Award-winning British novelist Jane Davis shares her opinions on book piracy, explaining why she refuses to follow common advice to disregard it and describing her coping strategy.
The received wisdom for authors who find their ebooks advertised as free downloads on third party websites is simple. ‘Ignore it,’ we are told.
- ‘Copyright infringement is a fact of life.’
- ‘It doesn’t matter how readers find you, it just matters that they find you.’
- ‘Most of those sites don’t actually have your content. They are just mining your clicks for ads or queuing up malware for download.’
I was never comfortable with that advice.
I used to spend hours trawling the internet every month and issuing countless cease and desist letters. But, for the past couple of months, I have been beta testing a piece of software called Blasty. It’s very simple. You add details of the content you want to protect (there is no limit) and are notified when copyright infringements are identified. You review the sites, then use a big orange button to ‘blast’ them, i.e. in the words of Blasty’s website:
“a copyright removal procedure under the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) is automatically initiated, resulting in the complete elimination of the infringing webpage from Google on a worldwide basis”
Why Copyright Infringement Matters
To date, to the best of my knowledge, no one has taken my work and passed it off as their own, although on several websites, other names appear alongside mine as ‘author’. In my mind, what they’re doing is far worse. They have obtained, or not, as the case may be, a copy of my work and are:
- distributing it illegally, allocating a new ISBN number, retaining what should be my profit, or
- using my name to entice people onto their site
No author will dispute the importance of brand. We invest heavily in it, identifying the various elements of it, building those elements into website and cover designs, and into every post we put out there. My name is my brand, my reputation. I want it to be associated with trust. I am sure you feel equally protective of yours.
Why I Refuse to Ignore It
a) It is Done in my Name
If someone is enticed to sign up for a fake subscription service by the offer of one of my books, I cannot simply distance myself. It is my problem. My name is associated with the transaction.
b) The Risk to Readers
Your potential reader, who has chosen your book out of all of the thousands of free books that are available, becomes a victim. They may be asked to enter bank account details when they subscribe. Files disguised as ebooks may contain computer viruses or pornography. Cyber criminals will hack through a computer’s defences and install malware. Industry watchdogs warn that websites offering pirate copies and ‘something for nothing’ attractions are more likely to be infected. ‘Free’ should be the big flashing warning light. But if ‘free’ is commonplace, warning signals no longer operate.
c) The Scourge of Free Books
The fact is that these scams wouldn’t work were a substantial number of eBooks not available for free.
I don’t want my name to be associated with the word ‘free’. With seven titles to my name, I now make less money from my books than I did with my first two releases. I would like to push my prices up. I need to push my prices up. But here’s what I’m up against:
- ‘Free ebooks for Life!’
- ‘The good news is that it’s possible to find tonnes of great ebooks without paying a penny.’
- ‘You’ve got an ebook reader (or a laptop or netbook with ebook reading software) now you just need some free books to put it to good use.’
A recent survey by Ofcom and Kantar Media found that in the UK 61% of ebooks are read for free.
My own research reveals that:
- 50% of ereader users who describe themselves as book lovers happily admit that they never pay for a book
- Many would be mortified to learn that the author has not authorised the free distribution, and those who are only too aware that what they’re doing is wrong
Advice abounds on the internet about the ease of stealing files. ‘Tens of thousands of new releases and best-sellers are readily available on BitTorrent sites, right next to movies and music.’ These same sites and advice forums give step-by-step instructions on how to convert files and get them onto a Kindle, explaining that Amazon ‘ignored all ebook standards when building the Kindle, instead going with a proprietary format created by Mobipocket, a company they acquired in 2005.’ Great news for readers! ‘You may be charged 10c for delivery,’ they warn.
People have been persuaded that free is legitimate. After all, everybody’s doing it. But what if it’s not? Remember, of all the free ebooks out there, readers have still chosen ours.
How to Spot a Pirate Site
One thing that I have learned by using Blasty is that it’s not as easy as you might think to spot a pirate site. Many sites claim to actively support authors or include statements, often in legalese, that make them look official. Several display my author bio and my official author photo. The sites draw reviews directly from Goodreads. Not only does my name appear, but (here’s where I get really angry) so do the names and profile photos of those who have been kind enough to post reviews. And here’s a nice touch: some of those same sites includes a copyright notice about their content.
Think about the demographics of people who use ereaders. One of the largest group of readers is the elderly. Would your mother be fooled? I don’t have to think about the answer. Mine fell for a PayPal scam email last week.
What Can Indie Authors Do About Piracy?
- Make it easy for readers to discover your work
- If you publish on multiple sites, consider giving readers a universal link for all of the places where they can legitimately find your titles
- Talk about the risks
- Talk about ebook pricing
- Talk about ‘free’
In addition, I’ve signed up to be a beta tester for Blasty. 319 blasts so far. And counting…
A footnote from our Watchdog, which will be assessing Blasty for inclusion in ALLi’s approved list of tools for indie authors once the service moves out of beta testing and goes live: “Blasty treats the symptoms of piracy, not the disease. Therefore while I think Blasty is a good service, it’s a limited solution, and authors need to be aware that this isn’t a cure-all for piracy.”
OVER TO YOU If you’ve experienced piracy and would like to tell us the outcome, we’d love to hear from you – especially if you have been successful in beating the pirates.#Authors - how do you deal with book piracy? @JaneDavisAuthor describes her strategy Click To Tweet
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