Monday, July 6, 2009

E-Book Pirates Need to Walk the Plank

So over the weekend, I get a heads-up e-mail from a fellow author telling me to check into an online site where one of my e-books is being offered up for free downloads. This isn't the first time this has happened and it's extremely aggravating.

Why? Because I earn nothing from this piracy...neither does my publisher, editor, cover artist or anyone else who depends on a funny thing called sales to indulge themselves in silly luxuries like food and a roof over the head.

Sites that offer free downloads of e-books are becoming increasingly common and the numbers of books offered on them is staggering. Lest you think, "hey, times are hard, maybe I should look into these places and download me some free reading matter," consider this:

Unauthorized downloading of e-books is stealing.

Never mind that it's illegal. It's no different than walking into that Borders at the mall and stuffing a bunch of books under your coat and waltzing out the door. And I know no one within the sound of my cyber voice would do such a thing.

Would you?

So yeah, one big point I'm trying to make is that unauthorized downloads are theft, pure and simple. But it's also theft from many, many authors who can ill afford it. Many e-published authors depend on their royalties to live and every "free" book taken advantage of online makes it harder and harder to do just that. The more one steals, the less a writer--someone who has taken their time, blood, sweat, tears, and imagination to entertain you--makes for his or her work.

So if you have done it before, don't. And if you're contemplating it, please don't.

It's especially aggravating for me because I don't know how to combat this. Sure, I can write each of these sites and scream copyright infringement and they may remove a particular book, but then two more pop up to take its place.

It's gotten to the point where I am not sure if it's worth it to try and battle the pirates. They're like cockroaches, sneaky, dirty, and amazingly fertile.

So what do I do? Stop writing? Devote several hours a day to hunting down and trying to stop those dealing in stolen books?

Or do I just try and be happy that someone out there is reading my stuff, and not think too much about how they got ahold of it? And even more, try not to think about how much in royalties I'm losing because with every download, there goes a potential percentage that should have gone in my pocket?

I don't want to bury my head in the sand. But I also don't want to take time away from what I love--writing--to play Internet cop.

But I don't know what the solution is. I can hope that this little rant will be read by a few people somewhere who might say, "Hey, I'm going to buy my reading material from now on, because stealing it is just bad Karma."

But there has to be a better solution than that, doesn't there?

Any ideas?


  1. I'm dealing with this issue a lot lately. Such as the person who said of one title that they could "not seem to find it anywhere".... Um, it's available for $2.50 or less at various venues?

    I know times are hard and budgets are tight. I want readers, and I write for more than money, but at the end of the day, I also have 3 kids to feed in a household as affected by the recession as everyone else's.

    I don't know if the person on the downloading end realizes how each and every download adds up and impacts things on the author end. But trust us when we authors say... it does. In my case we may not be talking millions of dollars lost, but recent download stats would have equaled, in sales, two weeks worth of groceries for my family, a tank of gas, and my electric bill which I need to pay if I am to turn on my computer to write and send my work in to my publishers.

  2. I try not to think about this most of the time, mainly because it's difficult to write romance when your pissed off.

    I just wish people would ask themselves one question before they download from one of these sites.

    "Would I work for free?"

    If the answer to that question is no, then you need to turn your ass around and go find the publishers website or Amazon and buy the damn thing. Cause the reality is, when you download that stolen copy, that's exactly what your doing...asking that author to work for free.

    Ethan Day

  3. I wish I had some wonderful scheme to stop piracy in its tracks. My books are on certain sites, as are those of my friends. When my first novel was published I found it plagiarised on a fanfic site. The entire novel! I was furious and, after a stern warning, it was swiftly removed. The Internet is a fantastic outlet for writers who may not have got their break via traditional publishing. Unfortunately it has also provided a 'If I can find it free, then why bother paying for it?' attitude.

  4. Some pirate sites proudly list the number of downloads of each book. In some months, I have watched with dismay while two books got stolen for every copy that sold. The proportion of thefts is probably higher because I don't track more than a couple of sites. Considering that I have a household to support, this piracy is a major reason why I can't afford to write full-time.

    Pirate sites aren't maintained to "share," but rather to derive revenue from advertisements posted on the site. Maybe it's time to launch an educational campaign against the advertisers.

  5. Here's a good one for ya, Rick. I actually had a fan write me yesterday, pissed off that he couldn't download a digital copy of my book since he didn't live in the US (long story involving piracy) and he actually asked me, straight out, why he shouldn't get a pirated copy since he couldn't find a more "convenient" way to get the book. WTF?? If holding a print copy in your hand isn't convenient enough for you, read something else, dude, but don't freaking steal it! Still steaming!

  6. Rick, you touch upon the subject that is a thorn in the side of all of us, and pose the question for which an answer is difficult to formulate: How do we stop people pirating?

    The music industry has gone through the same problem, with the Napster issues and other "free music" downloads. They still haven't got to the crux of the problem yet.

    Sadly, as long as something can be copied, someone somewhere will try to pass it on. Some pirates just don't even consider the issue, they simply download and pass it on. Others see this the same as passing on a print book after they've read it - perfectly legal - except when you pass on an ebook you're making a copy because you still have the original on your computer - and THAT'S illegal.

    My view? The easier to buy, and more cost-efficient we make our ebooks, the more we can reduce the instances of piracy. It's not a solution, no, but then again I don't see piracy stopping. There are many many people who simply would not buy a book - they have no intention of doing so - and even if piracy were to be prevented, those people would not be buying our books anyway. That doesn't make piracy right, I'm just stating things objectively.

    Does this mean we stop going after pirates? Hell no, and there are some very useful groups coming together to help authors and publishers fight the legal fight. Also, the governments are beginning to realise the depth of the problem and at least being aware that it IS a legal problem now.

    It will be very interesting to see what other measures are put at the disposal of authors and publishers.

    Jim Brown

  7. Rick,

    I've seen my books on several of the pirate sites and it tears at my heart. I write because it's part of who I am, but right now, I write to pay the bills. My man lost his job in February, so whatever I make it what we have. Seeing hundreds of copies vanishing into the air has me wondering what the hell I'm doing. I've heard it said, many times, that pirate sites could very easily cost an author so much they can't afford to keep writing. I now understand too well what that means. I can't see me ever stopping completely, but if I can't make enough, then I will have to find a job where I'm paid for my work -- all of it.


  8. Jude: I wish your story (and others like yours) could be posted on some of these pirate sites so the thieves could see just what they're taking.

  9. I give away a huge amount of books, so I know I've probably contributed to my own problem -- that in some cases someone I trusted with a copy of my book has turned around and posted it as a free download. That's discouraging.

    At the same time, I know a lot of these people come from a fan fiction background that makes them virtually blind to what they're doing. They simply don't get the thing about paying for stories. They don't see it a theft -- or they somehow rationalize it.

    I could stop it, of course, by simply limiting my publishing to print, and I've thought about it. And if it gets bad enough, maybe I will.

    But I also think a lot of these readers wouldn't buy my books anyway, so I'm not actually losing a lot. If they can't get it free, they'll find something else to read. They're not the true fans who wish you well and want to do all they can to support your creative efforts.

    I try and look at it as promotional dollars or donating to a library. I don't resent my work being in libraries, so I figure this is my bit for literacy. And maybe if they like my work enough, one day they'll wake up and realize that they should show that appreciation and respect by paying the artist - as they themselves would wish to be paid.

  10. Hello Rick!
    "I wish your story (and others like yours) could be posted on some of these pirate sites so the thieves could see just what they're taking." I don't think that it would change the view of a lot of pirates to see this. My mom's friend goes to a pirate site not for books, but for movies and tv series. That site in question charges 20$ per month for you to access it, She thought that if she was paying the 20$ she wasn't doing something illegal. I had to explain to her that if you pay a pirate it still is piracy.

    I always bought books(I live in a French speaking town and they don't have any books I want or in English at the library).
    I'm fairly new to the ebook thing and I have to say that I love the fact that you can buy & download a book(legally)the same day it comes out(Don't have a book store where I live only the net). And for the price it costs I don't get that if you want a book so bad you can't go and put 3$ to 10$ for something that gives you so much more.

    I was lucky enough to win NEGUB2 from you Rick. And yes I had to buy the first one but God it was worth the money. And I went back and got your other books too.

    Since I started following authors on twitter and official blogs or even reading interviews on sites like Jessewave I realized all the work that goes into writing. And for me buying your books is a way to thank you all (Josh included)for giving me hours to disconect from the world and all my problems.

    Like you said would you work for free? No I would not.

  11. Sadly, publishing in print only doesn't stop the pirates. They just cut off the spine, scan in the pages and upload it anyhow. I've found Nora Roberts, Laurall K. Hamilton, Stephen King and others all over some of the pirate sites, with thousands of downloads.

    I send takedown notices when I find my books pirated, for all the good it does. Like Josh said, I don't think I'm actually losing much money, because people who steal aren't people who were ever going to buy anything anyway. Maybe a few will come around and start buying the books, but honestly I don't think many will. I think most will continue to steal as long as they can find pirate sites online, or friends from whom they can directly obtain a free copy. Some people just aren't going to pay for anything if they can get it for free, and if they can't get it free they don't want it. It's a whole different psychology.

  12. Hey Rick,
    I've had arguments with e-publishers who think authors are just being paranoid over piracy and continue to publish books in open-format (no digital rights management) just because DRM is a hassle for their legitimate customers. I think DRM cuts down on the casual file-sharing that goes on out there but of course will not stop the real pirates.

    Like Ally said, I think however that the vast majority of illegal downloaders would never purchase your book even if pirate sites were not available to them. So you are losing far fewer sales than you think, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that these people are thieves, and are benefiting at your expense.

    Another analogy e-publishers always throw at me is, “Well people can share print books too!” Really? It doesn’t compare. If you loan your eBook reader or computer to your friend so he can read the eBook and then return it to you, then it’s the same. Emailing free copies out to your friends is NOT the same thing! What it is the same as is using a Star Trek replicator to make a pile of print books and then passing them out to your friends.

  13. A bad habit you have to break yourself of, is seeing every pirate download as a lost sale.


    When someone steals a printed book from a convenience store, that IS a lost sale, because the printed book can only be sold once.

    When someone downloads an ebook from a pirate site, that doesn't change the fact that you can sell a copy to every honest reader in your audience.

    You have a choice. You can fret and rant and rail at the pirates, and watch them laugh in your face, or you can build positive relationships with your honest customers.

    And who knows? Maybe some fraction of those customers who downloaded pirate copies will become fans and turn around to become honest customers.

    Your enemy is not piracy. Your enemy is obscurity.

  14. If we allow people to steal without speaking up, we're condoning it. Lord help anyone who steals from me after I've found out about it. I may not be able to recoup my losses, or prosecute, but I can sure make a very big stink.

  15. I'm sure that some of the people downloading wouldn't purchase a copy if wasn't free, however when you start to see posting's from people asking for anyone to post a copy for them to download for free, I start to wonder.

    I find it flattering to an extent, but come on.

  16. This has been a thought-provoking discussion. I guess there are truly no easy answers to this problem. What emerges for me personally is that I need to concentrate on my writing first and foremost. And then try to hope and count on the fact that the people who come by their books honestly outnumber the ones who don't.

  17. I don't think this is a tremendous a problem as people make it out to be - after all, used bookstores have been selling books for years and years and authors & publishers receive not a cent for their intellectual property & production costs. This is simply the 21st century version of this. Amazon sells used books. You can't stop them. You can't stop the pirates. Rather, an author should focus his or her attention to the next work, preferably a book that will sell lots of copies (and, of course, fill up used bookstores).