©2009 by Donna Cunningham, MSW
I’ve never been to Somalia, but for the past year, I’ve been defending myself against pirates. They’re internet pirates who’ve stolen my ebooks and posted them on free ebook websites.
Thousands of copies have been downloaded—more than were sold in the entire time those books have been published. Recently, a pirated copy of An Astrological Guide to Self-Awareness was uploaded to a Torrent hub, and in just one month’s time, 33,800 free copies were downloaded. I’m beyond disheartened; I’m ready to quit writing books.
Apart from my personal concern, I believe this is an issue for the astrological community. Stolen books can have a long-term impact on the continued development of our field. These free sites have unauthorized copies of many fine astrologers’ works—significant volumes by much-admired teachers and speakers who labored unselfishly to preserve what they’ve learned so that we can all grow.
Putting heart and soul into creating a book, only to have it stolen, can discourage our heroes from writing books to begin with. Over time, what they know can be lost. Writing a book takes at least a year of hard work and total commitment, an interval in which the author’s income is greatly reduced by focusing on the task at hand. The net result is that we’d probably earn more per hour as a barrista than we do on the books we write.
While original ebooks are a small portion of our literature, most of the offerings on these sites didn’t start out that way. They’re hard copy books that are laboriously scanned, page by page, and turned into PDF files. Generally, neither the authors nor their publishers gave permission for ebook versions to be created and posted.
Some free ebooks are legitimate—very old astrology texts that are in the public domain or are out-of-print classics by authors that have passed on. Those ebooks preserve our heritage. In addition, many astrologers write ebooks to use as giveaways on their web pages, and that’s fine, too. However, making an ebook from a commercial work by a living author, especially one that is still in print, can only be considered theft.
What about you, readers? Have you ever downloaded an unauthorized ebook or had one given to you? So much is free on the internet that lines are often blurred. Many members of these sites and email lists truly did not understand that this was theft. When I explained, they seemed honestly chagrinned, and many removed all free ebooks from their hard drive. What if you bought an ebook from one of your idols and ran off copies on CD to pass out to your astrology group or fellow students? Is that wrong? Let’s just say it’s no way to honor the work your idol put into getting a lifework out there for all of us to learn from.
Private discussions with other members of these groups revealed that they lived in underdeveloped nations with appalling poverty where books of any kind were rare and astrology teachers were unknown. Of course, I wouldn’t deny them copies of my books. I just asked that they write to me privately and explain their situation, and I’d allow them to distribute my books to others in their country as well. But don’t, for heaven’s sake, upload it to the World Wide Web, making it impossible for me to earn a living from my work!
The actual pirates on these free ebook sites are more of a puzzle—Uranians, certainly. They earn no money for doing it, nor do they get any glory, for their names are hidden. Apparently, they consider themselves heroes and justify it by believing that authors and other creative artists are fair game and that it’s okay to steal from them. Others may consider themselves Robin Hoods–-stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Although it’s a common fantasy that writers are rich, that they enjoy luxuries and a posh life style on the basis of their books, that simply is not the case. That hasn’t happened since the days of Linda Goodman.
For a hardcopy book, authors are lucky to get even 10% of the cover price–-6% is more common. They only succeed in selling thousands of copies if they spend double the time promoting the book that they did in writing it. Publishers do not spend big bucks promoting books in our field. Most writers write because they must, it’s in their blood, and not because they’ll ever grow rich. Those of us in astrology or other spiritual studies write because we want to share what we know and to uplift others. But we do need to earn a living, unless we’re to take to the streets with begging bowls.
Another fantasy is that we get huge advances on our books and live off those while we write. That was never true—in the “good old days” back in the 1970s and early 1980s when there was an explosion in small presses, an established author with a proven track record might get a couple of thousand dollars’ advance. Once the book was published, a year or two later, we had to pay back the advance through book sales before realizing another cent. Now advances on small press books are non-existent, and other than Sun signs, mainstream publishers aren’t printing astrology books. None of us are appearing on Oprah. Writing a book is no get rich quick scheme.
Piracy is not something blameless. It’s a betrayal of the service your favorite authors and teachers give you. Nor is it without consequence. If the finest astrological speakers and writers feel that all their hard work to preserve their knowledge will simply be stolen, they won’t feel it’s worth doing a book, and our field will cease to grow in ways it has in the past.
If you find any pirated books, let the authors know, would you? Your comments and input are welcome below, or write to me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org .
WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE PIRATED: To my colleagues who’ve made such wonderful contributions through your writing, Google yourself and see what you find. I’ve written a long step-by-step article on ways to combat piracy, which you can download here: How to Combat Astrology Book Piracy My generic version, for authors of all types, is a wikiHow at: http://www.wikihow.com/Combat-Book-Piracy. Here are a few of the tips:
Follow all the links. Check for pirated versions of out-of-print books as well. If any of your books are out of print for more than a year, you can ask the publisher to revert the rights to you so that you can update and reprint them as self-published works. Don’t allow your book to become what is called an “Orphan Book,” free game for scanning. See: http://www.dailyfinance.com/2009/06/15/google-to-adopt-millions-of-orphan-books-put-them-to-work?icid=sphere_wpcom_inline.
If you discover one of your books, check the site for links to an abuse policy and to their Copyright Enforcement Officer. Most of these sites are legitimate and will take strong steps against piracy when it is reported, removing the book and often banning the offender. However, they’re not set up to monitor whether people who upload the new ebooks actually own the copyright.
Also read the profile of the individual who uploaded the book. I write privately—and civilly—to the ones who list email addresses to explain my concerns and to give them a chance to remove the book. Others, anonymous, have uploaded hundreds of books without permission, so you might find more of yours and of your colleagues as well. Notify your colleagues, and also let the copyright officer know that many of this individual’s uploads are suspect.
Keep watching, because the books are often reloaded elsewhere. On the advice of one of the copyright enforcement officers, I set up a Google alert that says, “Donna Cunningham” =”Free ebook,” and that’s kept me in the loop by email when a new one appears. Dr. J. Lee Lehman has also suggested that we should ask our organizations to address this growing problem, perhaps by including piracy of astrology books and software in their codes of ethics.
ART credits: the pirate comes from Clipart.com, and the antique zodiac print is in the public domain at wikimedia commons.