basic psychology. Ideas on the other hand, until recently have generally been fairly freely shared or borrowed by whoever needed them. Every member of Homo Erectus did not have to figure out how to make stone tools on their own, they learned from others. If one group didn’t have that technology and encountered it, you better believe they didn’t ask permission before they used it. Even after books and copyright came onto the scene, no one felt the need to ask the permission of the author to share the copy of a book they bought; copyright was generally thought to protect against the commercial exploitation of a work, for a limited time, by those who had nothing to do with its initial production.

    Ultimately the basic problem has become this. The whole notion of copyright worked because copying a book was hard. Economics works with scarcity. Now making copies of digital works and sharing them is essentially free. The scarcity is gone. There really is no way (I think) to effectively stop piracy without establishing a police state. The problem then comes from making sure Authors still have a motive to produce new works. With music it was pricing the music low enough to not give people a reason to pirate. The publishing industry might have to ultimately swallow its pride and do the same.

  5. Scarcity isn’t the only way that economics work. Digital music isn’t “scarce,” yet a viable industry is surviving after the crisis of the digital transition music endured. Acceptable pricing combined with easy access to MP3 files does the trick.

    Depending on a number of factors, economic issues do exist. Other issues, such as geographic restrictions and format conflicts, create a more contentious atmosphere with consumers.

    The “social problem” is in the consumers’ response to these issues: Blatant theft of intellectual property, blatant disregard for copyright and copyright owners’ intent, and blatant boasting of their acts since they know no effective mechanism exists to identify and punish them. In other words, abandonment of the basic tenets of society, most especially the idea that someone who creates a unique work deserves some fair compensation for their creation, and some protection against being ripped off.

    There is a social problem at work here: The consumer’s fear of being forced to behave like a civilized member of society.

  6. Steven,
    Actually, scarcity is the way that economics work. Attempts to try to make economies work by other mechanisms (i.e., Marx’s labor theory of value) have generally failed. Digital music isn’t scarce, but what has been scarce is good sources of digital music. Torrents have always been a bit tricky for many to set up and use properly, and come with real security issues. What Apple did (and they are still far and away the most successful seller of music) was make the process of obtaining music very simple. You essentially don’t pay for the music, you pay for the service that allows you to locate and download it. Of course now, they are threatened by Pandora and other streaming music sources that provide unlimited access to music either very cheaply or through an add subsidized model. Oh right, and the piracy of digital music is still going strong; its just the industry was able to capture enough of a market to maintain viability.

    I would point out that such issues like format conflicts (i.e., the refusal to embrace standards) and geographic restrictions actually cause consumers to turn to the darknet to get what they want. This is also true when the publisher fails to provide what the consumer wants.

    Finally, with respect, I think equating copyright with a basic tenant of our society is hyperbole. Yes it is an incredibly useful tool of our society, but it is not, in and of itself, one of the ideas upon which our society is based on. I would also point out that not every intention of a copyright holder is legitimate. Also I think it could be argued that what has become abusive extensions of copyright, (will someone please explain to me how extending the copyright for a dead author, or indeed for any work already written provides an incentive to create new work?) in fact means that government is breaking the social contract it has with its citizens since of course the copyright holders tend to have far more influence the individual citizen (i.e., money).

    I want authors to be compensated for their work, but I think we need to recognize that a copyright system that was set up in an era when an intellectual work could be tied to the media it was sold on is unworkable in the modern era. When laws cease being practical and workable, and a large percentage of society ignores them, are we sure that the people who ignore them are not actually acting like civilized members or society?

    Remember, I pointed out earlier, that sharing information is a behavior that must be inherent in humans. Even when books were limited to paper, people borrowed them, lent them and resold them; all activities which we naturally continue in the digital realm and all activities which many copyright holders are trying very, very hard to eradicate.

    Finally of course, you keep talking about the fact that pirates exist because no effective method exists to identify and punish them. All I can say for that is, thank goodness. I don’t pirate, but any mechanism that could identify pirates would essentially be an eradication of any privacy we have. It would essentially require every computer to be monitored, 24/7 and all uses of that computer to be logged. Granted much of that activity is already logged by Google and ISPs, but you haven’t seen anything yet; to be effective at stopping piracy, all encrypted traffic would need to be made available to whomever is monitoring the computer. That means they would have access to your financial information and any other activities you might perform online.

  7. Enough with the “no more privacy, Big Brother’s around the corner” rants; that saw is so old and worn out, it can’t cut butter. Check your history, and you’ll find that every improvement to security and law enforcement has been credited with bringing Big Brother down upon us since the publishing of 1984. Improvements to web and digital security will not plunge us into Goldstein’s era. Take a breath. Let it rest.

    Bill, you’re looking at copyright (and patent, and trademark) all wrong. It’s specifically the fact that, thanks to the incredible machines of the Industrial Revolution, all physical and intellectual works could be so easily reproduced by others, that the laws were created. The laws were created to check unauthorized reproduction and redistribution of works, give the creator initial control over the dissemination of their work, and of the profit thereupon, for a limited amount of time… in order to encourage those creators to create, and not to go work on a farm and deprive the world of their creations.

    This is the very tenet of a modern society, identifying a mutual problem and coming to a mutual and agreed-upon solution, in order to benefit the collective good. Cooperation is also inherent in humans, as it is in many animal species, in order to survive.

    Essentially, nothing above has changed. We have only made the reproduction of some works even easier than before (something to be expected during an Industrial Revolution). The digital realm has created loopholes in the original copyright laws, but the intent of the laws–and their value–stays the same. That’s a reason to improve the laws, and if necessary, ways to enforce them, to make sure their intent is honored by a society that is clearly too much into self-gratification to care about honoring anything they don’t have to.

  8. MarylandBill – Many excellent arguments. You make it clear, as i did, that this is most definitely not a social problem at all, and the hyperbole about damage to society is totally unjustified.

    The truth is that copyright has now been corrupted and exploited and twisted out of all proportion to it’s original intent by corporate lobbying. The public can see this because it is transparently obvious. Hence the widespread loss of respect for copyright as a whole.

    The music business enjoyed a huge glut of profits when it brought in the CD. It was then forced to go back to a realistic business model when digital music arrived. The public simply said no to the prices and downloaded it instead. The music industry has now done so and has returned to a highly profitable business model.

    Publishing has enjoyed decades of easy profitability through the over pricing of it’s product and underpayment of royalties. The arrival of digital publishing is doing to them what it did to music. The democratisation by the digital medium and the new ability of the public to simply say no to the exorbitant prices will force publishers to do what the music industry had to do.

    This is, in fact, a great new example of basic public justice. The legislating system has been thoroughly corrupted by the lobbying power of the huge corporate money of the Media industries. This has resulted in copyright laws that are unfair, unjust and have been rejected by ordinary people. The arrival of digital media has placed the power in the hands of ordinary people, bypassing the legislative process. And the people have made clear the value they place on music and writing.

    Publishers and writers who understand this and adapt will thrive. Those that don’t won’t.

  9. Howard,
    I don’t think this is really a question of justice, it is a question of reality. Publishing as an industry, whether it was publishing music, books or videos, was built on the fact that the thing published was tied to some sort of physical medium. In the industrial phase of publishing (say 1500-1995), it was relatively difficult to set up production of the media/medium, but once set up, the production was relatively inexpensive. That made copyright as we now know it both a necessity and relatively practical. By its very nature it was relatively difficult to “pirate” books. People continued to share information, but were essentially limited in how much they could share.

    We are now in a situation where the key pre-condition to enforcing copyright has been removed. It is now essentially free in both time and effort to copy media. Our natural inclinations to share information have taken over for a lot of people. Essentially trying to stop piracy is like trying to stop people from having sex. It may or may not be the right thing to do, but you aren’t going to have much success no matter how hard you try; at least not without eliminating the last remnants of privacy that exist in our world.

    Most people who download pirated media, don’t think of themselves as violating copyright and will resist being categorized as such. They see copyright violators as those who profit from the activity. As far as they are concerned, they are just taking the process of making mix tapes, going to the library, and recording TV programs on their VCR into the 21st century. I don’t think most people think about copyright enough to recognize how ridiculously long the terms of copyright currently are (after all, that is why corporations were able to successfully lobby for them in the first place). Reducing the terms of copyright to 10 years will not change their habits in the slightest.

  10. “Basic public justice”? What is that, Howard, the New Coke version of vigilantism? A crook by any other name…

    @Bill: “Most people who download pirated media, don’t think of themselves as violating copyright and will resist being categorized as such.” That does not mean they aren’t, in fact, violating the law, whether they want to admit it or not. And it isn’t enough to simply ignore laws from now on, because people don’t want to admit they’re doing wrong. That’s a gangster mentality, mob rule. Over literature. Good luck with that.

  11. MarylandBill – Oh I think it is a form of natural justice. I don’t think copyright was necessarily connected with the difficulty of producing the physical product. Other people could produce their version of a title and sell it but copyright prevented them for a reasonable time so that the creator could earn a living. Fair enough.
    I disagree about people realising they are violating copyright. I believe they are very well aware of it. They just don’t have any respect for it anymore. I know from discussing the topic of music downloads over many years with friends and their teen kids. They just feel that the corporate owners of these copyrights are getting rich on inflated prices that have no relation to the cost of the product, and chose to ignore them. My nephew downloaded a few Beatles albums and told me that Paul McCartney doesn’t need any more money. I had no reasonable answer and told him ‘fair enough’. I could have told him that the copyright was probably with some corporation somewhere who bought it from the Beatles … but that would only have made it even worse. Does McCartney need the money ? Of course not. It is silly to argue the fact.
    I know many people who make great efforts to pay full prices for local band’s CDs. I have been to gigs where people have offered to pay over the price for CDs. They value creators/artists.
    But copyright has become totally disconnected from reality. Corporations have twisted up the whole process. Copyright extended beyond the death of creators has made a mockery of people’s sense of natural justice; of fairness.
    You say reducing it to ten years would not make a difference. Of course it wouldn’t. It is not the ten years that is the problem.

  12. Steven,
    There are lots of laws in the United States that are ignored every day by virtually everyone (And I am not just talking about speed limits here), so if that is the definition of mob rule (and it isn’t) then we have had mob rule for a long time.

    Further, unless we are going to toss out the basic philosophy of the social contract that our society is built upon, we have to recognize that when a law is ignored by a large enough percentage of the population (and I am not sure what that percentage is) then it ceases to be a real law. In other words, in a democracy, a law only really exists when enough people consent to the law to make it enforceable. To put it in perspective, a number of states have laws generally regarded as silly on their books. The fact that these laws are routinely ignored means in a very practical sense they don’t exist.

    Remember, I am for finding a way to make sure that authors get compensated for their efforts. I however think that trying to enforce existing copyright law through draconian measures will both fail and alienate consumers.

  13. Well, the basic idea here is that ultimately we have to eliminate the motivation for pirating. The simplest method might be to tax the internet.. say a couple of dollars a month. All books would then be loaded into a central repository (say run by the library of congress). The library would track the the number of distinct downloads (i.e., a particular person’s download needs to be tracked once per work, regardless of how often they download it). Then at the end of every year, divide the revenue from the tax amongst the authors via a formula based on how popular they were. To support authors with smaller niches, you might want to start with a relatively high payment per download for the first say 1000, then taper down to a more moderate amount after that. This idea was not mine, though I can’t remember who proposed it. There is no reason to pirate since anyone can access the work for free and they are paying a tax for access to the works anyway.

    I am sure there are other models, I just need some more time to think about them. The key though is that getting the book legitimately has to be both easier than pirating (and lets be honest, it often is not with some ebook stores along with Adobe DRM), and cheap enough not to make people worry about the cost. I suspect that you will need to get books down to $5 or less to achieve that goal.

  14. Laws made under the auspices of wealthy corporate lobbying, without the involvement or support of the public deserve to be ignored and broken. The public are the ones in charge after all. It’s public justice, and in the case of copyright, it is here and it is happening and there is no going back no matter what some people might think. Waving arms around in disgust and outrage will achieve nothing. The train has left the station.

  15. Steven, you should go read that section of the Declaration of Independence where it talks about government becoming oppressive and right of the People to alter or abolish it. As Howard points out the ultimate sovereignty resides with the People.

    Right now most people recognize that we are living under an oppressive corporate controlled power system that locks the common man out of the political process. There are not many ways to fight back except to refuse to abide by the laws that make no sense.

    You like to frame the debate with inflammatory words like “Piracy” and “Stealing”. I prefer to focus on the abuses of what I call “Copyright Oppression”. Under the current model culture is “owned” by profit obsessed corporations. The People have no rights at all except to pay on demand.

    One small example I was thinking about. When I was a boy the TV show “All In The Family” broke new ground in addressing issues of racism on public television. It is, by all account, a very significant part of our shared culture. But if I want to show episodes to High School kids I can’t. If I want to create a documentary or a Youtube video about it I can’t. It’s locked down and controlled by corporate copyright.

    Why should every single aspect of our shared culture be commercialized and kept under corporate control for more than a lifetime after it’s creation? Have you ever considered copyright from this direction? We are a culturally impoverished nation as it is and copyright lockdown is making it much much worse.

  16. Steven, I don’t mean to seem like I’m piling on you. But an illustration of how one-sided your views are can be seen when you said in one of your posts above that nothing has changed since the industrial age except that it’s easier to make copies.

    The other thing that has changed is that, instead of a copyright term of 14 years plus another optional 14 years, we now have copyright terms of 100 or 150 years. Essentially nothing created in our lifetimes will ever enter the public domain in our lifetimes. This is not balance. This does not serve the public good. This is simply a raw corporate profit-driven power grab.

    Please give a little consideration to this side of the equation before you continue to vocally defend the current copyright structure.

  17. Howard,
    I see you missed the point of my suggestion. It is not to make the 98% pay for the sins of the 2% (Though I suspect that more than 2% of internet users have been guilty of downloading illegal content at some point). It is changing the whole paradigm by which media is produced. If you use the internet, you use media, period. Right now sites like youtube thrive on the fact that lots of people are want to post lots of videos for free, but shouldn’t posters to you tube have an option to get paid for their videos if they want? Essentially, I am suggesting that all media: text, music, video or other move away from the current model of purchasing, and move toward one where people pay a flat rate that will cover all the media they will consume over a period of time (kind of like Amazon Prime or Netflix works now, except on a larger and broader scale). If you build it into the basic ISP fees, then no internet user can avoid the fee, and thus since once the fee is paid, any content is fair game, you have completely removed the motive for piracy.

    In any case, this idea was not original to me; I just can’t remember who suggested it first. I also do not insist on this scheme is the only one, or even the best one. I do think however that it would offer a method of saving copyright in most cases. In other areas (like treating software code the same as say a book) copyright probably should be scrapped for some sort of patent process (it is beyond ridiculous that software that was written in the 1950s is still under copyright; by the time it enters the public domain, any value it might have had has been totally exhausted.).

  18. Steven, you yourself said “Acceptable pricing combined with easy access to MP3 files does the trick” in making sure that people pay for their music rather than steal it. The fact that given reasonable alternatives, lots of people will, in fact, pay for their music rather than download it from a questionably legal source for free suggests that it’s not necessary to demonize generally fair-minded end users and potential customers. The simple answer — straight from your mouth, mind you — is make ebooks and other media downloads available for sale worldwide at reasonable prices. Then enough people will buy them to keep content creators afloat and happy.

    P.S. “And the reasons for piracy may be debatable, but most of them are ego-related, as opposed to need-related; who really needs a digital copy of Pride and Prejudice?” Um, you DO know that since it’s a really, really old book, it’s freely available. Who needs it? Maybe a high-school student who is supposed to read it for class but left their copy somewhere; maybe an adult who never got around to reading it when younger but wants to now. And your comment that people want to download books for ego-related reasons is really odd. Sometimes you find out about a hot new book and you want to start reading it immediately. I find it odd that somebody who supposedly cares about books would be surprised by that.

  19. @Bill: Nice going. You managed to suggest the one thing that would require even more security throughout the internet, because it would involve everyone who uses it, not just ebook users.

    @Binko: You point out a section of the Declaration of Independence that discusses throwing out a government that is oppressing you. But we’re talking about corporations, against which you’d use the government to rein in their “corporate oppression.” Since most people refuse to engage their government over problems, instead choosing to vote for a President with the insane hope that they’ll fix everything, the ones to attack are the lazy non-voters who need to be part of the system (as the Declaration suggested they should be).

    @Katherine: Yes, I was alluding to the rise of iTunes and Amazon as successful music resellers… and the fact that they require a detailed database of their users’ identities and credit information in order to be used, which doesn’t seem to bother the consumers overmuch once they get their music. This suggests that the screams about security and oppression essentially go away once the consumer has their goods. (The cable industry and others have demonstrated that very thing.)

    And when I mention “ego,” what I’m saying is that books are primarily entertainment. No one needs a book to survive, which I say is the only valid reason to steal anything. Therefore there is no valid reason to steal a book, and anyone who does steal a book does it for purely selfish, or egotistic, reasons. Maybe you do want to read “that hot new book,” but want is not need, and doesn’t justify stealing. Never has been. Not even when it’s easy to do.

    Choosing P&P was intentional, because it doesn’t matter what its copyright state is… you still don’t need to read it, any more than I need to read The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo.

  20. Steven, as I pointed out, this idea is not limited to ebooks, but to all media on the internet, which essentially shares the same problem. Itunes might have made it possible to make money on music again, but it hardly stopped piracy — actually what seems to be having a bigger impact on piracy is cloud based services where the user needs to never worry about transferring the music to his devices since it is available to all of them.

    That being said, this idea actually would require far less security. There is no need to have any knowledge of who exactly is downloading. Simple web logs could be parsed to tell how many times any given item has been downloaded. No one need ever know who downloaded it. I suspect that lots of people would still like to capture that information but the information is not needed to make the scheme work.

  21. Marylandbill wrote” ” If you build it into the basic ISP fees, then no internet user can avoid the fee”
    Which is exactly what I wrote … “Make 98% of users pay for the sins of the 2% and the gross overpricing by publishers” It adds up to the same thing.

    iTunes had a huge impact on reducing the level of piracy and downloading going on and there is little evidence that piracy and downloading is actually a huge activity these days. The claims by the media industries are wholly and thoroughly unreliable, and those who rely on the data on pirate sites are the most gullible of all.

  22. I continue to believe that all of this corporate wringing of handed and gnashing of teeth is but a cover (Kabuki theatre?) for a more sinister and less socially acceptable agenda. That agenda is to lessen or eliminate competition not only from traditional sources (the secondary [used] book market, etc.) but also from self and independent publishers recently unshackled from the high capitalization requirements of print.

    SOPA and ProtectIP are but the latest attempts to elevate corporate interests above constitutional guarantees such as due process. There will be no end to this until our elected representatives come to understand that supporting this nonsense is the fast track to ending their incumbency.

  23. I don’t know how these corporate efforts are designed to eliminate independent authors, since we’re not forced to sell through them, price like them or use DRM like they do; but as the public increasingly lumps indies in with big publishers, blaming us for their bad business actions, and pirating indie books as often as big publishers’ books, it seems to me the public is doing more to sour the market for indies than the corporations are.

  24. Howard, you are taking my statements out of context. I am not talking about punishing anyone here. Rather changing the paradigm about how the providers of all content on the internet is paid for. Even assuming you don’t pirate, you consume content. You read blogs, you watch videos, maybe even read news sites like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc. In some sense, all of these content providers need to make money (even if it is just money for the hosting site like with blogs or video sites like you tube). Adds can cover some of the funds, the increasing efforts to put paywalls up for newspapers suggest it is not providing enough revenue.

    Rather than have a wild west where every site tries to collect money on its own, where each individual has to track subscriptions, purchases, etc, that it be covered by the ISP fees. This is only penalizing the 98% if you believe they are getting content at no cost (i.e., never pay for anything).

  25. Bill, not only is the world clearly not ready for a Utopian “one world tax pays for everything” social model, but as I said, it would require an even greater amount of individual ID registration and personal activity tracking in order to effectively tax everyone and distribute the appropriate funds to creators. I could’ve sworn you said you’re against that, so why do you keep pushing at this idea? And while you’re at it, you might as well wish for transporters so we can visit our orbital hotels and our friends from Ceti Prime.

  26. “And when I mention “ego,” what I’m saying is that books are primarily entertainment. No one needs a book to survive, which I say is the only valid reason to steal anything. Therefore there is no valid reason to steal a book, and anyone who does steal a book does it for purely selfish, or egotistic, reasons.”

    Your rhetoric is so over the top. What if somebody wants to read a book published in the UK but unavailable to download here? The publisher could easily facilitate a sale by making the book available to buy and download worldwide, but they choose not to. So the book gets downloaded illegally. But with digital downloads, the originals are still in the possession of the original owner. So it’s not quite the same as breaking into the publisher’s warehouse and making off with the expensively printed first editions.

    Set up a situation where books are extremely expensive and difficult to obtain legally, and “stealing” (downloads) will go up. Set up a situation where books are easy to obtain at a reasonable cost, and watch thefts decline and profits go up. Call potential customers names and mock their “egos” all you want, but I think it’s a foolish mistake. Because if they don’t need to steal your books to survive, nor do they need to buy them. They could choose to spend their money elsewhere.

  27. MarylandBill, you are only saying the same thing in different ways, but it al adds up to the same thing. We are offered many services free on the web today and you want us to pay for them in a Bog Brother system that causes the 98% to have to pay for something they get for free, to compensate for the other 2%.
    Your suggested system is worse than the command economy operated by the USSR and is an appalling concept.

  28. @Katherine: Chill. All I’m saying is that Want is not Need. No one is going to die because they couldn’t get a book they wanted to read. No, not even mine.

    People seem to believe they deserve everything, no matter the reason, so every action required to obtain what they want is justified by some divine right. This is a major part of the social problem connected to the Internet: “I want it, and I can take it, so I will.” But want is not need. Just because you CAN do something for the sake of self-gratification, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

    And I’m not mocking anyone; I’m the one being continuously mocked. I’m selling books independently at a low price, no DRM, internationally available and high qualify. And they’re still being pirated. So clearly there’s more to this situation than “Big Bad publishers are being mean to us, so we’ll steal.”

  29. Howard — TANSTAAFL. There are a few exceptions (i.e., when friends give you something), but by and large there are only two ways you are getting things for free online; You go to an ad supported website or you pirate. For some media (like music) that ad model appears to work reasonably well (Though it is limited to streaming content only). But for other types of media (such as newspapers) it does not bring in enough revenue to make a profit; the result is that such media outlets experiment with pay walls (a la NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Hulu-Plus, etc.).

    I also would like to see your evidence that only 2% of online users pirate? Pirate Bay, only one of many places to download illegal content has 5 million subscribers. There are a host of sites where one can find illegal books, video etc. If so few people pirate, why are there so many sites that cater to them?

    Further, how is it punishing the 98%? Remember I am suggesting this as a replacement for the $10 a month for netflix, the $10 a month for a streaming music service, etc. Not an addition to those fees.

    Lets remember, any solution to the pirating problem needs to make sure that content creators get compensated for their work, and that the level of compensation is high enough to provide them an incentive to create more.

  30. Well firstly you refer to pirating as a problem. I see no real evidence of that. In fact there is very good evidence that it increases sales.
    Secondly I find it the height of irony that you consider the numbers claimed by pirate bay to be credible ….. and the use of reverse logic to claim that because there are many pirating sites then there must be lost of downloaders is equally dodgy.
    You talk about no free lunches yet I, for one, read many blogs, newspapers and magazines free. Your proposal would increase what I pay from free to something. Hence I get punished to support your proposed system. QED.

  31. Howard, I find it interesting that you reject pirating numbers by the publishing industry and by the pirates themselves. So where exactly are you getting your numbers? I actually have read some articles to suggest as many as a third of all internet users pirate and the younger the user, the more likely to pirate.

    You talk about how you read many newspapers and magazines for free? Maybe you missed the fact that many of those News Papers have to continually trim their coverage or throw up pay walls to try to actually break even? The way online magazines are going, I suspect that in a few years, they will all be available as paid for apps only. And yes, Blogs are free… and many just sort of stop suddenly when the writer has to get a day job to pay the bills, or are filled with ads.

    Final thought, yes, pirating might help the sales of some authors, but shouldn’t the authors have the right to decide? That is what copyright is all about.

    Mind you, I am throwing out one idea. I am sure there are real problems with it… I just haven’t seen anything other than you and Steven repeat the same two objections over and over again (i.e., Steven’s idea that it would require more invasion of privacy than his idea and your notion that some how or other just because content is free it is somehow wrong to suggest that authors be compensated for it).

    If you have a better idea, then lets here it.

  32. There are good reasons to suspect that piracy stats for books, software and what-have-you are inflated. Here’s a biggie: For some firms and individuals (e.g. lobbyists), the ones that offer services aimed at mitigating or eliminating this “problem,” there is strong motivation to estimate on the high side. Thus we have a chorus telling us that the sky is falling. As evidence, they offer only “estimates” gotten by who-knows-what methodology.
    Publishers may or may not believe this saga of FUD but they certainly understand how the digital revolution could be turned into opportunities to stifle competition through the next century. Thus, they eagerly don the robes of victimhood and play along.
    If you buy a CD in certain countries, you pay an additional sum because you **might** use that CD to infringe a copyright. Due process goes out the window with this kind of thinking.
    Lastly, we should note that not all who create content do so to fatten their purses. Some want only the widest possible audience or the chance to immortalize an idea. They actually want you to “Steal This Book.”

  33. I wouldn’t trust piracy stats either: Pro or con, none of them are significantly accurate. They’re only useful for general info (ie, this book is on the torrent sites, that book reached the torrent sites X days after publishing, etc).

    Sure, there are people who just want you to read their stuff. In a similar way, there are drivers who just want to drive flat-out, not obey speed limits. For those people, we have racetracks where they can exercise their fancy, while everyone else drives on the highways and obeys the speed limits (more or less).

    If torrent sites were filled only with those who wanted to give away their books, there would be no problem. Unfortunately, there are plenty of books in torrent sites that are not supposed to be there. They were put there by consumers that were either mindless of what they were doing to the author, or deliberate in their intent to hurt the author. And others who say, “It’s not my problem, I didn’t put ’em there,” essentially support and encourage those actions by downloading.

    The thing is, it’s always been the public that had control over this situation… right up to addressing the government and telling them what was and was not right. Unfortunately, the public has been too busy demonstrating how easy a time they have stealing apples from the tree and dashing out of sight. Until the public wises up to its real power, these discussions will go on forever and the only changes we’ll see will be for the worse.

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