Sun, 07 Jun, 2020

The pirates of literature

The recent incident where author Chetan Bhagat was sold pirated version of his own book has highlighted the debate around piracy

13th August 2019, 02:31 Hrs


Recently, author Chetan Bhagat shared a video where a book vendor on street attempted to sell the author pirated copies of his own book. The video served to highlight again the longstanding debate on piracy of books. Even as prices of books are being brought down significantly by online marketplaces and ebooks, piracy is still prevalent around the world, online as well as offline. While it is difficult to get the exact statistics of how many books are pirated in real life, it is estimated that around 17% of all ebooks available online are pirated.

Upon his own encounter with the piracy, Chetan Bhagat took a rather diplomatic stance. He observed that while piracy hurts him directly, it also helps several street hawkers earn a living. Considering this, street hawkers should now sell original books, said Bhagat. All things said and done, pirated books seem to be quite popular. TG Life spoke to a number of authors and readers to understand why pirated books sell.

“I had bought a pirated book in Mumbai long ago,” says Arjun Naik (name changed) from Ponda. “I buy pirated books mainly because some expensive books are available at low prices on the sidewalks. If i can avail of a book at a low price, I would not care much about whether it is pirated or original. My only goal is to read the book, no matter how,” he adds. 

On the other hand, Mukund Narvekar from Sanquelim, who has also authored a book titled Ocean of Memories, had an epiphany after he became an author. “I bought a copy of the book Shantaram in Pune. the original cost somewhere around Rs 300, but I got it for just Rs 100,” Narvekar narrates. “However, after I wrote a book and began making efforts to sell it, I realised how authors lose out due to piracy,” says Narvekar. “To be frank, everyone has their own view on this. There are certain books that are a bit expensive for the readers and hence would rather buy pirated versions, while authors too have their genuine issues,” says Narvekar who now insists on buying original books.

On that note, it is logical to think that those who find hard copies expensive will go for e-books which are considerably cheaper. however , thanks to torrents and certain websites, many users prefer to download e-books for free rather than buy them online. Ranganath Raikar (name changed) from Vasco has his own reasons to download pirated books online. “ I find it uncomfortable to buy books of Indian authors from Amazon. Amazon is a foreign company, and if Indian authors are selling their books to us via this website, we are all enabling a foreign entity to make profits from transection between two Indians!,” says Raikar, but does not comment when it is underlined that by downloading pirated ebooks from Indian authors, he is causing loss to his own countrymen, depriving them of the commission they could have earned from Amazon. 

Famous American author Neil Gaiman has a rather interesting point of view on piracy. He believes that piracy actually helps authors as it helps their books spread. He avers that people do not discover new writers by buying their books, but they do so when their friends or family members to lend them the books. After that. Thy may opt to read other books by that author. Gaiman did an experiment where he enabled his book ‘American Gods’ for free download on his website for a month, and it was observed that after this, the sales of that book went up by about 300%. 

On the other hand, another American writer, Maggie Stiefvater ebook sales for her book ‘Blue Lily, Lily Blue’ which was a part of a book series, dropped considerably as the entire series was pirated. This led the publishers to significantly cut the print run of hard copy books, causing a loss to the author. 

After this, Stiefvater created a PDF copy entirely made up of just the first four chapters of her book repeated, and a message against piracy. This led to people desperately searching for the original book, and opting to buy legal ebook out of frustration. The author’s move was however criticised by netizens.

The above examples thus make it clear that piracy is tricky issue. While some believe that it deprives authors of their rightful earnings, others state that  piracy has made books available to those who cannot afford books, and helped spread the content in areas where it could not have reached otherwise. Thus, should piracy be fought against, or should it be used as a medium to increase the reach of books to remote areas around the world, is the key question. 

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