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Theft in the Time of the Internet

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on March 15, 2010 | Comments (9)

There are laws against theft. In fact it seems as if as long as humans have formed groups, the standard has been to make theft illegal.

Theft, according to my dictionary, is “the action or crime of stealing.”

And by posting that, I just committed a theft. What?

Somewhere, an individual or group of individuals spent their time to come up with that definition. Somewhere, an editor made sure grammar and appearance were accurate. Somewhere, a typesetter entered that information. Somewhere, another editor looked over everything and gave a final “ok.” Somewhere, a manager oversaw the entire project. Somewhere, a printing company took ink and paper and turned all of that information into a book. Somewhere, a shipping company had people involved in sending those books to bookstores. Somewhere, bookstores sold that book to individuals. Literally dozens of people were involved with this process, and many of them have families to support. And because I copied the hard work they went through and posted those words above, some of you reading this might not buy the dictionary I used. That takes money away from all of these people who did all of this work.

And that is stealing, isn’t it?

Okay. I have to admit that I’m grossly exaggerating. I doubt if anyone is going to lose any money because I posted six words.

But many much larger thefts like this go on. There is almost an “unwritten rule” that if something appears on the internet—even if there are all sorts of notices saying “don’t copy this without permission”—it’s free to copy and post everywhere. I’m a moderator for an on-line forum dedicated to hypnosis, and one of the things I’ve had to do is delete posts from people who simply repost other material that’s under copyright.

And yet, this type of posting goes on all over the internet. Most of the time it’s from people who simply don’t know any better. “Someone else posted it so why can’t I?” But sometimes, the theft is far more clear.

Ideas Can’t Get a Copyright. Words Can.

You can’t get a copyright on an idea, but according to law, as soon as you express those ideas in words, the words are under copyright. Nobody has the right to steal your words and publish them somewhere without your permission. That’s theft. For example, I can’t copyright The Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. However, the words I used to describe the ritual are under copyright. Several years ago a magickal order copied the words I wrote and sold them to their members. I asked them to either stop or credit me. The head of the order wrote to me saying it was a mistake and not meant to be put out that way, and that they have reworded the entire piece.

But that’s just a small section of my Modern Magick. What about the entire book?

Today I received the notice that someone had gone to the trouble of digitizing some of my books (as well as those of other authors on occultism) and were making them available for download. I know there are a couple of organizations that give space for people to make books available (while denying any responsibility for theft). I also know that my publisher will make sure that my books (and others that they publish) are removed from that illegal distribution.

Email Help

Even since Modern Magick was published, I’ve received thousands of requests for information and assistance. Sometimes it takes awhile for me to respond, but I do respond. I know the same is true for many other authors. Often, I receive letters and email from people who haven’t bought any of my books, but who have seen something I wrote for a magazine, or online, or thumbing through pages of one of m books in a bookstore, and have a question for me. I try to help.

Recently, though, I received an email from a person who had downloaded my book and had a question about it. I thought about how to reply to this person who had essentially stolen my work and not paid money that helped support me and the editors, artists, printers, bookstores, etc., who worked together to create the book. I finally explained to him that I willingly help people who have purchased my works and who have not purchased my works, but I’m going to draw the line and not help people who have stolen my work. His response was snarky, essentially saying that he was going to cancel his plans to buy a copy. Frankly, I doubt if he would buy a copy at all so his attempt to say that I was being stupid over this and was losing out was a failure.

This Doesn’t Make Sense

Curiously, the publishers of some authors have given away digital copies of an author’s books. More than one author has discovered to his or her surprise that giving away books in this way resulted in increased sales of actual copies of their books. Logically, that doesn’t make sense. If I give you a book, why would you go out and buy a copy? I can think of two reasons. First, the announcement of the give away advertises the books and it may be that the advertising results in increased sales. Second, people may find that they like the book but don’t like the digital format, so they get a traditional version of the book.

So are the thieves who are stealing the hard work of authors actually increasing sales?

Of course, the big difference is that in one instance someone not associated with the author or a book’s publisher have chosen to steal the book without permission and give it out in a digital form while in the other instance the publisher and author decide to do so.

I have to admit I’m worried that if my works are available for free, nobody will want to buy them. This shows, however, that in a secretive way they have been available for free, yet thankfully, they are still selling.

I don’t know what the future of copyright and theft of books and writing will be in the era of the internet, an era where people think that if something is posted to the internet, it should be theirs, free, to make available wherever they want.

What do you think?

Reader Comments

Written By Tom Dougherty
on March 15th, 2010 @ 11:52 am

Google is more powerful than the US Government. A Greek website stole our website content. The threat of a Google ban got them to take it down. http://tiny.cc/ZL13R

Written By Melissa
on March 15th, 2010 @ 12:12 pm

I agree — completely — about the download sites. They’re stealing. They’re also based outside of the US and not subject to our copyright laws. It’s very, very difficult to get them to stop what they’re doing. Even if your publisher gets them to take down the offending copy, another person will just put up another next week. It’s a problem that has plagued the movie and music industries since they began digitizing their content.

The issue of digital scans aside, the publishing industry is just beginning its foray into the digital world — and they’re already facing the same questions andissues that the music and movie industries faced before them. You would think, then, that they would learn from the mistakes made by those industries, but thus far they’ve been plodding along making exactly the same predictable mistakes. It’s maddening!

As to your question about whether free can increase sales, I think the music industry and the emerging e-book industry have both shown it can. I agree with you — it’s counter-intuitive. I don’t know if I would be brave enough to do it, though I provide articles I’ve written for free all the time.

A similar question relates to the cost of e-books. Publishers are pushing for $12-15. Readers (thanks to Amazon) are saying they shouldn’t cost more than $10. But some authors (such as JA Konrath) are making a LOT of money by pricing their e-books at $2-3 and selling huge numbers.

Written By Spellsweeper
on March 15th, 2010 @ 3:47 pm

I am on total agreement since many of my poems and ritual work have been copied without my being notified. It is strange to join a wesblog or forum and find your work posted exspecialy under someone elses name. Radarr

Written By Stefan
on March 15th, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

I like hard copy of a book. One thing I can’t understand why american , german, french people and those of high standard will download books. Their salary is 1500 to 3000 dollars or euros for a month. Do you read this one?!!!! In Bulgaria the salary is between 150 and 300 dollars for a month. If an american or german buy a book will cost him/her 10-20 or 30 dollars. It’s funny. I still prefer hard copy and do you read this one- I have almost 20 books ordered from amazon / by Ted Andrews, Keith Sherwood, Serge Kahili King, Paul Lambillion / two bulgarian salaries for them. I believe hard copy is a good one. I hope to have Dr.Israel Regardie “The Art and Meaning of Magic” and “Middle Pillar” and Tarot and Magic by Don Kraig, but all has it’s time / Did I write correct/ In short hard is best, if you can read the content, some useful long I say long reviews from the author and readers. With light and love Stefan

Written By Eric B.
on March 15th, 2010 @ 9:36 pm

It may be tempting according to human nature to want something for nothing, but such a temptation would dissolve if people would put themselves in the position of men and women who write books from knowledge they accumulated over YEARS of hard work and life experience such as in the case of Modern Magick. The problem to me would seem to be one of selfishness, one that would be rectified by an increased awareness of others and the work that goes into their intellectual properties. – Great blog Don. =)

Written By Ty
on March 26th, 2010 @ 2:43 pm

I caught on to this when I found the same ritual on three different websites, by three different authors, all with the same ‘personal’ introduction. Ironically, they all stated they were fine with the article being reposted, as along as the author was given credit. Needless to say, none of the articles did give the ‘original’ author, whomever that poor plagurized soul was, any such credit.

Written By Brian
on March 29th, 2010 @ 5:25 pm

I can understand your frustration.

Similar to what you’re talking about here… there’s another situation occuring in occultism sections of bookstores… and that’s orders of Magical traditions using books like yours to promote their order – without paying you, your publisher, etc.

I used to belong to one such occult order that had “flyer runs” and would go into bookstores like Borders, Walden Books, etc. and covertly stick flyers of their order in every book on occultism in the store. In fact that’s how i ended up in their order. I bought a book, opened it and found a flyer advertising their order… i thought they were being advertised by the publisher… and ended up joining up.

It’s free advertising. All they pay for is the flyer. They get to advertise their order to thousands of people flipping through books – thinkin the author or publisher endorses the order, whose flyer is stuck between the pages.

I ended up thinking it was dirty pool and informed one publisher of this activity (Weiser) – who oddly enough wrote me back saying “well what can we do about it?” and i thought, “Why not contact the order who’s phone number and website is right there on the flyer?!”

I can see the obvious nature of your book being downloaded as theft, as someone has gained the enjoyment and use of it without renumeration…. But so too are these orders that are mass flyering books all over the world, to gain new membership – without renumeration to the publishers.

I guess in the end karma will play it’s role and all sorts itself out nicely. As for your delima… i’m not sure what to say.

Written By Bonnie
on April 5th, 2010 @ 9:04 pm

As an aspiring author this is indeed a worrying prospect. Authors depend on consumerism to sell their work but this elitist attitude of low or no prices is consumerism run rampant.

I must admit, to my shame, I participated for quite a while in cheap books from Amazon until I realized that I was just turning myself into a consuming machine rather than fulfilling myself-not to mention all the money the authors did not make from my purchases.

I do not foresee a quick end to any of it, only because this sort of attitude pervades our society to the extreme. “Saving” money is all purchasing is about anymore and that in itself is an oxymoron.

Written By Stefan
on April 8th, 2010 @ 8:40 am

Hi. I already own Israel Regardie “Foundations of Practical Magick ” Very good book. I think one of the best and simple books on magick. Most modern authors don’t know how to give simple and guided information about Hermetic Order of Golden Dawn. I own, read on google books and I’v done investigation for Golden Dawn. For practical use and powerful system “Foundations of Practical Magick ” is best. For practical and almost all the exercises from Golden Dawn is I think ” Modern Magick “.
Only one thing I can’t understand and if somebody can answer me. In “Foundations of Practical Magick ” last chapter-The art of true spiritual healing for practical use -Do I must concetrate the negative color of the planet if I want things for me, and positive color if I want things for someone else. Thank you in advance.

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