Wednesday, February 24, 2010


More news on the e-piracy front, meine Autoren: a German court has approved an injunction filed by six academic publishers against RapidShare AG, a company that provides download services for a whole host of different files via the magic of the Interwebs. This is interesting, at least to me, for the following reasons.

First, RapidShare offers free downloads for most (if not all) the files it hosts, but makes its money by offering paid subscriptions that significantly increase the speed and number of downloads you're permitted to request. The fact that they're making money on copyrighted material (including, but certainly not limited to, books) that they did not pay for makes the whole venture suspect, and to an extent, illegal. Legal file sharing services (an imperfect, though more easily visualized, analogue is YouTube) abound; there's no reason companies like RapidShare can't filter out copyrighted material as it comes in.

Second, I've heard others express the opinion that on-line services like RapidShare (though not necessarily RapidShare themselves) are akin to electronic libraries, and since information is available for free from physical libraries, the same should hold true for their Internet equivalents. This is nonsense (again, my opinion) for two reasons: first, libraries pay for the subscriptions and books they offer their patrons, which is not the case with free download sites like RapidShare; and second, even if a website were to pay for a single e-book and then allow limitless downloads of the text (akin to lending a book from a physical library), the number of downloads per paid copy would vastly exceed the average library's number of loans per purchased physical copy. Secondary points include the fact that physical libraries can only loan out a limited number of copies at a time (equal to the number they paid for), and they periodically need to replace their books as they wear out.

Now, I'm not against the existence of e-libraries in principle; I think with proper DRM and administrative oversight, they could work out. Then again, the threat of piracy is clearly a problem for copyrighted information on the Internet. So I ask you, meine Damen und Herren: what do you think?


  1. I've got to disagree with you here. Rapidshare is simply an electronic courier. It's completely agnostic to the content or files that they share. Also, rapidshare isn't a "library" in the sense that you can't go browse a gallery of shared files. You have to be given a link directly FROM the sharer. This is akin to holding FedEx liable for shipping stolen goods.

  2. Hi JBM:

    You've definitely got a point, but the problem (to me) lies in the fact that RapidShare had to be brought to court over this, whereas services like YouTube will pull down copyrighted material upon simple notification. The fact that RS is a German (rather than American) company might also complicate things.


  3. Yeah, I guess I agree with both JBM and you, Eric. RapidShare (et al) is merely an ignorant middleman. But like you said, Eric, *when confronted* they should quickly and willingly remove content like YouTube does. Perhaps that's the simpler solution to this mess, eh? Quick, someone fire an email to the German courts!

    (Note: the article says RapidShare is trying to frame this as a copyright vs. privacy issue. It's definitely not that. I don't think they need to filter the files, as you suggested, but when something illegal is reported, they should most definitely investigate.)

  4. As much as I justify downloading music (somehow, b/c my justification or lack thereof surely has no standing), i just can't accept e-book piracy. Maybe that's because I don't own an e-reader, and I have no desire to read anything other than the physical book in my hand.

    And of course it's nothing like an electronic library! People are too lazy to walk to a library, or to borrow their friend's album. But the internet? That's just a click away. It makes free way too easy.

  5. I never thought I'd see the day when you are anti-pirate. For shame.

  6. Recently (Sun 2/21 and Mon 2/22) had a e-book pirate comment on why it is ok to download e-books but not ok to steal a book from a store.

    I find it hard to get that worked up about e-piracy considering how print books has used book stores, readers sharing print books, etc. I wish the copyright laws made more sense and were more aimed to protect the writer or artist than the corporations that own the characters such as Mickey Mouse. Though what happened to Superman has me really confused over who owns what.

  7. I hate the library analogy. If a physical library buys a book, three million people aren't going to check it out unless it's available to read on Gerard Butler's naked backside.

  8. I'm with Lucy.

    And libraries have paid for the book. As for used book stores, the book was purchased, and like at libraries, the book will wear out long before millions of people have their hands on it. You're also not really paying for the book, your paying for the convenience of shopping for the book at a used book store. At least around here (WA), books are never sold for more than half the publishers price and are usually sold for under $2.

    Plus, neither the library or the used book store are getting paid by others for advertising, so they are getting no other compensation.

    I think that just because it's electronical, doesn't give the carrier the right to distribut unlimited copies. When I borrow from a library or buy from a used book store, I can't let five hundred of my fellow bloggers copy it and have one of their own. I can loan it out, but that is to a very finite number of people that I will trust to bring it back.

    GRRRR pirates, er, rather, ARRR

  9. Eric,
    Putting aside the RapidShare situation, you've just bumped up against one of the great unanswered questions in publishing's future: what will the role of libraries be when e-books are as common as paperbacks? Will libraries buy just one electronic copy, but be able to "lend" that copy an unlimited number of times? Will libraries buy licenses (for limited duration, limited number of simultaneous patron usage, for lifetime patron downloads, etc.) rather than single unrestricted copies? Will publishers create reasonable and attractive options for libraries to adopt?

    If a reader with an e-reader device could download an unrestricted free copy of recent releases via his or her local library's web site, what an impact on the industry that would have...


  10. Rapidshare isn't "innocent." It makes its money from advertising, and the more content it provides, the more traffic it has, and the more money it makes. They are the pimp getting the cut out of illegal activity even though they aren't the ones spreading their legs.

    To stop epiracy, those who own or license copyrighted material will have to go after the whole illegal food chain from the Rapidshares and eBays to the the people putting illegal content online.

    I'm surprised anyone at a trade blog like this is pro pirate. No matter what part of the publishing industry you are in, piracy hurts you. It's a leech sucking the life out of a business that is already struggling to stay alive.

    Right now, ebooks are one of the few bright spots in publishing's bottom line with enormous growth, and it's helping keep publishers alive. As ebooks become a much larger part of the publishing picture, and it will, epiracy will make or break the industry.

    As to copyright and digital copies, there are very specific copyright laws. For example, Eric, free illegal digital copies of copyright material ARE illegal so there's no opinion about it.

    If you would like to learn the specifics of these laws in relationship to publishing, I have a number of articles on the subject written for nonlawyers with links to legal documents on my blog . Click on the label "copyright."

  11. If I let someone store stolen goods in my garage and I know it, I am liable if I get caught. If I let someone funnel illegally acquired money through my bank account to launder it, and I know it, then I am equally liable. I am now an accessory, just like RapidShare.

    Ignorance is only a defense if you are ignorant. Once these file sharing warehouses find someone storing copyrighted material for illegal download they are obligated to pull it down. One of the things RapidShare has claimed is that there is just too much out there for them to control it all and if they pull down one file the same person will just open it under another account. That's probably true, but it still doesn't make it okay- or legal- to leave it.

  12. The library analogy always annoys me. It's a specious argument - just because they're both free for the reader does not make them equivalent.

    The obvious counter arguments have already been made - a book in a library will be borrowed at best a few hundred times, not three million, and libraries eventually have to replace their copies.

    But more to the point, authors still get paid from library loans (at least, in Australia we do. YMMV.) A government agency tracks the number of times each book is loaned, and pays the author a small (smaller than royalty) sum per loan.

    The author is still receiving payment for the reader getting the experience of their book. Illegal file sharing ventures don't do this. So from the author's (and publisher's) perspective, the two are not analogous.

    Now, whether or not piracy actually harms the author is another matter. I think, unless you're Stephen King (or of his ilk), you have much more to fear from obscurity than piracy. Piracy gives you free publicity, and a chance for people to sample your work without you having to lift a finger to persuade them to do so. But unfortunately our copyright laws mandate going after all infringement or losing the rights, even if it's actually aiding our business.

  13. Historically, illegal has always been more difficult than legal. But now with Internet, the reverse is true. Ways need to be found to make illegal so unappealing that the average person is not tempted. And I don't think that will happen anytime soon.

  14. This case is only relevant as a precedent. Nobody is downloading bootleg ebooks to rapidshare. Well somebody probably is, but its occurrence is infinitesimal. Its the movie and television industries that have a small stake here. The industry that Rapidshare truly threatens is pornography. Clients of various pornsites can upload and share their files with others. Rapidshare does, in fact, remove objectionable (from a copyright standpoint) material, but since a rapidshare customers can only download a file if they've been provided the direct link, policing the site means diligently searching the entire web for links to material you'd feel was in violation of your copyright.

    Interestingly enough, this lawsuit comes at a time when rapidshare is already losing its monopoly of the field to other competitors. In much the same way as Napster's clients moved on to Grockster. Rapidshare's clients will move on to Megashare or some other company operating in a country that can bypass first world copyright laws.

  15. Being something of a nerd, I used to play a type of online roleplaying game called a MUD (Mult-User Dungeon). This was before the days of huge MMORPGs, the games were done completely in text, and the players were usually in the hundreds instead of thousands or the absurd number World of Warcraft has.

    But I digress. The point is, to play these games, one needed to download a client program (or use TelNet if they wanted it to look like shit). Most of these client programs costed money, but there was an option to use it a finite number of times (the program has only so many uses, so that each time you open it it takes one off, ending at zero when it opens and does nothing) to test it out before you bought it.

    Perhaps an e-library could be something like that? A library can "lend" a book by offering a file that can only be opened a finite number of times.

    Just my opinion. Can anyone shoot holes in it, please?