When I was a kid back in rural Pennsylvania, I went to a lot of flea markets. At one of the larger ones, there was a book seller who sold paperbacks with the covers ripped off.
Because I read everything, I read the part that said that if the cover was ripped off, the books had supposedly been destroyed and that they were stolen.
But as a kid who didn’t have a job and loved reading more than anything, it didn’t seem like a big deal. I figured if it were really illegal, the cops would have shut it down. It was a big stand with tons of books, in business for all the years of my childhood, so I figured it was somehow okay.
I recently found some of those books in the boxes I’ve transported to Texas. I know now that those stolen books really are a big deal, and that the author and publishing company didn’t receive their fair share. So, I recycled all the ones I didn’t care about, and have put the ones I do on a pile to re-purchase.
I might buy them from Goodwill or Half-Price books or some other secondhand shop, but at least doing that, I know that the author got their royalties at one point or another.
Don’t get me wrong, I do buy new books and frequent my local library. I do my best to support other authors. I’m hoping to be published one day myself, and I’m a big believer in the golden rule.
I do have a confession to one single incident of book piracy as an adult. When I lay out the case for you, let me know if you would have done the same thing.
The date is July 19, 2007. In two days, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows will be released.
I’ve bought every book at midnight since Prisoner of Azkaban. My husband comes home from work that fateful Wednesday night, and says to me, “I have something to tell you, but I’m not sure if I should.”
Turns out, he somehow found a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows online. Someone had gotten ahold of the book and taken a photograph of every. single. page.
As the evening wears on, I go back and forth, my conscience fighting with the rare opportunity I’ve been handed: the ability to know if Harry lived or died two days early! (Also to find out if Snape was a good guy or bad guy. I was Team Snape from the moment he killed Dumbledore. I just knew!)
Finally, I say, “Give it to me!” And he does.
I read that book all night, and finish at 6 a.m. the next morning, my eyes bleary and my head aching. I drink some coffee, take a shower, and go to work. The knowledge that Harry lived keeps me awake, and I brag that I know the truth. I refuse to give anyone any spoilers; that wouldn’t be fair. I say if they still want to know, I’ll tell them Monday, after everyone else had gotten a copy of the book (and the info would probably be available on the internet anyway).
I did; I read my pirated copy of the book. But I don’t really feel that bad about it.
At midnight on July 21, 2007, I stood in line like everyone else, and got my legit copy. Then I went on to buy it in paperback as well.
I don’t know whatever happened to the copy I’d gotten illicitly. Knowing me, I probably deleted it as soon as I had the “real” version in my hand. Which, I might add, I read again that weekend.
Everyone has the temptation that turns them criminal. Now you know mine.
Have you ever pirated a book? What would have you done in my situation with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows?
What got me thinking about this was a very interesting article by Maggie Stievfater about how piracy does actually make a difference to authors. I encourage you to read it. It’s not just about loss of sales, but the possibility that a series could be cancelled due to lack of interest. If that had happened with the Raven Boys, I would have cried.
Personally, I’ve never pirated a book. I’ve had copies — one physical, two in PDF form — sent to me by their authors, so there’s no guilt there. Any books I’ve gotten online were older works in the public domain, and one book based on a 1960s TV series (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) that will never be officially released, so I feel okay possessing all of those.
In your case, I don’t see that you did anything wrong, considering that you purchased the Harry Potter novel twice even after you’d read it.
I refuse to watch movies that are pirated, but a book might be different and the fact that you bought two totally makes up for the one you didn’t. You can sleep peacefully at night.