Book Pirates Are NOT Sexy

I like free books. I find them at the library, yard sales, book swaps, giveaways, and those awesome times when an author puts one of their books up for free for a limited time. Websites full of pirated books being sold without an author’s consent are not my choice for getting my book fix. The book pirates make money and authors get screwed. I don’t like getting screwed without my consent.

If you’ve just joined the club of authors whose work has been pirated out in cyberland, welcome. I’m pretty new to this club too but I’ll share what I know so far.

Out in cyberspace, thieves (and I don’t mean the Robin Hood types with a somewhat noble principle in mind) like to steal the digital content that writers and other creatives have labored over for hours, days, months, even years. These thieves then put the stolen content up on websites to be downloaded for free. While the authors don’t get paid for their content, the book pirates usually get paid plenty for their websites, most often in the form of advertisers paying to hawk their products/services or in the form of membership fees for subscribers. Many subscribers don’t realize they are paying X dollars a month to download books and content that is being distributed without the authors’ consent.

Some pirate sites blatantly offer the stolen content to their subscribers or anyone who visits their site. The sites just shut down and open up under another name after being caught one too many times. Then there are douchebag sites that masquerade as content sharing sites and post the disclaimer that they are “not responsible for the content uploaded by members”. Members of the sites upload the files to illegally share. The site owners then blink their digital doe eyes and feign innocence while hiding behind a legal loophole piled full of bullshit.

There’s a few steps that can be taken to keep your creative content out of the hands of digital pirates.

PREVENTION. Use caution before sending copies of your work to reviewers and other interested parties. As a newbie writer, when my first novel came on the scene last year I knew it was important to get reviews for my book. I started the process of sending out review requests to different reviewers I found through social media and other sources. I’ve met some talented and reputable reviewers who take pride in their work. Whether they love the book or hate it, the review will show that they read the book and took the time to think about the story. Problem is, not all reviewers with a web page and a twitter handle are reputable.

Best advice, check out the reviewer before sending any copies of your work. Visit their websites and social media pages to determine if their content is well designed and up to date. If they ask for review copies to be uploaded through their website, do your best to make sure the web site looks secure or contact them ask to submit your work in another way. Next, read through some of their previous reviews. Are the reviews they wrote thoughtfully written, something more than “I loved it” or “it sucked hard”? Short reviews or low quality review work may be the sign of a newbie reviewer, someone who simply does it as a fun hobby and likes to collect the free review copies, and hobbies are a fantastic way to feed one’s passion whether it be for reading, cooking, whatever, but a less than professional looking site/reviews could be the sign of someone ready to distribute all ARC copies they receive to whatever pirate site pays them well. But authors need reviews right? There is no progress without some risk.

If a reviewer you don’t know well is interested in being provided with a copy of your work, check out some of the services that store your digital work in a format that can be uploaded to a device for reviewers and interested parties, but not shared again to other devices. Perhaps gift the reviewer a copy of the story from one of e-retailers who sell your book (Amazon, I-Tunes, etc).There’s no perfect system, but caution helps.

ACTION. If somebody swiped your digital content and is allowing it to be downloaded for free, or maybe even selling it without your publisher’s permission (or yours), you can send a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notice to the internet provider, search engine, web host, etc. The DMCA is a request that your materials be removed from the offending website. I did learn that you can use this notice even if you don’t have an official copyright filed. The work is yours.

If you have a publisher, give them a heads up and they should be able to take care of this process for you. If you’re an indie, there are several examples, templates, and guidelines of the DMCA form online to print out and use. I liked the post I read on entitled How to File a DMCA Takedown Notice. She listed some step by step processes and advice.

THE SAD PART? Your work may not be taken down. If it is, your work may end up on yet another site. There are companies that monitor for this, just like companies that monitor for identity theft. That kind of service seems like a good idea though haven’t used one of these companies yet. Maybe it’s worth looking into? Maybe it’s bullshit. Who knows?

WHAT THE HELL ELSE CAN WE DO? As readers, we can make sure the books we download aren’t from pirate sites. As writers, we can share any information and knowledge we have about what sites are screwing us over and how to deal with this annoying crap. Even just commiserating with an author friend who’s just found her books on some hack’s site and discovered that 8000 people downloaded her book and that she’ll never see a penny of that money, that can help too.

Writing is never easy. The end result doesn’t just come together the way one follows instructions for building a bookcase. It’s a labor of love. Many of us write because we have to. We can’t not create. But we can’t lose hope either. Digital book pirates suck. But we still need to write our next article, next story, next series. I’m not going to give you an inspirational quote because sometimes inspirational quotes make me want to punch people. The hell with everything else, just keep writing.