How The Free Rider & Leaker Benefit The Author

How The Free Rider & Leaker Benefit The Author

May 3, 2023·

10 min read

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People generally write books for two reasons: they want to spread a message, and they want to make money. However, an obsession with the value of labor has blinded many authors from realizing that free riders, namely people who read books without paying for them, actually benefit their cause instead of harming it. In this article, I am going to provide several reasons why I believe this to be the case. Note that even though I only refer to books and authors, the same logic can be applied to movies and their creators, as well as other forms of media content.

The free rider is treated with contempt because he is considered a thief by people who believe in intellectual property, even though he has not stolen anything. Intellectual property is a logically indefensible belief because resources that are not scarce cannot be owned. For a more detailed analysis of why intellectual property is illegitimate, you can read my article "Disproving Intellectual Property".

However, even amongst people who recognize that intellectual property is illegitimate, there are some who consider the free rider as a "poopyhead", because they feel that the free rider should compensate the author for their labor as this will help the author produce more content in the future.

I believe that these insults are unjustified and simply act as a way of demonstrating the author's entitlement as well as his disrespect for a beneficial actor, namely the free rider. To illustrate my point, consider the following four categories of people:

Buys Book?Reads Book?
The Buyer-ReaderYesYes
The SpenderYesNo
The Free RiderNoYes
The IgnorerNoNo

Ultimately, the author wants everybody to be a buyer-reader, because they want to spread the message contained in the book as far as possible while also maximizing the amount of money that they get from selling the book. But not everybody wants to buy the book; not everybody wants to read the book; and some are not interested in doing either.

The spender assists the author in raising money by buying the book, but they are not as helpful in spreading the message of the book. This is because they never read the book, so the chances of the message spreading from the author to them are greatly diminished. Since they are probably going to be unaware of the message of the book, it is unrealistic to expect them to spread the message to anybody else. However, in the spender's defense, the money they send to the author may help the author in promoting the book and writing more books in the future, thus indirectly contributing to the spread of the message. Interestingly enough, the spender is very rarely on the receiving end of any contempt from the author - this potentially indicates that authors often care more about making money than spreading a message.

The free rider generally gains access to the contents of the book by following a free download link on the internet. They read the book, and as a result of this, there is a good chance that the message conveyed by the author will reach them. If this message does reach the free rider and resonates with him, we can expect that the free rider will spread the message further. As a result, some people who find out about the book from the free rider may decide to buy the book instead of downloading it for free, and others may download it for free but donate money to the author. Others may act in the same way as the free rider; they may simply download the book for free, read it, and then tell more people about it. This benefits the author because not only is their message being spread, but their chances of making money are also increasing. If more people know about you as an author, it is more likely that they will send money to you. If more people know about you as an author, your social media presence will be increased, and your social media presence is an asset that you can use to make money.

Just as the spender directly helps the author make money and possibly indirectly helps spread the message of the book, the free rider does the reverse: they begin helping to spread the message of the book by the act of reading and understanding it, and further along, telling more people about it, and they indirectly help the author make more money in doing so.

Meanwhile, the ignorer's actions do not benefit the author. The ignorer does not financially contribute to the author, and he does not spread the message of the author as he is not interested in reading the book in the first place. Yet, this person is not on the receiving end of much derision. At most, they may be ridiculed for not having read a book. But nobody is going to call them a thief or a poopyhead because they have not yet bought and read a specific book. The reason for this is that the author hopes that the ignorer will one day buy the book and calling the ignorer's character into question will probably make him less likely to buy the book. Perhaps such authors are indeed more interested in making money than spreading a message.

Should authors be criticized for wanting to make money? Of course not. There is nothing wrong with wanting to make money and attempting to do so using peaceful means is perfectly legitimate. However, authors are generally not naive enough to think that writing books is a lucrative business. After all, authors often only get a small cut of the revenue generated by book sales since a large percentage often ends up in the pockets of publishers. Meanwhile, they find themselves in an extremely competitive market, and they are not only competing against other authors - but also against movie makers and other types of content creators. As such, I believe that authors should not blame free riders for not paying them for their labor; if money is the main concern, then authors should logically pick a more efficacious way of procuring funds, or make the difficult attempt to rise into a very select group of elite authors by writing books that resonate with the masses.

I believe that I have adequately defended the free rider. Now let us turn to an even more controversial person - the one who facilitates the free rider: the leaker. Assume a scenario in which an author writes a book in digital format as a PDF. The author does not want this book to leak. If you want to buy this digital book from the author, he only agrees to sell it to you if you pay him $50 and sign a contract stipulating that in the event that you leak the PDF, you owe him an extra $100. He also wants you to promise that you will not leak it. You promise not to leak it. You sign the contract, pay the author $50 and receive the PDF. You read the PDF and you find the message very inspiring. A day later, you decide to leak the PDF to the internet by uploading it to a file-sharing site and distributing the link on social media.

A caveat is that if the book was not sold in digital format, but instead the contract stipulated that the author would sell the physical book to a buyer on the condition that they did not transfer it to anybody else, then the buyer would be engaged in fraud by transferring it to anybody else. This is because the author would essentially be letting the buyer use his property - namely the scarce resource of the physical book - in a specific way, and if the buyer violated these terms, they would be violating the property rights of the author. But this does not apply in the case of a PDF because nobody can own a PDF, so no title transfer can apply to it.

Some may incorrectly argue that you are a criminal for leaking the PDF. The first argument is that you somehow stole the PDF from the author. But this is not the case. The author does not own the PDF. Nobody can own a PDF - it is not a scarce resource. A PDF can be infinitely duplicated without it being taken away from anyone. As such, no theft is involved.

The second argument is that you are a criminal for defrauding the author because you leaked the book after promising not to leak the book. But not living up to a promise is not a case of fraud. People occasionally change their minds about matters and have the right to do so. Fraud occurs when a person intentionally misrepresents a product, service, or information with the intent to deceive or harm another person's property. You may have promised not to leak the book at the time, but your mind later on changed and you decided to leak the book.

The third argument is that you are a criminal because you violated the property rights of the author by violating the terms of the contract. But what terms did you violate? The contract simply stated that in the event that you leak the PDF, you owe the author $100. So, as long as you pay the author $100, you are all square. By leaking the PDF, you merely triggered a penalty clause in a contract.

One could plausibly make the argument that you harmed your reputation by not living up to a promise, and that is very hard to argue against. After all, authors who do not want their books to leak to the internet will be less likely to sell to you in the future. But you, as a leaker, acted heroically. You took it into your own hands to potentially dramatically increase the exposure of the book and thus spread its message far and wide by uploading it to the internet and reducing the barriers of entry to accessing the book. You did so despite incurring a financial penalty of $100. Plus, you already belong to the buyer-reader category. You have already financially helped the author by buying the book, and you have also begun helping him spread his message by reading the book and agreeing with his message. Not only this, but you are also going to pay him an extra $100 because you decided to leak the book.

So, what does the author lose? Perhaps some people who tried to find his book for free and were unable to do so since it was never leaked would have bought it. But since it has been leaked, they instead take the free rider approach and read it without having bought it. Well, so what? Perhaps this leak also greatly helps the message of the book spread far and wide, which may have the indirect effect of raising more funds for the author in the long run. Perhaps some people download the book for free, read it, and then donate money to the author. Perhaps some of these people would not have paid for the book if they did not read it first. It is impossible to tell.

Plus, if the author valued the book not being leaked as his highest goal, then he would not risk letting anybody access it under any conditions. But that defeats the whole purpose of writing a book for other people, which is generally what authors do. Meanwhile, if the author was hellbent on being rewarded for his labor, then it must follow that whenever the author receives money for his book, he must pay everybody who labored to discover the ideas written by the author in his book. After all, everybody is influenced by other people and their labor. Obviously, this is nonsensical, but this is the logical conclusion of this infatuation with labor.

As Murray Rothbard once pointed out:

"Civilization itself is a process of all of us 'free-riding' on the achievements of others. We all free-ride, every day, on the achievements of Edison, Beethoven, or Vermeer".

The bottom line is, the free rider is not a criminal, and the author should not deride him for refusing to pay for his labor. Nobody owes you anything just because you expended your labor into something. The author should encourage free riding because it helps spread the message of a book, and it indirectly helps the author raise funds in the long run. The leaker is also not to be derided, aside from being unreliable, because they are the facilitators of free riding and they heroically do so despite incurring the penalties for leaking.