Authors have been called elitist by book pirates, after they successfully campaigned to shut down a website that offered free PDFs of thousands of in-copyright books.
OceanofPDF was closed last week after publishers including Penguin Random House and HarperCollins issued hundreds of takedown notices, with several high-profile authors including Philip Pullman and Malorie Blackman raising the issue online. Featuring free downloads of thousands of books, OceanofPDF had stated on its site that it sought to make information “free and accessible to everyone around the globe”, and that it wanted to make books available to people in “many developing countries where … they are literally out of reach to many people”.
Before the site was taken down, one of its founders told the Bookseller that it was run by a team of four who worked based on user requests: “Once we get an email from a user requesting a book that he/she cannot afford/find in the library or if he has lost it, we try to find it on their behalf and upload on our site so that someone in future might also get it.”
Michelle Harrison, who won the Waterstones children’s book prize for her debut novel The Thirteen Treasures, drew attention to OceanofPDF after receiving a Google alert about a free download of her book Unrest. She then downloaded it “in a matter of seconds”.
“I was gobsmacked when I read a statement on the site admitting that reading pirated material wasn’t good because it doesn’t earn authors any money,” Harrison said on Wednesday. “Users of the site were encouraged to ‘leave reviews’ so that the author at least got some benefit!” After she received no reply to an email request to have her books removed, she tried Twitter. “I received a brazen response along the lines of, ‘What if someone already bought the books and lost them, or is travelling and doesn’t want to carry extra weight?’” she said.
After the site was closed down, Harrison shared an email she received from one OceanofPDF user, who called her “unworthy of being an author” and “grossly elitist”.
This is the kind of email you get for speaking out against book piracy. ‘Elitist’? No, I just want to be paid for my work, the same as everyone else. I value my readers, I just wish all readers valued the people who create the books for them. pic.twitter.com/qoBIywVpJ5
— Michelle Harrison (@MHarrison13) August 6, 2018
Similar comments abound across Twitter and Reddit. One user wrote that “writers are the most pretentious pieces of shit I’ve ever seen. I’ll find another way to pirate your books assholes.” Another complained that “reading is becoming one of the most expensive and restrictive hobbies across the globe”, while a third lambasted the “snitches” who took down the website, calling them “anti-poor, classist and exclusionary”. On Reddit, OceanofPDF users were mourning its demise and looking for alternative routes to free ebooks.
“Nurses, doctors, teachers, refuse collectors all work and get paid for it. Authors and illustrators work and are called elitist for wanting the same – to be paid,” former children’s laureate Malorie Blackman tweeted. “Giving our work away for free means no money to pay our bills, live or write/draw. It’s not a hobby, it’s my job.”
Thriller author Steve Cavanagh, whose books have appeared on pirate sites, said that the issue “further highlights the need for properly funded public libraries”.
“When I was growing up I couldn’t afford to buy new books, so I went to the library and if there was a book I really wanted to own I saved for it,” he said. “The real issue is that certain sections of the on-demand culture have a sense of entitlement to content for free … In order to read a pirated PDF you need a computer, e-reader or smartphone and probably access to wifi. My view is that if you can afford to buy an electronic device such as this, you should be able to afford to buy a book.”
Fantasy author Pippa DaCosta has been working to have dozens of her books taken down from a Russian website that has 43 million users. “I understand piracy is tempting and some readers are voracious, devouring many books a day. It can get expensive, but that’s no excuse to steal the ebooks,” she said. “I’m sure fans wouldn’t walk into my house and steal the food off my table, but that’s what pirating feels like.”
On Wednesday, Harrison said that reading the comments from OceanofPDF users “both enraged and saddened me. The sense of entitlement is ingrained into these people’s consciousness.”
“I fail to understand why people don’t apply the same rules to taking a digital file without permission as they would to a physical copy in a bookshop. I guess the entitlement stems from having so much that is instantly available. It just doesn’t seem to occur to some people to go without or save up for a book they can’t afford,” she said. “Some of the users, particularly in countries such as India, claim they can’t use libraries as they have none, or they’re too far away. Perhaps the only way forward is something like Spotify for books … while OceanofPDF has gone for now, piracy is never going away.”
Source: The Guardian