In a recent article on AOL about E-piracy: The High Cost of Stolen Books, the author talks about file sharing and bit torrent sites and the legal lengths that publishers and authors are going to get these sites to “cease and desist” sharing their work. While the article cites best-selling author Michael Crichton as losing 15,174 potential buyers of his book due to illegal downloads, the question becomes: If readers are only willing to read your book if they can steal it for free, would they actually have bought the book if these sites didn’t exist?
For the longest time, there has been a government sponsored, file sharing community accessible to everyone—including children! It’s called the public library. Authors sell a handful of copies to the public library with the understanding that the book will be shared hundreds, maybe even thousands, of times at no additional cost. Are people who patron libraries stealing money from the author by being potential buyers of a book who read the book without paying for it?
Perhaps authors see file sharing sites as different from libraries because there is a finite number of print books in library circulation, but in a file sharing community, every leecher of an ebook (one who downloads content) potentially becomes a seeder of the same content (one who uploads). This exponential growth of the number of copies available could definitely make authors and publishers uneasy.
But is the legal system really the best way to police this when thousands of everyday individuals are the culprits? As the AOL article mentioned, copies are taken down only to be replaced by some other user. The different proprietary formats for different e-readers is probably the best solution to curbing piracy currently in place. However, as ebooks are moving to make ePub the de facto “standard” format, it will only make it easier for users of different devices to share among themselves. Rather than paying high-priced lawyers to keep ebooks off the street, they might do better to spend that money on R&D for better encryption software.