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Last post Author Topic: Pirating abandoned content?  (Read 17125 times)

CWuestefeld

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Pirating abandoned content?
« on: May 15, 2008, 10:01:52 AM »
How do you feel about downloading copies of things that simply can't be purchased any other way?

One recent thread refers to attempts to purchase an out-of-print video (http://www.donationc...ex.php?topic=13353.0); another to old-games-gone-freeware (http://www.donationc....msg113055#msg113055). TechSupportAlert's latest newsletter refers to "abandonware" (http://techsupportal...rent.htm#Section_1.3).

I'm a big fan of e-books. Especially for fiction, I don't read paper anymore; my PDA is just too convenient. But most books still aren't available in this format. Where possible, I've purchased books that are sold this way (Baen books is good for this).

Morally speaking (legalities aside for the moment), where do you think I stand in downloading scanned books if they can't be purchased? In most cases, the books are available as paper, so I'm probably not justified.

But what about books that are completely out of print, so that I can't buy it even if I want to (unless I can find it used)? In this case, I'm not taking away anyone's potential income if I download an unauthorized scanned copy.

If the owner of intellectual property refuses to sell it, do they forfeit the right to protect their commercial interest in it?

mouser

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #1 on: May 15, 2008, 10:14:03 AM »
I'm actually quite fond of these kinds of ethical/moral questions.. they make you think.

Let me start with what i consider one of the easiest cases:

Let's say you buy a physical book.  But no ebook form of it exists, and you wish you had an ebook copy.  Then you find that someone has scanned the book and posted it on the web, for free but against publisher's wishes.  Is it immoral to download that (unofficial/potentially illegal) ebook?  My inclination is no -- you've lived up to your responsibilities by buying the book.

There is one wrinkle in all of these abandonware type questions that I do think needs contemplating.  In the very long view of things, one needs to consider the chicken-and-egg interactions that can occur in terms of economic incentives. 

For example -- let's say a book is out of print and no one is selling any used copies, and so no one can buy it.  So you might say to yourself, well then what's the harm in me grabbing a pirated copy.  And my tendency is to agree with you.  But what if the mere existence of these "pirated" copies, is what keeps the demand for a new edition being published from ever reaching critical mass.  In other words, perhaps if the underground copy did not exist, there would have been enough demand for the book that the publisher would have decided to put it back in print.

Having said that.. I think it's probably mostly a facetious theoretical argument, and that the much more likely outcome of a popular underground pirated copy would be larger readership, more fans, and even more demand for it to go back in print.  So in general i don't think such things hurt the publishers, and so i wouldn't lose sleep over it.  But it is important to consider such consequences when wrestling with moral issues.


superboyac

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #2 on: May 15, 2008, 10:30:40 AM »
I did this for a math textbook recently.  I ordered the text book online, but there were unexpected problems with shipping and inventory.  So, the book got delayed by several weeks.  But I needed it because the class had already started!  So, I found a scanned version of it online and I used that for a couple of weeks until the book arrived.

Renegade

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #3 on: May 15, 2008, 11:22:12 AM »
Ooooooh~! This is an interesting one!

I suppose one question to ask is, "Is there a victim?"

For abandoned software (or eBooks or whatever) where there is no way to aquire it through legitimate means, I'd have to say that most of the time, no there isn't a victim.

For the chicken and egg thing mouser brought up, I'm inclined to believe that piracy of abandoned products is more likely to drive a second generation if there is enough demand. The problem there is that piracy is hard to gauge. e.g. I burn a CD of pirated stuff and give it to two people, who do the same, and so on... How many people does it reach? How do you judge market demand? Can I now write an uber-Pacman game? Will it fly? Do people want it?

For the, "I already bought it," argument, I feel that this is legit. Unless there is a specific marketing difference between the paper and electronic version, getting an electronic version of a book really is only augmenting your use of the paper version at zero cost to anyone. I would not say the same in reverse, i.e. That buying an eBook version entitles you to rip a paper one off of the shelves of the local bookstore.

However, this goes to the "fair use" issue. The RIAA is against this entirely. If you buy a CD, you do not have the right to transfer it to another device. (But they're complete idiots too.) So what is "fair use" there?

If a product's revenue model is structured so that the physical and electronic versions both play an important part of the product's profitability, then it may not be fair to get the e-version for free. e.g.:

Product on physical media: $20.00
Product via download (e-version): $15.00
Product on physical media + download (e-version): $25.00

In that case above, the product's marketing is targetting different market segments in an intelligent and fair way. But to buy the first option, then pirate the download is taking money out of the producer's pockets and isn't really a fair thing to do. Very few products are marketed this way though. ("Very few" is probably a massive understatement at that.)

I'm sure some would scream at me for advocating "theft," but that's not my intent. My intent is to find out if there is some harm being done, then go from there and choose the most reasonable option. (Which as we're talking about, is piracy in the strict sense.)

Interesting topic. I'd like to hear other's opinions here.



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Freedom is the right to be wrong, not the right to do wrong. - John Diefenbaker

mouser

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #4 on: May 15, 2008, 11:28:55 AM »
I like the idea of starting out with the question: "Who's the Victim?" or perhaps more generally "Who Suffers?"

As with many things in life, one is often faced with having to balance interests that may be in some competition.

I find the economic disparity in the world almost unfathomable, and I think for some people this has to be taken into consideration.  No one is going to be able to convince me that the harm done by some kid in an impoverished shanty who gets his hand on a bootleg scan of a math textbook so that he can learn, can ever outweigh the harm done to a big textbook publisher from that act of piracy.

mouser

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #5 on: May 15, 2008, 11:35:39 AM »
Here's another ethical thought experiment.. I must say i haven't given much thought to this one:

It's not uncommon for software purchases to include a "non-transferable" license.  Is this ethical? I've always found this deeply unfair (though i'm not sure i would say it's unethical -- it may just be a matter of consumers shouldnt support products with such licenses).

If you say that it's fine for a company to make such a restriction, then would it be ethical if a computer or car salesman told you that the computer you just bought could not be given to a friend or family member when it outlived it's usefulness for you?

app103

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #6 on: May 15, 2008, 12:19:34 PM »
Here is another one...

There is a program you really want. You are willing to pay for it. The company (or its successor) is still in business. You can go to the website and purchase a license for it. but...

That license is for their latest & greatest version and will not work in any previous version. But their latest & greatest will not run on your not-so-great computer and you need an older version. They are unwilling to sell you a license to an older one. Is it ok to buy the latest & greatest and then pirate the older version so you have one you can actually use?

For example, is it ok to purchase the latest version of Dreamweaver and then pirate a copy of Dreamweaver 4 because that is all your pc can handle?

Now about books...

If you really want to read an out of print book and can't find a copy to buy, you can probably borrow it from the library, even if you have to ask them to borrow it from another library for you. I have done this many times.

In the case of out of print books in which a physical copy is difficult or impossible to come by, but the text is not yet in the public domain, sometimes if you contact the original publisher they can put you in touch with the author.

Often times, the contract an author has with a publisher is for a set term, in which the author grants the publisher an exclusive right to publish the book. Once that term expires, the copyright is returned to the author and they are free to seek another publisher to print the book, if they wish.

Many authors do seek another publisher, and many do not. For those books in which the author has not obtained another company to publish their work and has no plans on doing so, if asked, they may allow you the right to create and distribute a copy of their book in ebook form, for free.

I give this site as an example of a bunch of authors that agreed to allow their out of print books to be distributed as free ebooks.Of course, the terms of distribution may not make the books legal for just anyone to distribute. Sometimes the only one that has the right is the one that asked the author.

Sometimes the only thing that stops an author from making a free ebook from their out of print work available, is they don't have a website to distribute it from, or they don't have a copy in electronic form because it was written back in the days when people still banged away on typewriters, or maybe the author hasn't joined the computer age and doesn't even know what an ebook is and perhaps has never even used a computer.

Perhaps if you contact the author and ask and/or get permission to distribute an ebook of their old out of print work, they will see that people still want to read it and might just find another publisher and re-release it in print form. Your asking might just be the push that makes it happen.

mouser

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2008, 12:37:25 PM »
Quote
For example, is it ok to purchase the latest version of Dreamweaver and then pirate a copy of Dreamweaver 4 because that is all your pc can handle?

i cannot for the life of me think of a case where i would consider this unethical.. in this case you are really doing the company a favor -- you are paying more, and you are removing yourself from the pool of people they will need to provide tech support to.  this one is too easy, everyone benefits here.

Grorgy

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #8 on: May 15, 2008, 05:15:48 PM »
I think the author is ethically entitled to do with their creation what they will.  If this means removing it from  publication, that should be their choice until the time comes when it is in the public domain, somewhere between 30 and 50 yrs after the authors death in most western countries. The author may choose of course to release it to the public domain earlier as the guy who runs the Zen Habits blog did recently -  Open Source Blogging: Feel Free to Steal My Content

http://zenhabits.net...to-steal-my-content/
 

That however is one persons choice and it seems to me that i do not have a right to force my choice on the author.

I agree that if you have bought something and wish to use it in another medium for personal use only then that is OK, since in that instance you have seen and/or read what it is the author may particularly have wanted you to see in a printed version, though the lawyers I'm sure would have a field day.

Just my thoughts on it.

cranioscopical

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #9 on: May 15, 2008, 05:25:59 PM »
If you say that it's fine for a company to make such a restriction, then would it be ethical if a computer or car salesman told you that the computer you just bought could not be given to a friend or family member when it outlived it's usefulness for you?

It would if you knowingly signed a contract stipulating that condition.


cathodera

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #10 on: May 15, 2008, 05:51:15 PM »
What an interesting question! I am enjoying reading all the different views so much that I have committed an involuntary Convoluted Question Spill:

To what extent, if any, does the act of abandonment constitute a waiver of the author's claim to rights of "intellectual property?"

At what point, if any, would such work become "freeware" or in the case of software, even "open source" by default?

Does the reason for the abandonment matter? Does the author have an obligation to make some sort of declaration of abandonment, in which s/he states which, if any, rights are reserved and which are abandoned along with the item?

And if you believe the author does have such an obligation, if the author dies, do his heirs, if any, inherit that obligation with regard to abandoned work, just as they may inherit the royalties from the author's "non-abandoned" work?

Variations on CWuestefeld's book question -  To a person with low vision, a paper version of the book might be useless. The only way they can read it is in electronic form, where they can increase the size of the text, or magnify the whole thing, making it much more comfortably readable to them than they could even if they bought a paper book and put one of those awful plastic sheet things on it.

Or what if their vision is fine, but an electronic book is a much better match for the reality of their lifestyle?

Do today's readers have the right to a reasonable expectation that authors and publishers will make books available for purchase in electronic as well as paper form?

mouser, I will go you one better. The poor student who obtains the textbook via unofficial channels is doing two good deeds: he is improving society as a whole by adding another educated person to it, and he is also reducing the harm done and bad karma accrued by whatever combination of entities have failed to make the book available without charge to students who cannot afford it!

One man's conspiracy is another man's business plan

Carol Haynes

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #11 on: May 15, 2008, 06:23:14 PM »
If you say that it's fine for a company to make such a restriction, then would it be ethical if a computer or car salesman told you that the computer you just bought could not be given to a friend or family member when it outlived it's usefulness for you?

It would if you knowingly signed a contract stipulating that condition.

Actually you often do in a sense - lots of products only have warranties for the purchaser. Sell the item on and the warranty is void. In a sense that is the a similar situation.

Gothi[c]

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #12 on: May 15, 2008, 06:40:51 PM »
Wouldn't it be more fun if you could donate to the author for each ebook you read of him/her?
Unfortunately everything is so much more complicated with publishers etc...
But think of it, if you were able to donate to an author directly, you could still pay for any out-of-print books you find on the web if you wish so. Maybe some book authors should start putting some paypal buttons on their websites. (or subscribe to DC so we can send them codycredits) :)

mouser

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #13 on: May 15, 2008, 06:55:34 PM »
I wish all digital content was donationware, and that all users were willing to donate when they could afford it.  i think it would be a better world.

cathodera

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #14 on: May 15, 2008, 07:22:03 PM »

mouser, I secretly believe that one day, it will be like that. I committed a long and occasionally semi-coherent rant on this subject in the Software Ethics thread, if you should ever find yourself  suffering from insomnia.
One man's conspiracy is another man's business plan

Fred Nerd

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #15 on: May 16, 2008, 06:16:23 AM »
2 things to say:
First, the world cannot function on donationware alone: it is the poor who will donate the little they can, and the rich generally hang onto what they have. As a tradesman, you soon realise which people pay you fairly, and who will haggle and drag things out.
Not to mention people like me who simply forget to donate, the manyana syndrome. Sorry, someday soon I will fine a credit card somewhere. :)

Second thing, back to topic, how about bringing music into it? There is that much deleted content on P2P that it is crazy. So what if I have all the albums I can get of an artist, but want what is not available elsewhere? I know what I do, but is it ethical?
Or even more confusing; what about bonus tracks which you, missed by being a good fan and buying the album the day it came out.

Any answers?

tsaint

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #16 on: May 16, 2008, 06:26:23 AM »
The poor student who obtains the textbook via unofficial channels is doing two good deeds: he is improving society as a whole by adding another educated person to it, and he is also reducing the harm done and bad karma accrued by whatever combination of entities have failed to make the book available without charge to students who cannot afford it!
what if you were a poor author, with poor student children to feed, clothe and educate, who needs the money because his book on maths is highly dis-regarded?
There seems often to be a presumption that the consumer is poor, the creator is...well, who cares. I'm veering off topic..sorry.

nosh

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #17 on: May 16, 2008, 09:10:20 AM »
But what if the consumers are poor too - poor starving developers with poor starving uneducated sick malformed children & a granny in hospital vs poor starving uneducated tots with poor starving malnourished relatives, three of them in rehab. What is the right thing to do then? Will the penniless shantydwellers downgrade to a Hayes Accura 228 for a month and do the right thing or will everybody just... starve? Who will live and who will die? And will that ebook get read already!!?
« Last Edit: May 16, 2008, 09:14:21 AM by nosh »

Lashiec

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #18 on: May 16, 2008, 10:01:20 AM »
Since I have been pirating abandoned content for years (emulation), I don't have any moral issue with it. Don't know what's the case with books, I never found myself in that position as I always found paper copies of the books I want, either by buying or borrowing them from the college library.

Considering that most people these days take for granted that pirating current media that still bring profit to their creators is the normal behavior, be it TV series, movies, anime, music or games, and talk about it in public, I guess there's not much to debate, at least if we take the big picture.

tsaint

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #19 on: May 16, 2008, 10:04:49 AM »
But what if the consumers are poor too - poor starving developers with poor starving uneducated sick malformed children & a granny in hospital vs poor starving uneducated tots with poor starving malnourished relatives, three of them in rehab. What is the right thing to do then? Will the penniless shantydwellers downgrade to a Hayes Accura 228 for a month and do the right thing or will everybody just... starve? Who will live and who will die? And will that ebook get read already!!?
well now you lost me as I'm from australia where we just elected a new prime minister who said that just can't happen here. Well, maybe that's gilding the lilly a tad - we're happy with uneducated.

Carol Haynes

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #20 on: May 16, 2008, 10:51:02 AM »
But what if the consumers are poor too - poor starving developers with poor starving uneducated sick malformed children & a granny in hospital vs poor starving uneducated tots with poor starving malnourished relatives, three of them in rehab. What is the right thing to do then? Will the penniless shantydwellers downgrade to a Hayes Accura 228 for a month and do the right thing or will everybody just... starve? Who will live and who will die? And will that ebook get read already!!?

Maybe they should all sell their laptops and plasma TVs and go and buy a burger!  :-[

app103

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #21 on: May 16, 2008, 11:19:50 AM »
A lot of poor starving developers educated themselves with free legal ebooks, coding and compiling with dev-c++ (or Delphi 6 Personal  ;)), on an old hunk of junk computer.

If you are going the self education route, there are plenty of free resources on the internet that are perfectly legal. Finding them is the issue, sometimes. It's why I spend time searching and digging for stuff, so those that need it can find it much easier. There is a lot of good stuff out there that needs someone to hang a big neon sign over it.

This would be a perfect example of something expensive in print that is free & legal in electronic form:

Handbook of Virtual Humans: VRlab in Switzerland was a major contributor to the work and you can read the book, free & legal, on their site, and it is enhanced with videos.  Or you can buy the print version at amazon.com for $190.00 new or $89.99 used, and you don't get any videos.

That is quite a lot of money that could be saved by a starving student that might be required to read it for a course or someone that is trying to self educate themselves in order to have a chance of making a better life for their family. But they wouldn't know they could save that money and have better than print (or better than a pirated version of the print edition), if they can't find it or don't know it exists.

Personally, I think if you are a student and not going the self education route, that your books should be included in that high tuition you are paying and should be distributed to all students taking the course, in class, rather than them making you go on a wild hunt for the books at a price you can afford and getting them by a certain date.

Remember how they did things when you were a kid? They passed out textbooks in the beginning of the year and collected them at the end of the year. You didn't have to pay for the book unless you damaged it.

Schools can get the books cheaper than you. They get them at wholesale cost, not retail. And they could probably get a volume discount by buying so many. Even if they added it to the cost of your tuition, the amount would still be much smaller, if they give you the books at cost instead of trying to make a profit on them.

A few months ago I heard about a university professor, at GMU in Washington DC, that required students to purchase a textbook from him, that he wrote. He charged students a very high price for it, wouldn't allow them to buy it used, and the book included a label with the student's name and a serial number (how is that for anti-piracy!). If you didn't purchase the book, you could not pass the course. It was required! You couldn't even sell this book when you were done with it, because every student that took his course was in the same position that you were and couldn't buy it used.

It is quite possible that this teacher was making more off his book, by taking advantage of his students, than he was from teaching the course. People like that should die in an avalanche of used textbooks.

Carol Haynes

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #22 on: May 16, 2008, 11:42:41 AM »
A few months ago I heard about a university professor, at GMU in Washington DC, that required students to purchase a textbook from him, that he wrote. He charged students a very high price for it, wouldn't allow them to buy it used, and the book included a label with the student's name and a serial number (how is that for anti-piracy!). If you didn't purchase the book, you could not pass the course. It was required! You couldn't even sell this book when you were done with it, because every student that took his course was in the same position that you were and couldn't buy it used.

It is quite possible that this teacher was making more off his book, by taking advantage of his students, than he was from teaching the course. People like that should die in an avalanche of used textbooks.

In the UK that wouldn't be allowed - it is tantamount to extortion and at least a huge conflict of interest. The best thing the students could do is boycott his course en masse until he gets sacked.

cathodera

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #23 on: May 16, 2008, 02:01:40 PM »
what if you were a poor author, with poor student children to feed, clothe and educate, who needs the money because his book on maths is highly dis-regarded?

One of the things I would like to see is a transition to authors becoming their own publishers, which is much easier to do with e-books.

The way it is now, the publisher a lot of say about how much money the author gets from sales of his books, and I think that putting that say back into the author's hands would be a good thing.

I don't pretend to know how any of this will shake out - applying traditional anything, from business models to laws and back again to the reality of it all being free for the taking  is kind of like if someone brought you a pair of shoes that you wore as a baby and told you to put them on!

One of the things that makes it so fascinating to read the different points of view is that invariably so much of it keeps coming back to culture.

In some cultures, people are glad to sacrifice even the health and futures of their own children if they can help large companies become stronger. In other cultures, medical treatment would not be seen as a commercial product at all, but a basic human right, and it would be unthinkable to have people losing their savings, even their homes, because they or a family member had a serious injury or illness.

Both sides have very strong beliefs, and both sides might say that the other side is "wrong." Such is the nature of culture and belief!

With issues like intellectual property, it is no different. Some cultures include very strong beliefs about it, for other cultures, it is more of a huh? File not found - which would translate, in terms of behavior, to strong beliefs in a different direction.

So, will it boil down to a question of numbers? To what percentage of the planet are culturally inclined toward a strong belief in intellectual property as a concept?

In other situations, we would have to say, well, that would depend on what those cultures have. If they have more money, and again depending on culture, weapons, then even people whose beliefs  might be different could be obliged to submit to the cavedude with the bigger rock, as it were.

But what makes this all so fascinating is that here, we are talking about actual individuals having more autonomy in their behavior, and that behavior not really being as controllable by a government, or even large companies, as is the case in other areas.

In the other rant, one example I used had to do with countries whose governments might want the  citizens to visit only websites that reside on servers in that country, or just want them to avoid visiting other websites, and go to great lengths and employ some very talented people to effect that programatically.

But there are other people who are not affiliated with any government, who are also very talented, who will come up with a workaround for the citizens of that country who would like to visit any website they wish to!

Or take the example of a very large company that wishes to track your surfing behavior, and they have so much money that they are able to get other companies, whose websites are very popular, to install their software to that end.

And how many of us have such companies in our hosts file? Even that big, huge company, who might even send representatives into legislatures to write laws that all must obey could be receiving either nothing, or junk data from the computer of a poor person, and there is nothing they can do about it!

There is so much knowledge in the heads and hands of so many ordinary people now, all over the world, that I am not even sure that the companies could shut down the internet, if they ever did feel that it would be more profitable for them to do so!

Just ponder that!
One man's conspiracy is another man's business plan

iphigenie

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Re: Pirating abandoned content?
« Reply #24 on: May 16, 2008, 04:23:14 PM »
One thing rarely known is that most authors wait years - 5 or often more - before they get their book royalties. This is because, supposedly, of book store returns.

I suspect small press publishers work differently, but the big ones seem to use every excuse to delay paying their authors.

Incredible how so many systems are at the detriment of the original creator of the work :S