Torrents seem like manna from heaven. You can go out on the interwebs and get something for free. It may feel like an opportunity to Stick It to some fat corporate entity, and if it’s a corporate entity you hate (frex a software giant with grossly overpriced and yet indispensible programs) it can be very easy to see it as either harmless or Just Desserts.
We don’t have time to address all the aspects of that legal and ethical can of worms. This is a blog. However, I submit that–even if you think stealing from corporations is either harmless or well-deserved–when you’re downloading books or music, the situation is not quite the same. Even if you don’t believe in the concepts of intellectual property or copyright (which, for the record, I do) it’s possible to understand this:
People paying for books (or songs) is how artists make a living.
There are some Very Real Reasons why people who want to read a book or listen to a song download it illegally, and we’ll come to those in a minute. But even if those reasons apply to you, when you’re downloading illegally you are literally making it more difficult if not impossible for that artist to go on creating.
Artists have to eat; they have to pay bills. If they can’t make money on the art you’re enjoying, then they have to find some other way to get the money they need. Like, for example, a second job. (Because contrary to what you may think, most artists already have day jobs. Just to survive.) If it’s a nearly superhuman feat to create marketable art while also holding down a job and other adult responsibilities, it becomes impossible when another job is added into the mix. There are only so many hours in the day.
Yes, there are corporations involved in publishing books and music–and some of them don’t treat either consumers or artists with respect. But I submit that’s not what we’re talking about here. And I will spare you the long breakdown of how and why publishing businesses are just plain lucky to keep their doors open in this market.
Suffice it to say that illegal book downloads are not Sticking It To Some Fat Corporation. They’re making it harder for publishers to keep discovering and publishing new authors, and making it harder for authors to make ends meet.
I do know (see? I remembered) that there are Very Real Reasons why people feel the need to download a book or music. For example:
* don’t know if I’ll like this artist and want to try it out
* just can’t afford to buy it now
And yes, I get those. But if you believe that paying for art is worthwhile because it allows the artist to keep doing his or her thing, consider these ideas:
Check out the free samples. With a little effort, you can read or download the first chapter of a very high percentage of books, legally and for free. Reading the first chapter will tell you whether you want to read the book or not. The big online booksellers usually offer the first chapter or at least a good chunk of it on a book’s sale page. Otherwise check the author’s website, if she has one. If it’s a Mercury Retrograde book you’re interested in, look at our free samples page, which includes the first chapters of all books currently in print and many of those coming out in the next year.
Try your local library. If they don’t have the book you want, you can ask them to order it. Not only will the author get paid, because libraries buy books; any number of other people in your community will also get to read the book. For free. And that’s not the only way borrowing a book from the library benefits your community; in many cases a library’s budget, which is likely to be allocated from a local municipal or county budget, is significantly influenced by the number of library patrons served. Yes, that’s right: it may very well be that the more you use your library, the more money it will be able to get to serve the community. Getting your book there benefits many people.
If you like that book or song you’ve downloaded, buy it. If you’re a read-it-once person, buy a copy as a gift.
If you can’t buy it now, and your local library can’t help you, and you just can’t resist the urge to download, find other ways of supporting the artist. Introduce friends who you think will like the work; write about it in your blog or on Facebook; and did we mention asking your library to add the book to their collection? Those things make a difference in an artist’s career too, and will help to create future sales…which means the artist whose work you liked is getting paid. And can afford to keep on creating. Are these things just as good as buying the book? Not really. But if you honestly can’t get it any other way, those are ways to help even the score.
I’m not sufficiently delusional to believe that we can eradicate pirated torrents from the net. For a publisher or an author, trying to keep their books off torrent sites is the legal equivalent of Whack-a-Mole. But I do hope that you, having thought about the issue, will find better ways to fill your need for a good read.