Been a while since I addressed this, so I thought I'd revisit it.
Copyright, as I understand it, gives you the right to distribute copies of a work. So in the instance of a book, say, you cut a deal with a publisher for an original novel, they print it and peddle it, and you divvy up the income. How it gets split depends on the contract you agree to, and the better your agent or lawyer, or the more clout you have as a writer, the larger your piece of the pie.
In traditional publishing, a writer of my stature will get ten, sometimes twelve percent of the pie, if I am lucky. Bigger Name writers get more.
The copyright for your original work is yours, and you rent it to a publisher, but for the length of the copyright, which is life of the author plus a number of years–seventy, I think, now–you can rent it out again or sit on it. After that, generally the work enters into the public domain, and anybody can copy and distribute it, for profit or for free.
Unless you have a platoon of sharp lawyers and are Disney or ERB's heirs. Don't look for Mickey or Tarzan to fall into the public domain any time soon, though we are way past the original expiration dates on those.
I'm good with the time limit. Helps pay the bills while you are alive, might help get the grandkids through college, after that, it's free.
Now, if you buy a novel that is three hundred pages long, and you hie yourself on down to the local Xerox machine and copy each page, because you want to write on it, or pass out sections to your American Lit class for study, you can do that under the Fair Use doctrine. And you can quote it in a review, like that.
If you copy the book, bind it, and go sell it on eBay? That's illegal. Plus it's a lot of hassle, standing there feeling sheets into a copy machine, then sorting them and binding them. If it cost you a nickel a page, plus your time? Not much profit in that kind of operation.
If you scan the novel you bought into your computer and read it there, I'm pretty sure nobody will care, any more than they do if you copy a movie off the cable for your own use, or rip your own CD for your iPod. Technically, such movie/music copying is a no-no, but practically-speaking, the feds aren't likely to come knocking at your door, since they'd have no legal cause–how would they know, and why should they care?
If you open up an eBay store and start selling pirated copies of the movie or albums, you might get nabbed. If you exchange music over the net, chances are you'll get away with it, but somebody might decide to make an example of you. You've heard that story, some teenager downloads a couple albums P2P, and his parents get dinged with a half million dollar tab.
If you take your book scan and distribute it as a PDF, then you violate copyright law, though practically-speaking, the worst that happens is you get shut down if somebody notices.
The generation who cut their teeth on computers often tends not to look at this piracy as any kind of wrong. Not everybody, and to varying degrees, but every time I post this article, I get notes from folks who give me the "knowledge-wants-to-be-free" rationalization. Yeah, knowledge wants to be free. Entertainment wants to be paid for. If you chop firewood for a living and I drop by your house and load my truck with a couple cords and drive off without paying for it, that might bother you. Same difference.
Free is a very good price, who can argue with that?
We saw what this attitude did to the music industry, and while one can argue that the record companies were more often than not greedy bastards–a CD that cost them fifty cents to produce going for fifteen bucks, and only a small part of that going into the musician's pocket? Sure, fuck 'em.
Except that the small part the musician was getting vanished when the record company's money dried up. Sticking it to the big corporation winds up sticking it to the little guy who works for them, every time.
Which is why buying a CD (or an MP3) directly from a musician or a small store that stocks his stuff is a good thing.
Am I pure as the driven snow about such things? No, I certainly can't claim that. I'll often stick an image up here I found on the web. When I can, I use freebie clip art, public domain, or photos that are obviously put fourth because people want them to be seen and distributed.
My bottom line is, I try not to use anything I think is going to cost the artist any profit.
If I put up a YouTube link, I'm pointing to somebody who–in theory–has worked out some kind of deal with folks who own the material. I don't put up music on my SoundClick page unless it's original, public domain, or in the case of a couple, by somebody I know who gave me permission, or that I bought a mechanical license for, but I'm not claiming anything in the way of moral purity here.
Have I ever used pirated software? Yes. I don't have any running now, and I pay for shareware, but I never was, nor will I ever be Saint Stephen ...
We all draw the line where we draw it, and it's sometimes blurry. Naturally, I prefer that folks draw it so I get some benefit. I try to draw it that way for others.
Most of my readers are loyal, they like my scribblings, and they want to see me get something for them, at least if my email and the posts here can be believed. They do the right thing.
If the choice is downloading one of my books for free and having that maybe cause me to stop writing them, they see the alternate of paying something as a better way to go. And bless them.
Sometimes you need to remind folks to do the right thing. In the front of the eEditions of my books from Dan's Fat Sam store, he does this. Hey, do the right thing, help the writer out so he can keep writing and not have to get a Real Job.
I appreciate that.