The internet has created new moral dilemmas, many of which are still being tossed about without any real conclusion. One major issue which has been a source of conflict for over a decade is pirating. The illegal downloading of music was often justified by the limitations of the CD store, and by the sheer volume of “fillers” placed on album, essentially valuing a hit song at 15 dollars or more. While music pirating still exists, the digital sales of individual songs has helped to dramatically decrease that.
Software proved to be another problem. Part of the justification here included the cost of software, which sometimes runs hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Add on the fact the development companies don’t often scale down the price to fit the local economy, and we have ourselves a product for pirating. Things become a bit more tricky here, because we can’t usually break down software and sell it in functional increments. Also, the cost of development is not paid in royalties—programmers work for wage or salary, after all.
Movies continue to be an issue. Some are even leaked before the theater has a chance to wring your bank account for tickets and popcorn. Inexpensive and ad-sponsored online streaming has helped alleviate this, though the issue hasn’t gone away entirely.
And rounding it up, we have images. Whether photographs or computer generated, images belong to the artist. Whether you go all out and actually remove the watermark yourself, or happen to find a clean copy on Google Images, the artist holds the sole rights to the image. They can charge any price they want, and they can restrict its use. For example, most artists are very generous with their creations for personal use. Understandably, they tend to want compensation for commercial projects though. A commercial project is likely to make money, so why shouldn’t the artist?
Now, with the advent of ebooks, we have reached a new yet all too familiar problem. Ebooks are being pirated. There is much debate between those who believe it is wrong, and those who believe an author should be even flattered that someone appreciates their work so much to make it available to the questionable part of the internet. Some authors even think it helps boost sales in the long run.
I’m not going to argue or validate any of those points here. What I am going to discuss, however, is the unintentional hypocrisy occurring among artists—all artists.
When you decide to sell your book, you have become a commercial entity. It doesn’t matter if you sell your book for 99 cents, self published, run free promos, have a business license, give your royalties to charity—you are a commercial entity and you are expected to act accordingly.
I don’t mean your media personality, but the laws you are to abide. This means if an image is free for personal use but not commercial—you cannot use it. Not as your book cover, not as your web design, and not as your book trailer. This also goes for music, by the way.
Creative Common images for non-commercial use should not be used for your book .And please, stop using popular songs on your official book trailer. Just because a song is played on every radio station across the nation does not mean you have rights to use it. In fact, you do not. You are a commercial entity, remember? If you want to use that cool Evanescence song, guess what? You have to ask permission (which usually involves a hefty fee). This also applies to movies, by the way. Don’t mash together clips to make your official trailer.
Remember, anything which comes out as an official representation of your book must abide by commercial use laws. Fan creations tend to get a little more leeway (though usually only because it’s not worth the effort of the lynching mob).
What about fair use, you say? This is a fantastic argument, which is rendered almost pointless when it comes to selling your own product. And that is what you are doing, selling a product—your book. Fair use is a very gray area, but it leans heavily in favor of education, review, commentary, etc. Not “struggling author attempting to sell their book”. In general, the less profit–or intent for profit–and more positive social impact from the result, the more likely it can be passed off as fair use.
If you want to be taken seriously, you should know the laws. And if you feel that your book is too small for a hit band to realize you used their work without license, then you really have no right to complain about those pirating your e-book. Think about it.
Do you feel using or distributing copyrighted work without permission is ever justified?