I illegally download almost all the books I need for my studies. While I'm more than happy to give a middle finger to the publisher mafia, it does of course mean that the author of the book is not appropriately compensated for their work.

But: it is well-known that professors do not make substantial amounts of money for each copy sold of their textbook. Perhaps 5–15 % of the sales price of each unit sold. This usually corresponds to roughly 5–10 dollars.

With that in mind, would it be appropriate to simply send those odd 10 dollars to the author of the book that I am illegally downloading? If you are a professor who authored a book, how would you feel about this?

Controversial Post — You may use comments ONLY to suggest improvements. You may use answers ONLY to provide a solution to the specific question asked above. Moderators will remove debates, arguments or opinions without notice.

closed as primarily opinion-based by David Richerby, Flyto, Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩, Cape Code, Thomas Nov 26 at 7:57

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Comments about book prizes, alternative solutions, and comments as answers have been moved to chat. Please read this FAQ before posting another comment. – Wrzlprmft Nov 19 at 6:41
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    While this is a fair and valid question, it raises ethical ideas that would be better discussed on another forum. OK I don't see ethics, but philosophy or somewhere in that direction. – RedSonja Nov 19 at 7:48
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    "...would it be appropiate to..." This seems to be a rather subjective term. You should define "appropriate" before (and then the answer will probably become clear to you already). For a Q&A like the StackeExchanges this is not a good fit, since answers will mostly be opinionated and akin to just polls where nobody learns anything. One can possibly pose different questions that would be quite interesting (something like "Why are scientific text books so expensive?" or "Why are authors only paid a small share of the total selling price?"). – Trilarion Nov 19 at 10:02
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    Could you clarify what you mean by "illegally downloading"? In most jurisdictions, just downloading "pirated" media is perfectly legal. The specifics might matter. – Ruther Rendommeleigh Nov 19 at 12:53
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    Sadly none of the answers so far have discussed about the possibility that the author(s) is no longer alive. They solely focused on alive authors, dismissing the case of dead authors. If one does like you did (download almost all the books for your studies), then the probability to download at least 1 book from a dead author(s) is non negligible. Yet this case has been totally ignored thus far...! – Kentucker_Filled_Turkey Nov 25 at 19:45

17 Answers 17

With that in mind, would it be appropriate to simply send those odd 10 dollars to the author of the book that I am illegally downloading?

First, I would be concerned about your legal exposure. You would be effectively admitting piracy.

Second, you cannot unilaterally change the terms of sale. When the professor published the book, they agreed to sell it through the publisher in exchange for certain terms. The legal and (in my view) ethical options are to accept or decline these terms; you cannot invent and execute your own terms instead, even if they seem reasonable. In short, this is a rationalization. (That said, I personally am sympathetic to your concerns about publishing companies exploiting college students.)

Thus, the "appropriate" thing to do is to buy the books through legal channels.

If you are a professor who authored a book, how would you feel about this?

Not a professor, but I have taught and written a book with thousands of copies sold. I'm sure I am losing money due to piracy, but I have never received a payment like you describe.

  • Realistically, if I were to receive cash anonymously, I would probably chuckle and pocket the cash, or maybe set it aside for a few years to see if anything came of it.
  • If I received money from a known student, I would be very concerned about the appearance of impropriety, and would not accept it. I would also be concerned about whether I should report the piracy, though I probably wouldn't.
  • If this "caught on" and I was receiving a non-negligible amount of money from many pirates, I would have to talk to the publisher and seek guidance.

I find the moralistic tone of some of the other answers a bit distasteful, and also unhelpful. It’s pretty clear to me that you didn’t come here to ask for a general lecture about the pros and cons of piracy of textbooks and other digital content, and that is the sort of knowledge that already exists in a zillion different places and isn’t worth repeating. You had specific questions that aren’t addressed anywhere else, so I’ll try to answer them.

With that in mind, would it be appropiate to simply send those odd 10 dollars to the author of the book that I am illegally downloading?

I don’t find anything inappropriate about the act of sending $10 to a book author, no matter the reason. However, I should emphasize that that doesn’t mean that I think everything you’ve described yourself doing is “appropriate”. And to the extent that some of the other things you are doing are inappropriate, they will still be inappropriate even if you send $10 to book authors.

If you are a professor who authored a book, how would you feel about this?

Well, I am a professor who authored a book.* I would be a little amused, but mostly indifferent. I wouldn’t think more of you for doing it, but I wouldn’t think less of you (compared to my opinion of someone who pirated my book but didn’t send me $10, that is) either. I would likely think that you had decent intentions, but were expressing them in a way that was somewhat misguided.

Should I send professors 10 dollars for illegally downloading their books?

The sending of $10 to authors by itself is not a terrible idea and on the face of it is mostly just harmless and inconsequential (as opposed to the act of piracy itself, which is a lot more consequential but is not what you asked about, so I won’t discuss it). I’d still advise against it, but not for any of the reasons other people mentioned. Mostly I think that if you went ahead with it it would be a way for you to delude yourself into thinking that this act cleanses your conscience and absolves you of ethical responsibility for the act of illegally downloading the book. It is a kind of a cop-out: you want to download books illegally but also want to think that you’re an ethical person, so you’ve come up with this plan to allow yourself to think that you’ve achieved both goals but for a fraction of the “normal” price. Well, I’m afraid you don’t get off so easily. Ethics doesn’t work that way.

To summarize, I can’t tell you what you should do, but whatever you do, my advice is, own your actions. If you choose to download books illegally, do so after informing yourself about precisely what that means and what the consequences (ethical and otherwise) are — for yourself, for book authors, for publishers, for other readers and people who would have become readers of books that might never get published, etc — and make sure you can defend your decision and be at peace with it. But don’t go for half-baked solutions like sending some pittance to the book author to help yourself feel better and pretend you don’t need to think about the issue anymore. The truth is, you do need to think more about the issue. It is a complicated issue and the level of thinking about it where I think you’re currently at is only beginning to scratch the surface of its true complexity.

Thanks for the interesting question!


*Actually my book cannot be pirated since I give the digital copy away for free on my website (for a variety of reasons, including the knowledge that if I don’t then a pirated copy would likely be available anyway), with my publisher’s permission of course. What I wrote above about how I would feel refers to my best attempt at imagining a hypothetical scenario in which I wrote a book that I was not giving away digitally for free. But I think it’s a fairly accurate guess anyway.

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    The legal ramifications of sending money to someone to make amends for piracy is not something to be taken lightly. It is not only about the taxes the reciever has to pay, but now the reciever is selling bootleg copies of his work, the publisher might intervene quite harshly. – Bent Nov 18 at 11:42
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    What disturbs me about the whole idea is the following: the legal aspect is the legal aspect and there are various views on that (I support the Open Access perspective; the EU has made a great effort to enforce it) - however, the OP tries to recruit the prof into their view of how legitimate author reimbursement should look like. This is what really disturbs me about this proposal; not every accepter of the money would realise that they play along the arbitrarily made-up game rules of OP. – Captain Emacs Nov 18 at 11:55
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    @Bent if someone sent me $10 without asking me, I wouldn’t consider myself to have “stolen bootleg copies of my work”, nor do I think that I would be legally complicit in an illegal sale in any way (think about it like this: it would be very problematic if the law had such a loophole that enabled you to make someone a criminal just by sending them $10). It should be very clear, what OP decides to do is %100 on him. – Dan Romik Nov 18 at 15:35
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    @Bent that’s really interesting, thanks. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it I guess. By the way, any chance you can tell me the name of the felony I’d be committing by receiving money of unknown origin? I’m not disbelieving you, just curious. – Dan Romik Nov 19 at 1:11
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    @Bent By that legal theory, wouldn't every church that had members involved with the Mafia be legally complicit with their activity? If an entity could be prosecuted for receiving anonymous donations from a dubious source, I'd think a rather large number of charitable organizations would be unable to continue operating. – jmbpiano Nov 19 at 14:57

Actually, what you should do, if you want to behave ethically, is purchase legal copies of the books you've stolen.


This answer has generated a lot of controversy. Let me explain a bit of the background and thinking behind it. It will take me more than one edit to be complete, so please be patient. Most of this annex is derived from comments I've made elsewhere here.

First, I don't make any legal argument at all. Everything I've written here is that it is unethical to unilaterally break a social contract, substituting your own terms, taking something that isn't yours and benefitting from it without compensating the producers (both authors and publishers) who have expended resources in its creation. It is an insult to creators. I haven't discussed legality. Others here seem to be trying, like the OP, to find a way to make it sort of ok, when there is an obvious, clean, and simple solution. Purchase a legal copy. Other "solutions" are just self delusion.

The OP and others here seems to believe that the publishing industry is itself immoral and should be combatted. I agree in part with that, but only in part. But that doesn't change the ethics of this action (downloading without payment). But most people who think that publishers just rip them off, haven't thought about the problem very deeply. The main costs in publishing (paper or electronic) are acquisitions, reviewing, editing, layout/graphics, manufacture/hosting, and marketing. This in addition to the time and effort of the author(s) who produce the work. All of these are expensive undertakings and require skilled professionals.

Some of the work is done by volunteers (often reviewing). But copy editors, who improve the language and layout/book-designers etc. need to be paid. Many of the people in acquisitions, editing, and marketing need to be on the road visiting (and paying for) every conference they can find. And the marketers give away a lot of books, also.

Some here seem to think that the costs of books etc are just too high, but they have always been high. I just read that textbooks account for about 1% of the cost of education. A Calculus book (e.g. Stewart) now costs about 10 times what mine did in the early 1960s. But so does everything else. Food, housing, transportation, etc. The kindle edition of Stewart is only about 5-6 times what my hardcover was back then. I remember spending about $100 for most of a year's books and was horrified. Now is is said to be about $900. BTW, I still have that book, so it was a good investment.

Note also that the price charged on successful books includes the amortized cost of creating, but not manufacturing, the ones that never sell. It is hard to predict a winner so publishers create a lot of failed books; several for every successful one. If the price difference between ebooks and hardcovers is an indication, about half the cost is due to manufacturing. Which means that much of the cost of trying to develop most books is never recovered. So publishers absorb those costs initially, but include it in price of books that sell. This is the "cost" of choice that we pay. One model is to charge back the development cost of a failed book to the author. A clear disincentive to write.

Another reason for the high cost of all but elementary books is that the total market is both small and divided up by the presence of several book options. Choice again. If we all used Johnson & Kiokemeister's Calculus with Analytic Geometry from 1960 (a good book) then the cost would be very small. But there are new books to choose from, increasing the cost of all since most are unsuccessful, but still eat up development resources.

Some have stated that publishers have a monopoly and that they exploit it. But publishers don't have a legal monopoly. Anyone can attack their business model. Anyone can offer competition. If their profit margins are outrageous then someone has a lot of incentive to do it. But no one has yet been able to put all the pieces together (from acquisition to distribution) to make it any cheaper for buyers. Some models replace paid employees with volunteers and that works up to a point, but hasn't been shown to scale. Apple's profit margin is 22%. McGraw is 25% (one of the highest). Creating things is hard work from a lot of people.

Don't get the idea here that I'm against a system in which IP is free to use. But there needs to be some incentive to produce it or it won't get produced at all. I've written some ebooks, actually, and have produced software that has been downloaded (free) more than 15,000 times. But that was my choice to do, not someone else's decision who tried to override my wishes.

My preferred solution is to work toward a system in which authors are compensated separately from book sales, say via grants funded via tax revenues. This makes the creation of IP truly a social good and a shared responsibility. Books could then be distributed for free or sold for manufacturing cost, or whatever.

My biggest complaint about the publishing industry, actually, is simply that they don't spend enough effort on marketing their titles after two years. Most authors get almost all of their revenue in those first two years because of this. Always on to the new thing.

But still, my argument here is an ethical one, not a legal or economic argument. It is wrong to substitute your decision for that of the creator of something of value - especially if it is of value to you.

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    @Buffy: I voted your answer down because it fits the too-common antipattern of answering an ethical question of the form "how can I do this better?" by "you should not do it at all". There are some cases where this is a good answer, but this isn't one of them, and in either case the answer is comment-length and devoid of justification. I am used to much better from you. – darij grinberg Nov 18 at 0:28
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    I agree with this answer except for the word “stolen”. Digital piracy is ethically problematic and in many (possibly most) circumstances unethical, but it is not identical to, and should not be conflated with, theft. I downvoted the answer because of this inaccuracy, but will undo my downvote if you edit the answer to correct this issue. – Dan Romik Nov 18 at 5:40
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    Downvoted because you don't offer an argument, merely an assertion. It's not self-evident that downloading books illegally is immoral. – Ben Crowell Nov 18 at 15:08
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    @einpoklum So since I am not rich, it would not be reasonable for me to pay this much for a nice meal at a Michelin star restaurant, and hence it would be completely moral to skip out without paying? – Tobias Kildetoft Nov 20 at 20:05
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    @einpoklum. My library, will actually let you check out e-books without charge. It isn't the same thing at all. A university could, in theory, provide e-books after making some agreement with publishers. There are other solutions that putting your own "rules" in front of everyone else's. – Buffy Nov 20 at 21:22

After thinking about it a bit more, I wouldn’t do this. Here’s a few reasons:

  • The professor will have to waste their time trying to decide whether or not to accept your offer, and surely they have better things to do.

  • They may have to declare such sources of income if they become large enough, so you’re creating issues for them without offering much help.

  • You need to hide your identity otherwise it will be obvious you’ve breached anti-piracy laws.

  • The publisher may or may not have contributed considerably to the book (e.g. editing, advertising) and cutting them out of the picture goes “too far” in the direction of rewarding the content creator and denying rewards to the content distributor.

In short then, I wouldn’t do this.

However, also I disagree with Buffy’s answer. Ebooks are a non-rival good. Hence the ethics of “stealing” them is pretty complicated, and in my view there are situations where “stealing” a non-rival good is permissible or even obligatory. It’s inaccurate to call this “simple theft” in my opinion. In any event, whether you send them money or not, I wouldn’t feel too guilty about this¹.


¹ Roughly: If an ebook is on sale for $70 and it has $90 of value for you, buy it. If it has $50 of value for you, then obviously you’re not going to buy it. So you either get some value from this ebook (by “stealing” it) or you don’t (by not “stealing” it.) Therefore you should “steal” it, since society ends up $50 better off overall if and only if you “steal” it. And if, upon reading it you find that the total value to you has exceeded $70, then you should buy it.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please read this FAQ before posting another comment. – Wrzlprmft Nov 20 at 12:19
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    This answer holds true for all e-books. I would further add that textbooks in particular "spread out" their value to society in a way that other books (say, fiction) generally do not; ie, the information in the textbook is meant to be put to use in productive work for the benefit of the public. – user447648 Nov 23 at 13:57
  • I agree with you 100%. Unfortunately, I can give you only one vote :-( – Kushan Randima Nov 24 at 23:44
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    "The professor will have to waste their time trying to decide whether or not to accept your offer" this can be bypassed by simply saying "I liked you book and sent you an additional $10". The author has no reason to not accept the gift; it's not offered in exchange it's given as a gift. – pbhj Nov 25 at 22:30
  • @pbhj, that's actually a pretty good idea! – goblin Nov 28 at 8:03

If you are a professor who authored a book, how would you feel about this?

I'd feel extremely annoyed. You're not only doing something illegal, you're cheating someone of their work. This wouldn't be because of money - it's very unlikely I wrote the book to make money. It'd be about justice and fairness, concepts which are too core to my values to compromise for $10. Plus the fact that you pirated my book means someone with even less scruples than you could also have pirated it.

My likely reaction is to notify the publisher at once, and if it comes to a lawsuit, I'd testify against you.

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    This answer is not clear; could you explain please? The part that I find confusing is that you speak of cheating someone of their work, but immediately then insist not because of money, as it is very unlikely you wrote to make money. First, then why did you write the book? Second, then how were you cheated, if not because of money (where you feel cheated precisely because no money was given to the publisher). To recap, please explain: 1) Who is cheated and how? 2) If not for money, why did you write the book? 3) If you do not write for money, why don't you give the book online for free? – Aaron Nov 20 at 20:54
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    @Aaron the publisher is cheated of their work done. That, I think, answers the other questions as well. – Allure Nov 20 at 21:33
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    @Aaron there's another question about this - academia.stackexchange.com/questions/63951/…. My perspective is, publishers do a nontrivial amount of work. If I engage their services, I can't give the book away for free anymore (unless I make it open access, in which case I need to pay the publisher a substantial amount of money). The alternative is to not engage the publisher in the first place, which significantly increases the effort required to publish the book (not to mention distribute it). – Allure Nov 20 at 22:55
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    @Allure my publisher allows me to give my book away freely online, which I do. I didn’t even have to ask for permission, it was included in the standard contract they offered me. Not all publishers are so enlightened of course, and I assume this has to do with the style and target audience of the book. But still: I think the premises underlying your comment need to be re-examined. Basically if you wrote a textbook and actually didn’t care about the money and wanted to give it away for free, it would not be at all hard to achieve without any ethical problems related to cheating the publisher. – Dan Romik Nov 21 at 6:35
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    @Allure Many people prefer a nicely bound copy of the book instead of either a purely electronic version or a bunch of loose sheets of paper. – Tobias Kildetoft Nov 21 at 9:45

Undertake a sincere and useful civic action as penance for your (somewhat self-righteously defended) abuse. Collect all the students at your university. Sign a petition to your state representative (or equivalent for outside the US). State your case with proof rather than subjective statements such as "... it is well-known that". Demonstrate why you believe that publishers hold the equivalent of a virtual monopoly on textbooks, for example because they keep the costs to enter the textbook publishing business at a prohibitive level. Demonstrate where you find their business model has increased the expense of textbooks unfairly, for example because relatively higher portions of the costs for a textbook are going to pay salaries at upper administrative levels. State a case for how this is causing the cost of education to be well beyond the means of today's college students even with loans. Propose and demand appropriate legislative action to fix the problem.

Start a movement that will do something beyond raising a (rather disrespectful) attitude about the problem and then asking for moral support in a discussion forum for what amounts to a penny that will be given in disdain. In other words, as much as I emphasize with the pain any student faces with covering the costs of textbooks, my proposal absolutely will not make right the action of effectively stealing a textbook. If nothing else, it is only a far better penance than sending money to the author.

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    I just read that textbooks account for about 1% of the cost of education. A Calculus book (e.g. Stewart) now costs about 10 times what mine did in the early 1960s. But so does everything else. Food, housing, transportation, etc. The kindle edition of Stewart is only about 5-6 times what my hardcover was back then. I remember spending about $100 for most of a year's books and was horrified. Now is is said to be about $900. BTW, I still have that book, so it was a good investment. – Buffy Nov 18 at 14:22
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    While the relative cost may be low, it is still a substantial out of pocket expense. Loans and scholarships do not pay for the textbooks. As I stand now on the other side, I am pained to see students struggle to have to buy books that are, as you say, well beyond the costs that should be reasonable. I can buy a smart phone today at nearly the same cost as I paid for my first programmable TI calculator back then. Why can't I buy a textbook today for the same cost as back then? Is the paper today made of gold or platinum? – Jeffrey J Weimer Nov 18 at 14:34
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    See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law. There is no such law for paper. – Buffy Nov 18 at 14:37
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    One civic act that might actually help is to work toward a system in which authors are compensated separately from book sales, say via tax revenues. This makes the creation of IP truly a social good and a shared responsibility. Books could then be distributed for free or sold for manufacturing cost, or whatever. – Buffy Nov 18 at 14:52
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    Publishers don't have a legal monopoly. Anyone can attack their business model. Anyone can offer competition. If their profit margins are outrageous then someone has a lot of incentive to do it. But no one has yet been able to put all the pieces together (from acquisition to distribution) to make it any cheaper for buyers. Some models replace paid employees with volunteers and that works up to a point, but hasn't been shown to scale. Apple's profit margin is 22%. McGraw is 25% (one of the highest). Creating things is hard work from a lot of people. – Buffy Nov 18 at 15:40

TL;DR:
Ask your librarian how to obtain mandatory textbooks, articles etc. You will be surprised what they can actually do for you.


I doubt you are obliged to buy the book but rather bring the book with you to the course. Am I nitpicking? Probably yes.

There is a significant difference, tough. In the second, highly probable, case you can borrow the book in the university library for a whole semester, month, week, etc. for "free" and the books lended by the library were paid fairly through their budget. Usually, textbooks are published within the university publisher and the library usually keeps enough copies to supply the students. Do go ask your librarian whether they possess the textbook needed and borrow it.

When you are there, do yourself a favour and ask for online access to scientific journals and publisher houses outside your university. As a student you should have some access to such resources as well - your university is paying A LOT for such access. In the end you can find you didn't pirate at all. You should find that - the school shall provide you anything mandatory to the whole study - books, hardware, software, and tools.

I have also heard many times "You should buy this textbook..." but it was in lectures the teacher expects we, students, will use the book not just in one semester and/or we will write notes in there. Many times they were right, sometimes they weren't.


"free" means that you may be obliged to pay annual access to the library, you are paying for the course and the access is a part of the package provided. At least you or your parents pay taxes that contribute to the university budget and the library is an unsignificant part of it.

Actually, you have payed for the book the day you become a student and even notice that.

  • I don't think you're actually answering OP's question. – einpoklum Nov 21 at 18:52
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    @einpoklum When a student borrows a book "for free" at university's libraray the payment for the book was done by the library and funded from government. OP does not need to pay anything extra, no harm is done and no moral dilemmas are created. – Crowley Nov 21 at 19:04
  • This comment is the crux of your answer per-se... – einpoklum Nov 21 at 20:06
  • @einpoklum I have embedded the comment in the answer not to rely on an implications: You can borrow it legally => payment was done => no crime committed => no dillemma. – Crowley Nov 21 at 20:14

It sounds like you would be sending the money anonymously, presumably cash in the mail, and that raises another point: receiving anonymous mail can make people nervous.

My instinctual guess on receiving an anonymous envelope would be that it's going to be something unpleasant: a scam, or hate mail, or sexual harassment, or crazy ranting, or (in this day and age) maybe anthrax. "Money from a reader who pirated my book" is not going to make the top 10. There's a fair chance that I might destroy it without opening it.

At the very least, for many people, it'll cause them more than $10 worth of anxiety. If your goal is to do something nice for the author, this seems likely to achieve the opposite.

  • I assume the envelope will come with a nice (anonymous) thank-you letter that explains what the money is for. – Federico Poloni Nov 26 at 9:14
  • @FedericoPoloni: Sure. My point is that the anxiety comes before the envelope is opened. Putting a nice letter inside the envelope doesn't help with that. – Nate Eldredge Nov 26 at 15:27

Absolutely don't do it!

I illegally download almost all the books I need for my studies.

Don't be so sure it's illegal. You didn't specify where in the world you live, nor where the books were published, but in some countries it's perfectly legal, and in some other countries it's a gray area, despite opinions to the contrary.

While I'm more than happy to give a middle-finger to the publisher mafia, it does of course mean that the author of the book is not appropriately compensated for their work.

You seem to be assuming there is some damage or loss to the author of someone making a copy of his/her book, for which s/he needs to be compensated. That is the subject of philosophical, political and at times legal debate.

But ... it is well-known that professors do not make substantial amounts of money for each copy sold of their textbook.

No, this is not well known at all; some academics lose money due to publishing books and/or get no money per copy sold. What is, however, generally the case is that Professors are employed full-time and need not worry about their material welfare due to more or less money coming in from book sales.

With that in mind, would it be appropriate to simply send those odd 10 dollars to the author of the book that I am illegally downloading?

So, this would probably not be necessary even from a moral/social/political perspective. But more importantly: It would be quite dangerous, since you would be waving a flag above your head calling to be investigated for copyright violation. Regardless of what such a turn of events will result in, it would mean hassle, stress, expenses and discomfort for you and your family, roommates, friends etc.

If you are a professor who authored a book, how would you feel about this?

I would feel sorry for having put a student of my work at risk of legal action, fine or jail time; and I would also feel sorry for having taken 10 dollars from a likely much less well-off person who probably needs the money more than I do.

... instead, do something else:

You know, "pay it forward":

  • If you know of a cause the author supports - consider donating to it.
  • If you're writing some academic material or software - consider making it freely-downloadable, officially.
  • If you're just an undergrad - perhaps do some kind of volunteer work, like helping high-school students who are having trouble keep up with some tutoring.

this would not be "penance" for your download. On the contrary, it would strengthen the same principle you applied in downloading the book in the first place, which is that knowledge, research, insight should be shared more freely, and that the more-established should help the less-established (e.g. in terms of knowledge).

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    "Don't be so sure it's illegal." Pretty confident that worldwide things are inclining towards downloading ebooks without paying being illegal, see e.g. academia.stackexchange.com/questions/86414/…?, which doesn't deal with this exact question but is quite close. – Allure Nov 19 at 23:01
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    @Allure: Even the top answer to the question you linked to says "There does not seem to be one court case where one was prosecuted for just downloading such material.", and that some legal scholars (and zero court decision) consider it as "probably illegal (as opposed to: "illegal"). And that's in a country of your choice. – einpoklum Nov 19 at 23:36
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    I link you the Law.SE question and leave it at that. law.stackexchange.com/questions/33639/… "Section 60c permits copying only up to 75% of a work for personal research, with some exceptions for smaller works that presumably do not apply to monographs, so it would not permit the download you describe if the download would otherwise be forbidden." I don't have anything more to say to you - I consider the case that it is illegal well established, and you're just grasping at straws. – Allure Nov 20 at 21:42
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    @Allure: I've removed my comments now that you've linked to the Law.SE question. I think you've phrased it in a loaded way though. Also, your conclusion from the discussion in that question is faulty. That is, the answers there do not establish that downloading a book from SciHub is illegal in Germany; at most, they suggest it is possibly illegal, or likely illegal. – einpoklum Nov 20 at 22:47
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    @Allure That does sound like more of a problem for the person providing the copies than it is for someone receiving such a copy, and my instinct would be that the downloader would not be at fault but only the uploader, as has often been the case in law (uploaders have been prosecuted before and had heavy penalties). But I do not know enough about the EU nor that specific case you guys are discussing, so I cannot insist on this and only suggest that the law.SE people have made a minor mistake in confusing downloading with uploading. – Aaron Nov 20 at 22:47

It is not appropriate.

Apart from anything else you are putting the Professor in a difficult position. They have a contract with their publisher to distribute the books for a share of the proceeds, in bypassing this arrangement you are effectively making the professor complicit and potentially putting them in breech of contract.

It is also worth mentioning at this point that academic and technical books are expensive to buy because they ere expensive to publish, requiring a lot of specialist editorial oversight and usually fairly sophisticated formatting and tend to sell in relatively small volumes. If the author wanted to put the text up on a website or otherwise self-publish for a lower price they had the option to do so.

Equally ignoring known breeches of copyright can be seen as tacit permission so you may be harming their copyright claim by admitting to piracy and effectively putting them in a position of either condoning piracy of their own work or reporting you neither or which they will particularly want to do.

You could argue that these are trivial concerns and accepting £10 dollars isn't going to cause them any real harm but you are also questioning their integrity by offering them what could well be considered a bribe to ignore copyright infringement, something which tends to be taken very seriously in academic circles.

There are also potential ethical and professional concerns for professors receiving money from students for legally dubious activities.

So quite apart form the legal moral issues associated with the original piracy giving the author money under the counter is then forcing them to make an ethical judgement and probably causing them much more hassle than it is worth.

They would also be very foolish to accept as you are putting them in a position where you could cause them serious harm by revealing the transaction. For example if you told the university authorities that a professor had been taking money to ignore copyright infringement it would at the very least be very embarrassing for them, probably a lot more so than it would be for you. I'm not suggesting that you intend to do anything of the kind but it creates a situation where you could.

Equally while academics may be prepared to turn a blind eye to suspected pirating textbooks by students, offering them money more or less forces them to take a position on the subject.

Understand that you are not negotiating a price with the author, you are giving them an arbitrary amount of money which doesn't entitle you to legally use the books you've downloaded. What you do is essentially a gift and I suggest you label and treat it as such. Giving a gift makes it clear there's no obligations for the receiver for accepting it (like granting you a license to use the pirated book) which they wouldn't be able to fulfill. Small gifts also have no impact on taxes (AFAIK in US gifts are only taxed when they exceed $15K/year), so there's no good reason to refuse them. Especially if you tell the author that you'd like to thank them from the great book they have written, without specifying how you obtained the book.

If you phrase your money transfer as "Here's $10 for your book which I got from a site so-and-so", then strictly speaking, the author will not be able to accept your money. You clearly sound like you're paying for a service (granting you the rights to use the book), which the author will most probably not be able to provide because that would be forbidden by their contract with the publisher. The only reasonable thing the author can do is to refuse your payment.

  • Saying something is a gift isn't enough to make it a gift. If I stopped paying my gardener or cleaner but made occasional gifts instead, the taxman wouldn't be sympathetic. – Michael Kay Nov 22 at 18:35
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    If you mow your lawn yourself, you absolutely can gift money to your gardener without any worries. What the OP does is exactly a gift: they don't expect the other party to do anything for the money they're sending. – Dmitry Grigoryev Nov 23 at 8:39
  • It is clearly a payment in recognition of the work done by the recipient, rather like a tip given to a hairdresser as thanks for a job well done. If it were common practice for professors to earn significant income this way, I'm sure the taxman would treat it as income. – Michael Kay Nov 23 at 8:54
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    @MichaelKay Actually, a tip to the hairdresser is much more likely to be subject to tax than money sent to a professor in recognition of their book. As long as the hairdresser does your hair, you have a business relationship with them. This is not the case of a professor who wrote a book you like, unless the said professor also tutors you or sells you their books directly. – Dmitry Grigoryev Nov 23 at 9:07
  • You clearly don't' understand even the basic premise of the situation if you think they stole the book. They're not denying anyone access, it's not stealing. And that's not just pedantry (essential in question of morality, ethics, and law) but also a very important element of the analysis. Copyright is not a natural right but is a right granted by the demos, a right which has been wildly perverted from it's original form; but is nonetheless the key element in the analysis from the legal side. You might as well have answered a question about a cake by saying "don't make it with PVA". – pbhj Nov 25 at 22:38

As the author of a book that has sold quite well, but is no doubt also pirated a fair bit, I would say that receiving a small sum like this in the post would create an ethical dilemma far exceeding the actual value.

(a) should I declare it to the taxman?

(b) should I declare it to my publisher? After all, I now know that you have stolen $50 from them and they might want to take action.

(c) should I inform the police? After all, I have become aware of a crime.

Quite apart from that, converting $10 into my local currency isn't worth the hassle or the bank commission.

Incidentally, don't underestimate the contribution of the publisher to the total value of a technical book. They have delivered a far more useful product than I could have achieved on my own, both in terms of the textual content but also in terms of the value added by effective presentation.

  • If you use Paypal, you can receive as little as $1 in pretty much any currency and still get at least a half of the sum on your account after the commission. (a), (b) and (c) would still apply though. – Dmitry Grigoryev Nov 23 at 9:18

You got a textbook illegally, without paying, but you are thinking about giving some money to the author. That puts you ahead of many people.

The implementation is not too good. If you send $10 to the author, that is income to the author, which needs to be declared if the author wants to stay legal himself.

I would recommend that you figure out how much the book was worth to you, and donate that amount of money to a charity.

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    Sorry, that is just a "feel good" act that doesn't address the problem in any way. Of course it is good to donate to charity in any case, but not just to make yourself feel better for a wrong you did. – Buffy Nov 18 at 14:48
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    @Buffy: Nirvana fallacy. Illegally copying books and then donating money to a charity is not as good as paying for the books, but better than illegally copying books and not donating money to a charity. – gnasher729 Nov 18 at 18:14
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    Hmmm. So, I take an IPad from the Apple store without paying. Then donating half its value to my favorite charity makes it ok? Or taking a 50 cent candy bar from my corner store and then dropping a quarter into the Sunday collection plate. Fine? Is there a fallacy of "pretend ethical behavior", I wonder? FWIW, I think my Toyota was greatly overpriced and the dealer has some policies I don't like. Hmmm. – Buffy Nov 18 at 18:59
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    @Buffy gnasher didn’t say it “makes it okay”, just that it’s better than OP’s proposed action. Sounds correct to me, and closer to being an answer to OP’s actual question than what you wrote (which is also mostly correct). And to answer your question, donating half the value of the stolen iPad to charity doesn’t make it okay, but it’s preferable to just stealing an iPad. How does this rhetorical question advance the discussion exactly? Everything you’ve written here only addresses the question “is it okay to illegally download books?” rather than OP’s actual (and different) question. – Dan Romik Nov 18 at 23:36
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    @DanRomik, no, you are not correct. Everything I've written here is that it is unethical to unilaterally break a social contract, substituting your own terms, taking something that isn't yours and benefitting from it without compensating the producers (both authors and publishers) who have expended resources in its creation. It is an insult to creators. I haven't discussed legality. Others here seem to be trying, like the OP, to find a way to make it sort of ok, when there is an obvious, clean, and simple solution. Purchase a legal copy. Other "solutions" are just self delusion. – Buffy Nov 18 at 23:52

If someone illegally took your intellectual property and decided for themselves how much they should pay for it, and on what terms, would you be happy with that? I suspect not, in which case you probably shouldn't do it to other people. The golden rule ("do unto others") is a good basic start for academic ethical issues, and it applies to the publisher as much as to the professor.

Edited to add. If I were the author, I would not want to be sent money for my book, other than via the publisher to whom I have presumably already transferred the copyright in return for payment, as accepting it would be a violation of the "golden rule".

As many people have already mentioned, you want to absolve your guilt of pirating a thing by sending a meager amount of money (that you can afford) to its creator.

I would say, don't do it. Don't send money to the creator.

The legal/ethical concerns have been addressed in other answers/comments. I download pirated books too. They are very costly and I can't afford them as yet. So, if I like a book & it really helps me in my project/work, I leave a detailed review of the book on Google, Amazon et al. I also mention it to my friends in my social circle.

Basically, I take up the role of an advertiser for the book/author. My review/recommendation can attract more people to this book & some of them, more ethically inclined then me, will choose to buy this book from the publisher.

Piracy is a very complicated topic. One way I try to uncomplicate it is by advertising it (the thing that I pirate) to more people & leaving detailed review & rating on the internet. There are no legal/ethical hassles to you or the creator with this approach.

  • Yeas and no. It comes to the typical "for exposure" argument. No: Of course you can give them exposure, but if this only means more pirated copies, this is no adequate payment. Yes: OP seems to have pirated the book and does not want to pay the full price, so a review is better than nothing at all. but he should not feel like he paid it back by leaving the review. – allo Nov 21 at 9:26

There is a financial aspect you should also consider: these professors will receive unexpected money they need to somehow

  • declare or not
  • explain the provenance of, if someone (tax office, financial fraud groups, etc.) asks them

Both cases are probably over the top for 10 USD (and you will likely be only one to send them the money) but can be stressful to them.

Send the money to a charity instead.

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    By this logic one should never tip in a restaurant. The poor servant will have so much trouble handling this unexpected money. – Dmitry Grigoryev Nov 23 at 8:44
  • @DmitryGrigoryev: tip money is cash (at least where I leave). A wire transfer is completely traceable. But of course, as I mentioned, 10 USD is not worth the worry - I added the answer for completeness. (the condescending tone of your comment is not useful) – WoJ Nov 24 at 8:18

I think a reasonable answer would be to create an anonymous email account and ask those authors this question. That said, I wouldn't worry about any full (tenured) professors' going hungry, nor would I worry about the publishers, who have an obscene profit motive with hugely inflated costs (and a very wasteful business model). There is a reason why there is huge consolidation in publishing: it is a capital intensive, highly profitable business. If you've got money burning a hole in your pocket and a desire to make a contribution, then find some way of puting that money toward the book purchases of someone less able to afford them.

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    The only answer the author can give without getting themselves on legal trouble is to tell you to abide to the law and legally purchase a copy of the book. Otherwise, they would be advising you to break the law stole from their partner (the publisher). In fact, jeffmcneill's reasonable answer seems a great scheme to fish for material to blackmail authors. – Pere Nov 18 at 14:53
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    This is in fact wrong. There are many responses to the question which do not "advise" anyone to break a law. The fact someone is claiming they have done something illegal in no way requires that a person simply has to parrot back the simplistic formulation of "legally purchase a copy of the book". Examples: Donate to charity, buy a book for another student, etc. Obviously an author in a contract with a publisher is constrained on how they can distribute their works, but that does not mean they have their ability to speak freely stripped from them. – jeffmcneill Nov 21 at 3:30
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    If the profit margins were truly unreasonable, then there would be a good business model for a new publisher to under-cut the competition by publishing text books at a significantly lower price. So either the free market is failing on this one, or the margins are not that unreasonable. – Dikran Marsupial Nov 22 at 12:14
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    @DikranMarsupial your either/or statement seems correct, but it’s worth pointing out that, first, the free market often fails to be efficient (among other reasons, because it is less “free” than we imagine), and second, established academic publishers enjoy all sorts of advantages over less established ones that could well allow them to maintain much higher profit margins and make it difficult for the new publishers to undercut them. For example, authors might prefer to publish with very well-known publishers because of the high credibility and prestige that comes with doing that. – Dan Romik Nov 22 at 13:56
  • "free markets" are definitely not free and there are many, many confounding factors that go into academic textbook pricing. For one, the person who selects the textbook (professor/lecturer) is not the end-buyer (student or parent), so there is very low price sensitivity. In terms of the industry, book publishing is highly profitable, capital-intensive, and a "hit-driven" business, which means the more titles and back-list, the greater profitability. This drives industry consolidation which means less choice. There are many other factors as well. – jeffmcneill Nov 22 at 15:24

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