Professional writers are under attack today from all sides. Not only are they being buried by millions of writers writing books and articles for free, celebrities with million dollar book deals, reduced royalties from publishers under siege, and automated software writing simple books and articles, but now book pirates are earning millions from their work. So more and more writers are becoming a dying breed.
I became aware of the problem when I was doing a routine search to see where my name was showing up, since I was up to about 100,000 results on Google. Lo and behold on the fourth page was the link announcing after my name: “download free. Electronic library. Finding books. 15+ items.” When I went to the link, I discovered 18 of my books, and with one exception that indicated “link deleted by legal owner,” all of them could be downloaded as PDFs. The website owner didn’t even remove them after I wrote to their support email, stating in the strongest terms:
“You do not have my permission or my publisher’s permission to upload any of my books and offer them for free. Please be advised that I am making a copy of your pages, and this is to request that you immediately remove any of my books from your site. You are interfering with my ability to make a living as a writer, as well as with the other writers whose books you have copied on your site and are offering for free. I am also bringing this to the attention of members of ASJA (the American Society of Journalists and Authors) and other writers groups, as well as my attorney who will be in touch with you regarding the penalties for copyright infringement and other applicable offenses.”
Even though I got an email back a few hours later saying “removed,” in fact the titles weren’t, since a friend sent me a PDF he downloaded from the site several hours after I got that message.
After that experience, I soon discovered the pervasiveness of this piracy problem, which is seriously undermining the sales of books and the ability of many writers to make a living. For example, a few major sites brag about the millions of books they have for download, often scanned and uploaded at no charge by a community of so-called bibliophiles who think information on the Internet should be free. And there are hundreds of these sites and millions of people downloading free books.
So far, writers and publishers have done little to combat the problem, apart from sending out the occasional take-down notice and a 2012 lawsuit file by John Wiley against about 20,000 individuals who pirated some of its Dummies books. However, there are numerous ways to actively combat piracy, including filing more lawsuits to go after the site owners, uploaders, and downloaders, and reporting the violations to government agencies that can go after the biggest pirates with criminal penalties.
The damage to the industry and writers is enormous. For example, Attributor, a firm that specializes in monitoring online content, has claimed that book piracy costs the industry nearly $3 billion in sales or over 10% of total revenue. In a 2010 study they counted 3.2 million in downloaded books, according to C. Max Magee in an article entitled “Confessions of a Book Pirate.” http://www.themillions.com/2010/01/confessions-of-a-book-pirate.html.
Even a big raid in January 2012 on the popular cyberlocker Megaupload.com headed by CEO Kim Dotcom by U.S. and Hong Kong authorities didn’t make much difference, since other pirates quickly pulled in their own Internet boats to take up the slack. As described in a March 2012 Attributor report: “The World After Megaupload,” during the raid, the authorities seized and shut down 19 related domains and reportedly froze $330 million in assets, and soon after two other sites: FileSonic.com and Fileserve.com, stopped allowing the public to share hosted files. http://www.attributor.com/data/pdf/Attributor-Research-Rpt-Book-Piracy-World-Post-Megaupload201204.pdf. Together, these three sites were responsible for about 33% of all the pirated books available for free downloading. But soon after, two other sites grew in popularity – Putlocker and Rapidshare, and in the first month after Megaupload went down, the number of available pirated books was up 13%. In its report, Attributor also identified the top 20 piracy spots, which included share-online.biz and ul.to, with 28% of the supply between them. There is even a website that lists the 20 best websites for downloading free e-books http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/20-best-websites-to-download-free-e-books, which might help the anti-piracy crusaders know where to look. While some of these free e-books might actually be legal, a great many are pirated. And many articles and blogs are pirated too – they are just copied and posted on other sites without permission.
Thus, as a first step, writers and publishers need to become aware of the problem, since many are not. After I started a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/stopbookpiracy, I got one e-mail that said: “I didn’t realize this was an issue,” and other writers emailed me to say they felt sick but helpless to learn that many of their books had been uploaded on some piracy sites and there had been thousands of downloads – representing potential sales and income they didn’t receive. So if you have a published book, a good way to start checking is to put your name and the title of your book or article in Google search or other search engine and see what links turn up. You may find that many of these listings are without permission; then you can start the process of sending out take-down notices and even get damages for copyright infringement. The battle against the online pirates is just beginning.
* * * * * *
Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D. is the author of over 50 books with major publishers and has published 30 books through her company Changemakers Publishing and Writing (http://www.changemakerspublishingandwriting.com). She writes books and proposals for clients, and has written and produced over 50 short videos through Changemakers Productions.