Illegal downloading of music and video files is a well-publicized concern. Similarly, it’s no surprise that the more eReaders are sold, the more pirating of eBooks occurs. Numerous web sites already enable free downloading without permission by or payment of royalties to authors. Authors can spend considerable time tracking down pirated copies of their work, and lawyers can issue cease-and-desist warnings, only to find still others crop up.
Part of the difficulty is the decentralization of the pirating process. File-sharing sites act as a conduit for downloading from multiple source computers, so that one copy of a media file is assembled by downloading parts simultaneously from a number of privately operated PCs. While operating file-sharing software (such as BitTorrent) is perfectly legal, downloading copyrighted material is not.
On the other hand, free eBooks, both classic and new-release, are widely available with a library card. For example, the Chicago Public Library and New York Public Library offer free software for borrowing of books, music, and movies. MobileRead Forums maintains a national database of sites across the US and abroad that offer low-cost or free access to eBooks.
Regulating the internet is fraught with hazards, from naiveté to restriction of free speech. Last month’s debate on net neutrality illustrates some of those risks. Still, authors and publishers demand mechanisms to ensure that profits go where they are due. In the meantime, patronizing the library will always be a win-win proposition.