Cover image for Stealing Isn't "Sharing"

Stealing Isn't "Sharing"

codemouse92 profile image Jason C. McDonald ・11 min read

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

I love books. I have hundreds of them between my physical bookshelf and my Calibre library. My reading list is so long that I'll be as old as Methuselah before I make a dent in just the technical section, yet I'm always happy to add one more book to my collection! And I'm not atypical. I'm pretty confident that nearly everyone reading this article has the same problem.

As programmers, we're pretty used to this whole idea of "sharing". We write awesome code, we share it. We discover an epic library, we share it. We learn something new, we share it.

We get an excellent new programming ebook, we "share" it.

And that's when "sharing" goes off the rails.

What's In A Book?

I'm also a professional author and editor, and I own my own publishing company, so I know better than most just how much work goes into writing a book.

A typical book takes 2 to 7 years to create! Less than half that time is actually spent writing said book; the lion's share of the time goes to editing, over and over, round after round. Multiple editors, test readers, and proofreaders provide feedback, all of which has to be meticulously integrated by the author. Entire sections are rewritten. Flow is reworked. Countless hours of research are poured into every. single. detail.

(This is precisely why so many say they want to write a book, but so few ever actually do...most people burn out on the editing phase alone.)

That's not even taking into account all of the planning and research that went into the book before writing even commenced, and most authors don't count those months or years of work against the "clock."

Besides the years of hard work that an author puts in, there's also the editors (usually many), the production editor who designed the physical book, the typesetters who meticulously convert the author's typed pages into the final format, the graphics designers who create the cover and all the illustrations and graphs...

A single book represents hundreds, or even thousands, of man-hours, and none of it pays off until the book sells. The publisher is responsible for paying many of these folks up front, so they can live. After all, most of them do this for their full-time job! That means said publisher has now created debt for themselves, which they'll only be able to make back if the book sells.

Self-published authors are not exempt from this. Those editors, typesetters, graphics designers, etc, still have to be paid! If we're lucky, they might be willing to work on royalties, like we do.

Publishers sometimes pay authors and/or illustrators an advance, but this isn't free money. One of my book contracts stipulates an advance of N dollars that I'll get paid before the book even goes on sale, but the first N dollars of royalty payments now go to the publisher. I won't see another cent until they've made that back. (If that sounds unfair, it isn't...the publisher is a business, and they can only keep publishing books if they make their investments back.)

To compound that "debt" the publisher has entered into, there's also printing and marketing to consider. The printer has to be paid as soon as the book is printed, not as soon as it is sold. Some printers, like Ingram, print-on-demand, but that only means the risk has been shifted onto the booksellers...and even then, the bookseller can return the book to the printer, at the publisher's expense. Meanwhile, hundreds or thousands of dollars are put into marketing: catalog listings, complementary copies sent to influencers, advertising, book signings and author appearances.

So, not only does a book represent all those man-hours, but also a significant financial investment! A book is a huge financial loss until it sells enough copies to make back all that money.

One might think that a big publisher wouldn't suffer from a few losses. After all, don't they have thousands of bestseller titles? You're right that they seldom suffer...because they shift all the losses onto the little guys. The authors and illustrators see no return on their years of work, and may not be able to get more contracts. The publisher may cut back on how many books they choose to publish, to minimize risk, meaning there is less work for editors, typesetters, etc.

Small publishers and self-published authors aren't even that lucky. They're now out money they probably don't have, and if the loss is large enough, they are frequently forced to give up publishing altogether.

(P.S. This article is focusing on books, but music recording, TV shows, games, and films are exactly the same in terms of time and financial investments.)

"I'm Just Sharing"

Let's imagine you're a typical Nice Person™. You find out about an awesome little book, so you go to Amazon, BarnesAndNoble.com, or wherever and buy the eBook. You pay six bucks and feel pretty good about yourself: you're supporting the author. Yay you!

It turns out, this book is awesome. You're telling your friend Jeff about it, and he's excited to read it, but he can't buy it right now.

"Aw, no worries mate, I'll just upload it to my cloud. We can share it!"

You have now committed piracy.

"Huh?" You might say. "I'm not stealing, I'm sharing! Sharing is good!"

Yes, a certain eccentric, bewhiskered free software idol may openly advocate this brand of "sharing," but he's dead wrong. This is exactly the same as if you walked into a Barnes & Noble store, took a copy of the book off the shelf, and walked out without paying.


Jeff now has a copy of the book, and so do you. You can both read it at the same time. Neither of you has a need to pay six bucks for another copy.

The publisher has just lost a sale.

It's easy to wave this off. "It's just six bucks," you might say. "The publisher probably makes a hundred times that every day." Maybe, maybe not, but that's not the point. You have just committed a crime, and one that's illegal in virtually every country on the planet, no less.

Besides that, it won't stop there. Jeff will probably share with Umeko, who will share with Kell, who will share with Youcef and Amardeep and Marceau...

Now one "share" has compounded, as everyone shares with everyone else, and now the publisher has easily lost dozens, or even hundreds, of sales.

And lost sales means that investment isn't being made back...a loss that is redirected onto the very people who poured years of effort into that book, and who probably can least afford the loss.

How to Share?

Before I go any further, I want to define how real sharing works. It's simple.

You give your copy of the book to Jeff. You can't read it while he can.

This is the way any public library works: a limited number of copies are purchased outright by the library, and any one of those copies is loaned to one person at a time. They have to return it before anyone else can borrow.

Real sharing always comes at a cost to yourself. In the very least, you don't get to enjoy the thing you're sharing while someone else uses it. It worked that way in Kindergarten, and it works that way now.

If sharing something comes with no expense or inconvenience to yourself, depend on it that you're actually stealing.

Excuse #1: "But They Can't Afford It!"

"My buddy Jeff doesn't have the money for books. He wouldn't buy it anyway!"

This is actually a pretty cheap excuse, mate. Jeff doesn't have six bucks to spare, but I'll bet you do.

If Jeff had nothing to eat tonight, would that be an excuse for you to rob Quik-E-Mart? Of course not! You'd invite him over to share your meatloaf. You'd buy him some groceries. You'd at least point him to the local foodbank.

Stealing from one person to give to another is still stealing, and it's not okay. You're not Robin Hood. You're taking money away from everyone involved in creating the book to "help Jeff."

Spend the six bucks, or give him your copy. But don't steal another copy for him by duplicating the eBook.

Excuse #2: "It's Free Marketing"

I've heard this one so many times, including in connection to my own book, it's nauseating.

"By uploading this book to the piracy website, I'm actually helping the author! It's free marketing! Look at all these people who now know about the book."

Some people even like to cite questionable "studies" about how piracy improves sales. In reality, this philosophy is bunk...most people that download illegal copies are fully capable of buying the books, but they won't, because they have no reason to. Why pay for something you can get for free? Sure, there are those rare sort that use pirated copies to "sample" a book, and then they buy the ones they want, but they're the exception, not the rule.

"But, but, there was that one author that uploaded his own books to the piracy website!*

Yes, and that was his right as the author, as it was his own financial investment he was risking. (If I recall, he was also self-published...if a publisher had been involved, he'd have had to consult his publishing contract. The publisher has rights too!)

Authors and publishers already spend money sending complementary copies of the book to influencers. They pour hundreds, even thousands, of dollars into marketing. They are perfectly capable of uploading the book to public file shares they wanted...but they don't, because the return seldom, if ever, justifies the expense in lost sales.

Recall also, if the author had wanted the book to be free for everyone, he or she would have licensed it under Creative Commons or Public Domain. There are a number of authors who do exactly this, but again...it is the creator's right to define how their own work is licensed. (More on that in a bit.)

Excuse #3: "I Refuse To Support That Publisher"

You may feel like you're taking some sort of moral high ground by making free copies of that book. "BigScaryPublisher is a terrible company. They cheat their authors. I refuse to give more money to them!"

...sooooo, you're fighting back against them by robbing the authors? How's that math work?

Once again, large publishers aren't the ones to suffer from the effects of piracy; they shuffle all those expenses off onto the authors, illustrators, and employees. The little guy suffers.

If you don't want to support a publisher, piracy isn't the answer. Buy and promote works from competing publishers! Empower the good guys to publish more books. Voice your concerns about BigScaryPublisher publicly, and then put your support behind GoodLittlePublisher. Over time, authors will get the message, and will move to the little publisher, because that's where the money is.

If you really, really can't live without that One Book from BigScaryPublisher, buy it anyway. It supports the creators first and foremost. Besides that, like them or not, the publisher did invest time and money, and they're legally entitled to a return on it.

A Few Notes

There are a couple of auxiliary points I want to briefly touch on.

Copyright and Creative Commons

Creative Commons is absoutely awesome. I support it 100%! It's true sharing, because the sharer (the creator) is giving up something: their opportunity to make a profit.

Again: true sharing always involves a loss on the part of the sharer.

Creative Commons is not the antithesis to Copyright; the two actually work together. Copyright is what empowers Creative Commons. If you've actually read the Creative Commons licenses, it's not a free-for-all; the copyright holder decides which rights they want to "give away," and which they want to keep back.

Copyright protects the time and financial investment of the creator, and they have the sole right to decide what they want to do with their rights. If they want to trade some of those rights to a publisher in exchange for publishing, distribution, and marketing, they may. If they want to give away some of those rights for free through Creative Commons, they may.


A Note on Archives

Sometimes, a copyrighted work goes entirely out of distribution. This falls into a legal gray area. In cases like this, archival groups, like the Internet Archive or WinWorld (for software) step up and preserve copies of out-of-distribution intellectual property.

Sometimes, this is technically against the law, but it doesn't violate the spirit of the law, because it is presently impossible for the rights holders to profit anyway! Archivists don't store and distribute as a way of bypassing paying the rights holders, but rather to ensure that the work is preserved for present and future generations.

Often, rights holders actually cooperate with these groups. For example, Microsoft deliberately handed over the "master keys" for old versions of Windows and a lot of their other software; in exchange, WinWorld respected Microsoft's request that XP not be considered "abandonware," and thereby not carry it.

A good archival group will always respect the rights of the copyright holder when they are exercised (including taking down a work if it goes back into formal distribution). Meanwhile, and as I said, most copyright holders cooperate with archival groups. That's why you can find first editions of books on the Internet Archive, while the sixth or seventh edition is available brand-new on Amazon.com.

Ethical archival efforts never conflict with a publisher's sales of the work.

A Note on YouTube's Model

I'm an advocate for Open Source, Creative Commons, and internet privacy. I support the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I think these things are absolutely essential! I resent copyright and patent trolls as much as anyone can.

That said, I deeply appreciate the model YouTube has adopted. Through a series of legal agreements and copyright enforcement systems, they've created something that really should be emulated:

  • Anyone can upload anything, even copyrighted material they don't have rights to.

  • Legal agreements allow derivative works to be shared (e.g. cover songs), in a way that still maintains all the rights of the copyright holder. That means the music videos I make for "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" can stay online, because both Hasbro Studios and the artist/label for the song are still exercising their rights.

  • Copyright holders can decide what of their own content can stay up, and what gets taken down. For me, that means I can binge-watch DuckTales on YouTube, because Disney has acknowledged and permitted the content to stay online!

Can the system be improved to keep copyright trolls from abusing it? Absolutely. But the essential model is superb.

P.S. If a YouTube video has evidence of trying to beat the content detectors (e.g. video flipped, small-frame in large image, sped up, slowed down), please report it...that's absolutely cheating, because the uploader is trying to prevent the copyright holder from exercising their rights.


When you buy a book, or for that matter, a game, a movie, a TV show, or anything of the sort, you are supporting the people who have invested time and effort into creating that product.

When you make an illegal digital copy, that is no different from walking into the store and shoplifting the physical item.

When you share, you're always giving something up yourself, even if it's just for a little while. If you're not losing something, you're not sharing, you're stealing.

Piracy is NOT a victimless crime.

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I broadly agree with you.

The one problem I have with this argument is that this:

You give your copy of the book to Jeff. You can't read it while he can.


Again: true sharing always involves a loss on the part of the sharer.

does not gel well with this:

Jeff now has a copy of the book, and so do you. You can both read it at the same time. Neither of you has a need to pay six bucks for another copy.

and this:

This is exactly the same as if you walked into a Barnes & Noble store, took a copy of the book off the shelf, and walked out without paying.

The argument about whether piracy is theft has been raging for years, and it was initially stuck because the legal definition of theft in most places didn't know anything about copying (or indeed copyright).

I don't think you're helping the case with the way you've phrased these parts of your post.

My standpoint, for reference: yes, piracy as considered is morally wrong in most if not all cases, but it's not the same as theft... and it's not just pedantry on my part to say that.


The first two points demonstrate actual sharing, while the second two points demonstrate theft. So, I don't see your point. If you loan your copy of the book to Jeff, only one person can consume the material at a time - it's identical to loaning the physical book. If you make a copy of the book and give it to Jeff, that is identical to stealing another copy of the physical book, so you don't have to part with your own.

I know a lot of people disagree with that basic premise, but in my experience, they only do so to try and justify (mostly to themselves) the fact that they pirate regularly, instead of being honest and buying the book legally.

piracy as considered...[is] not the same as theft

You're gaining something by depriving someone of what they are legally entitled to. That is, quite literally, the essential definition of theft. I feel strongly about this because the word-mincing is how people justify piracy all the time.

As an author and a publisher, I personally observe (and even experience) the effects of piracy. If an author is entitled to $2 per book, and you pirate the book instead of buying it, that is in effect and intent no different than walking up to that author and taking the $2 out of their hand. You have gained something of value (the book) directly and solely by depriving the author of the royalties they are legally entitled to. (Now go and apply that same to the other 5-30 people involved in the book.)

Pedantry and self-justification (from others, I don't think you're trying to self-justify) are just smokescreens for the ugly reality that piracy is literally a form of theft. To call it anything else is to downplay the crime.


I guess his point is that copyright infringement is a different type of felony.

When you steal a book from B&N, you cause at least two losses:

1) They can't sell that same copy to anyone else;
2) Costs incurred in buying the book from the publisher won't come back;

When someone infringes copy-right by copy-ing the content from a digital book, they don't cause any of the two damages above.

I'm not saying copyright infringement is ok, you are totally correct, people must straight up and respect intellectual work. And infringement must be punished.

What I'm saying is that by labeling it as theft may make your augment loose power because, frankly, theft is a different type of felony.

It may make it look like you're trying to push something you don't really have a strong reason to support. In reality you do have all the reason to be mad at copyright infringement, so why use theft to make your argument stronger, when it already has strength?...

I validly compare it to theft because the pedantics have to stop. The differences are minute.

When an illegal copy is made...

1) They can't sell a copy to the person who received the illicit copy. (Loss of sale, same result as your #1).

2) Costs incurred in creating and distributing the book won't come back (Measurable financial loss due to #1, same result as your #2).

So, no, on an abstract level, it is still a form of theft. You're giving away something you don't have the rights to give away: an additional copy of an eBook.

I do appreciate your thoughtful response. I just see the argument of "piracy isn't theft" as flimsy, legally questionable, and existent solely as a pedantic means of justifying a crime. The person with the pirated material directly gained from a measurable loss deliberately and directly inflicted upon another person. That is the most distilled definition of theft possible.

I still disagree, but I respect your position.


If I were 100% persuaded by this argument, I still wouldn't know what you're asking me to do. (Besides not pirate books.)

Elsewhere you wrote:

Current options:

(1) No more ebooks. (You really want that?)

(2) DRM. (Oh, wait, that's condemned as corporate evil. Nevermind.)

(3) Subscription-only based access to books (e.g. Safari, Mapt), so you can't read them offline.

(4) Honor system...which is the current system, but hey, honor is quite obviously dead. ;-)

The reality is that you need some compelling way to compete with "free" in order to reduce piracy. Or, strong legal protection with enforcement -- but that approach is fraught. For me this is the lesson of Napster. The abstract moral argument loses out to the economics.


The reality is that you need some compelling way to compete with "free" in order to reduce piracy.

And, of course, authors and publishers have tried and failed for years to do that.

Unfortunately, I think that argument puts too much of the onus on the victim. That's like saying to a shop-owner "To reduce burglary, you should find some compelling way to make paying for the products (instead of stealing them) more worthwhile."

It's already illegal, and it's already enforced (see also DRM, DMCA) as best as the medium can allow, but criminals are always determined to bypass protections. Then, they turn around and say "Well, if you really cared so much about not getting robbed, maybe you should have tried harder to stop me."

My point really is simply don't download, create, distribute, or read illegal copies of ebooks etc.

(P.S. That list was in specific response to someone suggesting finding a better way to prevent piracy.)


My point really is simply don't download, create, distribute, or read illegal copies of ebooks etc.

(P.S. That list was in specific response to someone suggesting finding a better way to prevent piracy.)

I think that's fair and if your whole point is "don't pirate" then that's well taken. I quoted that list to suss out what the "ask" is but I appreciate your pointing out the context.

What I'm getting at, anyway, is the lesson of napster. Once music was available for "free" the bell couldn't be unrung. There was some show litigation which arguably cost the industry more in goodwill than it won them in settlements. Other than that, the whole industry hemorrhaged money to napster, and then iTunes, and now YouTube/Spotify.

Today, the legal reality is that music costs money, but the economic reality is that it is effectively free. I pay spotify for their UX, their hosting, the features like playlist management. I don't pay them for the actual music. If the same becomes true for books, what then? (And arguably, it already has happened for books.)

Yeah, unfortunately you're right.

I'll be surprised if eBooks are even a thing in another decade. Publishers may well decide it isn't economically viable, and since they aren't quite deliverable like music is (pay-per read???), they may just throw in the towel and resort to print form.

(Like I mentioned, I'm already legitimately considering that myself, as a publisher.)

At which point, the pirates can thank themselves for ruining the party for literally everyone.

I think that would be a real shame if it turns out the way you're saying. Thanks for your post and for chatting with me, it's an important topic.

Thank you too. I appreciate the conversation!


Publishing data that can be replicated cost-free by anyone on the internet and expecting to then sell it seems like a weird business model to me. Computer programs use software as a service as a business model and it works pretty well. Someone has to come up with a way of making money that is not as absurd as "please pay for my data and don't share it".


Current options:

(1) No more ebooks. (You really want that?)

(2) DRM. (Oh, wait, that's condemned as corporate evil. Nevermind.)

(3) Subscription-only based access to books (e.g. Safari, Mapt), so you can't read them offline, or retain them in any fashion. (Walled garden; independent authors can't deploy to this.)

(4) Honor system...which is the current system, but hey, honor is quite obviously dead. ;-)

Pardon my cynicism. It isn't aimed at you. But the above unfortunately is the current list of options for books. The very nature of books doesn't lend itself to a service model.

Believe me, I've actually considered option (1) for some of my publications. After this overall comment thread, it's becoming a legitimate possibility.


It sure seems like a hard position to be in, I hope someone finds a way to make money with books without depending on honor. Best of luck!


I do agree regarding what you are trying to point out but let me give an advice. You can take it however you wish but im gonna say it.

The article is to long. You are trying to make a point so you are trying to explain your idea as better as possible but points are better made when a lot of people read and react to this article in this case.

Im sure that more then half the people who started reading it havent finished it and left. So i dont think this helps on spreading your idea to as many people as possible or wont even attract to many attention because most of the people will probably just skip the article.


Well, I appreciate the feedback, in any case. I don't believe it's too long on principle. We have a nasty societal habit of skipping anything that requires more than a minute or two of time to read, and I view that as an altogether destructive trend. I would rather make a point well, and thoroughly, rather than eschew important information simply for briefness.

And yes, I know that means a lot of people won't take the time to read, but practically speaking, those are the same people that usually won't take the time to think about it anyway, so the entire point would have been lost from the start. That's not intended as mean, it's just a very real correlation I've long observed as a mentor, tutor, and author.

As I said, I appreciate the feedback. My intended audience is simply those who will put forth the effort to read and think. I'm not really an author for the rest, and that's fine...there are thousands of authors who do cater to that mindset.


Well said, and I'm glad you also mention your full support for Creative Commons - I should (eventually, when we're happy with it) be one of the authors of some software published under CC-NC (Non-Commercial) terms - still not sure how we monitor or enforce those terms as a small org though!

I'm interested in your thoughts on alternative funding for creative works, such as: patronage (eg: Larry Wall and O'Reilly); crowdfunding (eg: Fabian Sanglard's Black Book series - he also operates the more traditional publisher model of selling hard copies first, then releasing a free PDF version on line later); artificial scarcity (eg: limited edition prints).

Personally I'm hoping that we gain a more enlightened view of economics that doesn't force almost everyone into wage slavery, and gives people more freedom to actually share their thoughts through published works (steps off soapbox).


Hi Phil,

Ahhhhhhhh, it feels good to read a rational response after the last round. Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

I think alternative funding is a very interesting concept, although the success of each depends entirely on the nature of the work and the audience.

I happen to know someone who is only (barely) able to survive on patronage alone, due to a debilitating medical condition that has now even taken away his ability to draw his daily comic (his former full-time job). It takes a lot of work to get such a thing started, but he'd been established long before he contracted the condition.

Crowdfunding can be an awesome way to offset the initial publication costs, with relatively little risk. However, it's still a once-off; it won't work for a second (or primary) income.

Artificial scarcity is interesting, although one has to figure out how to create something that is actually worthwhile. Signed copies and special editions can be awesome.

On a similar note, I'm pondering the idea of having some "print-only" content, like additional chapters or illustrations. Not only would that incentivize sales of physical copies, but it would also be content that would be difficult to pirate...sort of a positive response to the problem.

Of course, all of these are generally only supplemental to royalties and licensing. Even some bestselling authors I know barely scrape by. If the books aren't selling, it's hard (or even impossible) to make it. Many of my friends have sadly had to give up writing in pursuit of other careers, simply because they couldn't afford to live. So, in the end, every little bit helps!

The publishing landscape has changed so much in the past decade. More than ever, people are empowered to create and sell original works—books, music, films, games—without having to assign away their rights to traditional publishing schemes. I think that's why copyright is so important: it's the bulwork that supports creative expression. Creative Commons, Open Source, and even Free Software, completely fail to work without that international protection. It can always stand to be improved, but that's what excellent foundations like EFF fight for.

A little note on your software, I'd strongly recommend against using Creative Commons for software itself. It is not well suited to software, even according to Creative Commons. Instead, look through the licenses at opensource.org. The GNU Public License (GPL) may better suit your needs. The beauty of that is, if the license is violated, you don't have to defend it yourself...the Open Source Initiative and Free Software Foundation care very much about legal decisions regarding their licenses, so you wouldn't be in the fight alone!


Cool :)

Point noted on use of CC for software, we (AMateur SATellite organisation, aka AMSAT) were looking for a single licence that didn't preclude commercial terms while supporting fellow radio amateurs and allowing us to ship into Free software distro (hello Debian!) - maybe something from the Apache or MIT camp would work, failing that the dual licence route is possible (seeing this more often).

Yeah, dual-licensed GPL is pretty solid. I'd go that route, unless another Open Source license presents itself. (Just make sure it's listed on opensource.org! Some licenses claim to be FOSS, but legally aren't Open Source, and therefore lack the protection of the OSI and the right to use the trademarked term Open Source.)


I can't pay for that

The lamest excuse I've ever heard, most people pay for:

  • Expensive coffee
  • Expensive soccer ticket
  • Expensive mobile phones (yes, I'm talking about you, iPhone!)
  • Expensive universities' tuition fees
  • Expensive conference ticket
  • Expensive party ticket

But hey, if it's a book or a course, it will directly fall among the "I can't afford that" 🤨

What you said in your nicely written article works the same in regards of courses too...

Yes, I confess that I was stealing Pluralsight and Udemy courses, but not anymore.

I became a content author and I see how much work we pour into making just one video (planning, recording, editing, and publishing), around two hours to produce a 10 mins video 🤯

That fact totally changed my mind about how wrong it is to "download from torrent" a course rather than buying it.

I hope people who still "download" books or courses would consider buying them instead.


But hey, if it's a book or a course, it will directly fall among the "I can't afford that" 🤨

Yeah, this has always seemed strange to me. Training services (and occasionally my training services), to the rare few they're on offer to, are in demand. But some will balk when recommended to pay for an online course to prepare for the in-person stuff.

It's the same with software.

Real head scratcher there.


Real head scratcher there.

Exactly man!

BTW Nathan, I enjoy reading your comments here and there 👌


I mostly agree with you.

I see the flaw in the reasoning that copying something immaterial is like stealing but I'm able to go over it because I'm already convinced that copying is harmful for authors.
I read a lot of discussions like this one and they all tiptoe around this disputed argument.
I'd like to find a better example but still haven't read anything convincing.

I suppose a good example may not exist because nothing so perfectly similar exists. Personally, as a small author, I think the most harm is not the financial one but mostly the psychological one. The sense of treachery is unbearable or at least difficult to cope with and it is by no doubt a harm.

It's a bit like sharing someone's secret with others. You are not supposed to do that and the author may not intend to share it like this and he may be harmed by your carelessness.


This whole time, I've been trying to distill the concept of theft down to its purest form to draw the parallel, because yes, there isn't anything exactly identical to piracy. It's unfortunately how many criminals justify their behavior, even in court: "the law doesn't explicitly state that this particular flavor is illegal". Think "spirit of the law," not "letter of the law," and the apparent "flaw in reasoning" (due to a subtle legal dissimilarity) becomes, in the very least, irrelevant.

But I digress. (I've never cared much about tip-toeing.)

I agree (mostly) about the psychological aspect, although maybe the "secret" analogy won't work for some (they'd say: "then you shouldn't have published").

For me, that psychological impact feels like someone is telling me "Your work is good enough, so I'll take it, but you are worth nothing to me, so I won't pay you for those years of effort." It's incredibly dehumanizing.


I agree.
That's exactly what their actions are saying.

Sometimes I think a concept is so plainly basic that I find it difficult to define it.
I think "piracy is harmful" is one of these concepts and it's really hard to properly explain it.

You made some really good points, thank you.


I disagree with your overall conclusion, on the basis of the common-law and civil law copy right system's vast abuses of the public trust and weaponization by the likes of Microsoft and AOL Time Warner. That's a systemic problem, not to be resolved by the replacement, restraint, or even destruction of the many bad actors.

These well meaning encouragements to create have always become, on balance, yet another vehicle for the endless conversion of financial superiority into other forms of dominance, a force for silence of the masses, and even bigger, fancier bullhorns for the big spenders.

But thanks for writing this. In the cases of people behind indie game studios, self-published authors, and others, circumventing the copyright system leaves collateral damage in the form of books that will never be published, and great games that will run out of development money.

I've been thinking about this in terms of political economy for a decade or two. Monetization's been on my mind even longer, and I've pondered some technical solutions. I'm glad to have learned something new, here, both from you and from Mr. Ashby.


I would add that piracy itself becomes a vector for "the endless conversion of financial superiority into other forms of dominance". The already suffering little guy gets pirated to right out of existence, while the big boys have the financial and legal padding to be unaffected, by shifting the harm to the little guys working for them.

So, arguably, even given the evils of copyright, piracy only magnifies the problem exponentially.

Weaponized monetization is indeed an evil, but two wrongs don't make a right. Eliminating copyright eliminates one of the only tools the independent creator has, but it has little to no effect on the big boys. They'll always find ways to extort.


They'll always find ways to extort.

That they will.

And the ol' pirates continue to surprise me with how far up they can punch.

But yes, I guess it's plausible that this kind of thing ends up benefiting the big dogs. On the whole the deeper pocketed firms could benefit from getting bloody noses if it means they get industry dominance if the same phenomenon that bloodied their noses breaks the necks of their smaller competition.

Then the bigger firms could hire the smaller competition as ghost writers (or do acquihires) and make a stranglehold.

I just want to make it clear that while I understand the practical rationale, in terms of financial incentives, for certain kinds of copyright, I do not consider that my words or thoughts have some kind of natural, inherent right not to be repeated, regardless of the medium.


Hi, from the other thread. I'm not here to pick a fight and I initially wasn't going to comment.

I'm just interested in this: what you think of the public domain? There are multiple ways to characterize it, but the copyright system itself revokes an author's exclusive right to vend a work and there's nothing the author can do about it. At that point, the association of sharing with giving something up is rather moot because anyone can make new legal copies. That's not a small number of works, either; it's thousands of years of material disconnected from the duty to the author you describe here. You can even plagiarize any of it!

Thanks if you answer! Or not! I promise not to reply again if you don't want me to.


Public domain is fine; the interested parties are no longer alive in most cases, and if there is anyone with the authority to renew the copyright (e.g. the family), they've chosen not to do so.

Sooner or later, knowledge does make it into the public domain, but not in a way that does material harm to the creator.

Prior to something aging into the system, if someone chooses explicitly to place something in public domain, that is their call as the rights-holder.

You know earlier how I feel, but I will grant you this: if you do indeed care about this topic, as it seems you might, I recommend you do extensive research into how copyright and publishing actually works from a creator standpoint, from sources directly opposed to your current views. (It's important to leave one's own echo chamber.) I think you've misunderstood some things, including how public domain works, but I choose to blame certain prominent influencers who have historically spread misinformation about copyright.


I agree... licenses and copyrights matter. Piracy may seem victimless, but in reality it is anything but. I learned this lesson too - the easy way, thankfully!


Yes but if you download a copy and then send the author money when you have it ? I always hope people would acknowledge exposure doesn’t pay the bills 😥


The donation model is indeed used by some authors, and it does work in some cases. If it's offered outright, that's fine.

Of course, one has to remember that everyone involved needs to get paid: the publisher, whom the author willingly signed with (see again my article explaining everyone involved there), the illustrators or graphics designers, the bookseller (if relevant), etc, etc. They all deserve to make back the investment of time and money they put in.

It's a legal gray area, but I've seen cases where someone used a technically illegal copy of a book they had a legitimate immediate need for, and then legally bought a copy as soon as they could afford it. It's not ideal, but I suppose this is reasonably acceptable, since the immediate end result is the same. Still, it's a slippery slope, so I don't want to give a carte-blanche on that.

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