A new Intellectual Property Office (IPO) copyright report (1) published on Wednesday reveals that, in the last 3 months in the UK, out of 5.6m internet content consumers, 10% have accessed and downloaded eBooks online illegally!
It means that for every ten people you will see reading a book on their smartphone or tablet, in your tube, bus or train, tomorrow morning, one has downloaded it illegally!
Some people will argue that it will not affect the likes of J.K. Rowling or Julia Donaldson who sell millions of books worldwide, and so, they think it is okay to illegally download their books simply because they are rich and famous. Big names and small unknown authors, however, have the same universal right to intellectual property. Let's not forget that most of today's big names were also totally unknown yesterday and they too struggled their way through, as J.K. Rowling once explained in an interview (2).
If the illegal download of eBooks were one day to become a widespread activity, we could end up with the current authors being the last generation of authors making a living out of their work.
Indeed, whilst in the next generation of authors some would certainly become famous through their books being illegally downloaded and read by millions of readers for free, they would get paid peanuts in royalties for their hard work. Of course, a couple of them would still be able find a sponsor or two to pay for their public appearances (we could imagine their t-shirts stamped with ads alike sportsmen's) or maybe would they sell the rights of their books to the cinema or video games industries. But fewer authors than ever would then make enough money to live, let alone survive, with their writing. It would be the death of a profession.
What about the small independent publishers who try their very best to promote their authors in a big bad world dominated by two or three big companies? They too would suffer and end up leaving the industry. Illegal downloads ultimately leads to less authors, less publishers and less creation, and therefore more of the same unimaginative, insipid and bland stories, as well as more monopolies and more capitalism.
When one argues that being able to download illegally - whether books, music or films - means more freedom to the general public, they couldn't be more wrong. The money that we spend in books and eBooks offers publishers, printers, editors, translators, authors, illustrators and millions of other professionals in the industry all over the world the entrepreneurial freedom, the freedom to work on some of the greatest ever written pieces, the freedom to create, the freedom to innovate and the freedom to invent. It is thus by fighting copyright infringement and illegal downloads that we indeed create freedom.
That one in ten people reading an eBook has downloaded it illegally is simply an insult to all the authors who struggle daily to make ends meet. Would you go to work every day if you were told by your boss you would not get paid any longer, but would still be expected to work the same number of hours?
1. "Online Copyright Infringement Tracker, Mar 15 - May 15" (Independent report commissioned by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO))
2. "I was as poor as it's possible to be... Now I am able to give" (DailyMail, 26 October 2013)