Last UnicornCan authors, publishers and Hollywood really thwart pirates by keeping books, movies and other content offline?

We all know how Harry Potter has been pirated. But how about The Last Unicorn?

It’s a beloved story that millions of young people and others might read online someday if it were there legally—which it isn’t now, due to piracy fears, just like the Potter series.

Also, how about some other writings of Peter S. Beagle, as well as an animated movie based on his work? Have pirates already made Beagle’s writings a snap to find on P2P?

My search for illegal Unicorns

I decided to find out after Beagle recently appeared on the podcast of TeleRead contributor Chris Meadows. Beagle’s publisher Connor Cochran also was on the show along with novelist Diane Duane. Among other topics, people discussed piracy, DRM, and fears that pirates could circumvent electronic safeguards.

Connor Cochran said he had just discovered a pirated Spanish e-book edition of The Last Unicorn available on the Web. “You make an e-book edition and you greatly increase the chance of that happening,” Cochran said of piracy, “at least currently.” He also said that he was “theoretically in favor of” e-book availability but was “waiting for the economics to shift.” Chris Meadows stated that “if somebody wants an electronic copy of The Last Unicorn, the only way they can get it right now is to go to peer-to-peer network and download it illicitly.”

A timely issue

So was he right? Could you actually find The Last Unicorn on P2P? Speaking more broadly, does the non-existence of an official e-book edition in English reduce the prevalence of pirate copies? This same general topic has been discussed in the past and recently at TeleRead. Fans have implored mega-bestselling author J. K. Rowling to allow e-book editions of the Harry Potter Series. Apparently the author and publisher are afraid of pirate copies and have blocked legal e-book editions. To sway Rowling, the posters suggested the innovative gambit of giving a Sony e-book reader to her daughter to sway the mother.

The results of the Unicorn search

But how about Beagle’s situation with his Unicorn? Below are the results of performing searches at several pirate conclaves and swapping spots. These locations are not really hidden. In fact they are widely known and are used by millions of Internet connected individuals. The searches were not narrowly restricted to e-books.

1) Beagle’s The Last Unicorn is indeed available in e-book form. At one venue the e-book is packaged together with several classics of children’s literature, e.g., The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, and The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

2) The Last Unicorn audiobook is available. The format is a collection of MP3 files.

3) “Two Hearts” by Peter S. Beagle is available as an e-text. This highly-praised sequel story just won the Hugo award.

4) The Last Unicorn animated movie from 1982 is available. This beautiful film has been converted to DivX format and has been ripped from a DVD with English and German tracks.

5) The Last Unicorn movie soundtrack album is available. It is based on the German import edition.

Searches done within the law

I have not downloaded these pirate items, and the descriptions given are based on information that may not be reliable. Also, the e-book was probably created by scanning a paper book. The scanning process usually introduces large numbers of glitches that look like typos and misprints. I do not know if proofreaders have attempted to remove these problems.

Nevertheless, it appears that the lack of an official edition has not been a powerful deterrent to piracy in this case. Also, I think one can safely conclude that the pirates are certainly busy.

Important: As should be quite clear, this article is not meant to condone piracy and no details on searching or downloading will be provided here. If you enjoy Peter Beagle’s work please support him. Here are links to the Conlan Press website and Peter S. Beagle Web site.


  1. Great post Garson… how true it is!

    I think the way to stop piracy is a well though incentive system.
    (DRM clearly doesn’t work)

    Any ideas on how to inspire people to buy?

    An attractive price tag is the most important IMO.
    I think ebook price should be roughly 20% of p-book price, the authors could still take the same cut.

    But there are other moral and financial incentives that could be set in place such as a referral fee for suggesting a book to one’s friend if that friend decides to make a purchase.

    What do you think?

  2. Twenty percent of the p-book price sounds about right. But even if publishers don’t want to go that far, they should consider a discount for those who can show they already own the paper copy. I’m interested in replacing my entire fiction library with ebooks. Not only are most titles unavailable in legal ebook form, but those that are available are sometimes priced *higher* than what I originally paid for the paper version. No sale! I’d be willing to pay a dollar or two for e-versions of texts I already own, but not $15+!

  3. Amazon has a service where if you buy a book you can buy the electronic version for a little extra and then reach it online when ever where ever.
    I understand your point but unfortunately the publishers have no motivation here 🙂
    If it was true that we’re paying for the intellectual property rights when we buy a book or a CD then I could return a broken CD to the store and have it replaced for a nominal cost…
    So the question is – what exactly did you pay for when you purchased those books? Was it the paper?
    There were similar reasoning when people started ripping CDs and sharing mp3s online… and they didn’t hold in court; so even though I’d like to tell you that you have the (moral) right to download pirated copies of the books you already own — as many people are admittedly doing so — sadly it wouldn’t be quite legal.

  4. Dunno, maybe I don’t understand some passage in the JKR & Co… “logic”, but if the fact that there are no legally buyable e-book versions (DRMed or not) of their works incide ABSOLUTLY NOTHING in the diffusion of scanned versions of their p-books, easly found on UseNet, IRC, etc. why the heck this… geniuses don’t relaese ASAP a legally buyable version of their wonderful creations??? In making this they will recover to sales that part of readers that get the e-books “in the wild” only because there are no other ways to have them, and in so doing they will REDUCE the absolute number of persons that use alternative way to have them in e-book format.

    But again, dunno, maybe I’m the one with faulty logic… hmm… *SCRATHS HEAD AS STAN LAUREL*


  5. @ Elizabeth Dalton

    IMHO the correct price of an e-book version of a book is the price of the p-book edition minus ALL the costs that the p-part causes (ie paper, printing, distribution, restocking, etc.) plus ALL the costs associated with the electonic rendition and distribution of the e-book.

    Any added cost to this formula is simply greed.


  6. Well, I have to agree with most of the posts here…not making ebooks these day is like not wanting to earn money.
    The pirated versions are so good most of the time that there is little reason (apart from having a bad consience) for not reading them.

    When I bought my 680€ last summer, I vowed never to buy a paper-book again. so far I have managed to stick to that rule (the only pbooks I read were presents). However, I hardly managed to buy any ebooks during that time either.
    I buy the ebook if I can get it, if I don’t, I either don’t read it or get it from one of the less than legal sources. Sorry to say it openly like this, but that’s the way it is.

    I used to download mp3s from p2p in earlier days, today I don’t (and I’m not just making that up) because I have iTunes. The DRM issue does present some problems here and there, but on the whole, I’m happy using iTunes and paying for stuff I’d otherwise have pirated.
    So, maybe not everybody will do it this way, but I think the majority would jump on the chance of getting legal ebooks at affordable prices, especially with all the eink reader out there and the cellphones, PDA and smartphone devices that also get used as ereaders.

  7. Pirates will engage in pirate practices. No matter how cheap the product most will never buy it, unless they are pirates due to DRM or availability issues. For this reason the issue of piracy needs to be considered from the angle of an ‘untapped market’ rather that a loss of revenue.

    e-book publishers only need to be concerned with how to encourage legitimate consumers to buy (ie create a consumer friendly atmosphere by non-DRM texts etc). Maybe it would be possible to convert some pirates back to become paying customers.

    It is a shame that book publishers seem to have chosen the route of the music industry. If the music publishers had been quicker to adapt their business models they wouldn’t be in such a pickle today.

    To paraphrase Doctrow ‘the greatest risk to an Author is obscurity, not piracy’. At the moment, the Pirates are the best promotional tool the epublishing industry has.

    I have now purchased entire works by authors I had never heard of before reading a pirated e-version of one of their novels.

  8. Tamas Simon Said… I like to tell you that you have the (moral) right to download pirated copies of the books you already own — as many people are admittedly doing so — sadly it wouldn’t be quite legal.

    It is now legal to do so in Australia.

  9. Branko Collin Said,
    February 14, 2007 @ 5:55 am
    Greed is good. I love greed. Anything else is communism.

    OK, if this is so I will start to undust my URSS Anthem ASAP. Good music beside all, the best national hymn ever composed, IMHO. Who knows if it is copyrighted? 😀

  10. >>>Any added cost to this formula is simply greed.

    Or FINALLY a chance for an author not to effing starve in the street while publishers eat well.

    Why the hell is the income of the *author* always left out of the equation? For any ebook, an author should get at least a BUCK per copy. Period. No negotiation, goddammit.

  11. what happens in Australia if I buy an ebook and then I want it in another format? Can I download it for free from the same bookstore where I bought it? It would make sense…

    You won’t be able to do that (because the bookstore is probably American) but you can legally ‘format shift’ and media you have into a different format if you still own the original.

    e.g. If I own a paperback I can legally have a lit/html/rtf/text/etc version of it in my posession. If I have a secure lit ebook purchased from an online retailer I can ‘format shift’ it to a html to read on my computer or an imp to read on my ebookwise without fear of prosecution.

  12. In defense of Beagle’s point… I just discovered the various usenet e-books news groups. It looks like two factors influence a book’s presence: 1) popularity of subject among geeks 2) existence of an e-book.

    For the life of me, I don’t understand why RIAA hasn’t closed down usenet yet…

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