Stealing is easy, so it must be okay

Starving kidOne 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.”

free music blogNow 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?

Download freeHow is the theft of ebooks any different?

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.

[End rant]









About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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7 Responses to Stealing is easy, so it must be okay

  1. lloyd langston says:

    Bro:  I saw this on FB about 20 min. or so after you posted it.  Sure hope you haven’t been a victim here.  Your article tho really brings it all into perspective.  Times are changing, as are a lot of other things  and not necessarily for the better.  L


    • joshlangston says:

      I could have been more specific, but I didn’t want to post the names of any of the websites which are offering pirated material. Trust me when I say they’re out there, and there’s not a helluva lot anyone can do about it. Everything is done anonymously, and even if one is able to get such a site shut down, they just pop up somewhere else under a different name. These a**holes don’t consider it theft. By their corrupt logic, they’re not stealing anything since the “original” remains in the hands of the creator. They’re just making “copies.” As if that makes it okay. Oy.

  2. polinto says:

    I remember working for my mother in her bookstore and having to tear off the covers. I suppose that if people can steal your identity, they can and will steal anything.

    • joshlangston says:

      I really wish I had some reason to disagree, Pam. Sadly, I don’t. It makes me wonder if there isn’t something in our society that acts like a great honking magnet doing a number on our moral compass.

  3. You are going to hate my response, Josh. It took me years to come to terms with the rampant piracy of my novels. I fought it, I ranted, lost sleep, took sedatives…it’s not a battle that can be won. HOWEVER, Neil Gaiman addressed piracy in a way that helped me. Perhaps it will help you. I copied Neil Gaiman’s piracy quote from Goodreads, although I’ve seen it on YouTube and, yes, :-), all over the web. Here are Neil Gaiman’s words:

    “When the web started, I used to get really grumpy with people because they put my poems up. They put my stories up. They put my stuff up on the web. I had this belief, which was completely erroneous, that if people put your stuff up on the web and you didn’t tell them to take it down, you would lose your copyright, which actually, is simply not true.

    And I also got very grumpy because I felt like they were pirating my stuff, that it was bad. And then I started to notice that two things seemed much more significant. One of which was… places where I was being pirated, particularly Russia where people were translating my stuff into Russian and spreading around into the world, I was selling more and more books. People were discovering me through being pirated. Then they were going out and buying the real books, and when a new book would come out in Russia, it would sell more and more copies. I thought this was fascinating, and I tried a few experiments. Some of them are quite hard, you know, persuading my publisher for example to take one of my books and put it out for free. We took “American Gods,” a book that was still selling and selling very well, and for a month they put it up completely free on their website. You could read it and you could download it. What happened was sales of my books, through independent bookstores, because that’s all we were measuring it through, went up the following month three hundred percent.

    I started to realize that actually, you’re not losing books. You’re not losing sales by having stuff out there. When I give a big talk now on these kinds of subjects and people say, “Well, what about the sales that I’m losing through having stuff copied, through having stuff floating out there?” I started asking audiences to just raise their hands for one question. Which is, I’d say, “Okay, do you have a favorite author?” They’d say, “Yes.” and I’d say, “Good. What I want is for everybody who discovered their favorite author by being lent a book, put up your hands.” And then, “Anybody who discovered your favorite author by walking into a bookstore and buying a book raise your hands.” And it’s probably about five, ten percent of the people who actually discovered an author who’s their favorite author, who is the person who they buy everything of. They buy the hardbacks and they treasure the fact that they got this author. Very few of them bought the book. They were lent it. They were given it. They did not pay for it, and that’s how they found their favorite author. And I thought, “You know, that’s really all this is. It’s people lending books. And you can’t look on that as a loss of sale. It’s not a lost sale, nobody who would have bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free.”

    What you’re actually doing is advertising. You’re reaching more people, you’re raising awareness. Understanding that gave me a whole new idea of the shape of copyright and of what the web was doing. Because the biggest thing the web is doing is allowing people to hear things. Allowing people to read things. Allowing people to see things that they would never have otherwise seen. And I think, basically, that’s an incredibly good thing.” ~ Neil Gaiman

    Goodreads link where I found this quote:

    • joshlangston says:

      You’re right, Devon; I don’t like your response. And I don’t believe — at this moment, anyway — that because it worked to Neil Gaiman’s advantage, that it will work to everyone else’s. I give away plenty of my books. In fact, all my short story collections are available for free. But the point is, *I’m* the one giving them away, not some nameless, faceless schlub in Moscow or Peking or Peoria. My books are available to libraries for a pittance. And I’ve donated copies free of charge, too. So the whole “borrowed book” thing is moot. What I resent is outright theft, and I don’t see much value in sugarcoating it.

      I’m glad you and Neil Gaiman can rest easy about the issue. That’s certainly your right and privlege. I’ll continue to try and raise awareness of it.

  4. kathils says:

    A sad but true state of affairs. I have no solution. Although, hanging…that has a certain appeal. Drawing and quartering takes longer I believe.

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