Original question from Quora:

Why is downloading a pirated copy of a book condemned as stealing from the author, but not buying a second hand book?

I’m talking specifically about books, not music or software. What prompted the question was Pressmans reference book on Switching Power Supplies- I downloaded a PDF, liked what I saw, and bought a copy of the book- secondhand. How does the former steal from authors, how does the latter reward them? Is it still considered piracy to put a copy on a Kindle while I possess the book?

My Answer:

I can tell you why piracy is considered stealing, but that doesn’t mean I completely agree with the viewpoint. In fact, I largely disagree.

The fundamental idea that piracy is stealing is the idea that you would have bought the book instead of pirating it. Now take a minute to think about it before I tell you why it’s a false premise…

Ready? Okay.

It’s a false premise because purchasing not the only alternative to piracy. Apathy is as large of an option and far more popular than piracy.

I’m a self-published author and I sell a relatively small number of books each month. My guess is when I send 100 people to Amazon to check out my book, only a handful will purchase it and read it.

That means something like 95–99 of the 100 people will not ever spend more than a couple seconds looking at the cover and will never think about my book again.

If someone decided to pirate a copy of my book, they are more likely to be in the group that will never read it than they are the group that is likely to buy it.

But if someone pirates my book, something magical can happen.

They might like it. They might buy it anyway. They might leave a review. They might tell their friends. They might sign up for my newsletter. They might become a fan.

Now, all of those things are worth more than someone who ignores my book and never reads it.

So, to me, piracy is more akin to someone checking out my book at a library than it is someone stealing it from a bookstore. But in either case, both are preferable than someone ignoring my book.

While other authors might think that piracy is stealing and is costing them a lot of income, I think piracy is a marketing tool and is far more useful than people ignoring my work.

Other people can have differing opinions and I can understand why, but I’m not worried. I want people to read my stuff.

-Brian

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