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More Bad Advice on Piracy for Authors and Readers

It is easy 8637220162_16099fbb7c_z[1]to see why piracy is the boogeyman of authors, and why so much time is spent fighting it and sharing tips on how to fight it. Unfortunately, not all of the advice you get from authors is good advice; sometimes it is wrong to the point of being destructive.

A couple weeks ago I wrote a brief post debunking one author’s claims about Scribd,  and how it is supposedly easy for readers to strip the DRM (not true). This morning I came across another post with equally bad advice.

Anna Kristel, writing at her author blog, offered this piece of advice on how readers can detect piracy:

What prompted this post? A few weeks ago, one of the authors who writes for one of the pubs I write for happened to find almost all of our authors’ books on a couple of sites. We were all just sickened by the news and immediately sent letters to the owner of the sites. We also asked friends to do the same.

I decided to address this issue to bring attention to it to unsuspecting readers who may not even realize they are downloading books illegally. The rule of thumb…if it’s not one of the major retailers…it’s probably not legit.

It’s difficult to convey just how bad that rule is, but I will try.

Following this rule of thumb could lead you to conclude the  search engine site Luzme or the discount ebook site eReaderIQ are pirate sites. After all, they list vast quantities of free and discounted ebooks and neither site is one of the major retailers. The fact that neither site hosts any content but instead links to major retailers would be easy to miss if you don’t look too closely (I’ve made similar mistakes before).

Anna’s rule of thumb is also how the Lendink lynch mob happened. Back in 2012 a few authors discovered that a nondescript little website was listing their ebooks as free. Panic ensued, and before the day was out thousands of authors flooded the site with DMCA notices.

Unfortunately, none of those authors looked closely enough to realize that Lendink didn’t host any content. It was one of many legitimate sites that were set up to facilitate the ebook lending feature offered by Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

In short, it’s simply not possible to apply a rule of thumb when you are trying to determine whether you’re looking at a pirate site. The internet is far too complicated for a one step rule like the one Anna suggested above. Trying to follow that rule of thumb is probably going to result in a bad outcome, and it might even lead to another fiasco like the Lendink lynch mob.

I would suggest that it it better to look carefully, ask questions, and make sure that you understand all of the technical details before reaching a conclusion. Given how much damage a false accusation can cause, I would say that it is better to be safe than sorry.

image by EU Naval Force Media and Public Information Office

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Juli Monroe March 28, 2014 um 8:46 am

Good points, Nate. I didn’t go there when I read the article, but you’re absolutely right.

Jaylat March 28, 2014 um 1:41 pm

Wow, a lot of anger about piracy directed at… the authors? Why do I always get the impression from this website that the authors are the bad guys?

Yes, authors occasionally get it wrong when they defend themselves against piracy. How about a few posts about the 99% of the time they get it right?

Unlike the "boogeymen," piracy exists.

Nate Hoffelder March 28, 2014 um 2:10 pm

Anger? What anger? I wrote this in a carefully calm tone.

And while we are on the topic, I too am a self-published author. I publish my work everyday on this blog, and I face many of the same problems as novelists. I used to worry over piracy, but at some point I realized that I wasn’t being harmed in any significant way.

I’ve since realized that the fear of piracy was actually harming me more than the piracy itself. Once I stopped worrying about it it suddenly stopped being a serious problem. Sure, I still make occasional efforts to fight it, but I also don’t give it any thought the rest of the time.

Jaylat March 28, 2014 um 2:44 pm

I’m glad to hear that you were not harmed by piracy. That is not my experience, nor is it the experience of thousands of my peers. I do fight piracy – I don’t obsess over it but I send out notices and defend my rights when necessary.

However simply saying that "Once I stopped worrying about it it suddenly stopped being a serious problem" implies strongly that – for you – it was never a serious problem in the first place. That is to say, you have most likely never been pirated in a serious manner.

Ever have your entire back catalogue of books uploaded to a pirate site? If so, I doubt you would be taking such a "sunshine and moonbeams" approach to the subject. I also think you would have a bit more respect for the authors, as imperfect as they might be.

Nate Hoffelder March 28, 2014 um 3:27 pm

I’ve had the entire blog mirrored elsewhere, and I’ve had one pirate actually get more attention on Twitter – and from people who know me, no less. And I have this one persistent pirate over on Blogger who posts the email newsletters I send out every morning:

So yes, I have been hit by piracy. And I am working on getting rid of that one pirate, but it’s not a top priority.

"entire back catalogue of books uploaded to a pirate site"

Can you show that harm resulted from the content being uploaded? I seriously doubt it. Also, the thing about pirate sites is that the folks who go there either cannot or will not buy the content. They’re out to pirate it, so they were never a customer.

Jaylat March 28, 2014 um 6:40 pm

From a practical point of view you have limited experience with real piracy – basically none. I don’t even bother with mirror sites – although I’ve had many.

"[pirates] were never a customer." You seem very certain of this. Any specific data to back this up?

You are also asking me to prove a counterfactual "Can you show that harm resulted?" I do in fact have evidence that shows that customers who buy books also frequent pirate sites. I also have a lot of anecdotal evidence that customers will in fact not purchase if they know they can get it for free illegally and without penalty.

Given your very limited experience, can I suggest that you might want to listen to people who actually do have to deal with piracy? You are certainly welcome to your opinion, but you should inform your readers that it’s not based on anything other than pure conjecture.

Nate Hoffelder March 28, 2014 um 7:24 pm

Why do you assume that I listed all of the experience I have had with piracy?

Don’t answer that; I’m not interested in discussing the topic now that you have turned it into a pissing contest.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) March 31, 2014 um 10:31 am

"They’re out to pirate it, so they never were a customer." Not necessarily true. Some "customers" hear about a site or book and don’t realize it’s not a legit site. They are looking for a book, find it free and assume it is legit. Or they hear from a friend that it was free "here." I’ve watched it happen on forums–a person posts, very excited they found x book for free. Several people go grab it before the mods pull the post because it’s a pirate site. In fact, some of those people had the book on their wishlist and probably would have bought it at some time.

So having books up on a pirate site can be a problem, although I do believe it is less of a problem for us lesser-known authors. As authors, we do get emails asking "when will this book go free" or "where can I find your books for free?" I have no idea what this type of email is really about, but I have gotten them. I’m not sure if the reader really expects us to send them to participating pirate sites or is hoping we’ll just send a copy.

As for your article, I do agree that you can’t just toss out all small retailers. Angry Robot, Samhain, my blog, other author blogs, smashwords, even Baen. Some of these are very small sites. I’ve purchased from very small name publisher sites and many readers don’t even know the name of the publisher, never mind whether they have a website!

Robert Nagle March 28, 2014 um 2:40 pm

I’ve noticed that consumers have a morbid fear of buying ebooks not from istore, Amazon or BN. As a result, they often miss the opportunity to buy DRM-free content from sites approved by the author (where the royalties for authors are often better than the Amazons and istore). I understand the hassle factor of having to manage an ebook library locally, but Dropbox should reduce the hassle factor substantially.

It’s ironic that the ebook distributors which are regarded as "more legitimate" are also the same ones which encumber ebooks with DRM.

Becki March 29, 2014 um 2:15 pm

"The rule of thumb…if it’s not one of the major retailers…it’s probably not legit."

This is why we will probably not get any real competitors to Amazon.

Maybe if Anna’s publisher had told her (or she had asked) which distributors would be used and where those ebooks get sold, she wouldn’t have acted in such a knee-jerk reaction. I guess it’s less of a hassle to possibly accuse a site falsely of being a pirate than to do a little investigation about where they get their ebooks.

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