Good morning folks. Thanks for gathering here with me today. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve taken this time to talk to you about a problem I’ve seen in the independent writing community, one that I really hope eventually goes away but might need a nudge or two from those who know better. And really, anyone reading this page knows better, or should. I’m talking about the problem of writers stealing books.
Obviously, I’m not talking about shoplifting* or even armed robbery of a Barnes and Noble delivery truck. (That exact thought may or may not have crossed my mind in the past. We’ll discuss that later, after my lawyer says it’s okay.) I’m not talking about plagiarism either, or the shadowy concept of ripping off someone’s ideas. The former is easy to prove and document, especially in the Internet age, and is universally hated already, and the latter… well, there are really only so many ideas out there. Any experienced writer already knows that the ideas aren’t nearly as important as the way you tell the story and the talent and skill you’ve invested in developing a voice, a voice that other readers will want to experience.
No, I’m talking about online book piracy. It’s tempting to do this, especially if you want to refer back to a book you’ve read before. Or maybe you just want to see if you want to read something, and the book winds up staying on your hard drive long after you’ve ‘previewed it’ to the last page. And even though there are literally millions of free books online (I literally mean literally there… it’s a shame that we have to literally specify that, now, though this author is happy enough that he doesn’t have to write this in Old English, that he can tolerate a changing language) it’s sometimes a matter of finding something a fellow writer recommended, or having to deal with a random wild hair that tells you you need to read that exact something and you need to read it now.
I’m not going to say I’ve never done this myself. And while I can’t speak for all writers, and I sincerely hope I’m not speaking for all writers, I suspect that more of us than not have made copies of books that we weren’t precisely entitled to. This is dangerous.
In my particular case, I made the leap to delete anything I had from a working writer that wasn’t legally acquired, freely or otherwise, because I realised that I was debasing my own work. By deciding that my need to read a new book right now trumped the right of the person who had done the work the right to make a couple of dollars from it, I was conterfeiting my own artistic effort. Why should I get any kind of money for my writing if I myself didn’t want to pay other writers? It was a hard choice… a few of the ten or so that I deleted were in a series of which I own other books, and I have always been quite the completist… but the right thing is very rarely ever easy to do. (It’s also almost accompanied by violent rationalisation by my inner voice… not the nice one, the other guy… who screams louder and louder the more the rest of me realises that something has to be done.) I suppose I’ll always want to preview things, or find the complete source of a quote or passage, but I will also have to force myself to be honest and remove anything with a shady provenance
As I launch a new phase of my writing and programming career, I thought it was necessary to start on as blank a page as possible. I can find books at the library, or through interlibrary loan, or on Project Gutenberg, or on Amazon Daily Deals, or through countless other legally free sources. I myself don’t have the greatest income right now, between trying to build a freelance career, a programming career, and studying, but I have enough to survive and to not be small and petty in my public behavior. I also really can’t stress going to the library enough; if we as writers don’t support them, they may just close on us. I strongly advise anyone reading this to do the same. If we support each other, we can support ourselves.
* I mentioned shoplifting. I truly believe that an author would never shoplift a book, especially if he or she knows what it takes to produce one. Conversely, anyone who does steal a book ceases to be an author, or at least ceases to have any right to be paid for a piece of work. However, I feel (I hope) that this is something that even the worst authors would never stoop to, so I chose not to focus on it.