Monthly Archives: February 2010

The Wicked Wisdom of an E-Book Pirate

After reporting on a remarkable dialogue between blogger C. Max Magee and a book pirate we received a comment from a person named jap [sic] claiming to be a pirate too.

His posting elicited a host of comments from readers ranging from vituperative (“Pirate is too sexy a term. What you are is a petty thief”) to respectful (“You have me intrigued, Jap. I would suggest you are not a typical pirate…”) to grudging agreement (“In a world without pirating, a majority of people would just not buy the book. So yeah, I definitely think the impact is overrated (or over-agonized about.”)

From his cover of anonymity jap responded to many of these comments and amplified on his original contention that “You have your morality and I have mine.” Though we deplore piracy and are reluctant to offer a forum for its practitioners, we happen to think that it’s sometimes better to listen to our adversaries than ignore them, however diabolical their reasoning may seem. This is especially true when they offer cogent suggestions about where we should be focusing our efforts to deal with piracy.

I invited “jap” to write an article for us but he declined. However, in the hopes that we can benefit from his observations, below are a few that we have gleaned from his communications. We will do our best to accept his airy reassurance: “Don’t worry: the book business is not in danger.”

Richard Curtis
*You have your morality and I have mine. It is perfectly okay for me to download books (or movies btw). It was also okay to copy or print books for everybody before 1710 (when the first copyright law was passed), or buying that “unauthorized by author” book…

*Probably you are thinking just now “but it is unlawful!!” Is it necessary to explain that law and moral[ity] are not the same thing?

*Morality aside, it is probably of your interest to know that we the ebook pirates do buy books. I understand you are worried for your business but don’t worry: the book business is not in danger.

*I have never read most of the books I have downloaded. One of the downloads was a file containing several thousands of books. I have also bought several of the books I previously downloaded and read. Other books I did read I would never buy them. There are also books that I did read and I will buy as soon as I find them in a bookstore. I have also bought books that I know are easy to find and download. In fact buying books is a great pleasure for me.

*Why do many people pirate? I think the answer is different for each person. In my case, I think and I feel that that Internet is a great tool to get books, tons of books. It is the greatest library and the greatest bookstore at same time.

*DRM is a Bad Idea. It decreases sales, and believe me, it has never stopped pirates.

*There is a difference between stealing and downloading. If I steal a printed book at Best Buy, Best Buy becomes poorer. If I download a Dan Brown’s book, Dan Brown does not become poorer.

*Part of my money went to Dan Brown’s pockets. If you are interested in business, instead of your morality, the question is why many people go to library, and download books AND buy books. For centuries books have been bought by the very same people that go to libraries.

*I am a typical pirate. Most pirates never upload works, neither sell them, just download. Also most pirates buy content in a way or other. I for instance download movies but go to movie theatres. In fact many pirates are high spending people. And many music pirates are buying CDs, the real problem of CD market is that CD is becoming obsolete. Digital sales (iTunes and alikes) are speedily increasing. Hulu is not yet available in my country but I am willing to try it as soon as possible,

*Do you really think a guy who is scanning a book and uploading it is trying to avoid buying it at Fictionwise? That’s nonsense.

*How is not paying for a book in a library wrong? How is downloading for free a 1922 book (public domain) right but a 1923 book wrong?

*Until 1978 copyright term was a maximum of 56 years since the work was first published. Nowadays is 70 years since author’s death. If I download a 1950 book, is that wrong or right?

*The above terms are for United States. If I live in a country where a 1989 book is in public domain, is it wrong to download it?

*Morality? Copyright is (sometimes) useful, not moral.

*Btw I prefer to buy O’Reilly ebooks, they are not DRM’d.

*It is not possible to protect copyright. You can fight for-profit piracy because you can always follow the money and because any seller (lawful or not) needs to offer his product to public. You cannot successfully fight not-for-profit piracy because it is possible to do it so privately as desired. 10 years of RIAA prosecution did get nothing.

*However may be I can be useful for your business. I am not just a pirate, I am also a customer. Sometimes I pirate books, sometimes I buy them. Obviously, if you get to maximize the times I buy then you are increasing your sales.

*As I said DRM is a Bad Idea. When people buy ebooks, they want to do things like read that book on any present and future device. So many people break the DRM (it is easy) but breaking the DRM is unlawful, so your customers have paid to be outlaws. This is not the kind of thing that discourage piracy.

*Everytime I have bought a DRMed book I broke the DRM for the above reason and I did feel fooled because I paid but I was out of law. Just imagine which is the effect on your law abiding customers. They get a product that is worse than what I get when I pirate. Do you want to reduce piracy? Sell your books sans DRM.

*My best hint for you: don’t obsess with piracy, focus on selling.

*How did I read this article? It is not because it is an article about piracy, but because it is an article of this blog, and I usually read this blog because it is a good blog about the book world.


Google Statement on Italian Legal Decision

In late 2006, students at a school in Turin, Italy filmed and then uploaded a video to Google Video that showed them bullying an autistic schoolmate. The video was totally reprehensible and we took it down within hours of being notified by the Italian police. We also worked with the local police to help identify the person responsible for uploading it and she was subsequently sentenced to 10 months community service by a court in Turin, as were several other classmates who were also involved. In these rare but unpleasant cases, that’s where our involvement would normally end.

But in this instance, a public prosecutor in Milan decided to indict four Google employees —David Drummond, Arvind Desikan, Peter Fleischer and George Reyes (who left the company in 2008). The charges brought against them were criminal defamation and a failure to comply with the Italian privacy code. To be clear, none of the four Googlers charged had anything to do with this video. They did not appear in it, film it, upload it or review it. None of them know the people involved or were even aware of the video’s existence until after it was removed.

Nevertheless, a judge in Milan today convicted 3 of the 4 defendants — David Drummond, Peter Fleischer and George Reyes — for failure to comply with the Italian privacy code. All 4 were found not guilty of criminal defamation. In essence this ruling means that employees of hosting platforms like Google Video are criminally responsible for content that users upload. We will appeal this astonishing decision because the Google employees on trial had nothing to do with the video in question. Throughout this long process, they have displayed admirable grace and fortitude. It is outrageous that they have been subjected to a trial at all.

But we are deeply troubled by this conviction for another equally important reason. It attacks the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built. Common sense dictates that only the person who films and uploads a video to a hosting platform could take the steps necessary to protect the privacy and obtain the consent of the people they are filming. European Union law was drafted specifically to give hosting providers a safe harbor from liability so long as they remove illegal content once they are notified of its existence. The belief, rightly in our opinion, was that a notice and take down regime of this kind would help creativity flourish and support free speech while protecting personal privacy. If that principle is swept aside and sites like Blogger, YouTube and indeed every social network and any community bulletin board, are held responsible for vetting every single piece of content that is uploaded to them — every piece of text, every photo, every file, every video — then the Web as we know it will cease to exist, and many of the economic, social, political and technological benefits it brings could disappear.

These are important points of principle, which is why we and our employees will vigorously appeal this decision.


A Grumpy Old Visionary Revisits His Vision

A few years ago a pair of reporters for a now-defunct publication called Inside ran an interview with three men from the old world of publishing who were in the process of reinventing themselves.

The article was titled “Publishing’s Grumpy Old Visionaries” and the three were depicted as “wundermenschen of the brave new book world”. One of the three was former Random House editorial director Jason Epstein. Another was literary agent John Brockman. To understand my reluctance to reveal the third, you’ll have to click on the article. (And incidentally, one of the two reporters was none other than Sara Nelson, who went on to become editor in chief of Publishers Weekly.)

Though their projections differ in a number of particulars, the Grumpy Old Visionaries accurately foretold the place where we are now and the rock-strewn path that led us here.

The three ageless hotshots are still working their visions and walking both sides of the publishing street – the dusty, decaying old one and the gleaming but bewildering new one. One of these three caballeros, Epstein, has tried to fix his coordinates in both past and future in a reflective article in the New York Review of Books. Like the rest of us he has mixed emotions about the two worlds but he lets his predilection show in this poignant summing-up:

“I must declare my bias. My rooms are piled from floor to ceiling with books so that I have to think twice about where to put another one. If by some unimaginable accident all these books were to melt into air leaving my shelves bare with only a memorial list of digital files left behind I would want to melt as well for books are my life. I mention this so that you will know the prejudice with which I celebrate the inevitability of digitization as an unimaginably powerful, but infinitely fragile, enhancement of the worldwide literacy on which we all—readers and nonreaders—depend.”

Read his elegant and elegiac essay here.



Stream Leads Over a Cliff: Wireless Network Can’t Feed New Gen of Devices

Even if the iPad is all it’s hyped to be, it will be only as good as the wireless that provides content to it. And that has a lot of people worried. “Carrier networks aren’t set to handle five million tablets sucking down 5 gigabytes of data each month,” says Philip Cusick, an analyst at Macquarie Securities. “It’s only going to get worse as streaming video gets more prevalent.”

Cusick’s dour assessment is quoted in a New York Times article by Jenna Wortham describing the strain that the iPad and other tablets will add to a cellphone network that is already laboring.
America’s advanced cellphone network is already beginning to be bogged down by smartphones that double as computers, navigation devices and e-book readers. Cellphones are increasingly being used as TVs, which hog even more bandwidth. They can also transmit video, allowing for videoconferencing on cellphones.

Just how heavy is the anticipated traffic? Wortham cites an AT&T executive who reports “an unprecedented increase in wireless data use of nearly 7,000 percent since late 2006.”

No wonder. Wortham reminds us that “An hour of browsing the Web on a mobile phone consumes roughly 40 megabytes of data. Streaming tunes on an Internet radio station like Pandora draws down 60 megabytes each hour. Watching a grainy YouTube video for the same period of time causes the data consumption to nearly triple. And watching a live concert or a sports event will consume close to 300 megabytes an hour.”

What does that mean in practical terms? Well, let’s put it this way: make sure you have lots of things to occupy yourself with while gazing at your progress bar.

Here’s Wortham’s article in its entirety.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.


Ph.D Loves E, Says R.I.P. to P

Are you as weary as we are of doomsayers sounding the death knell of print books? The latest comes via a blog on Huffington Post by Dan Agin, editor in chief of the online journal ScienceWeek. You would think that with a Ph.D. in biological psychology and three decades of lab research experience in neurobiology, Agin would be smarter than to make categorical statements like “Requiescant in pace, big print publishing.The run is finished.” Aside from his solecism (it’s Requiescat), he has buried print books and declared Game Over.

Agin has made the mistake that so many other Print-is-Deaders have done, condemning the medium when what we really hate is the system that supports it. We’ve said it many times but it bears reiteration: there is nothing wrong with printed books – just that the way they are distributed, which is appallingly stupid and wasteful. But does that mean print is finished? Not even close. However, Agin is entitled to his opinion and goodness knows there are a lot of people who share it.

What surprises us, though, is how willing this credentialed neurobiologist is to exalt Kindle and other e-readers when there is an impressive body of scientific evidence suggesting that reading on a screen may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. Some researchers have suggested that readers – especially young ones – are easily distracted by e-books, fail to immerse themselves the way they do in print, and do not retain information as well as they do with words on paper. In a posting last fall called The Medium is the Screen. The Message is Distraction, we quoted Sandra Aamodt, former editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience: “People read more slowly on screen, by as much as 20-30 percent… Distractions abound online — costing time and interfering with the concentration needed to think about what you read.”

And Maryanne Wolf, a professor of child development at Tufts and author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, points out that “No one really knows the ultimate effects of an immersion in a digital medium on the young developing brain.” But “my greatest concern is that the young brain will never have the time (in milliseconds or in hours or in years) to learn to go deeper into the text after the first decoding, but rather will be pulled by the medium to ever more distracting information, sidebars, and now, perhaps, videos (in the new vooks).”

Read Agin’s article, Kindle Armageddon: How the Publishing Industry Is Slitting Its Own Throat, and form your own opinion.

Richard Curtis


Sample Takedown Notice


Pursuant to 17 USC 512(c)(3)(A), this communication serves as a statement that:

1. I am [the exclusive rights holder [the duly authorized representative of the exclusive rights holder] for [title of copyrighted material being infringed upon, along with any identifying material such as ISBNs, publication dates, etc — or, if the material is a web page, the URL];
2. These exclusive rights are being violated by material available upon your site at the following URL(s): [URLs of infringing material];
3. I have a good faith belief that the use of this material in such a fashion is not authorized by the copyright holder, the copyright holder’s agent, or the law;
4. Under penalty of perjury in a United States court of law, I state that the information contained in this notification is accurate, and that I am authorized to act on the behalf of the exclusive rights holder for the material in question;
5. I may be contacted by the following methods (include all): [physical address, telephone number, and email address];

I hereby request that you remove or disable access to this material as it appears on your service in as expedient a fashion as possible. Thank you.

[your full legal name]


Another Pirate Speaks Up.

A self-described pirate calling himself “jap” left a comment on the blog we posted called “We Have Met the Enemy and He is The Real Caterpillar,” an interview with a book pirate. “jap” informs us that in our defense of copyright we have missed the point. “You have your morality and I have mine,” he says. His statement is reproduced in full below.

Well, jap, I do have a morality, and this it: If you want to find me my address is 171 East 74th Street in New York City. Does your morality have a street address? Why not?

Richard Curtis

Hi. I am a pirate, and I have downloaded a lot of books.

I think you are missing the point. You have your morality and I have mine. It is prefectly [sic] okay for me to download books (or movies btw). It was also okay to copy or print books for everybody before 1710 (when the first copyright law was passed), or buying that “unauthorized by author” books.

Shakespeare was a pirate is he bought or copied a book (surely he did). Middle Age scribe monks were pirates. Are you really sure that your morality is better than theirs?

Probably you are thinking just now “but it is unlawful!!” Is it necessary to explain that law and moral are not the same thing? (btw it is not always unlawful).

Morality aside, it is probably of your interest to know that we the ebook pirates do buy books. I understand you are worried for your business but don’t worry: the book business is not in danger.

Best regards


Publishing’s Grumpy Old Visionaries

Publishing’s Grumpy Old Visionaries: True Believers in Books’ Digital Future Science’s Doubtful Advance

By Chris Allbritton and Sara Nelson

It’s probably safe to say that no one really knows what lies ahead for the post-literate, corporatized, bottom-line-focused publishing industry. More than 400 years old, the business of books has, to say the least, been one of the most resistant to the changes brought about by the Internet and other new-media technologies.

Some would say only the young and fleet of foot have any chance of staying on top of what’s happening in the $10.3 billion trade-book industry. Those people would be wrong. Three veterans of the publishing business—former Random House editorial director Jason Epstein, outspoken agent John Brockman and agent-turned-e-publishing-impresario Richard Curtis—have spent the bulk of their collective 200 or so years on Earth in this business, and their experience has given them their own ideas of where it’s all going.

Epstein recently published Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future (W.W. Norton), an expansion of a much-discussed article in The New York Review of Books, of which he is a co-founder. His take: print-on-demand can revitalize a business that he says was practically destroyed by the rise of chain stores in the suburbs.

Brockman—who is an early pioneer of online book submissions; a founder of, a site that addresses the ”digirati” culture; and an agent for science and nonfiction projects—thinks the industry can’t be saved, which is O.K. with him as long as his clients keep getting their checks. And Curtis thinks the key to publishing’s survival is in agents morphing into publishers, which is what he has done by releasing his clients’ works—most of them nonfiction by such authors as Harlan Ellison—in digital form.

Will publishing as we know it cease to exist? Will virtual book-buying become the norm? Will everybody in traditional publishing lose his and her job? Will readers take to the newfangled technology and contraptions designed for digital reading? While it may take a generation to find out, [INSIDE] took an afternoon to harness the trio’s collective intellect and glean what these e-geezers have to teach the business’s new kids.

[INSIDE]: How have the traditional roles of agent, publisher and author changed?

EPSTEIN: I said in my book that agents would very likely be the publishers of the future.

CURTIS: I’m doing it, and we’re starting with backlist books, because backlist books are branded by previous publications and the names of the authors. We have now acquired a total of 1,200. We don’t need editors at this point because we’re not yet publishing original books.

EPSTEIN: Why do you think other agents haven’t done this? They seem like the most likely people to do it, more likely than publishers.

CURTIS: Because agents are paralyzed by inertia and fear. They realize that—and John, you can really speak to this——they’re in danger of becoming irrelevant as the relationship between buyer and seller intensifies and the need for a middle person decreases. Most agents will have to become more relevant to the digital process, [doing things] such as creating Web sites for clients and operating them as promotional vehicles for their clientele. Otherwise, authors are going to wake up and say, ”What do I need you for when I can go directly into the buying and selling process?”

EPSTEIN: That means there will have to be independent Web site managers, so to speak, who will handle these authors. And that’s what publishers could become. It’s the most natural thing in the world.

CURTIS: The hardest thing for an agent—and I’m sure this is true of you [indicating Brockman]—one of the reasons why agents are paralyzed is because of the conflict of interest. Because we’ve all grown up in a time when the roles were very clear-cut. There’s an author who’s represented by an agent; the agent goes to the publisher. For an agent to become a publisher, that sets off all sorts of conflict-of-interest bells. And most agents don’t know how to emotionally handle that or address that.

EPSTEIN: I think Richard’s idea [about agents becoming e-publishers], which I’m delighted by, is the future. I think it’s going to be a little premature, because I think people will not want to read on screen as much as they want to read in book form.

BROCKMAN: There is a whole recent trend of thinking in the cognitive sciences of looking at the human as a machine made out of machines, and the mind as a computational device. And there are people like [physicist] Freeman Dyson who think about these questions from another point of view: whether we’re meant to be analog devices. And the whole bit of the keyboard interface to the screen has always been very kludgy to me, and unnatural. Using my Palm and all these devices you’re talking about, there’s something about them I just don’t like. And if anybody is going to like computers, it’s me.

CURTIS: I say you guys are too old! There are generations growing up today who access information on a keyboard, for whom reading on a screen and manipulating information on a screen is second nature.

EPSTEIN: Are these the same kids who bought all those copies of Harry Potter?

CURTIS: The point is, children are growing up completely comfortable with handheld devices, whether it be a pager, a GameBoy, a reading device, a handheld radio. These same children can walk to school with a single multimedia device that will carry all their homework. This is already happening. Then you’re just one step closer to a device that is not only a homework device and a schoolbook device, but also a reading-for-pleasure device. And those same devices, which today have only limited capacity for carrying text, those same devices will carry video. They’ll be in color, they’ll carry audio, they’ll carry music. You’ll be able to play a movie on it, play a game, call home, send an e-mail.

[INSIDE]: So despite all the turmoil that the Web has been going through, you still believe the industry will be radically transformed. Which traditional publishing jobs as we now know them do you think are going to get squeezed?

EPSTEIN: There will come a time when young people in publishing won’t even know what the words ”sales conference” mean. Or ”returns.” Or ”warehouses.” If it’s possible for the contents of the book to be delivered from the author’s mind via his or her Web site, then we can eliminate buying paper, ordering a printing, storing the books in a warehouse, sending reps out on the road to sell them. Marketing books will be different than dealing with Barnes & Noble and Borders, and taking returns. Those functions represent about 35 percent of a publisher’s revenue, or a little bit more. Those sums will be redundant; you won’t need to do that in the future. And the people who perform those tasks will probably be redundant, too. I’m sorry to say that, because some of them are good friends.

[INSIDE]: So who gets all the money publishers won’t be spending on printing and storage and distribution? Authors?

EPSTEIN: I think so. The authors in this case will contribute much more value to the publishers than in the past, so they’ll be entitled to a larger share of proceeds. I think 50 percent will be the minimum, and it may be 60 or 70 percent. But I think a Web publisher with a stable of 20 or 30 authors could do very well even with 15 percent of the proceeds. And, of course, the price to the end user will be much less because the costs of publishing will be much less.

CURTIS: There are authors who will say, ”Well, you can’t pay me an advance, but the idea of getting a 50 percent royalty in the long run becomes very intriguing.” And as the industry shifts to such a model, you’re going to find the whole nature of thinking about advances changing. And advance prices may very well come down.

BROCKMAN: Do you think you’re doing your clients a favor?

CURTIS: Remember, you’re talking to a publisher.

BROCKMAN: All right, fine. But who’s representing your old authors?

CURTIS: I am. I am. I think crossing the traditional lines where one can be both agent and publisher is a very attractive model. It gives maximum flexibility. As long as my authors are aware—full disclosure—and I conduct my business with integrity, the authors are really getting the best out of the flexibility.

EPSTEIN: I think in the electronic future, the competition will not only be represented by advances to authors, but by authors’ shares of revenue. I think there will be tremendous pressure on that 50 percent. There’s tremendous pressure right now for publishers to pay more than they can afford for a book. In the future, authors will be contributing most of the value, and all Web site publishers will be approximately alike. There will be some brilliant ones, some less brilliant ones, but my guess is they’ll be pretty interchangeable.

BROCKMAN: I love Bertelsmann, and I love HarperCollins. Why? Because no one else is going to fork over millions of dollars on a book deal. Authors like that.

EPSTEIN: That’s like saying Willie Sutton likes banks.

[INSIDE]: What do you think will be the biggest change in how buyers get and read books in the future?

EPSTEIN: My hunch is—and it’s more than just a hunch—I think books will not be downloaded in any electronic form, they will be downloaded in a printed form on a machine that is capable of printing one copy at a time on demand, automatically. There will be no human intervention except to load the paper in. These machines will be at innumerable random locations. Like ATM machines, except for books.

[INSIDE]: Do you think ”big publishing” will cease to exist?

EPSTEIN: Of course I think so. These companies won’t be broken up, but they’re untenable as they now exist. For one reason, trade-book publishing has never been profitable, and it can’t be profitable. It’s not in its nature to be profitable. It’s been sustained historically by other publishing operations in the same corporation-textbooks, bibles, whatever. Or by rich people like Bennett Cerf [co-founder of Random House in 1925], who were very passionate about doing this but didn’t have to make a living doing it. When these people got to the point of wanting to sell these businesses, they were getting old and had no succession. They sold their business to corporations; the corporations thought these were glamorous businesses. They used words like ”synergy,” thinking that one thing leads to another. But that doesn’t happen in the real world.

[INSIDE]: So you think synergy is a myth?

EPSTEIN: Of course.

CURTIS: I agree. Many publishers are acquired by entertainment complexes and conglomerates that have the idea that the books an editor acquires this morning will be on the producer’s desk this afternoon. And we’ll buy not only the audio, we’ll do the movie, we’ll do the merchandising. And it never materializes.

EPSTEIN: That synergy business never amounted to anything. When GE bought RCA and found that it also bought a company called Random House, it took one look at it and said, ”This isn’t what we wanted. There’s no way to make money at this. We’ve got to get rid of this.” Eventually, a very, very rich man bought Random House [S.I. Newhouse of Advance Communications] because he liked the idea and he wanted to be associated with it. He ran it as well as he could. S.I. was a pretty good businessman. And after 12 years he saw the same thing: you cannot make money doing this. So now, Bertelsmann and Holtzbrinck have bought all these imprints, the ghostly remains of once-interesting publishing companies. And once they get rid of their redundant overhead, combine the warehouses and that kind of thing, they, too, will end up with a bunch of unprofitable trade-publishing companies.

CURTIS: You will see a day, I think and hope, when the fast companies eat the slow ones, and the small companies will eat the big ones.

EPSTEIN: But the price of entry will be very low. So there might be a great many little companies that do this. And I think the more the better.

CURTIS: You can make a profit selling 100 copies of a book, and you contrast that to a company like Random House or Harper or Bertelsmann that loses money selling 500,000 copies of a book. This is a bizarre world.

BROCKMAN: I tell you what, Richard. You represent that first book. I’ll represent the one that loses money.

CURTIS: I have the greatest respect for you, [John], but it’s kind of a strip-mining way of approaching publishing—get your money out quickly. It’s basically a way of making huge short-term profits.

BROCKMAN: You say that as a wise man looking down from the mountain. If you’re representing an individual, you have a fiduciary responsibility to do the best you can, every deal you make. That’s what I do. I like to do good books, but it’s about business, something nobody’s talking about at this table. Maybe you guys are working with the wrong authors. The whole world is not The New York Review of Books. I’m just saying that the culture’s changing, and people may be reading different things.

[INSIDE]: So is it good, then, that the chain book stores exist and flourish?

BROCKMAN: It’s not a bad thing for the public that people all over America can get to a bookstore.

EPSTEIN: It’s a wonderful thing, but they can’t find all the books we would like to sell them or all the books they would like to find.

BROCKMAN: No, you mean all the books you and your friends write to each other … You talk about, with sadness, the sophisticated, independent booksellers. But I don’t feel like I have to have a relationship with people who work in bookstores.

[INSIDE]: O.K., but a lot of people have relationships with books themselves—with the physical paper-and-ink product. What happens to that emotional and cultural resonance when you go from having a physical object to a virtual one?

CURTIS: Everybody saves the books that he or she reads. Your home library is basically a repository and extension of your intellect and your memory and your mind. So when I’m surrounded by my books, I feel like I’m surrounded by the totality of what I’ve read. And if that didn’t exist there, I don’t know if I would be the same person. But on the other hand, half of the books that I’ve read are no longer there, because they got sold, they got given away, I moved.

[INSIDE]: So will e-books replace ”real” books, or will the next generation have both?

EPSTEIN: They’ll co-exist.

BROCKMAN: For people our children’s age, nobody knows. They’ll figure it out for themselves


We Have Met the Enemy and He is The Real Caterpillar

  • He’s ripped off hundreds of books.
  • He can rip yours off in five minutes. It’s so easy even a caveman can do it.
  • He painstakingly proofreads the books he steals.
  • He has ethical and moral standards. And a conscience…of sorts.
  • Though piracy’s toll is in the billions of dollars, he thinks the crime is overrated.
  • But he admits it’s a crime.

That’s a thumbnail profile of a book pirate. I’ve condensed it from an astounding interview with one conducted by C. Max Magee on his website “The Millions”.

After pondering the phenomenon of book piracy, a crime estimated to drain over $3 billion annually from legitimate copyright owners, Magee decided the best way to understand it was to ask a practitioner. “Who are the people downloading these books? How are they doing it and where is it happening? And, perhaps most critical for the publishing industry, why are people deciding to download books and why now? I decided to find out. After a few hours of searching – stalled by a number dead links and password protected sites – I found, on an online forum focused on sharing books via BitTorrent, someone willing to talk.

The perpetrator’s handle is “The Real Caterpillar” and, as is so often the case, he is far from a noble Robin Hood. “He lives in the Midwest,” writes Magee, “he’s in his mid-30s and is a computer programmer by trade. By some measures, he’s the publishing industry’s ideal customer, an avid reader who buys dozens of books a year and enthusiastically recommends his favorites to friends. But he’s also uploaded hundreds of books to file sharing sites and he’s downloaded thousands.”

Here are a few revelations in his own words:

  • I generally only upload content that I have scanned, with some exceptions. I have been out of the book scene for a while, concentrating on rare and out of print movies instead of books because it is much easier to rip a movie from VHS or DVD than to scan and proof a book
  • I do not pretend that uploading or downloading unpurchased electronic books is morally correct, but I do think it is more of a grey area than some of your readers may
  • Just because someone downloads a file, it does not mean they would have bought the product I think this is the key fact that many people in the music industry ignore – a download does not translate to a lost sale
  • In truth, I think it is clear that morally, the act of pirating a product is, in fact, the moral equivalent of stealing…however, I feel the impact of e-piracy is overrated, at least in terms of ebooks
  • I’ve spent anywhere from 5 to 40 hours proofing the OCR output

And, finally: “In truth, I think it is clear that morally, the act of pirating a product is, in fact, the moral equivalent of stealing… although that nagging question of what the person who has been stolen from is missing still lingers.”

Two persons mentioned by Caterpillar as having been stolen from are Mark Helprin and Harlan Ellison. Both have published privacy or anti-piracy statements on their websites. You may read Helprin’s here but it says in part: “You agree to comply with all copyright laws worldwide in your use of this site and to prevent any unauthorized copying of the materials.” Ellison’s is an all-caps fist-shaking no-prisoners Jeremiad which you may read in its entirety here. Here’s a taste:


Caterpillar laughs at them. “One thing that will definitely not change anyone’s mind or inspire them to stop,” he says, “are polemics from people like Mark Helprin and Harlan Ellison – attitudes like that ensure that all of their works are available online all of the time.”

For the full flavor of Magee’s interview read Confessions of a Book Pirate in its entirety here.

We are Harlan Ellison’s literary agents. Our e-book company is publisher of some thirty of his books. Though we cannot express ourselves as colorfully as he, we support his position completely. His work and property, the work and property of countless other authors, our own labor and investment and that of all legitimate, reputable publishers worldwide are being stolen. Those who file-share copyrighted books are receiving stolen property. We ask those who take and those who receive to consider whether there is any difference between having your literary property robbed and your purse stolen. For one victim’s answer, read Are Pirate-site Downloaders Better Than Muggers, Pickpockets and Shoplifters? This Victim Doesn’t Think So.

Richard Curtis


E-Books Perfect for Instant Repair of Screwups

If for no other reason, e-books are the perfect vehicle for immediately correcting errors in published books. And if the errors are serious enough to damage a person’s reputation or otherwise incur potential legal liability, a prompt correction and withdrawal of the offending text demonstrate the sincere determination of the those who messed up to set the record straight without delay.

Such might be the recourse of Charles Pellegrino and his publisher Henry Holt in expunging material in his otherwise highly acclaimed account of the atomic destruction of Hiroshima, The Last Train From Hiroshima.

According to William J. Broad in the New York Times, a section of the book cites recollections of someone who says he flew in an observation plane accompanying the bomber that released the a-bomb, the Enola Gay. But the man, Joseph Fuoco, “never flew on the bombing run, and he never substituted for James R. Corliss, the plane’s regular flight engineer,” says Corliss’s family. “They, along with angry ranks of scientists, historians and veterans, are denouncing the book and calling Mr. Fuoco an impostor,” writes Broad.

The author of the book “now concedes that he was probably duped” and plans to “rewrite sections of the book for paperback and foreign editions.”

If normal production timelines apply, that means that the paperback might not come out for a year after hardcover publication, or six or nine months if Holt accelerates release of the reprint. Foreign editions? Foreign publishers need to translate the book first, so don’t expect a correct edition to appear overseas for many months as well.

If there was ever a case for e-books, this is it. Pellegrino and his publisher could remove the controversial passages for an e-print and write an apology that might remove not just the insult of the offending passages but also the injury of making the Corliss’s family wait, brood – and, perhaps, call a lawyer. As of this writing, however, there is no e-book edition. It undoubtedly has been “windowed”, the term used by publishers to describe the holding back of an e-book edition until the hardcover has had its run. Though controversial (see Agent Nat Sobel Challenges Publishers to Hold Back E-Prints), windowing is sound strategy for many books and might have been fine for Last Train too had it not been for this alleged error, which if true is embarrassing at the very least but potentially damaging as well.

Holt should consider crash-releasing Last Train in e-book.

Here’s the Times article.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.