There's a link going around on Twitter this week that a terrible new pirate site has popped up. Yesterday Lisa Bradley tweeted:
Authors may want to google their names & "bestnovel(.)website to find out if pirated versions of their books are being advertised.
— Lisa Bradley (@cafenowhere) June 5, 2015
I would normally avoid mentioning pirate sites (no need to encourage them) but in this case I thought it worthwhile to publish a post and warn everyone away from the site.
You see, Bradley is saying that this is a pirate site and is advising authors to search for their names and send DMCA notices. She's had her publisher send a DMCA notice, and while you are welcome to follow in her footsteps I'm not sure it's going to do much good.
This might look like the front to an ordinary pirate site but it is actually the front page to a whole rat's nest of sites which, so far as I can tell, aren't actually pirating ebooks.
If you go to the site mentioned above and click on a book cover, after you are about 4 clicks in you will not find any pirated ebooks but you will find yourself prompted to register to join a site, and on the page after that you'll be prompted to hand over your credit card details.
I can't tell you what happens next (it would not accept my credit card), but I can add a few more details.
Tim Cushing of Techdirt and I have spent some time looking at this web of sites, and while we think it's scammy we're not exactly sure what is going on. We each went down the rabbit hole several times and kept randomly ending up at different sites.
It turns out that the one site mentioned above is actually the honey pot for a couple dozen different cloned websites. Each site looks slightly different but serves the same purpose: to separate you from your credit card details.
None of the sites let me download ebooks before they tried to get my credit card info, and I suspect that getting my CC number was their main purpose and not piracy.
I found the clones by searching for the customer service phone numbers in DuckDuckGo (one, two, three). All the sites had the same basic MO: they ask you to sign up and pay between $15 and $35 a month for access to (pirated?) content. Most (but not all) claimed to lead back to these folks.
If this is a pirate operation then these are very ballsy and very technically sophisticated pirates. Then again, I'm not sure that this is a content piracy operation.
It could very well be a straightforward attempt to scam you out of monthly payments while giving you access to Playster, a legit subscription service that charges $16 a month for access to movies, ebooks, apps, and games (Tim ended up on the Playster site on one of his trips down the rabbit hole).
And for all we know this scam might not actually giving you access to anything you couldn't find legally free on the web.
We've seen that once or twice before, and this rat's nest could well be the same folks who had previously fleeced unsuspecting readers. Alas, they've cloaked their identity well enough that there's no way to know for sure.
And yes, this could even be a pirate site, so go ahead and send those DMCA notices. For all we know they might accomplish something.
Edit: And as Jose Jiminez reminded me on Twitter, you can file a notice over the cover image and get the listing taken down. (In an earlier version of this post I had missed that detail, and warned authors away from sending them because I erroneously thought it would be perjury.) Thanks, Jose!
P.S. If you do decide to pay to access one of these sites, let me know what you find.