We have this topic come up often within the book clubs I am in, and just today on a post a fellow reader asked the question… ‘What is the difference?’
I feel that it’s not unreasonable to assume the two things are the same and that one is no more harm than the other. So I will explain it to you in much the same way I explained it to her. In simple terms. What sharing an illegal PDF means to an author, over sharing a paperback.
Passing on a paperback – When you pass a friend a book you have purchased, this is not the same as passing on a digital copy. In fact some authors encourage this. You have paid for the physical copy, and to pass something which belongs to you on is fine. You are able to regulate who borrows your book and it will be returned to you. Most people who share paperbacks, do so with very few people, and the amount of times it’s shared is usually nothing in the large scheme of things.
You do not own the intellectual content though, so copying from this book and making a duplicate would be where you would be infringing on copyright. At any one time, only one of your friends or family can borrow this book, and as most people take a fair bit of time to read a book – it makes little impact on sales.
The ability to pass on your physical copy is made legal by ‘the right of first sale‘ a passing in court made when publishers tried to ban sharing of physical books. It was deemed that unless a ‘copy’ was made, then this does not physically break copyright.
Libraries are allowed to lend books under these rules. They pay for the originals and can therefore lend the physical book out, while the author still receives an original royalty. The lending is also reported on, so has an impact on rankings in terms of best selling books. Some libraries have arrangements with publishing houses and authors to lend E books, but this is always with permission and not in any breach to copyright.
Passing on a PDF – Now when you forward a PDF to someone on your email list, you are not merely passing on a physical copy. You duplicate this item, it’s the only way to pass on digital media, and therefore, you are in fact committing piracy. This item becomes a shareable file, which then your friends and family can share on and duplicate for themselves; meaning – you cannot regulate how many copies are formed from the one file you shared. That one share may be passed on to several people per email address and end up with hundreds of shares within days. Imagine if every book out there was passed around this way. No one would buy originals and authors would cease to write. Every file share impacts the living an author makes , as authors are paid on a commission basis from sales. There is no way to keep track of the number of illegal files being shared daily. Anyone who shares or receives a PDF this way is committing a crime.
E book ownership – when you purchase an E book, you do not actually own the copy. What you pay for is a license to read the content. Licenses vary and some authors allow lending through a regulated means, such as Amazon lending. It’s available on some books for 14 days after purchase. The fact is the actual intellectual property of the eBook never physically belongs to you. Just the permission to read it. And amazon take measures to make sure this function is not abused.
More info – https://www.theguardian.com/money/2012/sep/03/do-you-own-your-digital-content
So to recap ….
Paperback – Physical item – to copy you would have to photocopy.
PDF – Every time you share you create a new copy automatically.
Paperback – Can only be used by one person at one time.
PDF – Can be duplicated indefinitely and shared multiple times without regulation.
Sharing an illegal PDF is a breach of the author or publishers Intellectual property rights. Not only does it affect sales (people are always going to jump for free when they can – it’s human nature) it does not support the book industry in anyway and is a huge problem. Revenue lost to piracy has a knock on effect where sales are concerned, and it is always the author who suffers. Commission based contracts are the norm in publishing and Indie authors are fully royalty based. You are taking money from the very people whose work you enjoy. Not all authors have a lot of income and even some bigger names have to have a day job to support themselves.
We do not have the backing of big studios and a set wage like movie stars and films. We remain royalty based, no matter how well we do.
Another fact – when you purchase a paperback, you are paying for the original item. So the author receives the royalty and therefore that is a ‘paid’ book (like libraries). When you receive and share a PDF you can guarantee that not even the original was bought, it was illegally pirated or passed on by someone who had access to an early copy without permission. This sadly happens sometimes and book reviewers caught doing so become permanently blacklisted.
Here’s another tale of piracy from Maggie Stiefvater- https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/nov/06/pirated-ebooks-threaten-future-of-serial-novels-warn-authors-maggie-stiefvater
She wrote a series which became a mega hit and began selling well. Sadly her sales became so poor on the release of a new book, she truly thought her series was beginning to fail. That was until it was found on hundreds of pirate sites. She took action and it was reported that in the following weeks her sales sky rocketed once more as ‘free book’ takers had to then purchase, instead of steal. This should highlight that YES – piracy does impact your author.
If you have any respect then you would not want the person who writes for your enjoyment to suffer. You want to enable the creation of more books and to be fair, most people are willing to spend more money on other items…. greeting cards, take out coffee, confectioneries, cosmetics – Luxury items… these items are around the same price, or less, than most Ebook’s, so there is never any excuse.
Want to know more? – PDF about Intellectual Property rights
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