Are Readers Entitled to Read Books for Free? #Amreading #Amwriting

Read free booksPirating e-books is not a new trend. Right after ebooks hit big time, torrent content became something of a norm, spoken about in hushed tones by readers the world over. ‘Read books for free’ became a cool thing.

I recently read this article from an author about her frustrations with piracy.

She questioned readers’ conscience: how could anyone steal from an author who has worked so very hard to write a book?

Not surprisingly, most authors defended her stand, and (some) readers defended themselves and the practice of piracy. The comments on the article are almost as enlightening and depressing as the article itself, for different reasons.

“Oh. You want stories in your favorite genres by your favorite authors and you want them today, without having to pay for them, regardless of their listed price. Yeah, that’s entitlement. And when you download them illegally from a pirate site or torrent, that’s stealing. Let’s just get the terms right, okay?

Come to think of it, the notion that books should be free might be a big factor in why many publishing houses are dropping their lines of cozy mysteries–they simply aren’t profitable enough, despite the existing fan base. Think about that.”

She’s made an impassioned plea on behalf of all authors: do not steal our work. There are various ways of reading books for free or for small change: libraries, Bookbub, Kindle Unlimited to name but a few. But like I said in a comment to her, writers will always be shortchanged because there are so many of us who will write despite being mostly underpaid or unpaid, for the passion of it. We end up ensuring that supply is always higher than demand, so we draw the short stick each time, whether as an indie or a trad-pubbed author.

If you’re an author, here’s a way to find out if any of your work is plagiarized or being sold or downloaded without your permission by people who want to read books for free.

What about you? Are you a reader, or a writer, or both? As a reader would you use torrent to read free books? As a writer, have you had your work stolen and or used in an unauthorized way? What have you done about it? Should people be able to read books for free, by essentially stealing them online?

The first ever story I picked and edited for the Forge literary magazine is now up. Please add to its hit counter, will you?

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  1. gcomand

    I sympathize with witers, I know of writer who uses Kindle to publish and store his books, as these are more secure than PFD format
    As for myself I have offered some of my PDF books as a Free dowload and allow them to be sold

  2. Nik

    I’ve always disliked the idea of “pirating” books – even before I started writing. As you rightly point out there are so many ways of reading books cheaply via legitimate means that it just feels disrespectful to me to go another route. Also helps that I love the feel of an actual book rather than a digital copy at whatever price!

    Excellent post – thanks for raising the topic!

  3. John Maberry

    I’m sure you know this, but many of the socalled free download sites are phishing scams looking for credit card information and don’t actually offer books to download. That’s not to say that there aren’t real pirates out there. I did have some for a book of mine and went through Google’s tedious and complicated process. If Blasty makes that easier, great. Since it’s in beta stage right now, I can imagine that more services will soon be offered for a “premium” account. No knock on them for that; who can afford to offer wonderful services to people for free indefinitely–even if they promise that the “basics” will be free forever.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      John, I do know about the phishing bit. And piracy is so common these days that I despair that anyone could put a stop to it.

      I hope more apps like Blasty come up–there seems to be a hunger and need for such sites.

  4. Mark Murata

    Thank you for telling us about Blasty! This will be very important.

    I knew a guy who had bought a bootleg version of a movie. I think he was expecting something off the internet. What he got was obviously the result of someone taking a video camera into a theater and making an illegal copy while using the camera from his seat. This guy became so mad at that.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      This one made me laugh :). Thanks for sharing, Mark. A lot of piracy does result in this 🙂

  5. maureenjenner

    I like to reblog something worthwhile that I know will be read and appreciated by my followers. As far as I can see, WordPress always adds the original author’s credit tag. Plagiarism is a bugbear, but perhaps it’s a form of flattery too. I think ‘plagiarist’ sound rather more derogatory than ‘pirate’.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Re-blogging is a perfectly genuine form of sharing content. The issue here is with readers who upload/ download content for indiscriminate sharing without the author’s permission.

  6. cathum

    I wonder if part of the problem is with the title we’ve given to these crimes – pirate? although there are still dreadful crimes committed by real pirates, for most of us, there’s still a tendency to think ‘loveable rogue’, or even hero in adversity, especially since Pirates of the Caribbean…

  7. dgkaye

    Excellent post D. No, I would never even considering downloading torrent material. And thank you for the introduction to Blasty. I will check that out tomorrow. And enjoyed the ‘Shitbreath’ story. 🙂

  8. Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

    I hardly EVER reblog, since the WordPress function is not ADD/EFD-friendly, but I did reference this article at the top of today’s Grumpy Monday post on this important topic, “SHAME on the nasties who pirate Intellectual Property” (with links to your site and Sarah’s), and pinned my own graphics to a few of my boards, hoping to spread the censure a bit farther.

  9. aj vosse

    Yep… can we ever win? I’m still dreaming of getting into print and then… just if I do I have to start worrying about my work getting “stolen”!! Maybe I should just sit in a corner and cry!! 😉

  10. cleemckenzie

    Pirates are probably making more than I am. It is a rotten situation and we share the issue with a lot of artists and musicians. Glad you posted about this. I’ll go into the link and again check to see what of mine is out there. Thanks.

  11. pjlazos

    Thanks, Damyanti. Yes, this is a particularly vexing problem. As writers, we spend so much time in the creation, pouring over every word to make it just so even when the renumeration is not commensurate with the effort. Add to that the proliferation of free ebooks, many of them plagiarized, and the writer is definitely the odd man out. I signed up for Blasty at your suggestion, but somehow I think it’s not going to stop the piracy. Sad, but true.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Yes, Blasty is a like a playroom wall trying to hold off a tsunami. But it is possibly good for an author’s peace of mind.

  12. Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

    This is an important topic. Thanks for taking it on – we ALL need to do that. If we each stay even ONE stealing hand, it will make a difference.

    I don’t understand thieves either – or how *anyone* can justify that sorry practice. HOW can they fail to realize that they are stealing a great many hours from a writer’s life (to write, to edit and re-edit, to format, to get it on an eBook platform, to set up payment procedures – they really can’t get how MUCH time they’re stealing!) — and that every penny counts until/unless the writer is a best selling author? Too bad we can’t debit THEIR paychecks every time somebody steals!

    Those sites that make pirating easy are simply EVIL! Intellectual Property rights have always been tough to safeguard, but *promoting* out-and-out STEALING is wrong, no matter how you slice it.

    btw- I keep hitting “follow” but it keeps coming up in my comment feed as if I haven’t, so I click it again. (WordPress gremlins, grrrr) Know that I’ll keep trying until it takes.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Thanks for commenting, Madelyn.
      I’m not sure I’m taking anyone on– just wanted to know everyone’s thoughts on downloading books for free.
      I know I don’t do it, but I want to understand what really makes people do it, why they won’t go for legal ways to read books for free, and what we can do to make it a win-win situation for both readers and writers.

      We are in an era where writers possibly outnumber readers ( seems like it if you look at the internet), and we need to figure out new strategies to figure out what needs to be done to find some sort of positive outcome.

      Sorry about the Follow problems, will be looking into it now, and see if I can help sort it out.

      • Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

        I know it may seem as if writers outnumber readers – but it simply cannot be so, given the demographics in the US alone. When I was a NY actor, it seemed that actors outnumbered ticket buyers too – an artifact of my environment at the time. Now that I’m out of the field (and no longer living in NYC), I meet extremely few actors anymore, and a whole lot of ticket buyers.

        Re: new strategies for positive outcomes:

        You’re probably already aware that my entire blog is based on understanding *why* as a first step to changing behavior, but pirating is not the same thing as compulsive shoplifting in a virtual format. The numbers are too great to chalk it up to some sort of neuro-atypical compulsive behavior.

        More than any kind of impulsive acting out without considering consequences, pirating is an act of deliberate entitled commission. There IS forethought involved. And I don’t believe it is limited to adolescents and teens with still undeveloped PFC “brakes,” either.

        In any case, I’m not really curious about WHY so many people steal, myself. I just want it to stop. I’m not particularly interested in a “win” for thievery.

        Research on bullies indicates that enough censure stops the domino effect, at least. Sort-of putting a stop and think button on “everybody does it, Mom” popularity, limiting the perpetrators to outliers, who probably ARE damaged in some fundamental manner.

        So I think that the best thing creators can do is to make intellectual property stealing unpopular through censure of those who do it. That’s why I think posts like yours are important – and why I posted my own.

        BTW – the “following” notification remained ON the last time I looked. Maybe WordPress has found and fixed the problem. Wonder what else they broke as they did so? 🙂 Broken features seem to be like bubbles under plastic. I’ve learned that there’s not much to be done about it beyond waiting for them to fix it whenever they do. I just wanted you to know that I was trying to follow you.

        Onward and upward!

  13. Anna Tan (@natzers)

    TBH when I first found out about ebooks, my friend sent me a link for a collection of about a 100 free ebooks… and I downloaded them. I haven’t done that since and won’t do that anymore. (And of those that I actually read – I haven’t even read half of them – I ended up buying a substantial bit anyway because I wanted the paperbacks for my ‘collection’)

    Most of my books now are either from Big Bad Wolf sales (super cheap sales!), review copies or ebooks offered for free by the authors themselves (usually on Amazon).

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Yep, I did it the first time, too, when I didn’t know any better.

      I miss Big Bad Wolf, good for picking up cheap reads, though there are some questionable industry practices behind that….but those books are at least being bought and loved instead of being pulped, so….

      The downloading free copy thing is one of the most annoying things for most authors– I do hope more readers who download free copies illegally go on to buy other copies by authors they end up enjoying.

  14. Rajlakshmi

    I didn’t know you can download books from torrents. I download free books from Amazon if I need something new to read and buy all my books. I can understand how the writer can feel frustrated and cheated that someone gets their books for free.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Rajlakshmi, thanks for dropping by. Yep, things like toreents exist, and there are people who’d rather download free than pay a cent.

  15. EnglishLitGeek

    Hi Damyanti, good posts and good questions to think about. No, I do not steal other author’s work. I love buying my books from bookstores or Amazon online or borrowing from the local library. If anyone wants free ebooks, there are so many good sites to get reading material from – Internet archive, Project Gutenberg, Google books, and so much more. Also many bloggers offer free ebooks, which you can find through a simple search for sampling their writing. I prefer hard copy myself and sell my books on Blurb now. Even the literary magazines sometimes send free samples. I tend to only subscribe to literary magazines that pay their writers. thanks again for the discussion.

  16. Chez Shea

    It’s not fair. As you say, there are other ways to get books if you can’t afford them. Over the years I sometimes pick up novels in charity shops for the fraction of the price of new. That way, the charity gets to benefit.
    PIracy is just mean.

  17. Parul Thakur

    I dd not know people could download books using a torrent.
    Piracy is such a thing that those who engage in it do not regret. I am not an e-book reader but when I become one, I won’t go do this.

  18. inquisitivegeet

    I’m not a very avid reader nor a writer. I write when I feel like and I read when I feel like. And yes, the supply is way too high than the demand, that’s the reason why most of the writers are underpaid. How do we stop this?
    Downloading books sure hurts the sentiments of the writers, but readers hardly care.Download freaks simply care about downloading stuff.. when they download movies and series, then books is no big deal for them.


    • Damyanti Biswas

      Quite agree, and don’t see a way to stop them. I wish there was a way it could be monetized for the authors through subscriptions like in the music industry, but right now I don’t see a way.

  19. jazzfeathers

    I truly don’t understand why anyone would download pirated books. My kobo is packed fool of stories and many of them came to me for free, sometimes because I got them on sale, sometimes because the author gave a copy to me in exchange of an honest review. Sometimes because I swapped stories with a fellow writer or because I’ve subscribed to services like NetGalley.

    There are so many ways you can acquire books for free legally, if you really don’t want to pay. And still, I’m happy to pay for a good story. Of course! We can’t expect, as readers, toget something worthwile in exchange for nothing.

    And we should always remember that we never get something for nothing, no matter what it looks like. A lot of the sites that make pirated books available don’t care for the books in themsleves, what they want it’s our datas, so that they can shop those data around. It is, in my opinion, a matter of freedom… and often we don’t even realise it.

  20. carol hedges (@carolJhedges)

    Given how ‘cheap’ ebooks are, and Amazon US letting people ‘return’ them and claim a refund, I’m surprised any site does pirate them.Makes me you say, we have worked out socks off to write our best..and we earn very little for it.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Yes, Carol. The entire industry wouldn’t survive without writers. we’re unable to stop writing, making supply outstrip demand, and yet, some readers would rather read books for free in unethical ways.

  21. hilarymb

    Hi Damyanti – I won’t steal from authors … it’s like plagiarising your exam work … pirating is a terrible practice … and recovering works is another matter … not good at all … cheers Hilary

  22. Jyotirmoy Sarkar

    i have never gone for any piracy, rather i visited out district library and read huge and huge amounts of books. strong steps should be taken towards any piracy, i personally believe those who pirates books do not have proper respect to the authors and i have huge doubt whether they read as much as they download for free…

    • Damyanti Biswas

      I know for a fact that most people who download music and books illegally, don’t play or read most of it.

  23. kalaravi16

    Download from torrent…never knew that! I used to buy pirated books of classics in my younger days because that’s all I could afford. But now, I take pride in building my collection of all that I love in my own home library. I also believe, making books affordable would reduce piracy and have a wider reach.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Not sure if reducing prices will reduce piracy, Kala, but then, it might. Some of the traditional pub houses price their ebooks very high, pushing them out of reach for many buyers.

  24. Jacqui Murray

    I think free is fine, if it’s the author’s choice. I love getting free books from NetGalley and Amazon Vine, but I ‘pay’ for them by agreeing to write honest reviews. The publishers are fine with that and so are we readers. I also get ‘free’ books from the library, which is supported by my tax dollars. Love that too.

    I don’t like ‘free’ when it’s not the author’s choice.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Yes, ‘free’ when it is not the author’s choice is terrible. I think ARCs and Review copies are the best form of ‘free.’

  25. Jay Wilson

    I personally don’t care if my books or stories are read for free. Yeah, it’s amazing when people pay for them, but seriously, I write to entertain people first (and I enjoy it so very much)–if I happen to get a paycheck out of it, then yay!

    It’s important to remember that there’s no shortage of people willing to pay a few dollars for quality content. If you deliver something stellar, people will gobble it up at a reasonable price. I’m not a great writer, and I’m not even be a good writer, so maybe my view on it doesn’t matter much. I do know, though, that the majority of people will pay for a book if it deserves it. You can’t trust reviews, anymore, so you have to rely on what you know and if what you know is that you can’t trust a lot of authors these days because anyone can write a turd and publish that turd, then they’ll definitely find that motivation to torrentz ‘R us and see if that turd is there first.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      I SO hope you’re right on both these counts: “If you deliver something stellar, people will gobble it up at a reasonable price.” And…”the majority of people will pay for a book if it deserves it.”

      My experience and the stories I hear mostly tell me otherwise– a lot of well-written stories by friends have been pirated!

  26. vishalbheeroo

    That’s the saddest part where the hard work of authors are stolen and I feel readers must have a conscience of not doing it. I am quite comfortable reading ebooks on Kindle after resisting initially. Once, I came across the book of an author friend and informed her immediately. She was livid!

  27. Me Otherwise

    I havent read books from torrent. But pirated print copes … yes… the ones you get at traffic signals. but this was way back when books at stores used to cost a bit. However with the arrival of e-books, almost always i manage to get a reasonable deal. I understand what an author must be going through to see his/her work pirated. Writing isnt easy, and getting abook out is hard work.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      That’s precisely it–if we look for free reading there are so many ways to legally read for free. Thanks for weighing in.

  28. ericlahti

    I wonder sometimes how culpable we as authors are in this. If you’ve ever done a free giveaway promo (I’ve done several) some people will see it as “It was free then, why can’t it be free now?” I’m not trying to excuse piracy – my first book is all over the Internet – but I wonder if our own actions can cause some of our own problems.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Eric, that’s a very different way of looking at it..and who knows, you may be right. Price and value are psychological issues as much as physical, and careful thinking about this might lead to better conclusions. I’ve never done a free giveaway of my own books, but I do tend to hold giveaways for authors I host, who do give a free copy of their book to a person they choose on the basis of their comment. I haven’t thought about this, but will do so, now.

  29. pranju

    I love reading books. And since my college days, I used to set aside a part of my pocket money to buy books. I always believed that it is not the cost of the paper but those words inscribed on it that should be paid for. However, my life became easier after gifting myself a kindle. No! I have not stolen any of the author’s hard worked book. I have just taken books from legitimate sites like kindle store (lots of free books) and gutenberg. Recently I read Frankenstein from gutenberg. I still buy books from my favorite new authors, once a month but I read three other legally available free ebooks to satiate my habit of reading novels. I do not see any wrong in it, I am not practicing piracy. But do point out your thoughts on it?

  30. Rachna

    Like you mentioned why indulge in privacy when you can get legitimate online editions for just a small charge. I guess it is just that some people get a thrill in getting something free of cost.

  31. Emily

    I won’t lie–I used to pirate books (although not much). That’s something the Lord has helped me with since I know it’s not right. Now that I blog and am writing a book, I see the value of an author’s hard work. Artists deserve pay because they sacrifice time and resources.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      It is a hard life for a writer–but they choose it. If readers stop to think before downloading the work for free, there might not be so much piracy.

  32. ianscyberspace

    There is so much reading on the internet which is legitimate and free. I can’t understand why anyone would want to read something and author has put up as a pay only novel and expect to get it free. That’s their livelihood.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      I’m not sure why, but for some readers, Free is an addiction. They download thousands of ‘free’ books without ever turning a page.

        • Damyanti Biswas

          It is, but there’s human nature for you. I know people who similarly ‘collect’ illegally downloaded music that they hardly ever play.

  33. tj6james6

    WP is glitching again *sigh*.
    Yours isn’t the first blog I’ve come across recently where the link &/or the comment button in the email came back with a 404 error :(.
    I had to click on your home page, then the post to get here. A pain in the butt but I got here in the end.
    Free ebooks…
    I saw the piracy/plagiarism issue coming when they first came out. Despite the digital copy write being in place, there are programs which will remove it.
    That said, I have gotten books for free, both legally not so much.
    Are we ENTITLED to free books? No, not really. I’m a fanfiction author and I know I put many hours of blood, sweat, tears and research (as well as hundreds of questions to others to clarify things I’m unclear about) into each story I put out there. I would be mad as a wet hornet if someone decided to use my works and pass them off as their own.
    Are there legal ways to get free books? Certainly. Some authors will even have the link on their webpages where you can go to download the book in whatever format you desire. I’ve gotten quite a few that way, I’ve gotten some for beta reading as well.
    I have all but stopped my own piracy. There are far too many free books out there so why bother taking money out of a paid author’s pocket when they, and many, many others, put at least the first book of a series out there for the public to read for free? I’ve found several great authors simply by getting that first book for free.
    Great post.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Oh I’m so sorry the site is glitchy. WIll go take a look and see if anything can be done to fix it– thankyou for subscribing, I really appreciate it.

      Despite so much legally available for free (I know some authors make a different book free each month on their sites), there is a tendency to go and illegally download free books. I wish authors could find a way to make this work in terms of publicity, but that doesn’t seem very viable.

      All the best with your writing, and thanks for stopping by.

  34. Kristina Steiner

    I know how much work and energy goes into writing, so I do empathize for authors whose work gets stolen. We live in a world where some want things right now and don’t care about what’s right/wrong.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      That’s the whole issue. I wonder when this sense of entitlement and the hunger to have everything right this minute will lead to our collective downfall.

  35. ccyager

    This goes with my Perceval blog post about copyright. I’m both a reader and a writer, and I would not dream of reading for free unless it was a special deal being offered by a publisher or writer. I’m totally against piracy of books, movies, music, or anything else for that matter. Copyright is one way to protect intellectual property as well as international law. Thanks for the link to Blasty. It may help..or not. Time will tell. Cinda

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Lol, starving artist is real today, and will always remain real, I think. Supply far outstrips demand. Sigh.

  36. theorangutanlibrarian

    I’m both- but that’s not the reason why I’m totally against stealing books. Honestly I can’t stand that people steal art. It doesn’t matter what that art is: music, books, movies- we don’t just have a right to nick it from people who’ve worked so hard and put time and money into producing it. The especially dumb thing about stealing books is that they’re readily available for free- you can easily go to a library or borrow from a friend. Or go on project guttenburg and read books that are out of copyright. Or download free classics on kindle. Plus all the ways you can get cheap books on a kindle or second hand. There really is no excuse to steal books!

    • Damyanti Biswas

      There’s no excuse to steal books, but people will steal. They believe that all information and creativity should be free.

  37. Alex J. Cavanaugh (@AlexJCavanaugh)

    Want to read for free? Go to the library. Or Wattpad.
    I think because there is so much written content online that some people do expect it all to be free. But it’s still stealing.
    There’s little legal recourse for authors whose books are stolen – and yet it’s now a Federal crime to use someone else’s NetFlix password.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Yep. People will steal, also because it is so easy and anonymous. I know people who always watch movies, tv series, read books and listen to music all for free, in the comfort of their bedrooms.