Sharing isn’t always caring.
Last week, The Wild Hunt exposed a Facebook group illegally distributing hundreds of ebooks. At the time of reporting, The Wiccan Circle contained over 4,000 files that included information, spells, and hundreds of books by well-known Pagan authors including Scott Cunningham, Christopher Penczak, Dorothy Morrison, John Michael Greer, Deborah Blake, and others. Most of the documents were uploaded by the group owner, Thrullas Hannas. As The Wild Hunt reported:
While the group’s owner is now removing those copies, he is not only unapologetic, but has made it clear that he will find other means to share the books. He believes that it is his right because he purchased them in the first place. In response, many group members are expressing outrage, not over the sharing, but over it being stopped.
This was hurtful as a Pagan and as a writer.
I know that everyone’s Paganism and Witchcraft are different, but ‘don’t steal’ is basic, universal ethics. And what is happening in this group is illegal. In distributing an ebook to thousands of people, the group owner is showing disregard for the law. He also disrespects the authors, who are members of his broader spiritual community and whose work he is using to position himself as a generous source of learning.
Copyright infringement and plagiarism
One member asked, “How is it plagiarism when the authors are given credit?” Hannas and many of the group members don’t appear to understand what copyright infringement and plagiarism are.
Let’s get plagiarism out of the way. Plagiarism is taking someone’s ideas, works, or expressions, and passing them off as your own. That’s not what appeared to be happening in The Wiccan Circle.
Copyright infringement is using work that is protected by copyright law without permission, infringing certain exclusive rights granted to the copyright holder.
The right to reproduce and distribute a creative work belongs to its copyright holder, typically the work’s creator. It’s pretty simple: Hannas doesn’t hold the copyright to the ebooks and, therefore, he doesn’t have a right to distribute them.
Online infringement hurts artists
The Pagan community is not huge. Our authors, even the best-known among them, profit little from the sale of their books. We’re not talking about the Stephen Kings and J. K. Rowlings of the world. Many authors make only a dollar or two from every book sold.
Authors may receive an advance. Brian A. Klems at Writer’s Digest explains:
An advance is a signing bonus that’s negotiated and paid to the author before the book is published. It’s paid against future royalty earnings, which means that for every dollar you receive in an advance, you must earn a dollar from book sales before you start receiving any additional royalty payments. So, for example, if I were to receive a $10,000 advance with a royalty rate that works out to $1 per book sold (royalties are measured in percentages, but for the sake of this explanation let’s keep it simple), you would have to sell 10,000 books to pay off your advance. If your royalty rate worked out to $5 a book, you’d have to sell 2,000 copies. And so forth. After the publisher recoups your advance, it will begin to pay you royalties on subsequent sales based on the percentages outlined in the contract.
This doesn’t consider how long it may take an author to write their book. For example, let’s say it took you 15 hours a week to write a book over 6 months. That’s 360 hours. You receive an advance of $5,000. That means your hourly rate for writing that book was $13.89. Plus, there may be months of editing and revision between the time a book is picked up and actually published.
That’s a pretty good scenario for a fiction writer. A Pagan author might not get an advance at all and the royalty may be as little as $0.75 per book. That’s on books that are paid for. If a bookstore doesn’t pay their bill or returns unsold copies, even years later, that’s deducted from the author’s royalties.
Writers don’t generally write for money. They write because they are compelled to, because they have something to say, to share, to process, to educate. For many Pagan authors, writing is a sacred act and duty.
In response to The Wild Hunt story, one woman made a comment about authors lacking compassion and caring only about the money. First, as we’ve seen, Pagan authors aren’t making a lot of money from their books. Second, writers, like everyone else, deserve to be compensated for their work. Finally, many Pagan authors are generous. They blog, lead community rituals, teach and give advice for little to no money.
When you download books by Pagan authors that are illegally distributed, you are hurting creators that are already striving to earn a livelihood. They lose income and lost income prevents them from reinvesting in their creative work.
A common response to The Wild Hunt story was that some people can’t afford to buy books or may not have access to them. While this may be true, just as you can’t enter a store and steal an item you can’t afford, it’s not an excuse for depriving an author of their income.
When it comes to information about Paganism and Witchcraft, resources are abundant. There are countless blogs and many libraries also carry a few popular titles. Ebooks are cheaper than paperbacks and there are many inexpensive and even free books on Amazon. For example, Lisa Chamberlain’s ebooks cost about $3. Scott Cunningham’s Kindle editions are around $10. If that sounds like too much, then you might want to consider how badly you want to learn and what you might sacrifice in exchange for that learning.
Some people think that illegally distributing and downloading ebooks is akin to borrowing from a library or a friend because it’s free. It’s not. Libraries buy the books they carry and lending rights means authors are compensated.
An it harm none, do what ye will
As I mentioned previously, I know that everyone’s Paganism and Witchcraft are different. There isn’t a single code of ethics for all Pagans and Witches, but stealing is illegal, it’s wrong, and, in this case, shows disrespect for people in your own community whose wisdom you are seeking.
In illegally distributing ebooks by Pagan authors, you break the law and you hurt them. Downloading them adds fuel to the fire. If you didn’t know that, you do now, and you can stop. If you knowingly do so, you reveal yourself to be selfish and uncaring about the people you claim to want to learn from.
As for The Wiccan Circle Facebook group, Hannas left the group. It still contains more than 3,000 files. He has a created a new group, The Wiccan Circle 2.0.