Why I Don’t Care About Book Pirates

by Josiah Bancroft

I’ve heard many apologies and rationalizations for book piracy. I’ve heard how stealing books actually benefits the writer because it raises awareness of their work. I’ve heard how piracy is a way to subverts the corrupt system, and to stick it to the ‘Zon. I’ve heard how it’s only fair that the reader (who is a customer after all) be allowed to demo something before they buy it. You can return a shirt, why not a book? I’ve heard pirates explain that they steal because they are too poor to pay, too poor to support their local libraries.

I find all these excuses flimsy at best because they all ignore the unique experience of reading a book. Reading a book is the closest I’ve ever come to sharing a dream with one other person. And it’s always a risky proposition. Before I start a new book, I don’t know what I’m getting into. Am I going to be disappointed? Will I be delighted? Is this the sort of book that is going to make me cry in a cafe or stay up all night? And what if the ending’s bad? What if the last chapter ends with, “And it was all a terrible dream!”?

Reading a book is an act of good faith. I have to have faith that the author will entertain me. I have to have faith that the author knows where she is going with her story and is making good use of our time. I have to have faith that when my expectations are challenged, the author has something more interesting in mind. I must suspend my doubts and my past disappointments, and begin reading with an open mind and heart.

That’s why I think book pirates are poor readers. They do not read in good faith; they read from a place of suspicion, entitlement, and a lack of respect for the work and the author. They begin by declaring, “this book and its author have no value,” and from that cynical start, they expect to experience the book the same way as someone who buys the book, who takes the risk, who reads in good faith. Book pirates risk nothing, and their reading experience suffers for it. They’re bad readers, and because of that, I don’t really care what they think about my work.