When Did Stealing Become “Okay?”

Last week a photographer friend posted on Facebook and asked people to stop stealing her work. She’s seen her lovely photographs printed on graduation invitations, on wedding programs, and party announcements. And she wasn’t paid for those photos. They were stolen, either from her website or from proofs given to other people before purchase.

When did stealing become “okay?”

Because that’s what it is when photographs, books, music and any other type of art is used or downloaded without payment. It’s stealing. It’s theft. It’s low class. And it’s not okay.

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Over 33 MILLION results. That just sucks.

My photographer friend has an adult daughter who has autism, OCD, and several other cluster issues. Long ago my friend made the decision to become a photographer so that she could set her own schedule and be at home with her child more. She invested in high-end gear so she could provide a quality product. When she does a photography session it takes hours of time, because she wants to get the best shots possible. And when she’s on a shoot she has to make sure someone is available to stay with her daughter while she’s gone. It’s not over then, either. She spends hours editing the photos, and then spends money developing them. In other words, it costs her money in updating her equipment and for the photos themselves, and it costs her time. And people just steal her work with no thought or remorse.

I have quite a few friends who are musicians. They spend untold hours composing and practicing the songs they write. They pay for studio time to record them, and studio time is not cheap. They pay for their websites to showcase their music, and they pay to have CDs pressed. And people steal their music and upload them to file sharing sites where other people can steal them.

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As an author I spend more time than I can enumerate writing my books. After they’re written I spend even more time editing them to be the best they can be. Then I pay for artwork for the cover, and for a cover designer. Some authors pay for editing and formatting, too. Then we offer them for sale for a reasonable price, only to have people buy them,  copy the files, then return the bought book to the e-retailer for a refund. They then take those downloaded files and put them on file sharing sites where thieves download them for free.

Where does anyone get off thinking any of that is okay? I’m willing to bet that the majority of these thieves wouldn’t dream of walking into a bookstore or a music store or an art store and then walk out with products without paying for them. But they’ll gleefully steal anything they can find online. There’s no difference between stealing a paperback from a bookstore and stealing an e-book from a pirate site. No difference at all.

I spend one night a month, time I could be writing, chasing down illegal downloads of my books. When I find one I send a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notice, not just to the site but to the ISP that hosts the site. Lots of times the pirate sites ignore the notice (after all, they’re run by low life thieves for low life thieves) but the ISP is always quick to kill not only the links to my books but most times they shut down the site itself. And we authors are quick to look out for each other, too. If one of us finds a pirate site we share it with every author we know, and it doesn’t take long before we get a site taken down. The sad thing is that when we take down one, two more pop up in its place. Because it’s become commonplace these days for people to just blithely steal.

I can’t speak for the theft sites that offer illegal downloads of music, art or photography, but I do know that a majority of book pirate sites install viruses and malware on the computers or devices of the people who download or attempt to download illegal copies of books. These viruses and malware then infect the device and take the user’s personal information. I should probably feel bad about that, but I don’t. It’s a sad thing when these people have their credit card numbers and identities stolen, but it happened when they were trying to steal books. No, I don’t feel bad for them.

What really blows my mind is when these would-be thieves get all hot under the collar when authors have the illegal links to their books or the entire pirate site taken down. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, are they kidding? They’re angry because we stopped them from ripping us off? What is society coming to when thieves get all holy because they can’t steal?

Look, e-books are cheap. Music tracks are cheap. They’re a hell of a lot cheaper than it costs to produce them. Don’t stand there holding a $6.00 latte and say you can’t afford an e-book or song priced at 99¢. And if you really can’t afford to buy right now, there are libraries where you can borrow books and even music. And yes, most libraries now offer e-books, too. If they don’t have what you want, ask them to get it. If enough people request it, they’ll order it. Or contact the author (or artist) and ask them to donate copies to your library. I don’t know a single author who would mind donating a copy or two of his or her paperback to a library.

The next time you see a free download of anything offered by anyone other than the author or publisher, stop and think. That photo, that music, that book is not meant to be free. It’s the way the photographer or the musician or the author makes his or her living, and they deserve to be paid for their work the same way you deserve to be paid for doing your job. No, we don’t do it for the money, but we don’t do it for free, either.

Stealing is stealing, and it’s not okay.

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