Or really, the question is this: What is the difference between a public library and internet piracy?

1. The internet reaches many more people, much faster.

2. With a library, you have to give the item back.

3. The government, at least in part, supports public libraries.


Now, the object here is not to rankle librarians or those who love libraries, but to raise what i think is a legitimate question.

Books might be a bad example, because not many people go around scanning every page of a book and posting it online. Yes, it does happen (Harry Potter for example), but it's not nearly as widespread (at least in the U.S.) as film and music piracy.

So let's take movies as an example. Many public libraries now let patrons check out DVDs. So let's say I check out Major Payne, a movie which name implies the level of enjoyment I got out of it when I did check it out a month or so ago.

Say I watch MP and like it. Will I buy it? Maybe, maybe not. Say I watch it and don't like it. Will I buy it then? Probably not.

If I don't buy MP, the film company loses $20 (I know, this one is probably in the $5 bin by now, but the amount isn't important anyway).

If I take the DVD and rip it to my computer and post it on the internet, maybe 1,000 people a day will download it, watch it, and conclude the same as I did that it is not worth buying. That would be $20,000 the film company won't get.

So the film company loses way more money through internet piracy than through the library, but from an ethical standpoint, isn't it the same thing? I still got to watch the movie without paying for it. If I downloaded MP from the internet, watched it, and then deleted it off my computer, would it be okay then? What if those 1,000 people did jut that? The film company would still lose $20,000, just much more quickly.

So is it the same? Are libraries as unethical as internet piracy? Or am I missing something?

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John, the nature of this question can be construed as a personal attack, no matter how it's been discounted. Are Libraries Unethical? What is the difference between a public library and internet piracy? By nature of extension, if libraries are unethical, librarians are unethical. I've worked in a library. Margot is a librarian. My sister is in charge of the libraries at two public schools. Imagine telling your significant other or a family member their job is unethical, and then tell me you can't understand why this question has been phrased in a way that upsets librarians. Even in the tiny village of 800 people I live in - the librarian does more here to promote books and authors than the average bookstore staff in the nearest city to me. I mean, I personally own more crime fiction books than our local library does (bear in mind who you're talking to here) but they have a prominent list of mystery authors on the wall and the librarian has pointed me in the direction of authors I've never even heard of.

If people are going to nitpick over semantics, perhaps it would have been less offensive to ask "What is the difference between a public library and internet piracy?" and leave the ethical question out. Using the word ethical invokes a value judgment about libraries and by nature of that, your defense of the validity of a comparison between libraries and internet piracy comes off as a judgment against libraries.

You chose to say "public libraries". In the US some libraries are run by private companies. Are you not considering them as potentially unethical? Or are you only denoting between libraries any citicizen can access and ones own by an individual and kept solely for their use? The point isn't because I want an answer (I am assuming it's the latter explanation) but just to say that meaning can be called into question and yes, even legitimately misconstrued.

The thing is, internet piracy is illegal, and by drawing a comparison between libraries and internet piracy, there is a strong negative inference that goes far beyond a question of ethics and suggests libraries are actually criminal. Here's another thing - libraries often hold author events and pay authors to participate. They promote those events and the works of authors involved, and yes, that helps raise an author's profile and leads to book sales. My husband uses the library to borrow CDs to listen to on his commute, and tries out new authors. When he finds ones he likes, he buys their books.

Here you can go into stores and do a test try of video games, or listen to music on headphones before purchase. I look at libraries as the ultimate exposure, and they come with a guaranteed sale, right away. Even as a child, when I had pneumonia and my sister brought home some of the Narnia Chronicles, I asked for the books for Christmas and collected them myself.
You make good points, Sandra, except the first sentence. My question was making a comparison, and they weren't against, people, so there's no way it could be a personal attack. Just because you care a lot about libraries doesn't mean I was attacking you. I wasn't attacking libraries at all. Rather, I was merely taking what I saw as similarities and exploring if there really is a connection. I opened it up to everyone else to get more input.

And I know if I had called your question a stupid one, I would not have gotten off with saying I actually meant it was obtuse. I think it is unfair that everyone talks about the importance of being nice and respectful to me, and then no one says anything when someone else is disrespectful.
John, I do disagree with you about my first sentence.

I mean, imagine I start a thread: Are authors assholes? And then proceed to post comments which seem to support that conclusion. And you know, I'm sure there are some authors who are assholes, but every author on this forum would understandably have the right to take offense to the post. And in a situation where we start the discussion, we have a bit more responsibility than anyone else. I mean, if I walk up to someone in Central Park and say, "You're a motherf***ing asshole" and they scream back at me, "You're a c*nt" most observers would say I asked for it.

That is not my way of saying that the only people who have responsibility are those who start posts. I'm also not the hall monitor. Every one of us has to own up to bad phrasing at times, and sometimes some people have to own up to deliberately insulting posts. That's on them. Meanwhile, anything said may well be stupid, beyond the strict limitations of the meaning of the statement. If memberXXX comes on Crimespace and insult all the libraries, I wonder how quick the librarians will be to order memberXXX's next book or refer it to readers? If memberYYY comes on Crimespace and calls reviewers unethical, should any reviewers be upset? Will any of them say they won't review memberYYY's book? What if an aspiring author comes here and insults a whole bunch of publishers -Orion, NAL, Bleak House, etc? Well, we have members here who are editors with those houses. Hmmm. Wonder what those editors will think if they get a submission from that aspiring author? Perhaps someone comes on and slams agents for being lazy. Oh, gee, and there aren't any agents lurking about, are there? Oh wait - there are. Well, I'm sure they'll be impressed. A lot of people can't separate the person from the product when it comes to books, and that means writers and authors usually consider what they're saying more carefully.

Of course, then there are actually readers who both lurk and post here. A friend of mine, who is a reader, recently told me they'd abandoned an author they will not read anymore, after seeing the author state that readers aren't qualified to assess books (in an argument against amazon reviews). If readers aren't qualified to assess the books, this reader wondered why waste time trying to read them?

Ultimately, we don't get off by saying someone behaved worse, or equally bad. Anyone can come along, read my comments, decide they're offended by them and put me on the list of authors they will never read, and it doesn't matter if ten or a hundred people behaved worse - I have to own up for me.

And I have also not read all of the comments posted on this discussion thread. Everyone may be misbehaving for all I know. But I knew last night - as you did when you created this thread - that this topic would upset some people. As I've stated elsewhere, I actually don't use the library system much at all. I prefer to buy my own books. But that doesn't mean I don't support libraries - I certainly do, and have enjoyed a lot of benefits from them, and appreciate all librarians do for authors.
I'm not sure I quite get your point. If you come round my house and you're looking through my bookshelves and you see a book you fancy and ask if you can borrow it, am I supposed to say no, just in case you photocopy it? I lend people books all the time. In a lot of cases the people I lend them to become fans of the authors concerned and buy subsequent books by that author. On the other hand my mum , who is a pensioner, either gets them from the library or I buy them for her. Is she unethical because she can't afford them? Or am I unethical for introducing her to new authors she likes? Or is the library unethical for feeding her book habit?

If I'm watching Angelina Jolie on the red carpet at the Oscars and she's wearing a dress by some top designer and I like it, is it unethical of me to go out and buy some material and make myself a copy? I don't think so. It would be unethical of me to sell it on ebay as an original.

Sorry, I'm just struggling to udnerstand your point. I don't think libraries can be held accountable for what their patrons do with the books they borrow.
With your dress analogy, you would be making a new creation, albeit one heavily inspired by another. That would be like me going out and making a re-make of Total Recall because I liked Arnold's lines and wanted to say them myself. But that's not quite what I'm talking about.

The similarity I see between libraries and internet piracy, is that both provide access to copyrighted items free of charge. Internet piracy is on a much larger scale of course, but the principle is the same. Because for every person who downloads a movie off the internet, they may decide to afterwards buy the movie or not. If this person does not buy the movie, then the film company loses out on money, because the person got to view the movie without compensating the copyright holder. Libraries are the same way in that respect, because I get to go in there and read Moby-Dick for free. If I hate the book (actually I love it) then I probably won't buy it. So the publisher will lose money, because I got to read the book without compensating the creator. Now, Sandra brought the issue of library royalties, and I'm still waiting for a further explanation of that system. So I could change my mind about it. But for now, I see a similarity between libraries and internet piracy for the reason I gave above. I think a lot of people have responded with much energy because libraries are looked upon as infallible pillars of cultural advancement, so of course there could never be anything wrong with it.
OK, I get your point on the dress - I was just trying to try and understand what you were saying. But you didn't answer my point about coming to my house and borrowing a book off me is it unethical for me to lend you one? And it's illegal to download a movie off the internet, it's not illegal to go into a library and borrow a book. OK, let's say you had a book published. Would you refuse to let your local library buy a copy to put on their shelves? Do you think the people who will illegally photocopy your book will be greater than those who will discover you as a writer through borrowing your book from the library? And even if that IS the case, it's not the library's fault, it's the patrons. And for what it's worth, I don't use the library, because I like buying books. I have absolutely no qualms about lending my books out.
I'd say libraries are far more ethical than internet piracy. It comes down to permission. A publisher gives permission to a library to hold a copy of the work, and the author gives the publisher the power to do this by signing a contract. Neither the publisher or author or filmmaker or musician has given internet pirates permission to distribute their works.

You could argue the same for radio. At least in Australia, both libraries and radio stations pay money to organisations that distribute royalties back to the author or the musician. Having a long running series in a library is a nice way to earn enough of a living for some authors down here, and this allows them to keep on writing.

I'd be interested to find out if libraries in the U.S. pay royalties to their authors. I'm assuming that the RIAA takes care of that for musicians.
Libraries do not pay authors any royalties on loans in the US as they do in the UK, Canada and (apparently) Australia. In part that's because each public library is locally funded and organized. I believe in other countries this redistribution is handled by some government agency. Here, it's hard enough to keep libraries open and buying a few books; if each one had also to figure out how much to pay an author it would be insanely difficult.

I have to point out, too, that publishers get zero out of this arrangement and they invest a lot in putting out books. I've always wondered about why authors should benefit but not their publishers when they share costs.
Well put. And you're right about the musicians: the RIAA handles that.
Yeah, you're missing something. A little thing called sharing and an institution for the public good. A society can't be 100% profit-based. Plus, I've borrowed books from the library, and they were so great, I eventually went out and bought them.
As a question of ethics, this doesn't even make sense to me. It's the difference between stealing and borrowing. With borrowing, everybody wins. With stealing, everybody loses.

Think about it.
Ouch! I think we need to get away from the "unethical" business. Of course, libraries are good. I love libraries and use them. I also have worked in a library -- though that didn't necessarily make me love it more. But the fact is that the library benefits everyone but the author. These days, when we suffer from a reader shrinkage and few people keep books in their own "libraries" (my observation is based on visits during house and garden tours), this fact hurts those who write the books.

I love the Canadian system. There is great fairness in repaying the author to a small extent for his financial losses (which are, by the way, not to be compared to lending a book to a few friends).

I cannot speak for every library's practices in weeding the shelves, but a number of my own books for sale as used are "ex-library" copies.

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