What writers need to know about literary piracy and copyright infringement in the digital age

pirateI was surfing the net the other day and happened upon one of my books – I mean that in the truest sense.  I actually happened upon one of my books – in its entirety, cover scan included, every page in a PDF file posted for all to access.  I immediately copied the URL and emailed my publisher in London.  The rights editor got back to me very quickly indicating that this “piracy” would be uploaded to their “infringement portal” and that a take-down notice would be sent immediately.

Unbeknownst to me, my publisher (and presumably others) has this portal that identifies sites like this that pirate copyrighted material, and they are proliferating as we speak.  This one was a new one to them, not already identified (BTW it was www.gendocs.ru – if you have a book out there, you might want to check it).   So I started to do a little research about the current state of online piracy.

Remember when the music industry clamped down and put Napster out of business?  It seems that some of the same activities have been happening in the literary world, but these sites continue to proliferate.  Here are the things that I learned from doing a bit of research.

  1. Your book may well be pirated.
  2. Even if your book is available only in hard copy, it may still be pirated. Literary pirates can procure book-scanning software easily. The book that I stumbled on is available also as an eBook, but this looked like a scan of the hard copy.
  3. There has been an exponential growth in online literary piracy since 2009.
  4. Although there is now a well-established anti-literary-piracy movement on the part of publishers, as fast as one site is shut down, another one pops up.
  5. Piracy sites may have no ethical concerns about ‘stealing’ your book, but evidently they are very concerned about being sued. This means that when approached to cease and desist, they usually do, taking down the identified book.
  6. If you are published by a traditional publisher, they will have an on-going anti-piracy effort (something you should probably ask them about – I didn’t), although some new sites get by as in the case where I identified a previously unknown one for my publisher.
  7. If you are self-published, you can search for your book regularly or better yet set up an on-going Google search for it. If it pops up on a pirate site, you can prepare and send your own take-down letter by identifying the site’s “copyright officer.”

It always saddens me that people think there is something different about stealing intellectual property – music, writing, choreography – than in stealing your cell phone, your car, your wallet.  But there is no difference.  I like to protect my work, and I hope you think enough of your own work to protect it too.

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2 thoughts on “What writers need to know about literary piracy and copyright infringement in the digital age

  1. Excellent post. Can’t say I enjoyed reading about literary pirates, but it was very informative and I’ll save it for future reference. The Internet has become a double-edged sword. It’s original intent was to communicate and to share information. Now, unfortunately, the crooks and scammers have taken over a large segment of it in their unquenchable desire to separate honest people from their money. Since authors write to make a living, literary piracy separates them from both their intellectual property AND their money. It’s too bad the people who work so hard to steal from others cannot put their energies into creating something productive. I’m sure they have the ability — they just don’t have the internal moral code to do right instead of wrong. Someday the Internet will have to change; probably regulated more by governments (aargh!), as Internet crime is increasing geometrically and at some point, this originally unique and wonderful entity will become more hazardous to use than it is worth.

    1. Thanks for weighing in, David. One other issue that I didn’t focus on in the post is that there is some notion among book bloggers that piracy actually increases book sales. I don’t buy this — that’s why I didn’t mention it. It seems there is a feeling (no stats of course) that it is publicity and that it could contribute to future sales. There is also some notion that those who would read a pirated book would not have bought it anyway and thus it doesn’t reduce potential sales. What all of this would mean is that again the writers don’t value their work and that it’s okay to have it stolen. I guess you know what I think of that idea!

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