Rant: The long-term consequences of book piracy

A few hours after I’ve published my review of the “Cisco routers for the desperate” book someone posted a link to a digital (pirated) copy of the book to my Facebook page, no doubt feeling like a hero fighting for the freedom of information (or some similar nonsense).

I didn’t even try to download the book to see whether it was a leaked copy from the publisher (in which case someone has some serious problems) or a scanned PDF.

I often wondered what drives a derailed individual to scan a copy of a book and post it online. I could always understand the motives if you’d have to pay for the scanned copy, in which case it would be clearly a theft (but at least I could see the reasoning behind it). Investing significant amount of your time in scanning and posting a pirated copy for free and thus causing significant harm to the author and the publisher without any personal gain was long beyond my comprehension … but finally I’ve found a scientific explanation.

Before someone starts cheering the brave pirates and tells me how desperately out-of-date I am (I’m well aware I’m a GONER), let me explore a few long-term consequences of this type of piracy.

High-quality information doesn’t just appear out of cosmic entropy; someone has to invest significant amount of time into preparing, testing, writing, editing, reviewing, formatting and publishing of the information (be it in paper or digital form). Creating a book like the MPLS VPN books takes man-months of effort (believe me, I’ve been there).

Unless you’re living in the cozy world of some academic institutions or on an unconditional stipend, you usually have to justify spending that much time (at least to yourself). Getting the return (royalties) on your investment (time/costs) through book sales is one way of doing it; working in the vendor’s documentation department is another. If the book sales make no sense any longer due to piracy, you’ll be left with whatever the vendors decide to give you.

Do you really want that? Do you really think Cisco Press (and numerous other publishers) would still be in the business of book publishing if the vendor documentation addressed your needs? People posting and downloading pirated copies of the books are literally hacking the branch on which you’re sitting.

Last but not least: according to the source giving me the above-mentioned scientific explanation, I’ve just made a huge mistake writing this post.

23 comments:

  1. Hi Ivan,

    I'm a bit younger and I can't say I completely agree nor disagree ;).
    I have to agree with the parts on behalf high quality information, time spend to get the information and also to be awarded for the work.

    The other thing is just the concept of selling books like we're living in 18th century. I know there are some possibilities how to get some books as documents, but nothing really with concept, at least nothing comfortable like PDF - ok, this isn't really the way, because somebody would post that PDF sooner or later, but you know what I'm trying to say.
    The big advantage of documents is the comforting CTRL+F or other find functions ;) - a printed books can't offer this. Also if you taking a trip it's a lot easier to take the "book" as a document.
    The other side of this is the economical & ecological view...what if we all had a choice to buy a PDF or a book...I personally would like that choice. 8-)

    This could go on and on, but I let others to join this discussion O:-)

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  2. there is a simple reason to upload pirated copys:

    Let´s assume i want to download big amounts of data from a sharehoster, but to that, i need to get "premium access" or i´ll have to wait DAYS to leech something a dvd iso. OK, there are automatic downloadprograms for this issue out there, but when you don´t have premium it´s needful to type in captchas, this depends on the hoster.

    And as all of us know premium costs money

    But the hoster (i think rapidshare is not the only one) gives you the option to extend your paid premium membership if your uploaded files got downloaded often by users...in case of RS i think only non premium users count iirc
    So if i´m a pirate i have some pirated stuff to share and when i do this, i get the opportunity to get even more stuff easily and fast. The only requisite is that your uploaded files must be interesting for many people (and you have to reach your target group): movies, games and of course books.

    I´m sure that on RS Servers 80% of the stored data is "fishy"

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  3. Although fully understand Ivans state of mind when posting this - I tend agree with Martin here, one cannot fight with old rusty sword against windmills - one has to pick a better strategy.

    There are miriads of discussions about this - one interesting is http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1217/1137

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  4. François FANUEL15 January, 2010 10:15

    Hi,

    I really can't agree more ! I like Cisco Press' quality, and I really don't want this goldmine of knowledge to end.
    I can't understand Cisco Press books Piracy : you want Ctfl+F ? Just buy a Safari books online subscription. There IS a legal alternative.

    Quality content have its price, and we have to pay for that.
    I'm a network engineer, I learned from a lot of books I paid, and I don't work for free.
    The books writers should have the same rights.

    François.

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  5. I don't think you get my point...it isn't just about that CTRL+F.

    Don't worry, I buy printed books too, in fact, I don't have any place to store them anymore, so another advantage for document (at least in my point of view - and the idea isn't just about the book, but music and movies too).

    What I'm trying to say, that I want to have an alternative. I don't know the exact terms how SAFARI subscription works, but I don't think they give you something like PDF (again, just to be clear, I'm using PDF just as an example) and you can't be online everywhere. Also from the word subscription I don't think that if I pay I have unlimited access to that content, which is weird and that's why it's maybe legal, but I don't think of it as an alternative (maybe I'm wrong, as I said I don't know the terms).

    And also I didn't say I don't support/agree or whatever writers to be paid! I like the Cisco Press material, I buy it, I just want to feel like 21st century when I'M PAYING - yes, like you, I have to go to work to get the money, so when I'm considering to spend the money I want the BEST!

    I hope I've cleared the issues 8-)

    PS - Maybe the best option would be, if you buy a book you would have unlimited access to some document or online, so you don't have to take the book on the road, but when you 're at home you can just sit down and read the book.

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  6. Swords and windmills? 8-) Is this going to be ideological justification that if you don't get caught, then it isn't a crime? :) We aren't reading by candlelight nor waiting to have our shoes fitted by the local cobbler! To justify stealing a book or manuscript based upon modern inconvenience is not altruistic nor l33t. It isn't like you ever have to be a member of THG/TDT/Razor or an iNC Gold Courier nor have any skills anymore, just go sign up for RS and start searching. Wow, piratez unite! 2600 would be very proud...go grab your blue box & get hacking.... :)

    The Devil's Defense:
    However, I agree and cannot stand that fact that most Cisco Press books are stereotypically bulky, heavy & very expensive. I also wish that something better than the Kindle was out there, something 3G/wifi ready, touchscreen & more like something modern & non-sterile ---- e.g. --- Eee Reader, enTourage Edge, etc. To lug around books, and have the classic expansive Cisco "library" at your office desk is so 90s in my opinion, but it is still there....mostly collecting dust and taking up precious desk space.

    Yes, I would pay for these books & besides being eco-friendly (that tree branch that is being hacked off would have been long gone with the amount of pulp needed to make these books!) --- it would just make more sense. Imagine a color, touchscreen e-reader with an online research library with full 100% access to all Cisco Press books for 60-days, or 180-days, or even an annual membership.

    Publishers need to make it modern, reasonably priced & keep evolving with the times...
    that is the only way to ensure future growth, sustainability & profits.

    "When you are finished changing, you're finished....." --- B. Franklin.

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  7. To be fair, Cisco Press offers many of their books in PDF edition. So you have a choice on buying the paper book or the digital book. Personally I think that if you buy the paper book that you should get the digital edition for free. And Cisco Press is actually doing this in certain instances. On a number of their certification books that come with CDs, they have included a PDF version of the book on the CD.

    So they are moving into the 21st century. Just not as fast as we might want them to.

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  8. On second thoughts, the publishing company, its staff, distributors.. everybody is at a loss; its not just the author. Its really sad especially in these crunch days when even publishing companies are feeling the heat.
    On third thoughts, i firmly believe no serious MPLS user is stupid enough to download and use a free copy of the book.

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  9. There are many things a sane person would not believe, for example people asking how to redesign their existing production CRS-based network on a mailing list.

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  10. Reading the comments, there seems to be two schools of thought. The first is how media is formatted and distributed. This is the printed book versus PDF comments. Historically, as technology has changed, the ways in which content has been distributed has changed. Before the printing press, books were copied by hand in a laborious process. I'm old enough to remember 78 rpm records; now I download my music almost instantly. One upside of physical books is that technology changes don't make them obsolete, I can't say that about my music and video collections which I've had to replace.

    The second argument is really about Digital Rights Management and the rights of content producers, whether they're authors, musicians, or whatever, to be compensated for their efforts. A pirated book, music album, movie, or piece of software is, in my opinion, stealing. I won't, though, buy anything with DRM technology that limits my control. If I want to copy a song I've legitimately purchased to my iPod and also to a CD to play in my car, I should be able to do that.

    So, I'm with Ivan on this issue.

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  11. Unfortunately the article you've quoted is totally irrelevant. Government sponsored content generation and disbursement of weird taxes on things that might have no relationship with the content to "insider" content creators will not solve anything.

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  12. "High-quality information"

    Ha!

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  13. well, I see downloading those books as a sign of desperation for some people.
    those books cost huge loads of money for some people. and while living in ukraine, being a student, not getting sufficient information in your university, when u go and try to find a job after graduating u'll find that u need skills partly covered in all those books, buying which, is living beyond your means.

    no one makes a discount for a student in our country, and u just can't afford to pay 25-40$ while your grant is just as much every month

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  14. Well, I grew up in a truly socialist country (Yugoslavia, if you still remember what that was) and we were always short on books, but I am not sure that's a valid excuse. There's always the option of used books (which are usually around 1/3 of the original price) and libraries. If nothing else, start your own Cisco user group and pool the money to buy what you need.

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  15. As a end user who likes to have a lot of books as reference but only read cover to cover part of those I find Safari Bookshelf to be great. I have access to all Cisco books and can easily search them. I buy physical books on the keepers and must have and Safari for the rest.

    Ivan, as an author how do you feel about Safari?

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  16. Just so you know, I support you. But I have no clue what can seriously be done about the "I want free stuff" kiddies (kiddies here implying mental age)

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  17. Neither do I. As Clay Shirky recently wrote, "The essence of a rant, in fact, is that the ranter has no idea how to fix the thing being ranted about."

    http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2010/01/a-rant-about-women/

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  18. About the only time I'll go pull PDF's of a book is when I can't lay hands on a physical copy. I have absolutely no problem with authors getting paid for their work. So if I want a Cisco Press book, I go to the Cisco Press website. If they won't sell me a book, I go to Amazon. Usually that's the end of it there, as if Amazon doesn't have it new, they'll usually have it used (which doesn't do the author much good, sure, but someones making money off it at least).

    If, after all of that, I still can't find a copy, and I run across a PDF.... yeah, I'm going to download it. The Frame Relay Solutions Guide is a perfect example. Cisco Press doesn't sell it, the only copy on Amazon is used for $900+, there isn't even a copy on half.com. At that point, if I seriously needed a copy of the book, I'm going to look through a digital distribution through less reputable means.

    I believe in folks getting paid for the work they do, but I also believe that the body of knowledge needs to be preserved, and I don't think the latter should be chained to the former

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  19. I couldn't agree more with you. After a book has been out-of-print for more than X years and the publisher has no intention of reprinting it, it should be released in public domain.

    For example, I have no problem with my EIGRP book being available as a free PDF; Cisco Press won't reprint it, it's somewhat obsolete (for example, stub routers are not covered) and I will definitely not go through the pains of getting the rights back from Cisco Press to publish it myself.

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  20. What do you think about self-publishing? There are next-generation companies like lulu (lulu.com), who acts like a platform, helping authors to publish their books. There are variety of services from designing a cover to distributing electronic, DRM protected copy.
    IMO, the problem with old-fashioned printing-press publish format is big fat publisher/distributor margin, where author gets just small amount of that customer pays for a book. With self publishing, books can cost less while author award still remain the same (or even raise). This will make possible for more people, specially from 3rd world countries, to afford the knowledge.

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  21. I've been looking at them for over a year. I "just" have to choose a good enough topic and decide to jump ;) BTW, do you have any suggestion for a DRM solution?

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  22. Lulu using both Adobe Digital Editions DRM, and it looks like most common method.
    You can check http://www.lulu.com/en/help/ebook_faq/?cid=us_ebk to get more info.

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  23. Fantastic. They didn't have that ability the last time I've checked. Thank you !!!

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Ivan Pepelnjak, CCIE#1354, is the chief technology advisor for NIL Data Communications. He has been designing and implementing large-scale data communications networks as well as teaching and writing books about advanced technologies since 1990. See his full profile, contact him or follow @ioshints on Twitter.