Yesterday on twitter, I expressed annoyance with the hundreds of people who send me emails or tumblr messages or whatever to let me know that they illegally downloaded one of my books, as if they expect me to reply with my hearty congratulations that they are technologically sophisticated enough to use google or whatever. (I dislike it when people pirate my books. I know that not all authors feel this way, but I do. As I’ve discussed before, I think copyright law is disastrously stupid in the US, but I don’t think piracy is an appropriate response to that stupidity.*)

I then pointed out that my books are already available for free at thousands of public libraries not just in the US, but also in Europe, South America, Australia, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, the UK, etc., to which many people replied, What’s the difference between pirating a book and checking it out from the library?

1. Libraries are broadly collecting institutions curated by experts. The curation facet of a library is hugely important: We train these librarians to organize information based not solely on what is popular (which is what piracy does), but also on what is good. The truth is you can’t get “anything” via piracy; there are hundreds of thousands of books you can’t get, because they aren’t yet popular. American public and school libraries play a huge role in preserving the breadth of American literature by collecting and sharing books that are excellent but may not be written by YouTubers with large bulit-in audiences.

Libraries improve the quality of discourse in their communities in ways that piracy simply does not. And if it weren’t for the broad but carefully curated collection practices of libraries, the world of American literature would look a lot like the world of American film: Instead of hundreds of books being published every week, there would be four or five.

2. Libraries buy books. Lots of them. And there are tens of thousands of libraries around the country. That is good for me and good for my book. (Like, the average library copy of The Fault in Our Stars might get checked out 100 times, or even a thousand, butsingle files of Looking for Alaska have been illegally downloaded more than 50,000 times.)

3. For the more than 100 million Americans without Internet access at home, libraries are the only free places to use the web to search for jobs or connect with family or buy t-shirts at I am very happy if my books can help add value to institutions that facilitate such important services. I do not feel the same way about BitTorrent.

4. And this is the most important: I believe that creators of books should have control over how their work is distributed. If, for instance, a musician doesn’t want her songs played during Rick Santorum rallies, then Rick Santorum should not be allowed to use them. I don’t want my books to be available for free download (unless you borrow an e-copy from a library, that is). I just don’t. It’s not because I’m a greedy bastard or want to keep my books from people who might otherwise read them. It’s because I believe books are valuable. Right now, on Amazon, my brand new hardcover book costs about $10, which represents 1.2 hours of work at the federal minimum wage. I believe books are worth 1.2 hours of work. 

One last thing: A lot of people compare the world of books with the world of music. I think this comparison is unfair. For one thing, CDs were overpriced before Napster. I really don’t believe that books—at least my books—are currently overpriced**. More importantly, most musicians have a secondary source of income: They can charge for live performances. Writers—or at least the vast majority of writers—can’t do this. The book is The Thing. The book is all we have to offer.

And in my opinion, libraries preserve the integrity and the value of the book in ways that piracy simply does not.

Based on how many of you have already seen Season 2 of Sherlock, I realize that most of you disagree with me. And I’m happy to acknowledge that I might be wrong. I welcome your thoughts and responses on these complicated questions.

* The whole argument that piracy is some kind of civil disobedience in response to unfair copyright laws is ridiculous and indicates to me that not enough people are reading Civil Disobedience, or even the wikipedia article about it.

** As pointed out by no less an authority than John Darnielle, CDs weren’t overpriced by many independent record labels. Also, I should add that many books—particularly literary fiction hardcovers published for adults—are overpriced, sometimes dramatically. I think this is a bad and discouraging trend, which is one of the (many) reasons why I like publishing my books the way I do: It’s still possible for a hardcover to cost less than $20, and if you adjust for inflation, it always should be.


When the web started, I used to get really grumpy with people because they put my poems up. They put my stories up. They put my stuff up on the web. I had this belief, which was completely erroneous, that if people put your stuff up on the web and you didn’t tell them to take it down, you would lose your copyright, which actually, is simply not true.

And I also got very grumpy because I felt like they were pirating my stuff, that it was bad. And then I started to notice that two things seemed much more significant. One of which was… places where I was being pirated, particularly Russia where people were translating my stuff into Russian and spreading around into the world, I was selling more and more books. People were discovering me through being pirated. Then they were going out and buying the real books, and when a new book would come out in Russia, it would sell more and more copies. I thought this was fascinating, and I tried a few experiments. Some of them are quite hard, you know, persuading my publisher for example to take one of my books and put it out for free. We took “American Gods,” a book that was still selling and selling very well, and for a month they put it up completely free on their website. You could read it and you could download it. What happened was sales of my books, through independent bookstores, because that’s all we were measuring it through, went up the following month three hundred percent

I started to realize that actually, you’re not losing books. You’re not losing sales by having stuff out there. When I give a big talk now on these kinds of subjects and people say, “Well, what about the sales that I’m losing through having stuff copied, through having stuff floating out there?” I started asking audiences to just raise their hands for one question. Which is, I’d say, “Okay, do you have a favorite author?” They’d say, “Yes.” and I’d say, “Good. What I want is for everybody who discovered their favorite author by being lent a book, put up your hands.” And then, “Anybody who discovered your favorite author by walking into a bookstore and buying a book raise your hands.” And it’s probably about five, ten percent of the people who actually discovered an author who’s their favorite author, who is the person who they buy everything of. They buy the hardbacks and they treasure the fact that they got this author. Very few of them bought the book. They were lent it. They were given it. They did not pay for it, and that’s how they found their favorite author. And I thought, “You know, that’s really all this is. It’s people lending books. And you can’t look on that as a loss of sale. It’s not a lost sale, nobody who would have bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free.”

What you’re actually doing is advertising. You’re reaching more people, you’re raising awareness. Understanding that gave me a whole new idea of the shape of copyright and of what the web was doing. Because the biggest thing the web is doing is allowing people to hear things. Allowing people to read things. Allowing people to see things that they would never have otherwise seen. And I think, basically, that’s an incredibly good thing.

Neil Gaiman on Copyright, Piracy, and the Commercial Value of the Web (X)

"A number of companies have protested against the bill, several of which wrote an open letter that was subsequently co-signed by AOL, eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo and Zynga.

As reported by TorrentFreak, Wikipedia is considering the most audacious protest yet, blanking out all of its pages. The article reports that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has asked for community input; additionally, he ‘fears the bill could seriously hurt the Internet and thinks that blanking out Wikipedia will send a strong message to lawmakers’.”

(via LISNews)

"What’s this all about? In short, Universal stops believing in an artist’s right to free speech if that speech might hurt the label’s bottom line. The RIAA, which represents the major record labels, is predictably worried about Megaupload because, you know, the service is used to illegally share copyrighted material. On the other hand, Megaupload says it blocks users who illegally share copyrighted material and that offending material is promptly taken down."

"Warner Bros is going to be pulling a Disney maneuver and locking away the Harry Potter films “in their vaults” for some time. So, very soon, you’ll not see the first movie on the shelves at the shops anymore. Then the second will disappear and so on until you can’t buy a new copy of any Harry Potter movie.

Let me stop right there and tell you about The Lion King.

As a circulation librarian, I take a lot of requests and place a lot of holds. My small town library took well over 100,000 requests last year from all over our system and filled over 99,300 right here in our library. Not bad, especially when you consider our collection is, currently, only 73,000 and change. Of those requests, one of the more frequent was Disney’s classic, The Lion King.

Ah, but there was a snag. Our copies of The Lion King were all withdrawn or removed from the collection due to damage, wear and tear, theft, long overdue, and so on. Until recently, when the movie reopened in cinemas a couple of months ago, we couldn’t replace it. It was “locked in Disney’s vaults” and not available for sale. So all of those kids, all of those parents, all of those adults who wanted to relive a moment of childlike glee – all of those people who wanted to see The Lion King…

They couldn’t.”

(via LISNews)

"How do you know you are doing something wrong?

When 35-year-old women are a problem for your industry. Seriously, does ANYONE really believe that this age-group are pirating ebooks because they ‘hate’ publishers or dislike copyright?

No, they are downloading ebooks from illegal sources because they can’t find legal ones, the prices at legal sites are well beyond what they think are fair or simply because they haven’t been reached by legitimate publishers.”

(via LISNews)