Unpacking Post Heist

According to at least a few recent articles on book heists — including Margo Rabb’s sassy NY Times essay “Steal These Books” and Jim Milliot’s newsy Publishers Weekly piece, “Attributor Study Finds Pervasive Online Book To Catch a Thief, 1st edPiracy” — books are getting ripped off in increasing numbers, possibly due to recession.

It all has me wondering about more than rates of book thievery from booksellers and publishers. Not that billions of dollars and millions of copies pilfered isn’t a big deal. It is. The implications of a single act of stealing ripple far beyond that incident.

Or do they?

What do you think? (Or perhaps better, what have you stolen?)

Further, is a book thief likely to be a plagiarist? (By “plagiarist,” I mean someone [who writes] who takes another’s work in whole or in part (even unique and recognizable features) and attributes it to her- or himself.)

If s/he’s not likely to be a plagiarist, why not?

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14 thoughts on “Unpacking Post Heist

  1. Recently on a visit the Strand in NYC I was surprised that there was no longer a bag check. There has never been a bag check at the Barnes & Noble on Union Square (used to be lockers for bags at the one on 5th Ave.) though there is security and detectors at the door.

    These outlets likely move a lot more books in a day than the ones mentioned in Rabb’s article. So I am curious to what extent book stealing is an actual phenomena as much as something to talk about.

    One would also need to look at libraries.

    As to Milliot’s article the file sharing sites he references IMHO don’t seem to have very much on them to care about stealing.

    It is so much easier to use Torrent (obtained text of Infinite Jest that I have no intention to read but wanted to know the word count) or go to public domain material such as Project Gutenberg.

    Though rite-of-passage I can understand. Right of passage all alone in one’s bedroom does not quite make it in my book.

    In my youth I stole books, and magazines, but mostly because they were in the section that I was underage to buy in. I’m not sure if they lead to plagiarism as much as attempts to imitate various legendary body positions when the opportunity came along at a later date in life.

    Writing is tough enough as it is and my gut reaction is that anyone who needs to steal books probably does not have the chops to do much more than write something to entertain their immediate relatives. If they persist then eventually they may get somewhere with it, but the chances of them persisting and then getting their own ideas to write about seems fairly strong.

    It would be interesting to look at historical cases of plagiarism and compare if the authors bought or stole the works that they plagiarized.

    • Good call about libraries, G. Replacement costs are huge.

      How’d your moves turn out after all those ‘hot’ pages got turned in your early years? Worth it?

      • Ahem, though usually on a need to know disclosure, my clumsy moves have turned out to be many times more lucrative than my writing.

  2. Whether a single act of theft creates a ripple, etc., I’m not sure, but you know, butterfly effect and all that. Millions of dollars in sales is definitely something to be concerned about, as that’s money that could go towards putting out more material, but even that’s arguable because whose to say Random House won’t use their recouped shrink to put out the latest Perez Hilton book instead of the next (insert great, worthwhile author here)’s latest novel/collection. I’m not condoning it; just acknowledging there are so many angles to consider.

    But, I do feel like petty theft and plagiarism are two mostly (if not completely) different mindsets. I mean, I understand how one might draw the connection, but the former seems to be out of want of object, and the latter out of want of impressing others.

    • Interesting, C, about split between want of object and want of impressing others.

      Speaking for myself, though, stealing from mom’s purse set the bar for which objects could be purchased. The public stealing didn’t happen, and I argue wouldn’t have happened, if friends didn’t enter. That’s an “impressing others” issue.

      Perhaps I’m the only one?

      • I cannot recall ever stealing a book in order to impress anyone. Most people that I know that read books would not be impressed. Though one summer as a teenager I hung around with an in-town gang where we spent our time shop lifting small stuff. That was undeniably to impress each other. There was a group thrill in pulling it off. But if I had lifted a book with that group then I would have lost status immediately.

          • well, actually, one of my favorite narrative projects has to do with one time we stole a cigarette machine, busted it open for quarters and stale cigarettes, then loaded it onto a canoe where we subsequently in dark of night sunk the carcass in a large lake… that was a bit more of a caper than shop lifting… and in that gang there were plenty of book readers

  3. The PW article uses some very definite terms (piracy, theft) to describe something which most reasonable legal minds would not consider “stealing” at all. It’s the trade mag of one biased group citing the study of a private interest (Attributor) that makes money by “protecting” customers from “piracy.”

    Increased literacy and access to literature certainly has a ripple effect. That I believe.

    • John, yes, perspective is all, innit?

      You say, “Increased literacy and access to literature certainly has a ripple effect. That I believe.”

      Judging from results of NCLB (a brand new blog I stumbled on regarding this: http://www.chalktalkblog.com.), student literacy is, at this point, anything but increasing. That’s one ripple effect that needs to be turned fo sho. But unless everyone’s in on turning that tide, seems we’re blowing kisses at a tidal wave.

      But that’s a post of its own.

  4. I’ve heard from more than one little bird that, in the wake of Paul Zukofsky’s recent open letter regarding how he won’t really be granting permission to work on or use his father’s writing, the entirety of Louis Z’s work has become available on file-sharking networks.

    I haven’t checked this out for myself, though.

    …PZ’s open letter, in case you haven’t seen it:
    http://www.z-site.net/copyright-notice-by-pz/

    In other news, LZ’s novel LITTLE remains brilliant, also unread…

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