When I mention that I’m not going to “protect” and copyright my book but make it available for free online with no restrictions, people usually give me this incredulous look and reply, “What? Do you know what you’re doing? You are throwing all that hard work and time out the window! Anybody can come along and steal your work and make money off of it!”
And this protest deserves a good answer.
1) I want to spread the message of my book. I want to get it into as many hands as possible, even if those hands don’t give me any money for it. Admittedly, this is a rather unselfish feeling and if I were trying to live off selling books this reason wouldn’t suffice.
2) People who are able to see a book for free are more likely to buy a hardcopy of it. I know that from personal experience. It makes sense. And some might say, “well, just provide a little excerpt for free.” That’s better than nothing, but maybe someone would read that excerpt and say, “huh, I don’t like this very much,” and not buy it. But if they downloaded it and started reading and kept reading they might discover they actually do like it, and if they read it all, then they might buy a hard copy, or tell their friends about it and their friends might buy it.
3) Many people don’t like reading on a computer screen and most people don’t have Kindles, they are willing to pay to get a hardcopy that they can stuff in their purse, take to the beach, or do nearly anything with.
4) Someone might download the book and then print it off instead of buying it from me. This is possible, but not likely. It is rather expensive to print off 150+ pages from your printer. And it certainly isn’t as sturdy or beautiful as a nicely-bound book with a good cover.
5) Some scholars argue that no one really has a right to “copyright” a book. These arguments are rather complex and detailed, so I won’t go into that. But it makes sense. Can anyone “copyright” a letter of the alphabet? Perhaps I decided that I “own” the letter B and that no one can use that letter without my express permission and a tidy little fee to me. Of course we all see that this is a ridiculous position. The letter B has been around much longer than me. No one “invented” the letter B, it just evolved and changed from various languages and sounds. Likewise, no one can “copyright” a combination of these letters which we call a “word.” I cannot copyright the word “word.” That would also be a ridiculous position. So why should we be able to “copyright” a combination of words? This phrase, “combination of words” has probably been used at least once before in the history of the English language. Does that mean that I cannot use it? Of course not. So why should someone be able to copyright a lengthy combination of words that we call a novel?
Another more philosophical argument comes from the foundation of economics. We recognize that some things in this world are not scarce. Air, for example, is not scarce. Non-scarce goods cannot be “owned.” Only scarce goods are owned. Why? Since they are scarce, not everyone can have them. The institution of private property allows these scarce goods to be somehow distributed. There aren’t enough pencils for everyone to have as many as they’d like. So there must be some way to sort this out and hence we have people with pencils and people without pencils. Those with pencils own the piece of wood, rubber, and lead which is called a pencil. Ideas are not scarce and hence an idea cannot be owned. Words are not scarce (except when you’re struggling with writers’ block…then they seem very scarce!) and so words cannot be “owned.”
So, I hope that helps you understand why I’ve made this decision. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know.