May 24th 2010
Libraries vs. File Sharing Sites
One of the arguments that comes up fairly regularly in discussions of e-book piracy and illegal file-sharing is that it’s the same thing libraries are doing. If you hate piracy, obviously you must be against libraries. If you support your local library, then how can you hate file-sharing sites for doing the exact same thing?
This argument falls apart for a number of reasons.
- Libraries lend books. You borrow it, and then you return it. (Unless you’re George Washington.)
- Libraries (mostly) lend out physical books. A physical book can only be lent out to one person at a time, meaning there’s a built-in limit. If demand is high, the library will purchase more books, both to meet demand and to replace worn-out or stolen copies. Whereas there’s no limit to the number of times a single file can be passed along.
- Libraries buy a lot of books. Because each library serves a limited geographic area, libraries often end up purchasing hundreds or even thousands of copies of a book nationwide. File-sharing sites, not so much.
- In some countries (sadly, not the U.S.), the library system tracks the number of times a particular author’s work is checked out. Each year, the author receives a check based on the circulation of his/her books. I’ve yet to find the file-sharing site that tries to pay the author. (Often it’s the opposite, and the site includes pleas for donations while at the same time complaining about “greedy” publishers and authors.)
- Libraries work with and support authors. I’ve done a number of programs with libraries here in Michigan, speaking about writing, my books, and so on. Often (not always) I’m paid for my time, in addition to being given the chance to sell books.
It’s true that both libraries and file-sharing sites provide free access to books. I can’t argue that point. But then, if the only thing that mattered was free books, then I could just hijack an Amazon.com warehouse, and voila — it’s exactly the same as going to the library, right?
Things are getting messier thanks to e-books, and libraries are working to figure out how to do e-book lending. But once again, there’s a difference: libraries are working to find a legal way, one which continues to treat authors, publishers, and readers fairly.
That list above is just off the top of my head. I’m sure there are a number of other differences, and I’d love to hear what else people can come up with.
Jim C. Hines
Jim C. Hines' latest book is THE SNOW QUEEN'S SHADOW, the fourth of his fantasy adventures that retell the old fairy tales with a Charlie's Angels twist. He's also the author of the humorous GOBLIN QUEST trilogy. Jim's short fiction has appeared in more than 40 magazines and anthologies, including Realms of Fantasy, Turn the Other Chick, and Sword & Sorceress XXI. Jim lives in Michigan with his wife and two children. He's currently hard at work on LIBRIOMANCER, the first book in a new fantasy series. Visit site.
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