Google Play Books is a Safe Haven for Commercial eBook Piracy

7377925440_42f0924084_bPiracy is endemic to almost every retail site which sells digital content. Some sites such as Amazon routinely (and sometimes aggressively) police their catalog for pirated content, while others have a more laissez-faire attitude.

Google definitely falls into the latter category. The ad network is allowing large-scale commercial ebook piracy to infest Google Play Books.

Update: I have published a second installment. And Google has responded.

And to be clear, we're not just talking about an excess of pirated ebooks; Google Play Books' policies are enabling industrial-scale ebook piracy operations.

On Sunday I came across a tweeted link to an industrious ebook pirate who had set up shop in Google Play Books. Claiming to be the author, that pirate has uploaded and is selling no fewer than one hundred ebooks, all of which are obviously pirated copies:

Google Play Books piracy

The books had been stolen from indie authors and publisher, including HarperCollins, Baen Books, Penguin Random House, Dell Magazines (Ellory Queen Mystery Magazine), and Tor-Forge Books.

And just to be sure, I bought 4 copies at random and compared them to the copies in the Kindle Store (I'm out about $30). The pirated ebooks in Google Play Books were clearly inferior copies with missing formatting, generic or outdated covers, and other problems, but were as complete as the copies in the Kindle Store.

All these books are being sold out in the open, for $2.11 each, in what would best be described as the pirate's own personal ebookstore. And to add insult to injury, they are all encumbered with DRM.

And Google isn't doing anything about it, nor is Google doing anything to deal with the many other pirates who have set up shop in Google Play Books.

To be clear, I'm not talking pirates who have republished a book or two under their own name, or ones who snuck in a pirated copy of Ringworld; Google's problems aren't that small.

What we have here are multiple accounts which have picked an authors name and uploaded obviously pirated books under that name, effectively creating a pirate ebookstore.

A friend on Twitter spent a few minutes searching through Google Play Books and found no fewer than ten different "authors" and "publishers":

Update: Google killed some of those accounts in response to this post.  Here's a new list:

And that was in just a few minutes; just imagine what a thorough search will find.

Pretty much every site that sells digital content has a problem with piracy, but most try to cope with the problem. They respond quickly by removing the content as soon as they get a DMCA notice - and sometimes faster.

Scribd and Amazon, for example, have automated scanners which check for pirated, public domain, and other types of content. Youtube has the much maligned ContentID scanner, and there are even 3rd-party services like Atributor and Muso which will scan retail and pirate sites on behalf of their clients.

As we've seen in the past, those automated scanners are not without problems, but when paired with human oversight the scanners would be a far better option than Google's current policies.

But Google won't do that. Hell, they won't even respond to a piracy complaint unless it comes from the copyright holder or their representative.

And when Google does respond, they will take down the ebooks but they will leave the listing active so it clogs up the search results and author listings (see the bottom of Larry Niven's listing for examples).

Furthermore, Google may remove the ebooks you complain about but they will allow the pirate to continue to operate.

Tymber Dalton discovered a couple weeks ago that one of her books had been stolen by one of the commercial ebook pirates mentioned above (or a different pirate using the same author name):

This shitstain of a cuntnugget needs to go down:

https://play.google.com/store/books/author?id=Dogukan+Akbulut

ALL the books he has posted are ILLEGALLY POSTED. And I found out today, after discovering he’d posted at least one of mine, that authors have been sending takedown notices to GooglePlay Books for WEEKS and their books are STILL showing up there.

The illegally posted copy of my book is here and keep in mind, it’s an ILLEGAL posting. Not all of the books he’s posted are showing up on the front page of his stuff. Authors, go search your books by your name and make sure this fucking shitstain isn’t listed as author/publisher: Dougukan Akbulut

Either that pirate is still in operation, or another pirate has moved in and set up shop on the same author name. Given the similar operational styles, I think they are the same pirate, but either way, it does not speak well of Google.

google android statue pirate

image via Sugar Sleuths

Folks, the above examples show that Google doesn't have a laissez-faire attitude; it's more that they simply don't give a damn about piracy in Google Play Books.

If Google cared, they would use the patent they filed for in 2013. That patent explained how to build a scanner which would identify and flag pirated content. If Google were using that scanner, my friend would not have found so many pirated ebooks.

Sadly, I think it is going to take an expensive lawsuit before Google starts to care about piracy in Google Play Books.

Viacom's lawsuit against Youtube led to the ContentID scanner, and Google only started taking an active position against pirate sites showing up in search results after a lot of yelling on the part of the music and movie industries.

If we want Google to take similar action in Google Play Books I think the Big 5 will have to file a lawsuit.

Google was queried for comment before this post was published, and has not responded.

P.S. In the past Google has delisted and deranked pirate sites from its search results. Do you suppose they will do the same for Google Play Books?

P.P.S. If you have complaints about piracy in GPB, please leave a comment. I'm not done with this story. There are several issues I haven't addressed yet, and I would love the opportunity to slap Google around again.

image by Free Grunge Textures, Sugar Sleuths

 

About Nate Hoffelder (11084 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

33 Comments on Google Play Books is a Safe Haven for Commercial eBook Piracy

  1. Nit-picky and off-topic comment: I believe that all but one of your uses of “which” in this article should be “that,” at least in American English.

    One of the things I like about this blog is that the writing is usually excellent, unlike the case with one of your “good” (but not excellent) e-reader blog competitors. This indicates to me that you care about grammar, and won’t object to my nit-picking.

    • Sorry it took me a while to get back to, you, but I was looking into which/that and which/who rules. A friend on Twitter suggested that this was equally a which/who problem, and now that I’ve made the changes I can see that she was right.

      Thank you for pointing it out.

  2. Google doesn’t do much to police the appstore, either, judging by the reports of malware on Play.

  3. Thanks for the shout-out! 🙂 (Sorry about the swearing. LOL)

    They’re GOOGLE, for crying out loud. No one can tell me GOOGLE cannot come up with an easy way for people to flag content they suspect is pirated. There was another account with ALL the came covers, with Comic Sans types, and they were claiming to be the author of, among other books, “Catcher in the Rye.”

    Um, yeah.

    It’s EASY for a human to spot the pirates. Google can’t tell me they can’t figure out a way to flag accounts uploading X amount of books in Y amount of time, or with over X amount of books listed, etc. for human review, and allow for authors to sign up to have their book/titles flagged for review if they’re uploaded.

    They. ARE. GOOGLE.

    They just don’t WANT to.

    I’ve pulled my few self-published titles off GooglePlay. My publisher still uses them, but honestly? I make very little money there compared to Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iTunes. I’ll still be patrolling my publisher-published titles there for pirated ones, but combined with the fact that the GooglePlay book upload system is a MASSIVELY FAILED pita to use in the first place, they really should just scrap the thing and start from scratch. It’s pretty bad when the Nook self-pub back end is BETTER than another site’s. All Google is doing at this point is facilitating piracy, and they should be better than that.

  4. And SONOFABITCH yes, the guy has books posted AGAIN. OMG, Google, SERIOUSLY?????? SHUT. THE. PIRATE. DOWN.

  5. Is this a surprise? Have you looked at Youtube in the past five years? Google is the greatest perpetrator of piracy on the internet. Youtube steals from the entertainment industry more than any other entity. It comes as no surprise that Google Play is the same; it comes as no surprise…

    • Yes it is a surprise. Youtube may have a bad reputation but Content ID would prevent this kind of fiasco from occurring.

      • I agree that content ID would help. Just saying that Google has a long history of disregard for people’s intellectual property. And the judicial system has a long history of turning a blind eye. Cough, cough, Google Books… Cough, cough, Google [insert pretty much any product where Google is making mountains of cash and the content makers are not]…

  6. Why the heck doesn’t Google have a way to flag these ebooks like Amazon does? Ugh… Good thing I’ve never bought anything from Google Play. Also, if this guy is the same person using that name and is all over social media, looks like he’s an IT student in Turkey. Either that or his account’s been hacked and someone is using it to sell these pirated ebooks.
    Either way… I don’t want to mess with user. I was going to leave a 1-star review saying the ebook is pirated, but I have no confidence that Google can prevent some form of retaliation on my account if the people behind this are really hackers.

  7. Scott Nicholson // 4 May, 2015 at 11:54 am // Reply

    I had a couple of short stories illegally posted, at the hilarious price of $9.99. I sent in a notice and they were removed within a week or so, although I was told “They will remain listed and active on the Google Books site,” I assume to allow a portion to be read for free. However, a few weeks later all traces were removed.

    These stories had never been pubbed as standalones, so someone went to the trouble of mining them from a collection or magazine. But let’s not forget that Google was actively and openly pirating everything on its own about a decade ago. Still waiting for my settlement from that class-action suit, which I suspect Congress will eventually reduce to $3 worth of Adsense ads and a wad of pocket lint.

  8. I’m dealing with this right now. This morning, two pirated versions of my book were being sold on Google Play. One has been disabled, the one offered for sale by Huzur Burda, one of the publishers on your list. The other one is for sale by publisher “Kenneth R. Johnson”. I filed a DMCA notice last week, but it’s still up.

    I only filed a DMCA notice for the Huzur Burda one yesterday, so maybe this article led to Google disabling the listing faster than it normally would. This was the SECOND time someone had uploaded my book and changed the author to Huzur Burda.

    Google is doing diddly-squat to stop this sort of thing from happening. You’d think a tech giant like Google could do a simple check for duplicate titles when someone adds a book, and if there’s already a book in the Google Play store with that title, throw it into a review queue for a human to check BEFORE the book goes live (yes, more than one book can have the same title, hence the review queue, not an instant rejection). But no, they do absolutely nothing.

    I had a brief discussion with a support person last week who claimed that these books get through because they go live before they’ve been reviewed. I don’t believe it. Whenever I upload a book to the Google Play store, it usually goes live instantly. They aren’t reviewing anything, and they’re doing the absolute minimum regarding piracy.

    Someone on KBoards asked Google why they leave up the pages for pirated books, even though nobody can buy them. Google responded it’s because the metadata can be informative. Huh? The metadata usually has the wrong author and/or publisher. How is that being informative?

    Anyway, if you want more details (links), feel free to email me. I’ll be interested to see how long it is before another copy of my book by “Huzur Burda” appears in the Google Play store. 😉

  9. 24 versions of Lucifer’s Hammer. All the same pirated version.

    Actually, the real perpetrators here are the legitimate publishers that haven’t released ebook versions of Larry Niven’s older works.

  10. Oh, this is fun. I still haven’t gotten a response from Google, but they’ve done something about the piracy.

    Google has disabled all the accounts I identified. All those pirated ebooks are gone.

  11. Piracy on GP is not dependent on an author being on Google Play or not. Those books could have been downloaded from P2P or even purchased originally from any other retailer and then reuploaded there.
    I also heard of some accounts uploading partial content (maybe copied from samples?) and selling for a discounted price. Customers looking to save a buck got taken for a ride since they only got a few pages of content.
    The much bigger issue here is that Google has not made any effort to curb or police the practice. Amazon does random copyright checks on books. If one can’t prove ownership, one can have the book or the whole account terminated.
    Anybody doing a quick check on any of those accounts can clearly see none of those books belong to the uploader. Another problem lies with figuring out a way to stop the person(s) from creating new accounts once the active ones are terminated. Aside from blocking entire IP groupings, I’m not sure how that can be achieved.
    Let’s also not forget that the half of the onus lies with those buying from the pirates and perpetuating the practice.

  12. I’d be surprised if the pirated copies originated on Google Play. You’re right in saying that they’re probably pirated copies from other sources.

    If Google were to do some basic automated checks on books being uploaded, pirates creating new accounts wouldn’t be as much of an issue.

    A potential issue that hasn’t been mentioned: Amazon often price matches Google Play prices (it’s also against Amazon’s TOS to offer your book at a lower price at another vendor than you do at Amazon). These pirates always undercut the price of the legit copy, which could cause problems at Amazon.

    • I’d heard about the price-matching issue, yes. I haven’t been able to document it, though.

      • This is the form letter Amazon sends for a first infraction. The lower price mentioned here was for a pirated copy under a different author name that we hadn’t seen pop up. We got it taken down quickly, fortunately.

        Hello,

        We are writing you today as we noticed that the digital list price you provided to us for one or more of your titles (listed below) exceeds the list price of a physical or electronic edition of the same book(s) listed on Amazon.com or another website. Under the KDP Terms and Conditions and Pricing Page, you are required to set and adjust the digital list price you provide to us to ensure that it is no higher than the list price for any other digital or physical edition of the book.

        Your digital book below does not meet the requirements of our Terms and Conditions because:

        YOURBOOK (ID: YOURASIN) is listed on Amazon.com at $2.99 and at $1.99 on Barnes & Noble

        We ask that you adjust the digital list price you provided to us for the book(s) listed above so that it is no higher than the price(s) listed on Amazon.com or other sales channels for either the physical or electronic editions of the book. You can do an online search for your book to discover which, if any, other sites may also be offering it. Failing to make the necessary updates within 5 business days may result in the removal of your book(s) from the Kindle Store. Removed titles will then have to be republished with an updated price, subject to standard publishing delays, to be accepted in the Kindle Store.

        Note that the pricing requirements in our Terms and Conditions are applicable to all of the titles in your catalog and if repeat violations are found, your account may be terminated.

        Please see section 4 in the below link for more information on our list price requirements:
        https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A29FL26OKE7R7B

        Thanks for taking the time to ensure your book meets the KDP pricing requirements.

        They get sterner if it happens again. I know someone who was suspended on a third infraction even though in each case it was a pirate that Amazon was complaining about. Amazon reinstated her after some back and forth.

        Authors shouldn’t worry about normal price matching, where Google discounts a book the author or their publisher has uploaded and then Amazon matches. Amazon only counts a lower list price as a violation, not a discount like Google routinely provides. Also note that a list price of $0 at another retailer isn’t a violation either, as free books are considered a special case. Amazon will likely make their copy free too, and in fact that’s how many authors make books permafree on Amazon. They may send a note when price matching a sale or a $0 book, but it’s just a notification rather than a warning.

        Some authors avoid Google Play because they mistakenly think the automatic discounting violates Amazon’s terms. Pirates love that, because if their stolen copy is the only one on Google Play, it lends an air of legitimacy.

    • This issue also has me worried (there have been a lot of reports about this from Indie authors) since my books will probably be on Google Play soon (distributed through Xin-Xii) and I am worried about the them discounting.

  13. Good article.
    Yes, it’s staggering Google don’t have plagiarism filters. Amazon certainly does. I found my book there by Jamal Kasa – exact same cover, same words, same copyright statement. Google took his books down, but “he” is probably a bot that will just put up more till they implement a software filter.
    Cheers

  14. Good article thanks. I have plans to release ebooks for Amazon Kindle, and I’m thinking I’ll avoid the google play store because of the issues you mention.

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