MLR Press Authors' Blog

Pirates: Not The Sexy Kind by Luisa Prieto

by on Oct.21, 2009, under Author Posts

The site should’ve been an author’s dream. All these threads talking about books, places to get them, the excitement of waiting for new releases, discovering something new. Hours after a book is released, there’s a good chance you’ll find it there.
The problem is, the people who frequented the site have no intention of paying for the books. They’ll click on the links, go to fileshare sites, and download the books.
As one of the members once said, “…why pay for the books when you can get them for free?”

Walking the e-plank

Whether published in e-format or print, there’s a good chance many writers will have to deal with piracy.
For Ginn Hale, author of Wicked Gentleman, the problems have been twofold.
“The first is the amount of my creative time that has been wasted by the endless cycle of having to write and request that a link be taken down only to have it pop back up under a slightly different name,” said Hale. “This can go on and on for weeks, until I just give up in frustration.”
“My second problem is that it’s made my first experiences with the readers of digital works a very negative one. I want to believe that most readers of e-books and electronic works are honest people, but being constantly pirated — and being told that I should be happy about it because it’s promotion — hasn’t done much to buoy my optimism.”
Like Hale, other authors have been frustrated by the pervasive links.
“I think it sucks,” said Ann Somerville, the author of Remastering Jerna. “It takes income from authors least able to afford it (e-book authors who typically only make 500-1000 dollars a book at best), it discourages authors (because every time I see a link to my stuff being stolen, I get angry and depressed and wonder why I bother), and it encourages people to think that electronic versions of writing aren’t worth paying for.”
Whenever I’ve seen a pirate talk about their downloading habits, they’re often defensive. As one said on a thread about deleted links, only the more lackluster authors cared about their books being pirated. ‘Real’ authors accepted it as a cost of doing business and just concentrated on writing books that people would want to buy.
“I think it’s stealing,” said Teresa Medeiros, author of After Midnight. “It’s really no different from someone coming to that “pirate’s” place of business and saying, “Hey! How would you like to work for free from now on?” If you pirate books, you are literally taking bread out of the mouths of that author’s children. It’s also stealing from readers. Because if publishers believe they can no longer make a profit from publishing an author because there are too many pirated copies of their work available, they won’t offer that author another contract. The reader will end up with fewer and fewer choices of quality reading material. In the end, we’ll all pay.”
Some pirates have argued that authors have already been paid and thus they aren’t hurting them. While print authors have gotten advances, the lost sales could still hurt them. E-book authors, meanwhile, won’t get paid unless someone first buys the book.
Authors aren’t alone in their frustration.
“I think it is a huge problem in this electronic age,” said MLR publisher Laura Baumbach. “It’s a sign of the decline in our culture that so many people think it is okay to steal people’s work and give it away under the guise of ‘sharing’ when it is akin to taking another’s product by the truck load and giving it away or selling it from the back of that truck in a dark alleyway under an alias.”
“Piracy in its many incarnations has been going on ever since there has been a way to ‘record’ anything,” said Aspen Mountain Press publisher Sandra Hicks. “It’s an unfortunate, sad fact that people are always trying to get something for nothing and don’t think about the fact that someone else’s hard work hasn’t been compensated. I guess in regards to books people think we’re all making scads of money. The bottom line is that theft is still theft no matter how it’s accomplished.”
One of the problems people have found with piracy is in the simple ease and anonymity the internet offers.
“Piracy is not only incredibly easy with digital media, but there exists among many the general philosophy that information and materials found online should be free,” said Blind Eye Books editor Nicole Kimberling.
“I think that the conscientious media user will generally try and find a way to buy products first,” Kimberling said, “but in the words of my wife: everybody uses pirated or bootlegged goods sometimes. Whether they be video downloads of, say, British television shows or scanalations of manga not yet licensed in North America or folk music from Finland. I think a clear line exists though between finding pirated copies of media that doesn’t exist or is not legal in your country and just being too cheap to pay iTunes the .99 cents for a song. Not everyone agrees with me though.”

Shiver me timbers: the cost of piracy

Money-wise, it’s difficult to gauge how much money is lost. Few sites offer counters showing how many books are being stolen.
That said, I do have one example: to date, people have downloaded 855 copies of LJ Smith’s Vampire Diaries on 4-Shared. At nearly ten dollars a book, its loss will likely increase the longer the link remains up.
“The culture of the internet is a culture where information is free,” said Donald Maass, president of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. “In a way that is a good thing, but content creators also have a right to be paid for their work. To the extent that piracy erodes these understandings, and encourages otherwise lawful citizens to illegally take stuff for free, it’s bad.”
On various threads, pirates have said that if they liked the book, they might later buy it. Not many believe them.
“I do think that a lot of these pirates won’t buy the books to begin with so I’m not sure how much of a loss they are in revenue to us,” said Baumbach, “but it is the principle of thing that they feel free to steal without conscience or fear of reprisal. Authors work damn hard at creating their stories and novels, just an artist does with their paintings or a musician their songs. Their work isn’t a plastic hairbrush from the five-and dime store, it’s a unique piece of that author’s creativity. It deserves respect and compensation.”
“I think the biggest cost is in author morale,” Baumbach added. “After finding their work being given away by the hundreds, maybe thousands of copies, authors feel disrespected and abused. They don’t feel their work or they themselves are valued by people. A lot of hard work and sacrifice go into most novels.”
“Authors struggle for respect and financial stability like everyone else but most people don’t have to see the fruits of their labor pirated and income that should have been theirs stolen from them,” said Baumbach. “I have one author that refuses to give ebook rights to any publishers anymore. But sadly, that won’t stop pirates. I’ve actually had files taken down that were the scanned pages of my books that are only in print, so not having an electronic version doesn’t stop the thief. A determined pirate will make their own.”
Other publishers shared her concerns.
“As an owner of Amber Quill Press, I find piracy very frustrating and troubling,” said Laura Abbott. “However, I also believe it is important for publishers, staff, and authors to understand the environment within which they are doing business.”
“Unless current copyright regulations are enforced by authorities,” Abbott said, “sharing files online is going to continue to be an inevitable, and regrettable, aspect of the Internet. For years, Microsoft has battled the “piracy” of their software with little success. We all know the music industry has fought against the free sharing of albums and singles for a long time. That this unfortunate facet of Internet technology extends to electronic books shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, albeit an unwelcome surprise.”
Like the others, the Loose Id publishers also are trying to deal with piracy.
“We don’t support people acquiring our books illegally,” said one of the Loose Id publishers. “We spend a significant amount of time and money editing, proofreading, formatting and publishing books. Illegal file sharing costs us money, takes royalties from our authors, and affects honest customers as well.”
For them, one of the biggest problems has been explaining copyright issues.
“Many file sharing sites will only remove illegal content if they receive a complete from the copyright holder,” they said. “Because the authors hold the copyright of all Loose Id titles, the author is in the best position to have the pirated content removed.”
“(T)hose authors who depend on their publishers to contact pirates also have to realize it takes up our time and resources as well,” they added. “We’ve paid for attorneys, taken time from editing, etc. to work on piracy instead. That means that much less time and money devoted to authors in the long run. It’s frustrating.”

Come about: interesting pirate thoughts

From personal experience, I feel pretty safe saying that no author wants their work stolen. While talking to others about pirates, though, Kirby Crow told me an interesting anecdote.
“Sometimes I bitch about it on my blog,” Crow said. “In one case I really went ballistic when I found out my new horror novel Angels of the Deep was file-shared two days after release on a very large network with thousands of active members.”
“Losing my temper that time taught me very much about the nature of ebook file-sharing and got me more in touch with the foreign (outside of North America) audience of my books,” said Crow, “and in the process wound up changing my pre-conceptions about who is downloading what and why. Because of that, I can’t be sorry I blew up in public about it, but I wish I’d handled it better because I had fans in places like Peru and Iran who wound up feeling hurt by my anger. That wasn’t what I was after.”
One author expressed surprise at what was happening.
“I’m still stunned that there is book piracy,” said Lane Robins, author of Kings and Assassins, as well as Sins and Shadows. “It just seems so alien to me. I understand music to some extent, but there are libraries for books–and those are free and easier to deal with.
“So far, I don’t know how big the problem is for me,” Robins added. “All my books have been pirated at this point, and though we’ve (myself and the publisher) have closed some down, others spring up. I don’t know how it affects sales, and I guess that’s the only place I feel it could be damaging. But then, I’m not sure the people who rip books are going to ever be the kind of people to go in and BUY a book anyway. If I take Sylvie away from them, they’ll just move on to someone else, not go into the store and buy Sylvie. On the other hand, they might talk about her? I don’t know. Only time will show whether downloaded, pirated books are going to have as big an impact on publishers/authors and music had on musicians/the recording industry. They adapted. I’m sure we will too.
Another author, Josh Lanyon, had an interesting take that I shared.
“I don’t have any problem with a friend occasionally sharing a book or a song with another friend,” said Lanyon, author of the Adrien English mystery series. “I mean, if you loan a friend a book or you play a CD while your friend is in the house…this really just goes to word-of-mouth advertising and it’s a good thing.”
“I repeat: the casual sharing of creative works between a couple of friends or family is not at all the kind of thing that troubles me,” said Lanyon. “Where I have a problem is with these giant sites where the focus of the site is to provide as many downloads as possible of “free” stuff to a community of like-minded freeloaders. THAT I have a problem with. These are not fans of an author sharing beloved works.”
“For some of these people it’s political — or maybe just anti-social acting out. I used to think it was sheer obliviousness but having listened into some of these discussions where these nitwits try to rationalize their behavior, I see that ignorance is not the excuse. They know better, they just put themselves first and to hell with everyone else — including the creator of the stolen work.”
“I also think there’s a difference between pirating ebooks and taking a song to make a fan vid or writing fan fiction based on someone else’s intellectual property,” said Lanyon. “I won’t go into all the reasons I think it’s different, but I do.”

Escaping Davy Jones’ Locker: dealing with links

For many authors, the first line of defense is Google Alerts.
“I have google alerts set up for all of my books and find them that way,” said Erastes, author of Transgressions. “It doesn’t find them all, as a lot of files are encrypted in the author and title. Then I contact the host of the file and generally they come down within minutes.”
After an author finds their work on a fileshare site, they must then fill out an abuse form.
“I’ve usually had a pretty good experience with getting links taken down, although it takes a day or so,” said Jet Mykles, author of the Heaven Sent series. “It’s tedious as hell.”
To add with the abuse forms, I highly recommend having a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notice ready, complete with ISBNs, publisher/author websites, and a sworn statement that you are you.
The DMCA is a US law that protects copyright. Many fileshare sites ask for DMCA Notices and will ignore e-mails that don’t have the necessary information (for examples of a DMCA notice, please go to http://www.plagiarismtoday.com/stock-letters/).
Because the DMCA protects books in the US, many pirates post their links at fileshare sites outside of the country. When that happens, it’s time to turn to Berne.

The Berne Convention, which goes back to 1886, shares many of the same protections as the US’ DMCA. It’s accepted in nearly every country that is a part of the World Trade Organization, and is bolstered by the more modern Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) act.

Countries supporting the Berne Convention, by Guy Cramer (http://www.hyperstealth.com/copyright/index.html)

Once you’ve created your DMCA notice with all of your information, it will streamline the time you’ll spend at the sites.
“It’s up to us to track down every link, try to find the source and report it,” said Lynn Flewelling, author of the Nightrunner series. “Otherwise, (the filesharing sites) won’t do anything. At least that’s been my experience. That’s such a cop out on their part, turning a blind eye and then refusing to clean up their own mess.”
While many authors expressed anger, dread, or sadness, a few had a different reaction.
“I’m really torn, to tell the truth,” said Carrie Vaughn, author of the Kitty Norville series. “On the one hand, people want my work, and that’s gratifying. There’s a certain amount of evidence that if people try your work for free, they’re more likely to spend money on it later on. The frustrating part of it is not having any control over how the work gets distributed or how to track who’s reading it, and how, and so on. You want to make sure people have the right version of a work and piracy doesn’t always allow that.”

Arr: damn links

While it sometimes takes a few days, my experience has been that most of the sites will take the links down. When the pirates realize they’re down, some will put them back up, starting the cycle anew.
“My biggest problem has been the more persistent thieves who know they’re stealing and don’t care,” said Cassandra Gold, author of the Outcasts series. “They constantly re-upload my books, and I end up spending way more time than I want to getting the files taken down rather than being able to concentrate on writing new material.”
Like Gold, other authors have had to deal with the loss of time.
“I’ve started asking friends to help me keep on top of it, so I don’t have to spend so much time on it,” said Vaughn.
Clare London, author of A Good Neighbor, said the piracy has affected her in two different ways.
“Physically,” said London, “the waste of time in chasing and having links taken down. Emotionally, distress at the arrogant attitude of the pirates and the dumb resistance of the downloaders.”
“I don’t think anyone can stop piracy,” said London, “but I think that when/if enough authors and publishers protest, it may create enough momentum to curtail the pirates. Or at least make them face up to the fact they are thieves, not ‘sharing friends.’ They may then reduce their pirating, or be more circumspect.”
Would that quiet acknowledgement matter? I hope so. I suspect I’m not alone.
“Most people would hate to have their work ripped off,” said Maass. “They should feel the same about the written and recorded work of others. Just because it’s available on the internet doesn’t mean it’s okay to take it. Think before you hit the download button, okay?”

Surviving a keel haul

When asked how she dealt with piracy, Astrid Amara, author of The Archer’s Heart, said, “Lots of booze.”
“For the most part,” Amara said, “I do my polite email to the hosting website and ask them to take down the offending document. I’ve gotten nice responses and I’ve gotten responses from one group who say I can basically go f**k myself and don’t care that they’re breaking the law.”
“I don’t think it’s worth getting too worked up over, because it’s inevitable. Any time a product that people want is made available for free, people will take it, even if it isn’t ethical. I think the real key to preventing it is a) developing better technology that prevents such easy transference and b) education. Helping the people who download pirated books understand that they are harming the very people they are fans of.”
Other authors use humor to fight the frustration. While I joke that there’s a competition between my books Shadow Hunt and Cooking with Ergot to see which is a best seller amongst pirates (and that a book about a demon who had a cooking show would likely be a hit), others joke about different things.
“I’m trying to convince a couple of writers to go in with me and hire a renegade hacker to attack and destroy these sites that permit illegal downloads,” said Lanyon, “and to hunt down these pirates and find their real names and IDs so I can turn them over to the FBI.”
“Juuuust kidding.”
“Or am I?”

The landlubber’s guide to dealing with links

Do thank the fileshare sites when they take the links down. The situation was frustrating but they were helpful.

Do tell people if you find their links. One publisher, Total E-Bound Publishing, even has a place on their site where people can report copyright theft (http://www.total-e-bound.com/contactcopy.asp?). The site asks for the title, website address/name of the site where the books are being illegally offered, and direct links to where the books are being offered.

Do put a time limit on how long you spend on hunting links. You can lose a lot of time here.

If someone sends you a link to a site that’s pirating your work, Do thank them. It’s never a pleasant e-mail to get but the person did you a favor.

Do write a form listing all of the needed information for all of your books. Do it before you need it. Then when the pirated links show up, you’ll be able to just fire off the form and not spend much time dealing with it.

Do remember that not everyone pirates books. It may sound like a goofy thing to say, but I know when I’m dealing with a bunch of links, it becomes very important.

Don’t try to talk to the people who posted the links. Chances are they aren’t going to suddenly realize they’ve done something wrong and will likely just feel justified in what they’re doing.

Don’t comment on the pirate sites. They’ll then know you’re there and will look for a reason to ban you. Once you’re banned, you won’t have access to the links of your books.

If you find yourself brooding about the pirating and unable to focus on writing, Don’t give up on dealing with the illegal links. Ask a trusted friend or spouse to help you. One of the people who sent me a link was also looking for links for a friend. I thought she was very awesome for that.

Don’t send a copy of your DMCA notice to every e-mail address you can find for a fileshare company. Not only will it not take your work down faster, it may even confuse the site owners, and slow down the process. Most fileshare sites will have a special e-mail for dealing with abuse cases. If they don’t, the administrator of the site is ultimately, and legally, the one responsible for the links posted there.

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8 comments for this entry:
  1. Lexin

    I don’t have much sympathy for pirates of written matter. I will cease to have any at all when publishers sort out international rights so that I can buy my books (and especially ebooks) from anywhere.

    Still waiting.

  2. Kirby Crow

    Hi there :)

    Great article! But I wish my quotes had been elaborated to more clearly reflect the situation of that instance of e-piracy mentioned herein. The foreign fans who emailed me privately to express their sadness at my anger towards them let me know that my books were not available for sale in their countries at any price, and – in some instances- they were taking very real risks with their own safety even owning them. One downloader begged me not to turn her in to her fundamentalist government, which I had no intention of doing anyway. I wound up feeling sympathetic for readers of homoerotic material in countries where owning such material is punishable. Who wouldn’t?

    It might read better as:

    Because of that, I can’t be sorry I blew up in public about it, but I wish I’d handled it better because I had fans in places like Peru and Iran (where my books are not available for purchase legally) who wound up feeling hurt by my anger. That wasn’t what I was after.”

    I want to make it plain that I do not have sympathy for e-pirates. I do not want my work stolen. No author does. But in the cases of some where the logistics of international payment paired with the illegality of homosexual material in their countries make it difficult (if not impossible) for me to earn money from my novels there, I would rather they had the chance to read it than not.

    Thanks. :)

    -Kirby

  3. Luisa Prieto

    Lexin: I understand. I don’t have much patience for pirates either, but I found the fact that they couldn’t buy the books in their countries interesting. I’d love it if it were legal for them to buy the books there, but I suspect that won’t happen for a while.

    Kirby: I’m glad you elaborated more on your quote. I’d never considered that side before you talked about it and I share your sympathy. I wish we could find a different way of getting our books to them without them resorting to pirating.

  4. Emmy

    Interesting perspective, Kirby.

    It is true that ebooks, and even most e-readers, arent available outside of the US at a legal outlet or website. In that case, the only way for someone who wants to read the book to acquire it is to download it from a torrent site.

    Talk about foreign rights makes my head go splodey, but if books aren’t being legitimately offered online for purchase, how else do you expect people to get them? That said, I doubt Egyptian sheepherders make up the large majority of torrent users or own pirating sites.

  5. Raine Delight

    Great post and very interesting. I am fairly new to the author world and when I got a google hit to this site, I found four of my books are being pirated. To say I was crushed was an understatment. i don’t make a lot of money with m y writing BUT I do it because I love to write and tell stories to readers. To see that people are file-sharing my work has me in a complete and utter losss. Thank you for the links to the DMCA and since I own the copyrights to my books, cease and desit letters will be going out tomorrow.

    Thank you again.
    Raine Delight

  6. Andrea

    Great article. Too often posts about e-piracy are *angry*, and while I can understand where the authors are coming from, who wants to read a bitchy post? :D

    Anyway, another (admittedly, less important) aspect of e-piracy which affects readers and authors (readers especially) is the *suspicion*. When some authors get a new rating or review on Goodreads or receives a fan-mail or a new follower on his/her blog, I’m thinking they might wonder how the person has heard of them, if the person is coming from these pirate-websites, if s/he has really purchased the book or just downloaded it ‘for free’. As a reader, knowing that there might be this doubt, this suspicion, is a bit frustrating when you sit down and think about it (I want to tell them, I bought it, I really did! Trust me! …Yeah, right. Wouldn’t work, would it?), and I would think that for authors it might make interacting with readers weird as well.

  7. clare london

    Great article! I especially liked the range of information and response from the people affected. It’s a huge problem that is affecting us all – even if our specific books aren’t currently being pirated.

    Thanks for all the work you put into this! :)

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