Responsibly Assuaging Author Concerns about File Sharing and "Piracy"

Eric Freeman, co-author of O’Reilly’s Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML and Head First Design Patterns, recently asked via email about a rise in activity for Head First books on a popular file-sharing site. His query sparked an interesting thread on the Radar back-channel that I thought worth sharing here.

The original question (sent to Tim O’Reilly, who passed it along to the Radar list):


Any thoughts on the rise of Head First titles (mostly HFDP and HTML) on Pirate Bay? I’m trying to just take it as a sign there is strong interest in the books still 😉

Hope all is well,


First to respond was Nat Torkington, who nicely summarizes the "Piracy is Progressive Taxation" argument (emphasis added):

Fantastic! There’s absolutely nothing you can do about it, and unless you see sales dipping off then I don’t think there’s anything you *should* do about it. The HF books work really well as books, so at best the torrents act as advertisements for the superior print product (not often you can say that with a straight face). At worst most of your downloads are going to people who wouldn’t have bought the book at cover price and who will, if they enjoy it, rave about it to others.

So long as the royalty checks are strong, take BitTorrent as a sign of success rather than a problem. A wise dog doesn’t let his fleas bother him.

Nikolaj Nyholm followed up referencing Make Magazine’s experience:

I agree with Nat. Tim, this is your own "my problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity." PT [Phil Torrone] has made the argument that he tracks Make popularity based on number of seeders on Pirate Bay (correct me if i’m wrong, PT). However, I’m starting to see O’Reilly books in Poland, printed in China, but with a different cover. While it’s a market that you probably wouldn’t reach with their current buying power, it’s something I’d look into nonetheless. I’ll pick up a couple of books next time I’m there and bring them next time I’m stateside.

… and then Make’s own Phil Torrone weighed in (again, emphasis added):

Yup – seeing your books / magazines on Pirate Bay is always a good thing – You’re current, you’re interesting, if you’re lucky your content transforms in to advertising for other things – for Make, the magazines become a campaign for our kits and events.

Authors are rightfully concerned to see their work pop up on peer-to-peer file sharing sites (though on occasion they’re the ones who put them there), but the answer should not be to reflexively seek to stop it (you can’t anyway).

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