Earlier this year I let a website domain I owned expire. I no longer needed the site because it promoted one book ‘Exit Strategy’ and I had decided to consolidate all my books onto one new website. A couple of months later, in a moment of idleness, I clicked on a link to my old website and got a nasty surprise. The domain had been acquired by someone in Panama and was back online. Even worse, it was using my copyrighted material which had been converted, rather poorly, into a WordPress site. Surely that’s good you might say. What’s wrong with a little free advertising? The problem, apart from the poor quality, was all the links had been changed to promote an American company offering business consultancy services. I appeared to be endorsing the company. I fired of an email to the American company and the domain owners in Panama, complaining and got an immediate response. They simply changed my name from Graham Watkins to Sam Watkins and I now lived, not in Wales but Mid-West America. Cheeky buggers!
That bit of piracy set me thinking about what I would do if someone copied and republished one of my books. That is exactly what happened to Rissa Blakeley’s book ‘Awakening Desires.’ Rissa discovered that a woman who had won a copy of her book in a competition had stripped out the Digital Rights Management (DRM) and was offering the book free to friends and acquaintances. Blatant copyright theft. Rissa emailed the thief pointing out she owned the copyright and got the following garbled reply, ‘If you say I’m a theft. Well sorry. I don’t agree. I bought ur book use my own gc that I won.’ Apparently the thief believes what she is doing is fine and dandy. Incensed Rissa strapped on her brass balls, locked and loaded (her words) then informed Amazon what was going on. So far Amazon have ignored her but Rissa is a determined lady. While Rissa’s experience is small scale it illustrates a big problem that is not new. As far back as 2011 a study revealed more than 9million pirated books worth $2.8m were downloaded in the US alone. Since then the eBook market has exploded. According to the Washington Times, 20% of eBook downloads are illegal copies. The Daily Mails has reported that the big publishers are in talks with the British Government because of the seriousness of the problem of eBook piracy. Amazon has been described as the store where eBook pirate’s shop. No wonder Amazon are pushing Kindle Unlimited. J.K .Rowling held back from publishing the Harry Potter Series for several years for fear of piracy. Now she makes them available free as Kindle Unlimited books; a clever ploy to sidestep the thieves.
When Shaun Dickinson was contacted by Amazon and told that his poetry book was being removed from Kindle Select he was surprised to learn that his book had been republished on iTunes by someone else who was happily earning royalties from his efforts and he isn’t the only one losing out.
But what can us indie authors do to protect ourselves from the Ebook pirates? Big publishers have the resources to pursue and prosecute and that is what they are starting to do. One thief had to pay $7,000 for sharing ‘Herb Gardens for Dummies’ after being sued. Dummy! At one stage Kobo suddenly unpublished all indie books to protect themselves from the threat of litigation from disgruntled publishers. Not good news if you are relying on the royalty income. In China, in 2012, Apple faced a claim for £3.5m for offering 59 unlicenced Chinese books. They took the offending books down but they were quickly reloaded onto Apple’s site again, by the pirates. Search ‘ebook piracy sites’ on Google. It’s that blatant.
‘I’m OK, my books are protected by DRM?’ You might say. Well you aren’t. As Rissa discovered, DRM can be removed using freely available software. There are however a number of things you can do to protect yourself. The first thing is to personalise you book’s contents. All of my books contain links to other books of mine, links to my website, Amazon page, email etc. That way, if they are pirated and distributed I should pick up some business as a result. I have seen it argued that we should embrace book piracy as a free form of promotion. Personally I don’t subscribe to that view. Next you should be vigilant and search for your work regularly on all distribution platforms. Use Google Alerts to monitor the web by setting up alerts to flag up your book titles.
If you do find a pirate copy of your work don’t panic. Most sites will respond positively to a rational request to remove the offending eBook and the formal way to do it is by issuing a ‘Take Down Notice.’ That’s what Shaun Dickinson did to sink his pirate. There are examples of how to approach sites offering pirate copies and tons more good advice including how to shut down an illegal website on these sites.
As quickly as the sites are taken down, they reappear; think ‘whack a mole’ and you get the idea. Another alternative is to use someone like locklizard to encrypt your work. Not something I have experienced. On the positive size, until you are famous, you will be under the radar for most pirates unlike Wilbur Smith who published an eBook one day and was competing with pirate copies the next.
Finally, for those who think it’s OK to download free stolen eBooks a word of warning. Many sites offering pirate copies of ebooks are dodgy. The cheapskates might get more than they expect, like a nasty virus or some malware bundled within their new book. When they do, I’m glad; it serves them right. As for my old website; the material is old, of no further use to me and frankly, I can’t be bothered to pursue the pirates any more. With any luck they will stay in Panama and catch yellow fever.