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Libraries vs. File Sharing Sites

Yesterday: 8 miles on the exercise bike, 3-hour Sanchin-Ryu workshop, and then came home to mow the lawn.

Today: Ouch.


One of the arguments that comes up from time to time in discussions of file-sharing is that it’s the same thing libraries are doing.

Today was my day to post at SF Novelists, so I’ve started picking apart the rather poor argument that file-sharing sites are just like libraries: http://www.sfnovelists.com/2010/05/24/libraries-vs-file-sharing-sites/

Go forth and read, and please feel free to chime in with your own thoughts.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 24th, 2010 01:40 pm (UTC)
I think that argument depends more on the file shared. For academic purposes, the dissemination of information can be a good idea. For purpose of entertainment, though... The activity of actually going to the library (where you also have some chance of social interaction, and the exchange of thoughts and ideas with another living, breathing, and thinking human being, or even a creature from, say, Alpha Centauri) is far superior to electronic file sharing, especially since electronic data is more vulnerable to corrosion over a shorter period of tiem then printed matter.

Which said, most likely, probably doesn't match what you've actually written on the subject. ;-)
May. 24th, 2010 01:43 pm (UTC)
I agree that academic dissemination of information can be a good thing ... but even there, it needs to be done legally. Ask anyone who's worked at a Kinko's about the processes in place for copyright protection re: course packs.

The library as a source of social interaction, not to mention the ability to browse all those delicious, delicious books, reminds me more of the bricks & mortar vs. online bookselling discussion.

In the case of the SF Novelists post though, I was more addressing the claim that "File-sharing sites are just like libraries! Why do you hate libraries?"
May. 24th, 2010 04:28 pm (UTC)
Yea. Suck claims are wrong, since they're two separate entities. I hate neither: but I strongly dislike the abuse of the intended purpose (and copyright plays a strong role in this, as well).
May. 24th, 2010 02:59 pm (UTC)
Information has got to be generated before it's shared.

Which is why we need to reward those who generate it.
May. 24th, 2010 04:29 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
May. 24th, 2010 01:46 pm (UTC)
I have, and I really like the idea. I've just never gotten into it. Partly because the exercise bike schedule is too erratic, and partly because I go by time rather than distance. But 8 miles sounded better than 30 minutes when I wrote up the blog post.
May. 24th, 2010 01:53 pm (UTC)
All good points (and unfortunately I'm a little fascinated with your author picture there, because I can see both your hands on the table, yet that lone white streak in the painting or whatever behind you is perfectly positioned and shaped to make it look like you have one hand behind your head... it's weird and intriguing).

Basically, I think I've decided it's best to stay out of it and monitor the e-book piracy situation as best I can until the proper governmental authorities start giving it the attention they should.

I have two stories currently published in e-book form, but I don't think I'll be putting anything out in e-book format any time soon.

I'm even staying away from purchasing an e-book reader. The official readers have their own problems (like Amazon with their Kindle trying to have a monopoly on e-books--which, Amazon, btw, is not the same thing as the publisher wanting to control how and for how much the book is sold, just letting you know).

So. Yeah. I'm doing my best to read and discuss, but otherwise keep myself out of it.
May. 24th, 2010 02:13 pm (UTC)
The hardware side is one of the reasons I've not really gotten into e-books yet. I don't want to pay that much for a single-purpose device that will be outdated in a few years anyway. Now as we get more smartphone apps and other programs to allow e-book reading on the iPad and similar multipurpose devices, I think that problem is going to go away to a large extent...
May. 24th, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC)
I'm a little fascinated with your author picture there, because I can see both your hands on the table, yet that lone white streak in the painting or whatever behind you is perfectly positioned and shaped to make it look like you have one hand behind your head...

You know, I didn't see it that way at first, but after reading this I looked again and now it really does look to me like he's got three arms!

And that would be so useful for a writer! You could have a sip of tea or pat the dog without having to stop typing.
May. 24th, 2010 08:42 pm (UTC)
And now that you have seen it, you can't unsee it.
May. 24th, 2010 02:32 pm (UTC)
Karen Newton (karen_w_newton had told me that they can build in an expiration in the files that are lend out electronically. That allows for automatic removal after the check-out time is over; of course, electronic lending also allows for unlimited checkouts, so YMMV.
May. 24th, 2010 02:35 pm (UTC)
Jon Hansen commented that his library does exactly that, lending out files with built-in 28-day expiration dates.
May. 24th, 2010 03:29 pm (UTC)
I'd love to be able to borrow books electronically because finding time to get to a physical library is a pain, but comparing file-sharing services to libraries lending books is just a way to salve one's conscience for using the former.

I have to admit I've been tempted to go the file-sharing route to get copies of art books before purchasing them from Amazon. Libraries are great for letting you browse and read when trying to make up your mind about a purchase, but if a book isn't in their collection, it can be frustrating trying to get information.

I'm also curious about how lending e-books would work. I could see that affecting the point you made about libraries buying a lot of books. Do the libraries have to buy licences for a certain number of x novel that they can then make available to the public, or would they just buy one e-copy, slap a DRM onto that original file and lend to as many patrons as possible?

May. 24th, 2010 04:41 pm (UTC)
Jumping in to explain how it works around here - Typically a library can lend out only one "copy" of a digital book at a time. Right now I currently have an ebook checked out and my access is only for a certain number of days. While I have access, nobody else can check it out. So it's like if they had just one physical copy of a book.
May. 24th, 2010 05:25 pm (UTC)
I really liked your points of the differences between the two.

The library system I work for has yet to venture into the e-books except through downloading for mp3 players. These books have a code within them that delete them after the 3 week checkout date that our normal hard copy books have. I would be intrigued if they were able to come up with a process for the same with reading e-books.

Though I myself have no desire for an e-book reader. A friend of mine had one and let me explore it but I just truly enjoy the feel of an actual book in my hand with pages, than to a piece of plastic or such with words on it. But that's just me...and that's off the true subject. *ahem*
May. 24th, 2010 07:50 pm (UTC)
Thanks! A few librarians have been talking in the comments over there, and this is one of the models that comes up -- the file that expires after a certain length of time. (In addition, the file can only be lent out to one reader at a time.) I think it will be a little while before there's a standard procedure in place, but I've little doubt we're going to get there.
May. 24th, 2010 07:47 pm (UTC)
I think we have two conflicting metaphors for copyright.

On the one hand, physical books are "property". That is, the author sells it to a consumer who can enjoy it for a while and then sell it to someone else. In this model, if I've read an e-book once and don't plan on reading it again, I should be able to pass it off to someone else. It has the property that authors are rewarded for bandwidth; that is, how many people simultaneously want to be reading the book, and consumers will purchase books based on (the price now)-(the price they expect to get from reselling the book*a discount rate for how long they expect that to be*the chance they'll want to keep it). This is exceptionally apparent with text books, where “selling back your books at the end of the year” is a time-honored ritual. It is possible to briefly view the complete, real product in a book store. Finally, you can discover books. For sale, at a library or at a friend’s house, glancing along a shelf you can encounter and recognize a book as one you haven’t previously read.
This model is easy to subsidize; the government can pay once to grant access to the work to an undefined number of people. There is physical deterioration, which means someone who wants maximum long-term value will pay more for more durable versions of the work.

The other metaphor is copyrighted work as “content” to which someone is granted a license. This is how e-books are being treated, and is fundamentally different than “property”. Authors are (theoretically) compensated for the total number of people who ever want to access a book, with consumers all paying the same price no matter how long they want to use the book. Many of the things people do with intellectual property they can not do with content. Consumers base their purchase decisions on (the price now) and so expect lower prices unless they were going to keep the book anyway. Some places offer sample chapters or pre-view functionality, but in general the new model lacks discoverability , especially in the case of the library model where you could wander in, pick up any book you like and start reading until the library closed. Finally, the government has not yet found a way to subsidize access to these works.
If there was the book-equivalent of Pandora, it would fulfill some of these functions. But in trying to replicate only the profitable characteristics of “property”, the current e-book models are simply less useful than the property equivalents.

Piracy fulfils two of the features lacking in the new model: access regardless of income and the ability to browse. It fails to compensate the authors the way the library model does, and it fails the physical discoverability features the library, and physical books in general, offer. It doesn’t allow people to (effectively) pay more for books they want to keep than books they want to read only once at some arbitrary point in the future. It does re-enable some of the non-library-based social features of reading that proprietary e-books otherwise disable.

Fundamentally, I don’t think access to information that costs next-to-nothing to disseminate should be limited to those with disposable income unless our society guarantees everyone disposable income. Creating false scarcity reinforces existing economic disparities, limiting economic mobility and creating a stratified society. Libraries have served as an excellent means for governments to subsidize access to information for which the dissemination costs were a small part of the total cost of production. Going forward we will need something that does this.

Piracy is actually a terrible model for libraries, since it requires costly hardware, internet access and a reasonable level of tech savvy to access. On the other hand, I haven’t seen a solution yet that begins to fill the niche, other than substituting ad-supported web sites instead of publishing-industry produced “books”.
May. 24th, 2010 08:00 pm (UTC)
In general, I'd agree with those points. Libraries are awesome, infinitely better than piracy, need more support, all those good things--but it's still not an option for a lot of people due to all the reasons discussed in earlier threads.

Also, I think some of the argument will still hold up sometimes--it depends on how you look at it. The defense is usually made when people argue, "But you need to *pay* for what you enjoy! You're not entitled to free entertainment!" and "But you should support the author!" -- and in response to both those arguments, I think the library defense holds up. (I've noticed that a lot--not all by any means!--but a lot of anti-piracy sentiment seems to come from personal irritation/indignation that people are getting stuff for free; like the only alternative to piracy is buying something from a store instead of going to a library/borrowing it from a friend/buying it used/etc.)

Outside of that, though, I agree with you.

In general, I've noticed that a lot of the anti-piracy arguments are coming from people who don't know a lot about piracy and are operating on assumptions and flawed research/statements (like the 1000 downloads = 1000 sales lost approach); you obviously do your research a lot better, which I appreciate a heck of a lot.

Basically, I'll never argue that piracy is the bestest thing ever, people need to stop whining about it, yadda yadda yadda... but so far, not a single argument has been able to dissuade me from my thinking that there are a lot of potential benefits to piracy that are usually ignored, and that a lot of the downsides to piracy are usually exaggerated because they're coming from people who don't actually know much about it. All they see is 'someone is reading my book and they didn't pay for it', in the same way that a lot of the anti-fanfic arguments come down to 'someone is writing about characters that don't belong to them'. (Not that I'm equating the two! Just showing that it's a similar, one-sided way of thinking that doesn't take into account the other side's motivations and intentions, nor the results from a purely objective standpoint.)

Erm... and all this got into general piracy, not the library thing. Sorry about that.

I do really hope the ebook library thing will take off and that other countries will give it a try too. It'd be great!
May. 24th, 2010 11:27 pm (UTC)
I think the vast majority of readers would borrow and lend e-books fairly, if there were an easy and automatic way of doing so. The library system mentioned in comments on the other site is a good example, as is the nook's auto-lend feature, although since the owner can't read the file while it's lent out, I don't see the point in limiting how many times the e-book can be lent.

As a writer, I'm personally fine with someone buying one of my books, reading it, then giving it to a friend and deleting it from his/her own hard drive. One copy was purchased, one copy exists, just like a paper book. The problem is when copies start multiplying without me (and my publisher) getting any additional payment. So long as all the copies circulating have been paid for, or legitimately given away during a promo event or whatever, then I'm fine with how the world works.

It's easy to see our stuff constantly popping up on torrent sites, and get the impression that there are a bazillion selfish, entitled thieves out there. I think most people are honest, though, and maybe a bit lazy. If e-mailing someone a copy of a book (so that now there are two copies) is the easiest thing to do, then that's what they'll do. If they can choose an e-mail from a pull-down list and click a button to loan out an e-book for two weeks, and the system makes the book unavailable for them to read themself for that time, then that's what they'll do. Or they could click another button to give the book to a friend and have it automatically deleted from their HD at the same time. (Or after confirmation of intact receipt at the other end -- I'd be fine with something like that to guard against transmission glitches.) It's about making honesty the easiest option, though, and I think if we did that, most of the problem would go away.

Sure, there'll still be pirates who steal books because they think it's cool, because they think it makes them all edgy and transgressive, because they imagine they're sticking it to some sort of oppressive "Man." Whatever. Those people are never going to buy my books anyway. And some of them collect just to collect, like it's some sort of competition among their friends to see who can have the most e-books. Again, whatever; they're never going to buy my books either.

As a reader, I don't buy books with DRM on them. I just don't. DRM is expensive for the publishers, onerous to the user (the tighter the DRM, the more onerous it is for the honest user who handed the publisher money), and does not and has never prevented a single electronic product from being pirated. Pirates enjoy DRM-free media because they stripped the DRM crap off, or downloaded it from someone who did. Honest customers have to put up with jumping through electronic hoops and having products they paid for take longer to load, or not work at all, or work for a while and then stop working. The only way DRM influences users is to push more and more of them to go looking for a clean torrented copy of something they want to read/play/use with no hassles. Wow, that sounds productive. :/

Hard-core pirates will always be jerks and thieves; nothing we do or say will change that, or prevent them from doing what they do. Most users just want to read/watch/play/use the media they paid for, though, and be able to treat it like something they bought, not something they rented. If we make buying, using, lending and giving away single, paid-for copies of e-books the easiest option, then that's what most readers will do. The aggressive paranoia that drives the DRM mindset is completely counterproductive, and the sooner it's abandoned, the better off we'll all be.

May. 25th, 2010 12:25 am (UTC)
I prefer the physical book to read. Trying to read a story on a screen wears out the old eyes too quickly. I wish the libraries here in the US would pay something to the authors. Screen writers get royalties. Why shouldn't book authors get the same?
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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