Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Yo, ho, ho and a boxful of books!

There be pirates out there.

At least two websites, Scribd and Wattpad, are set up as 'document sharing' sites - it's Napster all over again, but this time for documents instead of music. And, despite the mind numbing tedium of it, plenty of people seem happy to sit down and scan a whole book so they can upload a pirate copy to one or both of these sites.

Recently there's been quite a furore over Scribd particularly, whipped up by literary agent Peter Cox. Discovering full texts of books from popular authors like J. K. Rowling, he has stirred up something of a media storm about this theft. We've seen newspapers like the Times jump in, and most recently Sky News.

As Jo Brand points out in the Sky piece, the problem here is that the majority of authors aren't multimillionaires, they're scraping a living from the 50p per copy or so they get from book sales. And every copy stolen this way is taking money directly from them. No piracy can be encouraged, but where most movie and music piracy does take a little from the very rich, most book piracy hits people who can't afford to be stolen from - the vast majority of illegally copied books on these sites are not by big name authors.

The sites' owners say they will take down anything illegal if they are alerted to it - but this puts the onus on thousands of authors to check. It's just not acceptable. We should see publishers and authors' organizations banding together to insist that site owners who host this type of pirate material should be held responsible. If that means manually checking each submission, so be it. If they won't, it's time they were walking the plank!
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