Tuesday, December 23, 2008

E-Piracy: What it is and how it hurts us all

Through a group of authors and publishers which has just recently formed, it’s become incredibly clear that there are an enormous number of people who don’t really understand what an e-book is, or the laws concerning their distribution. E-piracy is rampant and it’s a rare author who hasn’t had at least one of his or her books stolen and given, or sold, without permission.

I believe most people simply don’t realize that e-books are different from the print books they own. Those are perfectly legal to trade or gift to someone else. When we think of piracy online, most people immediately think of music. How many artists have lost enormous amounts of money because of people down loading their tunes? Hundreds? Thousands? That’s a lot of music and a hell of a lot of money being taken from the struggling musicians.

I’ve heard readers say they didn’t realize they weren’t allowed to pass their legal bought e-books on. To be honest, I believe some of these people. The internet and our e-publishing industry are really pretty new, so the rules and regulations are still being made, in some cases. There are still millions of people who are blissfully unaware of e-books and the variety of e-readers available now. Education is paramount so our industry doesn’t falter before it even gets its feet under itself.

In the front of ever legal copy of an e-book sold, there’s a warning that states: All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher.

Applications should be addressed, in writing, to the publisher. Unauthorized or restricted acts in relation to this publication may result in civil proceedings and/or criminal prosecution.

This was loosely based on the text used by Total E-Bound Publication and it’s in the front of every one of their e-books sold. The trouble is, it’s where readers skim by so they can get to the good stuff. How many of us pick up a pocket book and read the first few pages? You know, the bits about who published it and when, the ISBN, that sort of thing. The print is usually small, the message foreign and unexciting. That’s not why they bought the book. They want the story!

What we have to get through to those readers, those wonderful fans and buyers, is that e-books are very much the same as the books they buy in their favorite brick and mortar bookstore in only some respects. The authors work as hard, they spend weeks, months, sometimes years, creating that story you’re dying to get your hands on. They’ve spent nearly as long waiting to hear from publishing houses and then going through the myriad of edits and possibly re-writes to polish their babies. The difference comes when it’s actually published. One, you can pick up and walk out of the store with. That one costs more, takes up space in your home, kills a tree or two for you to hold in your hands and is transferable. The other, the e-book, is much easier to access. All you have to do is get on your computer, go to the website of the publisher, or Fictionwise, Amazon, or wherever your publisher has chosen to sell your books, and then you pay your little bit, then download a file to your computer. Some download to readers, some to laptops, but it’s not a book you can actually hold in your hands. The good things are, they cost much less, they’re incredibly easy to get your hands on and fast, and there’s no trees cut to create the book. The downside is, you may not transfer that file without permission. It’s against the law to do so. You may not upload it to eBay. You may not give it to a friend.

When you purchase that file, it’s like you’ve purchased a program such as Windows XP. That program is non-transferable, right? You have code numbers to prove it’s your copy, right? Well, e-books don’t have the code, yet, but they are still a program you’ve bought for yourself and which is illegal to give to someone else.

Pirate sites may say they’re not doing any harm. They may tell you that you’re only allowed to download for personal use. They may tell you all kinds of pretty things, but, did they tell you that to download a copy of some author’s books is illegal? That if caught, you could wind up in court? Did they tell you that publishers strive to have their sites shut down, because the pirate is taking money not only from them, but from the authors?

That author, who you might think is making money hand over fist is most likely working a day job in order to pay for his or her writing career. There are very few Stephan King’s out there. Most authors make just enough to pay a bill or two and that’s it. Some authors, if they’re incredibly lucky, have a spouse who helps support them so they can write.

So please, if you’re tempted to download from one of those pirate sites, think about it. An e-book costs you what, $5 on average. That’s not a huge amount of money. Yet, to an author, it’s a much treasured sale. Many books cost a great deal less, some as little as a dollar. That really isn’t a lot and out of that dollar, the author will see less than half. Royalties aren’t huge. Again, I beg you; think about what that thoughtless download means to your favorite author. He or she loses money, each and every time someone downloads their books for free. That could mean that author won’t be able to keep writing. It could mean a publishing house isn’t making enough to carry on, and they go under.

If you’re brave enough, go one step further and pass the word along. Tell others that e-piracy is hurting authors. It’s taking their hard earned money right out of their hands. It could very well be killing a dream.

And here’s a little something more for you to think about.

FBI Anti-Piracy Warning:
The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Want to report an e-pirate? Here's the email address and thank you for your help:



D. Musgrave said...

Amen, Jude.
I think this as big of an issue as the whole music piracy that was in the news of late.


Ana Lee Kennedy said...

Excellent blog, Jude! If more authors explained this to their readers, and readers explained it to their friends, etc., it would help crack down on e-book piracy.

Hot Ash Romance Novels said...

Excellent article, Jude!

I'm thrilled to see RWA getting involved in tracking down and prosecuting these criminals.


Jude Mason said...

Derek, Faith, Ashlyn, thank you all for your comments. E-publishing is really such a new industry that in part, I believe readers don't understand why they can't give their legally purchased e-books to their friends or sell them as they would a print book. Education is a must. Stopping those *&%$# pirates is another must. Please, as authors, spread the word that it is illegal and hurts both the authors they love and the publishing houses we work with. Every little bit helps.


Tess MacKall said...

You've explained this perfectly, Jude. And like you, I believe there are thousands of loyal fans out there who are aware of the law and respect the author's hard work.

However, there are these sharing sites that are quite organized and some set to private that know full well what they are doing and flagrantly flaunt it.

One such incident happened recently and a group of authors intervened. Supposedly the sharing site no longer shares, but as it is now set to private, who knows?

The bottom line is this: Not everyone is guilty, not everyone is innocent. The law, authors, and publishers, look at each case and examine intent. If the intent is to by pass purchasing an e book, and to do that over and over, such as with one of these sharing sites, then we have every right to demand they be shut down.

We have so many wonderful readers out there who would never consider something like this. Loyal fans who understand e publishing. But the flip side is the dark side, some individuals who understand and still share.

Your blog is a great way to get the word out to those who need further understanding and a great way to let the public know we are indeed vigilante. No one wants their pay check cut. And that is what e book sharing and piracy in general do to us authors.

As the e book industry flourishes, the laws, which are already quite clear, will begin to come down hard on violators. It's good that we as authors try to educate the reading public now rather than later.

Thanks for your wonderful insight and courage, Jude.

Anonymous said...

Well thought out and insightful, Jude. Nice post!

Merry Christmas!


Ray said...


I am one of those who reads all the stuff at the front. I like to know the publishing history of print books, especially if I have read ten or twenty of an authors books and wan to be sure I haven't read the book before.

I don't even share what I download with my wife. We have more computers than people in the family, but some members of my family do the music thing and I just don't trust them not to send something out of the house if I let them look. If one of them wants to read what I bought they can buy their own or I will buy it for them. I do have triple redundancy on my computer so I make backups, but no one else has access to my three hard drives.

I want to see the author and the publisher get paid. I want the author to keep writing and I want the publisher to stay in business so I have access to the author's work.

I actually own three copies of Paula, the story of the life and death of the daughter of Isabel Allende, Two in English and one in Spanish.

I share my print books with my family, but I demand them back when they are finished. Even thought I am allowed, I want everyone else to get their own. As long as I can afford books I don't even borrow from the library.


Jude Mason said...

Jamie, hugs. Thank you, gf!

Ray, thank you so much. You're a special man and a rare breed. Not that one has anything to do with the other, but you're just one of a kind and I truly wish there were more like you out there. It really is difficult enough just to get up the courage to send a submission in to a publishing house, but to see your work on a site being given away by someone who has no right to do so is heartbreaking.

I'll always remember the first time it happened to me. I was shocked and cried and if the person had been in the room I'm not sure what I'd have done to them, but it wouldn't have been pretty. It may seem a small thing to an non-writer, but to anyone whose been through it, they'll understand.

Thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

I am going to post the link to ypur article on your blog on all my four blogs, so those reading my blog, especially my PamelaKKinney one that o get big hits from will go read yours and begin to understand. Thanks for this article. I also emailed the link to my other writing friends to post it on and to go read it.
I think if other authors we know posted the link to your article so their readers can go read it, this ould be helpful for not only eBook authors, but those of print. i have seen books from NYC done this way by piracy websites as much as eBooks, which shows these people are taking time to do this. sad, but true.

Anonymous said...

I borrow fro the library and wouldn't mind if my books are in a library, for they buy them from my publisher and I get the royalties from this. I have read a book at the library, found I liked it, and go out and buy it, which many do, do. But I do not ever share an eBook with anyone that I bought or won or sent for a review on my blog.
But I do mind seeing those who might have won an eBook from me at a contest or buy it, then share it for free for anyone on some piracy website.

As long as I can afford books I don't even borrow from the library.

Anne Kane said...

Very good article, Jude. I too like to think that most people are unaware of the rules and that if we educate them, e-piracy will become less of an issue.

Merry Christmas!

Jude Mason said...

Sapphire, thanks so much. Getting the word out and educating those who don't understand what rules/laws they may be breaking is one big step. Stopping those who just don't care how much they're hurting the authors is another. Hopefully working together, we can make a difference.

Jude Mason said...

Hi Anne,

Thanks so much. I think there will always be those who just don't care who they hurt or how much it costs the authors, but hopefully as we educate the masses they will become less of a problem. Maybe they'll get tired of being chased from one ISP to another. *G*

I hope you're enjoying an amazing holiday with family and friends.

healingline said...

Thanks so much for formulating this, Jude.

Happy New Year-- things only get brighter from here.

Jude Mason said...


Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I truly hope you're right. I like to believe most people are honest and wouldn't break the law if they knew about it. But, being somewhat of a realist, I also know there are those who just believe whatever they can get their hands on for themselves is right.

Happy New Year to you and may you have much success and happiness.