Something for nothing – and proud of it

Does IFLS mean anything to you?

It’s ‘I F—ing Love Science’ (the dash is where ‘uck’ would be) and it often hosts thought provoking posts. About Science.

You can pretend you don’t notice the name, call it IFLS for short. I do.

IFLS recently posted this image of a Tweet.ifs tweet

One of my ‘friends’on Facebook, who has a PhD, ‘liked’ it, which is how I came to see it.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean the friend actually ‘likes’ it.

And it’s possible IFLS posted it to stimulate a debate, not as an endorsement.

But judging by the few comments that I read (of gazillions), I suspect I’m being generous – unlike the people who posted links to sites where students can download illegal free copies. And yes, I know that they know they’re illegal – they use the word ‘illegal’.

Before I vent my spleen on this one, I want to make a brief personal comment.

As a writer (even if that’s as mythically as a unicorn in my own mind) my creativity – such as it is – is splurged for free on an unsuspecting world through this blog.

You’re reading it on a URL I pay for, so you don’t have to see advertisements and I don’t have to include ‘’ in the site’s address.

You don’t pay me anything, I don’t ask you for anything. Well, except fair treatment of my stuff as regards copyright.

I have, however, written – and published – a book. It was a chastening experience.

Imagine you spend a lifetime acquiring the expertise to do something. Spend years – or many months – distilling it. More months honing it – and possibly your own money publishing it.

A friend says, ‘I’m enjoying your book.’

You smile, possibly ask where she or he bought it.

‘I borrowed it off Annabelinda.’

You smile back, with gritted teeth.

‘That’s a shame.’

Puzzled look.

‘Well, quarter of the proceeds from sales of the book goes to …’ a good cause.

Bewildered look. Money? Book?

‘What does it matter as long as I enjoy it,’ thinks the casual reader, ‘isn’t that why you, dear author, have written this masterpiece?’

I’m used to it, now. It’s a risk I took – and I accept it.


what really, really angers me about the idiots who responded positively to the IFLS post, who displayed such nonchalance about behaving illegally, was their sheer, obtuse, ignorance about what goes into making the books they seem to need.

My husband has written three academic books as a sole author, one as a co-author with a colleague in Oxford. He’s edited one volume based on an international conference which he organised and for which he raised the funding. Two, possibly three of these books could be regarded as ‘textbooks’, albeit somewhat specialised in scope.

Each time he writes a book our world changes.

Life revolves around it. Spare time dribbles away. Deadlines result in stress, tension, overwork. We share some of the strain, because of my expertise in editing and proof reading.

We eat too much cake (the brain uses a lot of energy, I learned that from his most recent book) and grow chubby.

This takes months. Can take years.

If you add the learned expertise, or field work (many years of it) necessary to be able to write the wretched thing in the first place – well, it’s not just a matter of slapping a lecture series online and adding a few pictures, as one IFLS commenter suggested.

Pictures, for a start, have to be sourced. Grants have to be sought for travel to take the pictures. Museums have to be paid for photographing images. Specialist illustrators have to draw archaeological specimens.

Permissions have to be sought for quotations and illustrations. Copious references have to be read and amassed as lists. An index has to be written, or funding raised for an indexer to do it.  And then there’s the checking of the editing. And proof reading. And so on.

The author does all this, not the publisher. And mostly in his or her ‘spare’ time.

If you Effing Love Science, isn’t that knowledge – and work – worth something?

If no-one writes the books (because there’s no reward), how will that learning be recorded and transmitted? Is that worth paying for, or not?

But, let’s back to real, expensive books.

I have a rather daring suggestion to make.

If you’re at a university or college, chances are you have this thing you could use called a ‘library’.

Libraries tend to have lots of books -including textbooks available as e-books – for students to use, for free. Legally.

Radical, eh?

Until recently I was an academic publisher, in a very small way. I know how Effing unrewarding scholarly publishing can be if you’re not a giant conglomerate.

And who in their right minds, you might wonder, would want to write a book these days?

Well, it seems there are lots of mad people out there – and I’m one of the many.

But what a shame there are also so many lazy, law-breaking ignoramuses. People who’d rather exploit the limitless possibilities of our amazing, knowledge-sharing, liberating technology in illegal ways than log-in to a library and download an ebook.

Call me old fashioned. I believe in paying taxes, too.


This entry was posted in Thinking, or ranting, or both and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Something for nothing – and proud of it

  1. EllaDee says:

    Theft by another name… I’m a library borrower, second hand book buyer as well as primary source purchaser but never an illegal downloader… despite my considerable book habit that I wouldn’t be able to afford if I had to purchase, even discounted, every book I read. Someone somewhere in some way benefits financially from my reading. Even if one of my fellow book club members lends me a book, I slip $5 into it when I return it, There’s no perfect world but there are standards… and laws, which in some circles it seems somewhat trendy to flaunt. Wait until they get their degree, specialisation, passion… and want to publish. I wonder how it will feel from the other side.


    • When I told Anthro-man what you wrote, he said, ‘she must be a lovely person’. I agree! At least if people borrow from libraries the authors do get some recompense for their work when it is borrowed. Ho hum. The genie is out of the bottle on this one and I don’t know how – or if – we can ever put it back.


  2. mud4fun says:

    Well said!

    I am often looked upon as an idiot/freak by my younger work colleagues as I actually pay for CD’s, books, DVD’s etc. It seems that the majority of society these days believe it is acceptable to obtain such items for free by copying them or downloading them.

    While I have not written a book I do understand your frustration because my own blog has been the target for mass image and text theft. Many of my technical posts relating to the refurbishment, repair or customisation of a classic Land Rover are accompanied by lots of photos. I take great care to prepare the parts so they are clean and painted before being photographed, I also spend ages setting them up in such a way as to be well lit and take pictures that are bright, crisp and clear which is essential for illustrating a technical post. Sadly there are numerous lazy individuals around the world that help themselves to my photos and use them on their own blogs and websites to promote their own businesses. I have found many websites selling Land Rover parts or customisations that have actually been stolen straight off my blog and there has been no credit given to me. It is infuriating and to be honest has meant I have substantially reduced the quality and volume of photos I put on the blog and I have reduced the detail of my technical posts. If it gets any worse I will stop doing the blog.

    These thieves are ruining it for all the genuine people that value the resource in whatever form that takes be it music, video, books or websites. 😦


    • I do feel for you – I know what I put up here is of no commercial use – but you must be spitting feather when all your hard work is just syphoned off for profit by some casual thief! 😦 too!


  3. charliebritten says:

    Agree wholeheartedly! Most of my students think that acquiring software applications from Pirate Bay is very funny, until I point out that one day they may be writing the software that might be pirated. The worker is worthy of his hire!


    • Thanks, Charlie, I just don’t know how we sort this issue out – but at least people like you are doing your bit! To be fair, one of my husband’s former PhD students also keeps him informed when he sees free downloads of his books online and the publishers do get them taken down. But they just pop up again. Sigh.


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