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 internetâ€”even if there are all sorts of notices saying “don’t copy this without permission”â€”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.
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 herÂ 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?