I’m a big believer in sharing information: for example, over the last five years I’ve written 400+ posts that are available on this site for free. I’ve found countless solutions to my own questions on other people’s blogs, also for free. However, I think that there’s a place for copyrighted work too; when applied correctly, copyrights allow authors and content creators to earn a living, and to keep on writing and creating because of the income that their copyrighted work generates.
File-sharing sites like Scribd and Slideshare (and others; I’m just using these as examples because I’ve found my copyrighted work on them…) have a complicated relationship with copyright law. In one sense, these types of sites are a great way to get your own work out there: put up an interesting presentation, and tons of people might find it. It might go viral, and you might get a book deal out of it. But, at least in my experience, these sites do essentially nothing to prevent people from posting other people’s copyrighted work.
Case in point: this morning I got an e-mail from a kind colleague who let me know that someone had posted one of my books on Slideshare. Yep, there it was, including my copyright notice, which appears on the first page of the book. To Slideshare’s credit, they immediately removed the book when I notified them, but presumably they’re not planning to reimburse me for the 1,333 times that the book had already been viewed. A few years ago, someone posted one of my books on Scribd with similar results: it was taken down after someone alerted me, but it had already been viewed over a thousand times.
A few thoughts here:
- I see that these types of sites have legitimate uses. But it disturbs me that they cannot take the minimal amount of time it would require to prevent these very flagrant copyright violations. Posting someone else’s entire book isn’t a grey area: my copyright notice was on the first page of the file on Slideshare.
- It disturbs me that translators would do this to each other: I know the username of the person who posted my book, and it’s a translator.
- Violating someone’s copyright is stealing. That’s all there is to it. Especially when you post an independent author’s book, you are not taking money from a huge corporation, you are taking money from an individual who buys groceries and pays the mortgage with that money. It’s not the new media model: it’s theft.
- If you want free information, there is lots of it out there. Go crazy with it. If you find works that are licensed under terms such as the GNU GPL, you can even sell them, as long as you license them under the original terms. But don’t steal copyrighted stuff and think that you’re doing something noble by posting it online for free. If the author wanted their book to be freely available, they wouldn’t have to look hard for a way to make it happen.
Just for fun (!), let’s put some numbers on this situation. The retail value of 1,333 copies of my book is $26,646; certainly a decent chunk of money by anyone’s standards. But of course I don’t earn the retail value in royalties, nor would all of those 1,333 people have actually bought a legitimate copy of the book. My royalties amount to between $3.50 and $10.00 per copy, depending on where the person buys the book. And let’s say that only 10% of those people would have actually purchased the book, so I would have sold 133 copies. If we take an average royalty of $5.00 per copy, that’s $665. So, dear copyright infringer, if you’re reading this and you want to make things right, I’d say that an appropriate restitution would be approximately that amount. And Slideshare, if you want to make things right, start at least minimally vetting the uploads on your site for copyright violations.