One doesn’t need to be Charles Dickens to understand how a parent, having no other options, might steal food for his or her starving child. One can readily sympathize with the theft of clothing under similar circumstances. These needs are as basic as it gets, and most people are willing — either through voluntary efforts, monetary donations, or both — to help meet them.
At some point, however, theft is no longer justified by need. It’s supplanted by greed. The desire to have something drives the crime, and it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Robin Hood, or Bernie Madoff, or anyone in between. But at least those guys took some sort of risk in order to obtain their ill-gotten “reward.”
Now comes the internet, and suddenly it’s okay to steal something if the means to do it is easy enough. Pirated music led the way, and the public learned to laugh about it. Hell, everyone did it. And it was just so easy! How could anything which was so easy be illegal?
Well, maybe a little illegal, but who got hurt? Only the big deal recording stars, and they were so rich they’d never notice. It was Robin Hood all over again! Millions of Robin Hoods, actually. And the recording industry had no idea how to combat it.
Common wisdom held that it was okay despite what any fuddy-duddy legal types said, because it was just so damned easy to do. Ask any college kid of that era. Add tech savvy to a population with fuzzy morals and political views based on emotion, and the result is the kind of equation that discounts legality based on the ease of the crime. It’s cool; everyone does it.
Now the same crowd is stealing books. But they’re ebooks, and it’s easy to do, so what’s the harm?
Not long ago, bookstore clerks were required to strip the covers off unsold paperbacks. The covers were returned to the publishers for credit while the rest went into the dumpster. A certain class of people actually retrieved those coverless books and sold them. Guess how much of those profits went to the publisher or the author?
As a novelist, I’m in the camp that equates book theft with cattle rustling. I’m okay with adding horse thieves, too. Hang ’em all! Short rope; long drop; quick stop.
My fear, however, is that more and more people will come to believe that because it’s just sooo easy, it must be okay. You know, just like downloading music used to be.
Thank you, Napster. May you rot in hell forever.