Sunday, 19 June 2011

E-book piracy:Yo ho ho and what happens next?

Google Alerts alerted me last week to a site where Remix can be downloaded for free. I checked with a knowledgeable friend, and yes, the book is indeed available for download, not just there as an inducement to buy membership to their site. I’m surprised, as a) I’m not a famous author, and b) Amazon charges £0.49 or $0.99 for Remix – hardly prices worth evading. But then, the book has been in the UK top 100 for 209 days…

This got me thinking about ebook piracy, so I did some research, and these are my conclusions:

  • Ebook piracy is happening now. DRM offers little or no protection.

  • Many of the early adopters of the Kindle are middle-aged; they can afford it, adjustable font sizes are good for ageing eyes, and it’s an easy gadget to use even if you haven’t been brought up with computers and mobile phones from earliest youth. This age group is less likely to use pirate sites.

  • Younger readers aren't buying Kindles at the moment, thinking them overpriced and that the technology will only improve. This doesn't mean they don’t download pirated books and read them on their computers. Or smart phones, a recent development.

  • As e-readers get cheaper and more common, people used to downloading their music for nothing from torrents will expect to do the same with e-books. A quick search shows you can download the BBC list of top 100 books. It's in pdf format, but it's easy enough to convert to epub or other formats.

  • Publishers are encouraging piracy by their determination to maintain high ebook prices, causing resentment among e-reader owners. One reason they give for high prices (and low digital royalties for authors) is they need to spend money to prevent copyright infringement; but it’s not clear quite what they are doing, beyond giving more money to their legal departments, and hoping e-books are a passing fad.
If the experience of the music industry is anything to go by, publishers will not be able to stop piracy even if they try wholeheartedly to do so, and they have no Plan B. Witness the whole huge amount of effort put into trying to shut down The Pirate Bay - legal proceedings have been going on for years, and yet the site is still up. Maybe I'm being naïve, but I can't see any way that they will be able to stop people illegally downloading without heavily censoring the internet. I don't believe people would stand for that.

This is a big problem for authors that will only get bigger. I've no idea what the answer is.

EDIT: I sent the site a Cease & Desist notice, and the page has been taken down.


  1. Oooh are you able to get something out of that site offering your book for free?!?!? Oh dear! Boooo to piracy!! It's like if there's a way to make money - illegal or not - some wag would go right ahead and do it - no scruples!!!

    Methinks you e-published authors should lobby your MP or something to protect your work and your legal rights. You authors have enough to worry about without being pirated!! Take care and good luck! x

  2. I don't expect many people will download Remix - I'm too unknown. I've sent a Cease & Desist notice.

    You have more faith in the power of MPs than I do, Kitty...

  3. Neil Gaiman has an interesting take on this, but I guess he can afford to take the loss...

  4. Interesting - and Gaiman's point is that piracy sells more books for him. But I don't see how this works, and his analogy doesn't help.

    If a friend lends me a book and I love it, I'm likely to buy more of the author's books. If I illegally download a book and love it, wouldn't I just illegally download the rest of that author's books?

  5. I'm inclined to agree with you. If a person has the mindset that it's OK to illegally download, why would they then switch to paying for books? Unless their preference was for paper books and they were just downloading e-books illegally to get a taster for an author's work...but I doubt it.

  6. Yes - you can get a taster by downloading the sample on Amazon. And so many people have got used to free music downloads...

    The site owner has now taken down Remix after I emailed him.

  7. Lexi, I agree that it doesn't seem possible to prevent books from being pirated without radical reform.
    Publishers current use of DRM restrictions inconvenience the pirates at most, and unfortunately, also irritate and annoy the legitimate reader (like me!).

    It's very easy for pirates to use screen shot software to essentially photograph all of the pages of a digital book. The images can then be saved in any chosen format and also converted to editable form if desired, by using OCR (optical character recognition) software.

    Likewise, paper books can be run through a scanner with equivalent results.

    I think that to eliminate the problem will need fundamental changes to the way that we access the Internet.

    My solution would be to impose a tax on Internet access, rather like the TV license, and then to allow free downloads of all digital material from registered suppliers. The suppliers would be paid from the taxes. It sounds very complicated but with modern computer capability I don't think that the accounting complexity would be insurmountable.

    Greed is a basic human instinct and that needs to be recognised in the solution. Most users also recognise the right of authors, musicians and programers to get payed. Consequently, I reckon that my suggestion just might work!

  8. A new tax, Q? When we are hugely overtaxed as it is?

    It would be a brave politician who'd suggest something that would be so very, very, very unpopular as a tax on internet use.

  9. Lexi, It would not be presented to the public as a tax. I'm not that naive!
    The politicians would present it as 'Free Books for All' LOL

    THE ISPs would be taxed and they in turn would charge for downloads in a similar way as now.

    But downloads would be classified and weighted according to value.
    In this way 'illegal' downloads would contribute to your weighted Gigabyte download quota.

    Some variation of this will have to come eventually if the anarchy on the web is to be controlled!

  10. Glad you got it sorted.

    My guess is that it isn't limited to any demographic of society. People who are willing to pirate in their young lives often grow to be people who are willing to be pirates later on. (That sounds odd, but you know what I mean.) I love books, always have and own a Kindle - I think that's what most people who own Kindles are - book lovers, who wouldn't think to read a 'stolen' copy of your book.

  11. Hope you get it straightened out.

    Strange how these things happen.


  12. Hmm, Q, have you considered a career in politics? You might do rather well.

    Gina, future developments will be interesting, if a little worrying for writers.

    Ms Kitty, it's a bit like fighting the many-headed Hydra - and I can't now remember who was fighting her and whether he won. (Looked it up - Heracles, and he did.)