NYTimes: Rousting the Book Pirates From Google Play

9300923862_d95a92c6e2_hThe NYTimes’ Haggler column followed up today on my reports of the rampant piracy in Google Play Books.

David Segal learned of the problem from by a reader who had found a pirated copy of one of her books in Google Play Books in July (months after Google closed its publisher portal so it could directly respond to the  piracy issue).

Segal contacted Google, talked to publishers, and reports that:

About 18 months ago, Google Play started selling self-published e-books. Any author could post and sell his or her work on the site. But in February — and why this started then is a mystery that [Google spokesperson] Mr. McLernon did not explain — a wave of piracy was spotted by book publishers.

It emerged that the pirated books were being uploaded by people using Google Play through its self-publishing channel. People were opening accounts, ostensibly to publish their own work, and then selling digital copies of popular, and not so popular, e-books that they had not written.

In May, Google stopped enrolling any new self-publishing authors. At the same time, a team of employees went through all of the complaints filed by publishers. Pirate accounts were deleted. (The company eventually plans to restart the program.)


There isn’t much else to add (Google isn’t saying much). But in spite of the lack of detail, this is still good news. Google has yet to reveal when they plan to reopen the publisher portal, but the public confirmation of why they closed it tells us that Google really is finally taking the piracy problem seriously.

That said, I’m still trying to figure out how Google plans to fight ebook piracy and what they’re currently doing.

For example, the book mentioned above was missed by Google, and only removed after it was identified by a member of the press. That suggests that Google is not using an algorithm like ContentID to search for pirated books (Scribd is using such an algorithm). But that is only a guess.

If you have encountered a Google anti-piracy measure in Google Play (either as a user or as a publisher), please leave a comment, reach out on Twitter, or what have you.

Many authors and publishers share my interest in this topic, so any tidbits of information would be widely appreciated.

image by thedescrier

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. carmen webster buxton29 August, 2015

    I hope they fix this soon! My latest book is still in “processing” status. How about yours, Nate?

    1. Nate Hoffelder30 August, 2015

      It turns out my book was just normal operational snafu. I kept changing the settings, but they didn’t take.

  2. Michael30 August, 2015

    >About 18 months ago, Google Play started selling self-published e-books.

    (Correcting Mr. Segal, not Nate)
    Google allowed self-published books from the beginning of their ebook store. What happened more recently is they 1) made their publishing dashboard less confusing, and 2) stopped requiring ISBNs. Those very welcome steps made it much easier for both authors and pirates to upload.


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