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I’m still getting my act together after the computer breakdown fiasco, and the need to purchase new software has got me thinking about illegal downloads and piracy.

As an expat, it would’ve been 1000% easier for me to get a bootleg copy of Word than it was to purchase it legally. I had to jump through hoops upon hoops to figure out how to get the U.S. English version, when I could’ve spent 20 minutes finding a download site. Or a CD. Last time I was in Cambodia, every market had a half dozen shops selling discs of every movie ever made for US$1. Full Photoshop suite? $3. My favorite was the Rosetta Stone disc–$2 for nine languages that would retail for multiple hundreds of dollars each. I could spend weeks vacationing in Southeast Asia for less than it would cost to buy those programs legally.

Why would anyone buy anything legally anymore?

Integrity is on the list, but honestly, it took me longer to to download and install Office than it did to find my apartment in Taipei (and to sign the lease). At what point does a company’s failure to provide a convenient service drive us to alternative channels?

As an author, I try to take the legal route, because I know my books are on the Web and being downloaded for free. An acquaintance told me it’s the same as a library or sharing paperbacks–you can lend books to your friends, so why not share the files? I answered that one with a look of searing disdain, but what I wanted to say was: Do you usually lend books to your 5 or 600 closest friends? One hundred sales, or even 50 would make a huge bump in my sales. Even 10 freebie downloads are 10 sales I didn’t make…and that adds up for any author who’s not J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, or Suzanne Collins.

Most books, songs, movies, and TV shows are readily available for paid or illegal download these days. When big businesses make it difficult for people to buy a product the right way, people go for the alternative.

But e-books are available everywhere, and difficultly purchasing isn’t usually involved in the equation. It’s just too easy, and too tempting, to download a PDF and save a few dollars.

I’m not naive, and I know my books and everyone else’s are going to keep getting posted to download forums. I get it. Maybe you can’t afford all the books or songs you’d otherwise be happy to pay for. If you can get that content for free in just a few clicks…even I’m tempted.

But, if you must download illegal books, please try to pay the authors back some other way. Leave them a nice review, send an e-mail if you enjoy the story, or tell a friend who’ll buy a copy. Sometimes spreading the word can be more valuable than a sale.