(May 2021: I originally posted this on Pagan Activist in September 2013 and I think it remains one of the best things I’ve written. Since piracy continues to happen with pagan books I wanted to have an easily accessible copy of the post to share around. This may be in need of a sprucing up, but in the meantime, you’re welcome to share a link to this post.)
One of the recent dust-ups which have come up the greater pagan community the last few weeks has been the issue of copyright. In this round the trouble has included people posting content which is not their own as if it were as well as Facebook groups with unauthorized pdf copies of books freely available for download. In case any of you may not be sure, these acts are not only unethical but illegal.
There are already plenty of posts online explaining the basics of copyright. My friend Jennett (a fellow librarian) has a post about copyright and pagans here and Fire Lyte has an excellent post here. Go read both of them after you finish here.
In my professional life, both copyright and ethics are interests. I’m a supporter of Creative Commons and other alternatives to current copyright because I think the laws have become draconian thanks to corporate influence. But it is still the law. For ethics, yes I do believe that information should be easily available, even freely available. And I also believe strongly that the people who CREATE the information, whether it be spell, book, poem, hymn, artwork, music, deserve fair compensation and credit for their work.
The purpose of copyright was originally meant to benefit the creator. To give them a period of time in which they had exclusive control of when/where/how the material was utilized. Yes this includes the choice to work with a publisher or agent to help disseminate their work. And after a certain period of time (current law: with written works copright extends to the life of the creator plus 70 years*) the work would fall into public domain and become freely accessible.
The other point is to give creators reason to continue creating. Contrary to some possible opinions, writing a book is not a spell which makes a boatload of money open up and shower upon them. Creation is work and they deserve compensation. Not some overly entitled, short-sighted people scanning in their works and just throwing it around like so much used tissue. I know a lot of authors who are Pagan, polytheist, or neither. They WORK. They write every day in order to be able to pay their bills, keep a roof and some food around, and perhaps maybe eke out more than a poverty level existence. You may not agree with what they make but you can make sure to give them the respect to earn a living.
If you can’t afford books, fine. Go to the library. Borrow from your friends. Use a free ebook app and get legal material to read? (Hint: not only are there a lot of free books available regularly for the Kindle, but there are also those great public domain titles as well as academic institutions who have material freely available. Don’t believe me? Go look up the Oriental Institute and their publications.) And I will note this, if you can afford a smartphone and the monthly plan, I am sure you can find some room in your budget for a $15 text.
In short, stop stealing. Give credit where it is due. Ask permission. You are reading this on the internet right now. Most every author has some sort of Web presence. They might have material available or know where to get it below cost if it is really a matter of finances for you. Or search online for used copies. Which is, incidentally, acceptable under copyright. And if you messed up and did something stupid, admit to it. If you are hosting a web site or Facebook group filled with illegal pdfs, DELETE THEM. And don’t go whining when you get called out, or ban people right and left for pointing out the fact that you are breaking the law. Support your community.
We’re still a minority. We still have to fight for rights because of our religious and spiritual practices. Breaking the law does not do a thing to help us.
Now go back up to the top and read Jennet’s and Fire Lyte’s posts about copyright.
The plagiarism explosion on the internet: how to protect your work
Free plagiarism content scanning tools
A tutorial for citing resources which is something you should recall from schooling
Copyright basics (the foundational resource librarians use when they have questions
*See what I mean about draconian?
Hoffman, Gregory McCord. The ethics of copyright: an informal chat. Texas Library Journal, Fall 2004. Accessed September 6 2013, from JSTOR.