Downloading Books for Dummies

The big news today is that Wiley is suing 27 unnamed Bit Torrent users for seeding copies of For Dummies books. According to the Wiley spokesperson quoted in the PW article, “Our objective is to approach them and to settle if they will agree to stop the infringement, sign a release to that effect, and agree to pay modest compensation… Our goal is to educate and settle.” I think this is an interesting approach and certainly preferable to the Metallica approach of picking one person to make a very expensive example of, though I do wonder how much “education” the defendants want or need.

Coincidentally, longtime Genreville reader Celine Kiernan just sent me the link to an essay by Susan Connolly discussing the ethics of book piracy, as well as the full text of the interview Connolly conducted with Kiernan on the topic. With regard to educating pirates, Connolly writes:

The arguments around ownership and rights to work are well established…. However, I think that rather than simply bang a drum about the inherent validity of intellectual property rights, we must seek to understand why it is that certain individuals find these arguments to be unpersuasive, or outweighed by other moral and practical considerations.

Without this understanding, I do not feel that we can come to accurate conclusions about the ethical status of book piracy and any policy considerations that result from this status.

And Kiernan, like many others before her, notes that piracy is inextricably linked to how easy it is for a reader to legitimately obtain a book. (This tweet about “Piracy is demand not met by the publishers” was among the most retweeted comments from the Books in Browsers conference last week; at a glance, I didn’t see anyone arguing with it.) “I can only bring this western European perspective to the subject, but I am aware that piracy has different resonances in different parts of the world,” she says. “There are many other portions of the world who do not have access to well distributed fairly priced books nor a working library system.” And she adds:

In so far as I feel in any way qualified to comment on this problem of global distribution (again, I would much prefer to hear from those who are directly affected by it please – can we get those voices included in this conversation?)  it seems to me that the longer piracy is used as a Band-Aid for distribution/pricing problems, the longer it will remain the only available solution. Radical change is needed and that can only come about with a large vocal public objection to the problem and then a concerted effort by political and business interests to change the current situation. If the ‘solution’ continues to be the use of pirate copies coupled with business/political apathy then nothing will ever change.

I highly recommend reading both Connolly’s essay and her interview with Kiernan for an idea of where the “education” of book pirates–and of publishers–might begin.

EDIT: Literary agent Ted Weinstein points me to his rebuttals of the “demand unmet by publishers” concept.