We've lost several thousand dollars in the last year from thieves that will never face justice.
We live near the end of a private road way out on a forested mountain in northwestern Montana. Our neighbors down the road know which vehicles belong here and which don't. I have several cameras recording animal movements and anyone using our road or entering our property. To top it off our area has a "reputation" that tends to keep thieves away.
It's about as secure an area a normal person could hope for.
So the question is: "How did someone manage to steal from us?"
That answer is easy: it was done over the Internet.
Now the first thing that pops into a person's mind on Internet crime is the fraudulent access and use of credit and/or debit cards. We've had that happen although the bank's safeguards have done a stellar job of stopping the last two attempts.
No, no one raided our checking accounts. It was far more insidious than that, and it's a crime that's accepted by a large percentage of the American public.
For those unfamiliar with our story, we are full-time homesteaders. Our cash income comes from writing. We've written magazine articles, editorials and books on a variety of self-sufficiency, homesteading, hunting and do-it-yourself topics. Some of these are eBooks. And that's where the problem comes in.
eBooks can be downloaded and, with the proper software, changed into file types that are easy to give away or sell.
Most people don't take this kind of theft very seriously. In fact, a lot of people don't think of it as theft at all! I remember the public outcry years ago when a woman was harshly sentenced for Internet theft of music. Her defense was that she did download the copyrighted materials in question but she never made any profit from it. She'd freely distributed her finds to anyone who wanted them!
At that time I sort of sided with her, thinking the punishment was excessive, but then it happened to my wife and I. Now we see things differently! Here's why.
The first great lie is the line that "stealing something that belongs to someone else is not really theft as long as you don't make a profit on it." Suppose you have two lawnmowers. Your neighbor doesn't believe that you need two so they take your "extra" mower from your garage and give it to someone else who needs a mower but doesn't have one. You call the police and report the neighbor but the neighbor excuses his actions by saying that he gave it away so since he didn't gain personally he didn't really "steal" it.
I'm sure that both you and the police officer investigating would see the fallacy of that! It's still stealing because he deprived you of something that was rightfully yours. Despite all the excuses and magnanimous generosity of giving your stuff away, your neighbor is a thief. If the person who he gave the mower took it knowing it was stolen merchandise, they too shared responsibility for depriving you of what was rightfully yours.
My wife has several top-selling books on Amazon. I periodically do an Internet search for pirated copies of her books (and mine). In one instance, a stolen book had been illegally downloaded over 22,000 times! That's TWENTY-TWO-THOUSAND illegal downloads of that one book! That's almost $50,000 in lost royalties. Now admittedly, not everyone that stole a copy would have purchased the book legally but if even one fourth of those stealing the book would have otherwise purchased it, the financial loss would still be $12,500 just from those lost sales!
That money wasn't taken from some huge corporation (although Amazon Kindle took a hit as well). It would have been royalties paid to my wife to help in the support of my wife, me and our 3-year-old grandson whom we are raising.
Even if it had been a rich and famous band or author it is still theft!
The second great lie is that "knowledge should be universally available for free," but even when couched as being driven by a "noble" cause, it is still stealing. Perhaps since medical care should be universally available we should expect doctors, hospitals, nurses and pharmacists to work for free!
But the real question here is not so much about the thief. Thieves are people with low moral standards. They are the leeches of society who take what others have worked for. I seriously doubt there is much hope for a moral epiphany on their part.
The real issue that needs to be addressed is the part each of us play. I've never been a fan of pirated music, videos, photos, websites or books, but I never really took a stand against it either. Now that I've seen the hours of writing my wife has done only to have her work stolen then distributed for free and now that I've seen the things we couldn't afford for our grandson because some thief gave away our source of income, I've changed my attitude and my tactics. I now speak up forcefully whenever someone steals the work of another.
It isn't noble nor is it a game. Its stealing! It's theft! It needs to be labeled as such and those who do it should be told very clearly that their actions have caused harm to others. And when it gets right down to the nitty-gritty, I have zero tolerance for people who do things like that.
Stealing eBooks is the same as stealing hardbound books from a bookstore! Photo: iStockphoto.com/SusanneB