Confessions of a Book Pirate

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Did you know that books are being pirated? I sure didn't -- I thought piracy was limited to music, movies, and software. But apparently there's a thriving online piracy scene for old-school books. And not just eBooks -- in many cases the books are scanned, converted to text via OCR software, and proof-read by the person doing the piracy (!). Author C. Max Magee, writing for his website The Millions, explored book piracy, asking some key questions: who's downloading these books, who's uploading them, and how exactly do you pirate a book? By talking to an insider (known only by his handle "The Real Caterpillar"), Magee learned some secrets of the book pirate trade. Here are some snippets:

The Millions: How active are you. How many books have you uploaded or downloaded?

The Real Caterpillar: In the past month, I have uploaded approximately 50 books to the torrent site where you contacted me. I am much less active then I once was. I used to scan many books, but in the past two years I have only done a few. Between 2002-2005 I created around 200 ebooks by scanning the physical copy, OCRing and proofing the output, and uploading them to USENET. I generally only upload content that I have scanned, with some exceptions. I have been out of the book scene for a while, concentrating on rare and out of print movies instead of books because it is much easier to rip a movie from VHS or DVD than to scan and proof a book.

I have downloaded a couple thousand ebooks via USENET and private torrent sites.

TM: Do you typically see scanned physical books or ebooks where the DRM has been broken?

TRC: Most of what I have seen is scanned physical books. Stephen King's Under the Dome was the first DRM-broken book I downloaded knowingly.

TM: Why have you gone this route as opposed to using a library or buying books? Do you consider this "stealing" or is it a gray area?

TRC: I own around 1,600 physical books, maybe a third of which were bought new, the rest used. I buy many hardcovers in a given year and generally purchase more books than I end up reading, so I have not chosen to collect electronic books as opposed to paper books but in addition to them. My electronic library has about a 50% crossover with my physical library, so that I can read the book on my electronic reader, "loan" the book without endangering my physical copy, or eventually rid myself of the paper copy if it is a book I do not have strong feelings about.

Read the rest for a bizarre look into this underground scene.

(Via Waxy.org.) Photo courtesy of Flickr user Dawn Endico, used via Creative Commons license.

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