By now, most of you know my stance on e-books. I love them, but I hate DRM. I don't think they will totally replace print books, but they have their place and it's time publishers recognize it. That said, I have little use for websites that knowingly and willingly put up copies of e-books that are currently under copyright for download without proper permissions.
I am not talking about the Baen free library, Joe Buckley's The Fifth Imperium, Suvudu or the like. These are all legitimate sites authorized by the publishers and their authors to make available for free downloads of certain books. I love these sites. I've found a number of new authors to read because of them.
No, what I'm talking about are the torrent sites and other websites that don't give a damn about authors' rights. These sites, and their operators, are pirates. I'd use stronger language, but I don't want to be kicked off the blog. Yes, my feelings about these bottom feeders are that strong.
What, you might ask, brought on this tirade? Very simply, I read a blog entry by Nancy Kress and her "discussion" with one of these parasites. Not only does he refuse to remove her books from his site, but he claims there is no "ownership" of words, ie books. Worse, this person claims to be a librarian, someone who ought to at least be willing to protect the rights of those who write the books in his collection.
I won't repeat the conversation (actually a series of emails). You can find it here. Normally, I wouldn't do that much, because you can find the link to this person's website. However, this time I'll make an exception. This person knows, or should know, what copyright is. On the site, he specifically says this is to gather, and allow for download, books that do not qualify for inclusion in Project Gutenberg. He includes books from authors like King, Atwood, Grafton and many others. Oh, he couches it in terms of "loan" and "limited number of downloads" per time frame. But then he turns around and asks for donations. Oh, and then there is the "free" DVD you can get -- as long as you "donate" the appropriate amount and then tell him where you want the DVD sent. Sorry, that's a sale.
Now, before someone pipes in and says that everyone who has ever busted DRM is also a pirate, no. We bought the book. We removed the DRM so we could read it on another ebook reader. We aren't -- or at least none of the folks I know who break DRM -- are out there giving the now DRM-free books away to the masses. Nor are we charging for those books, making money off of them to the detriment of the authors who wrote them.
And, no, this isn't the same thing as selling a hard copy of a book to a second hand book shop -- or going to one and buying the book. Publishers and authors might not like the fact they get no royalties from these sales, but at least they know the book was originally bought from a legitimate retailer. We don't know that with this particular site -- nor, frankly, do we know it with any of the sites that allow for illegal downloads of books. In fact, I'm confident in saying that a number of the books on his site were not originally purchased as ebooks. If you read the list of books available (currently more than 2,000) and when you read his explanation of what his site is, you will see that there are books available that are not currently offered in electronic format and that he has scanned them in AND he encourages others to do the same.
Bottom line, folks, if you want an ebook, there are plenty of legitimate places where you can find thousands of them for free. Go to Amazon. Go to Barnes & Noble. Go to Fictionwise. Go to Baen's free library or webscriptions. Check out Teleread for a list of places. Or even wikipedia. Just don't go to these sites that aren't affiliated with legitimate publishers or that operate without publisher or author approval. If nothing else, respect the writers you enjoy reading enough not to visit these sites. And, when you do find these sites and see books you know aren't out of copyright yet, let the publishers and authors know.
Me, I keep an eye out for these sites with regard to several authors I know and give a yell when I find their books on them. I'd like to be able to do more, but the authorities frown upon stakes and boiling oil. So that does bring up the question of what should be done about these pirates? I think we all agree that the government and music industry have shown how foolish it is to try to fine and jail those who illegally download. But what should be done about those who put the books up for download, knowing they have no legal right to do so? Should anything be done? Tell me what you think.