Monday, October 12, 2009

Book Pirates Afoot

We seem to talk about ebooks more than just about anything else. They just keep making news. It’s either a new e-reader, or low priced or free books being used as marketing enticements, or platforms not being compatible with different readers.

Now there’s something we knew was coming, but, especially here in the US, we’d been so oblivious that we didn’t realize it was already here. Not here in the States, but with the Internet, any place is “here.”

Ebooks are being napsterized big time (remember Napster and music sharing?). File-storage sites are popping up, sites like RapidShare, Megaupload, Hotfile and others. The New York Times asks:
With the new devices in hand, will book buyers avert their eyes from the free copies only a few clicks away that have been uploaded without the copyright holder’s permission?
Ed McCoyd, an executive director at The Association of American Publishers, says:
“We are seeing lots of online piracy activities across all kinds of books — pretty much every category is turning up. What happens when 20 to 30 percent of book readers use digital as the primary mode of reading books? Piracy’s a big concern.”
Of those sites I listed, RapidShare is the biggest at the moment. RapidShare is based in Switzerland.
[RapidShare] says its customers have uploaded onto its servers more than 10 petabytes of files — that’s more than 10 million gigabytes — and can handle up to three million users simultaneously. Anyone can upload, and anyone can download; for light users, the service is free.
And people do upload and download. However, if you, an author, see your book on the site, it won’t be taken down if you ask for all copies to be removed. You have to request each specific file, using the specific URL, for it to be removed, then the next day, it could be back up with a new URL.

Mr. McCoyd noted:
“As far as we can tell, RapidShare is the largest host site of pirated material. Some publishers are saying half of all infringements are linked to it.”
Katharina Scheid, a spokeswoman for RapidShare, had this advice if publishers and authors are unhappy about ebooks being shared without paying the copyright holders:
Learn from the band Nine Inch Nails. It marketed itself “by giving away most of their content for free.
Randall Stross, the author of the New York Times piece had the last word on Ms. Scheid’s advice:
I will forward the suggestion along, as soon as authors can pack arenas full and pirated e-books can serve as concert fliers.
How about you? What do you think?
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  1. Oh dear.

    The Napsterization of the book world... This make a tough biz even tougher.

    Do like NIN did and give away a lot of content for free? Hmmmm...

    Yes, there are the JK Rowlings and the Dan Browns who are wildly successful... but most authors are not in that tax bracket (yet).

    New authors (and even some seasoned ones) do not make much money off their books as it is. The whole ebook thing and pirating or copying is a challenge and a fristration. I'm all about embracing new technology, but not to the point that my book becomes a freebie.

    Cheers, Jill

  2. One of my colleagues, Michael Sauers, discovered a pirated copy of one of his books online, and he said that he was as flattered as much as offended.

    I think we're not going to be able to stop ebook piracy any more than we've been able to stop music piracy. It's like trying to catch mist with a net. DRM is not the answer; those restrictions only tick off the legitimate consumers who wonder why they can't put books they paid for on any device of their choosing.

    One thing to be aware of is that a pirated ebook (or song) does not always equal a lost sale. Much the time, people who download something for free would not have purchased it anyway. And sometimes when a pirated version spreads around, people who have never heard of a particular title before decide they like it, and some of those people go out and buy it.

    To support that idea, I go back to music piracy. I know there was a crackdown on fan-made music videos because of copyright violations on the music used in them, however I can't tell you how many CDs I bought after hearing a song or a performer for the very first time in a fan-made video. (Quite a few. During the heyday, I bought significantly more CDs because of music videos than because of songs I heard on the radio.) So sometimes piracy equals free publicity. I have no trouble imaging folks encountering a pirated ebook online then deciding that they like it enough to buy it.

    For that matter, if websites can talk people into donating money to support free content (common with webcomics), I wonder why writers might not also be able to encourage PayPal donations through their website. Instead of, "Don't pirate my work," what about, "If you've read my work for free online, and you liked it, please consider making a donation so I can keep writing." Pirates (consumers) could then pay the authors directly.

    It's a strange new world.

  3. Hi. I absolutely agree. The way how the band Nine Inch Nails has solved this problems is the best way. There is a lot of piracy, especially in former communistic countries like eastern Europe, which can't be controlled and internet is the best tool how to spread it. Anyway, regarding the books, I prefer reading of the real ones.

    Best regards,

  4. Thanks for the interesting take on this subject, Anj. Maybe we do need to think about the benefits, especially since it appears authors can't do a lot about the piracy.

  5. People are always interested in getting "something" for "nothing." With the economy as it is, I think the pirating trend will continue and grow. Picture two people on a street corner. Each has the same stack of books in their arms. One is selling the novel for $5.00 each; the other is giving them, nada, zip. Which would you take? Be honest. Would you stop and give a thought to copyrights and authors? I doubt it. Human nature. Wish we could change it sometimes, but...

  6. Authors are taken for granted as it is. It's hard enough to get compensated for the many hours we put in writing without pirates coming along and taking away what's rightfully ours. Maybe they should try writing books. Maybe then they'd understand what it feels like. Of course, that won't happen.

    Morgan Mandel

  7. If I weren't a writer, I might not think about copyright much, I have to admit. Lately, I've found that my blog posts are taken and put on someone else's site. That bugs me. I don't expect to get paid, but it would be nice if they linked back to me or even noted that the words weren't theirs. Jeez, the average writer gets so little for their work, it would be nice if people bought their book instead of stealing it.

  8. Pirate the wrong author and you'll get sued within an inch of your career and reputation! There are people out there who have money and the luxury to write simply because they want to, not because they need to. Copyright laws are pretty clear. You have to get permission from an author to copy, even for a seemingly small portion of their work, and then only if you fall within fair use guidelines. If you're stealing their work just for your own benefit - either reputation or monetary gain - you don't have a leg in court. It's a misconception that writers are too cheap or poor to get an attorney. I don't even read my own contracts - straight to the lawyer!


  9. Increased piracy doesn't surprise me. We've all heard the statistics of high school and college students who cheatwithout thinking it's wrong. If those are the values of the majority, lock your doors and protect your books, because we, the caring few, are in the minority.

  10. I'd be thrilled if someone Napsterized my stories and they zipped all over the web. :P In fact, can I sign up for that...? What, only popular authors are pirated? Drat!


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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