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How to Get Google to Swat eBook Pirates? Public Shaming (Nothing Else Works)

5476072892_89a5f82745_oGoogle has yet to officially respond to Monday’s post on the rampant piracy in Google Play Books, but my work is already having a visible effect.

On Tuesday I noticed that the ten pirate accounts I called out in Monday’s post had all been disabled. The author listings have vanished, and so far as I can see the listings for the pirated ebooks are no longer visible in Google Play (the ebooks I purchased are still there, though).

That is good news, but I would not celebrate just yet. Google may have swatted a handful of ebook pirates, but they have not addressed the underlying problems which led to the rampant ebook piracy.

Google has not enacted any policies to fight piracy, and the industrial-scale ebook piracy will continue until they do so. They have only removed a handful of the more blatant pirates and leaving the more subtle pirates to continue their operations.

If you would like to find examples of pirated ebooks in Google Play Books, simply search for an author’s name: Douglas Adams, for example.

If you look closely you will see that there are 4 copies listed for Mostly Harmless or The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (to name a couple of examples). One copy is published by Del Rey, two copies are foreign editions published by Macmillan, and one copy is published by Fire & Ice Books.

That last copy is almost certainly a pirated ebook. It is priced at $1.99, while the legit copies are priced at $5.99 and above.

While I can’t guarantee that those Adams ebook are pirated, the pirated copy of Mario Puzo’s works is easier to spot:

mario puzo pirate ebooks google play

The Penguin-published copies of The Godfather are priced at $7 and above, but the pirated copy I just bought cost me $1.99, came with a generic cover, and was published by Fire & Ice Books. That publisher also offered other pirated books in the series.

Another useful trick for finding pirate ebooks is to search for last name, first name. For example, King,Stephen reveals a long list of defunct listings for pirated ebooks.

Or you could search for Roberts, Nora, and note that some of the pirates had been allowed to upload the same ebook 4 or 5 times. Several of those pirates have since moved on to pirating other titles, but are still active in Google Play Books.

What’s more, Google’s piracy problem extends beyond just English language books. For example, Google Play Books is home to both a legal and a pirated copy of the Spanish language version of George RR Martin’s A Storm of Swords.  That helpful pirate has in fact uploaded the first 3 books in the series, and is selling them at a reduced price.

Speaking of GoT, that brings me to another industrial-scale pirate operating in Google Play Books; Ispanyolca was pirating Spanish translations of popular novels, including 50 Shades, Hunger Games, and Game of Thrones (source).

Luckily for us it too was swept up in the Tuesday morning cull.

On Monday I wrote that Google is not doing a damn thing to fight piracy in Google Play, but as we can see today that is not entirely true. They can be shamed into taking action.

Now if only that action would extend to changing their policies, then we would be going somewhere. Google may be the king of search engines and know more about algorithmic filtering than anyone, but they have yet to turn any of their tools to fighting piracy in Google Play Books.

Google will only respond to DMCA notices, and will only remove the specific titles mentioned in a notice. Under Google’s current policy, pirates are allowed to continue operating no matter how many ebooks are removed (the Tuesday morning cull was an exception).

Remember, on Monday I showed you that at least one of the industrial-scale ebook pirated had been operating in Google Play Books for several weeks (at a minimum), even though it was blindingly, nay, algorithmically obvious that it was a pirate operation.

In comparison, the other major ebookstores will close accounts after enough DMCA notices; Amazon, in fact, will suspend an account that receives too many complaints about issues as trivial as the formatting, much less piracy.

But Google will allow pirates to continue to harm authors and publishers. And yes, authors are being harmed.

It’s not just that they are losing revenues in Google Play Books; a pirated ebook in Google Play Books can impact sales in the Kindle Store and elsewhere.

As any author or publisher can tell you, Amazon aggressively watches prices in competing stores. If Amazon finds a lower price they will match that price in the Kindle Store. It doesn’t matter if it is a pirated copy or a legit copy; Amazon doesn’t care.

I’ve been told by several sources, including an author who saw it first-hand, that Amazon will price-match against a pirated ebook. I was also told that:

I have yet to confirm the tweet with a first hand report, but I do have a similar report from a second source.

I can also tell you that it is in keeping with Amazon’s ToS for KDP, and that it fits with Amazon’s sometimes capricious behavior (publishers have been banned for less).

Now if only Google would adopt a similar policy for pirates; that would solve a lot of the piracy problems.

Alas, Google won’t even fully remove the pirated ebooks, much less ban the pirates themselves. When Google gets a DMCA notice, they will disable the buy button on a listing but leave the listing visible. You will still be able to see the cover image, description, and other details. For example: (one, two, three).

The cover image and description are copyrighted, so leaving them visible would arguably mean that Google has not actually complied with the DMCA notice. But given all of the other bad policies Google has in place, that is a relatively minor issue.

The real issue here is the ease with which you can find pirated ebooks in Google Play Books, and Google’s general silence on the issue.

As always, Google was contacted several before I published this post. They were first contacted Sunday night, and as of Tuesday evening they have so far declined to respond. Should they respond I will amend this post.

image by victoria white2010



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Fbone May 5, 2015 um 10:34 pm

There really is a publisher called Fire & Ice Books. You may want to alert them of this situation.

Nate Hoffelder May 5, 2015 um 10:43 pm

Well, shit. I didn’t know, thanks.

It’s a good thing I checked the Puzo ebook; it looks pirated.

Sharon Reamer May 6, 2015 um 6:13 am

I’m also wondering if the publishers of the pirated trad pubbed books are also subject to threats from Amazon for abusing the TOS vis-a-vis discounting.

Mackay Bell May 6, 2015 um 7:11 am

Excellent reporting, Nate.

Nate Hoffelder May 7, 2015 um 6:57 am


Jaylat May 6, 2015 um 10:47 am

Congrats on doing this – excellent work.

Nate Hoffelder May 7, 2015 um 6:57 am


Maria (BearMountainBooks) May 6, 2015 um 1:17 pm


Irish Imbas Books May 6, 2015 um 3:16 pm

Pirated copy or not, Google make money out of either version and so have a serious conflict of interest. This probably explains their reluctance to comment or act on the matter until – as you say – it gets publicized and content owners realise they’re being ripped off both by the pirates and a complicit 'black market dealer'.

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davidwr May 10, 2015 um 5:01 pm

This sounds like something the legit publishers would love to go after. They can even do it without getting Google mad at them:

Since money is changing hands, it is much harder for pirate-companies to hide from the courts, especially if they are in the United States or other countries with responsive civil courts and copyright laws similar to America’s. I am not a lawyer, but if there is any fairness in this world, a plaintiff should be able to get a judge to order all corporate officers and significant shareholders to inform the court "in camera" (out of the Plaintiff’s view) of any other companies they are involved with that sell on Google Play and inform the court "in camera" of any similar allegations that those companies are facing, and if more than one of these companies are being sued for similar bad behavior "pierce the corporate veil" and allow the individual officer or significant-shareholder to be sued personally.

Nate Hoffelder May 10, 2015 um 5:14 pm

Yes, but many of these pirates are probably not in the US. Many of the names are Turkisk, suggesting that the operation is based there.

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