What Piracy Affects Authors?

Just like the first one-star review (and often faster than the first one-star review) comes the other annoying rite of passage for authors: “I used a search engine too see if anyone was talking about my book, and it’s being offered on a pirate site!” Take a deep breath, go make a cuppa or some nice mint tea, and listen. Not all pirate sites affect you, either as author or publisher. The only ones you really need to do something about are the ones that are offering your works for sale.

First, a quick primer on why most pirates don’t matter. These are the main categories of harmless pirates.

1. The First Poster. This person really couldn’t care if you wrote a thesis on sheep boils or the hottest new urban fantasy out there; he wants to be the first person to have uploaded some unique piece of content. Because these guys exist, expect your work to be pirated within thirty minutes of ARC release if you’re famous, or within a week if you’re working hard at someone, anyone discovering you exist.

2. The Biggest Server. This guy doesn’t care if you wrote a thesis on sheep boils, either; he just wants to be able to say he has 679,764,653 Terabytes of unique files, which is more than all those other guys.

3. The Files Trader. Pirate torrents have their own subculture, and one of those is a basic sense of fair play. (Yes, the irony, it is strong.) They don’t want “moochers”, and will kick out people who only download files and have nothing worth uploading. So this guy is grabbing your book and converting it, then offering it for upload in the hopes that enough people want it and the 580 other files he’s just done this to, so he’ll maintain a trade balance and access. Strangely, this guy may be just as prone to going for your sheep boil thesis as your urban fantasy; he’s hoping that either file will count toward that bootleg of the next Michael Bay movie or whatever he wants.

4. The Broke College Kid. Take someone who’s very cash-poor, and stick them on a fat fiber pipe that’ll download anything in seconds, and you create generations of pirates. This is the first pirate who has discriminating taste; unless he’s doing research, he’ll skip the sheep boils and go for the urban fantasy. (However, if he is doing research and all the papers he wants and needs are stuck behind paywalls… yes, there is a thriving black market in pirated scientific papers.) While I use college kids as an example, they are not the only ones who are broke with internet connection.

5. The Wrong Region Man. So, your publisher only released in North America, and he’s an English speaker in Camaroon? That anime is only available in Japan? This is why Game of Thrones, only available on cable, was the most popular pirated show. Subvariant: Wrong Region Man has a Nook, and you’ve DRM’ed the story he wants as Kindle-only. (Don’t do this)

6. DRM is An Abomination Unto  Nuggan! Yeah, these guys? If you don’t have DRM, they don’t care. But if you do, they’ll crack it and offer it just because they can. If you have DRM and high prices, they gather faster than wasps around an unattended soda.

As you can see from these categories, 4 out of 6 neither know nor care what your work was, and are never going to read it. It’s a counter in another game they’re playing, not an item to be looked at. The other two bear closer looks. One, Wrong Region Man, is a would-be customer who’s been thwarted from buying your books. If it were easier for him, he would have paid you instead. Make it easier! Get paid!

That is easier for indies to fix, because we can publish across the world, and make it easy for anyone in any country to buy the story. No DRM makes his subtype easy for him to buy in one place, convert to the file type he prefers, and sideload.

That leaves Broke College Kid. No matter how annoying seeing downloads from pirate sites may be, remember that this kid is basically using the internet as a giant library. If he was restricted to actually buying each song, book, and movie, then he wouldn’t see a hundredth of what he does. Most times, he’s going to move on long before he graduates, finds a job, and becomes a productive member of society. Sometimes, though, they’ll become fans, and go back to buy extras, or legal copies, or new releases. (Yes, the odds are as low as creating fans and word of mouth from library copies. Still, basically harmless, and you wouldn’t have gotten paid anyway.)

The harmful type of pirate is easy to identify: They’re offering your work for sale. Not only are they trying to make money illegally off stolen IP, but they present a wealth of headaches in trademark protection, copyright, and just trying to deal with Amazon Select when it’s saying “You’re not exclusive, because we found you also for sale here.”

The proper way to deal with this pirate is a prompt cease and desist, in full legal manner. Don’t bother asking nicely; they’re not nice people who had some minor misunderstanding. They’re thieves. Hit them with the law.

Should you send case & desist or otherwise ask non-paying sites to take down your works? Sure, for the same reason people weed their flowerbeds and pick up litter thrown in their yard. Understand the internet is never going to say “Okay! We’ll all stop now, because you said so!” Don’t let chasing pirate sites eat into your writing time, though, or keep you from enjoying the rest of your life. That’d be as futile as trying to remove all the drama and memes from facebook.

And welcome to being an author.

(Moderation note: I am on the road right now. If you get lost in moderation, I don’t hate you, I just haven’t checked in with a rather dodgy hotel wifi to see Those Whom WordPress Ate.)

32 thoughts on “What Piracy Affects Authors?

  1. Also, you do want to smack them down when you find them because (and this is off the top of my head, don’t take it as true legal advice) others pirating in the future could point to the stuff you let slide and say you’ve implicitly allowed violation. Basically you could lose your copyright if you let obvious violations they can show you knew (or should’ve known) about slide.

    1. No, that’s a myth. Trademarks can be weakened if you ignore violations, but your copyright is property. you can’t lose your house if you let people visit.

      1. Oops, brain fart there. I meant you can weaken how much you could get. You don’t lose a copyright, you weaken it. *slaps wrist* Bad lawyer. See, this is why I put in the note to not take it as legal advice.

      2. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this is not a myth, seen it happen in court. If you do not defend your copyrights when they’re being stolen (assuming you know about it) then you may lose it.
        Again, seen it happen. The law may be on your side, but if you don’t pay to fight it, you will lose it. So it’s safer to always file a complaint, for the record, for those infringements that you know about.

  2. Software has had similar issues for a long time now, complete with “to DRM [copy-protect] or not?”

    My philosophy always was:

    1. Does the use represent any lost sales? If not, I don’t care. It’s not worth wasting a second on.

    2. If it represents lost sales, does it also represent marketing/word of mouth that might create future sales? If the marketing effect is greater than or equal to the loss in sales, see 1.

    3. If it represents net lost sales, how many? Spend time on it according to the magnitude of lost sales. If it’s just a few and it can be dealt with in five minutes, fine, but don’t spend days of productive time on it. If it’s potentially lots of sales, only then spend serious time dealing with it. Match the amount of time spent to the potential market loss.

    In other words, worry about it in proportion to the amount of money it’s realistically costing you. If it isn’t costing you money, no need to worry about it.

  3. Eric Flint used to have a long discussion on this topic over at Baen including reasons why Baen does not and never will impose DRM on any of their e-books. Went and looked and could not find it, or I’d post a link.
    Baen used to not so very long ago include a CD with their A list authors new hardback releases with that author’s back list and assorted other goodies. Those CDs were posted on line for free download through an authorized second party with the instructions to help yourself, pass them around, just don’t try to sell them. And the caution that the fact that they were free does not in any way indicate that the files contained are not still under copyright. They stopped doing new CDs, but I just checked and the site is still up with something like 20 disk images available for download. Not going to provide the link here. Go to Baen’s Bar and ask nicely and one of the Bar Flies will hook you up.
    Small question: what is the net difference to authors and their publishers between a pirated e-book and that same book bought at a used book store?

    1. On the last, Uncle, the difference is that the used book purchaser falls into the subset that is getting your book cheaper with the intention of reading it.

      One can hope that they turn into a long-term customer. Actually, I would call it better chances of that than having a free sale on Amazon gives you – they were actually interested enough to make some financial investment in acquiring your product, not just a few mouse clicks.

      1. True, while my point was that the net financial difference is zero, as you correctly point out, there is a real benefit to the author’s brand if you will. Someone wanted his work enough to seek it out even at a discount. I guess making the effort for a trip to the library to check out an author’s works has a similar value.

    2. Eric Flint used to have a long discussion on this topic over at Baen including reasons why Baen does not and never will impose DRM on any of their e-books. Went and looked and could not find it, or I’d post a link.

      Is http://www.baen.com/library/prime_palaver6.asp the discussion you’re talking about? If that wasn’t the one, he also mentions encryption in three other Prime Palaver articles: replace the 6 in that URL with either a 7, a 10, or an 11 and you’ll get the other ones where he mentions encyrption. (He never mentions the term DRM, as it wasn’t in common use at the time when he wrote those.)

  4. When I was running editorial in my second (smaller) publishing company, one of my jobs was to sniff out pirates and see what could be done about them. In truth, the answer is: not much. Some comfort may be had in Points #2 and #3 above: People are either hoarding this stuff with no intention whatsoever of reading it, or else using books as chits in the weird shadow economy of private torrent trackers. These don’t represent lost sales

    Another minor comfort to authors of print books, at least, is that a lot of the pirate copies are crappy OCRs with barely discernible figures and photos. These might just whet pirate reader appetites enough to find legitimate copies. With used print books often going for a dollar plus postage, it may be a (small) net win, granting that used books generate no new income for authors. Of course, with ebooks that goes away, and the files are the real deal.

    Another point of concern (mostly to print authors) is where the electronic files actually come from. I’ve had a textbook in print for 26 years, and when its fourth edition came out in 2009, it took only six weeks for me to spot a pirate PDF on Usenet. This was no amateur job and no scan: It was a perfect print image, crop marks and all, and could only have come from the publisher’s art department, layout service bureau, or the printer. I gave the publisher unholy hell, but as best I know, the leak was never found. The book is cheap as textbooks go but still costs $65, and I’m guessing a lot of Broke College Kids printed it out and put it in a 3-hole binder. I’ll bet it’s much worse for authors of textbooks in the $100-$200 range.

    It sounds defeatist, but I’ve disciplined myself to not let it bother me. Life’s too short, and stomach lining is painful to regrow. Pop a couple of Tums and keep writing.

    1. You have a textbook that has been updated four times in 26 years and still sells for $65, meaning that for the most part a student can find a used copy for half that in the off campus used bookstore that every college seems to have. I will grant that there are a few, a precious few, textbooks that are worth the $200 price tag, but for the most part they are priced at that level simply because they are required to pass a course. Add to that the practice of some professors to “update” their textbooks every year or so with just enough changes to make the last edition unusable in their course. They’ll show those evil used book pushers what for. After all, cost of books is just a part of a quality education ain’t it? Yet another reason I hope and pray that accreditation issues get resolved and on-line college causes traditional institutions to go the same way traditional publishers are headed.
      If I so chose I could read just about every new release and never pay a penny, but instead I buy Baen’s full yearly output and drop a small fortune on Amazon. That’s my choice to support honorable authors and publishers and see that they continue to prosper. Those who would seek to rip me or anyone else off, not so much.

      1. I agree, and I complained when they raised the price of 4E to $65, thinking it would limit the market for the book. (I have no idea whether it has or hasn’t, of course.) It had not been originally conceived as a textbook, and it’s mostly used in community colleges. (I’m not an academic, so “big school” adoptions are rare.)

        The first edition cover price was $29.95, but that was not completely out of line for a computer book in 1989. The big jump was in 2009, from $50 to $65. Authors have no input on pricing, and when I was publishing computer books, we stayed within a narrower and much lower window.

      2. “for the most part a student can find a used copy for half that in the off campus used bookstore that every college seems to have.”

        *mad giggles* You haven’t been in a college used bookstore recently, have you. They buy the books back at approximately 10% of the original price and sell them to the students at 80% of list. And e-books aren’t much better—my husband’s niece just spent $400 to RENT her textbooks for the semester.

        Academic publishing is getting pricier all the time, and there aren’t many methods available to save money. A friend just posted about a professor who saved his students money by selling a photocopied set of articles he wanted them to read and that is the rare exception.

  5. There is a seventh type of pirate: the faker.

    Some pirates aren’t hosting a copy of your file; they’re just pretending to do so. That file is bait for some type of scam.

  6. I wrote my first book in the 1980s. After failing to sell it, I put an abridged version up on BBSs and sent the full version to people who sent a check.

    After a while I started seeing copies with my name and address replaced with someone else’s, and then I got a nice certified letter from an attorney in Florida; a “cease and desist” warning about pirating a pirate’s book…

    That took some major huevos for Pirate Boy. I wrote a nice letter back to the attorney and told him he might want to have a discussion with his client. I never got a reply…

    As for the “wrong region” thing, I’ve run into the “wrong platform” issue. An author I particularly like released a new story I really wanted to read… but he made it Kindle-only, and Amazon apparently has no desire to sell it without an Amazon account and a Kindle or some hokey software I’d have to install in a virtual machine. So… chances are I’ll never get to read that story.

    1. Eh – Kindle for PC and Kindle for Android are both free, install easily, and work pretty well, so making a compatible environment for reading that story shouldn’t be that big a deal (unless you have a an unreconcilable objection to Amazon and/or PC’s.)

      1. That still leaves “get a credit card”, “get an Amazon account” and “how do I get the book out of whatever their software is and onto my tablet.” In the end, just more trouble than I could put up with.

  7. There’s also a seventh type of pirate, and that is the scammer who is only pretending to pirate a book to lure in the unwary. That type is more dangerous to readers than authors, but they’re a problem nonetheless

  8. What’s really disheartening is when you find your stuff on a site with a download counter . . . reading zero for your book. I made them take it down anyway, but it is a bit depressing when even (soft core) pirates can’t give your book away.

        1. BTDT. It’s been three years, and I’m finally not surprised to find a sale before I checked on the first of the month. I used to count success by how soon the Tan Bar of Shame went away. :: cough, cough :: And sometimes it would last so long that I’d delete something from my library and buy a new copy, just to get rid of it.

          1. Right now I’m just seeing how far below 1 million it will go. It slows down after a while. What I don’t understand is when it “Bounces” off the bottom and goes up a little, unless everyone else’s sales are tanking too, because that’s certainly not a sale.

            I need to do another round of freebies, not because it makes sales, but I figure there are some new German Kindle owners who haven’t grabbed it yet. (Seriously, those guys LOVE free stuff). 🙂

  9. As I’ve mentioned before (and I’m sure you all expected to see me here on this one) piracy does hurt us, and sometimes it hurts us a lot. Unless you are charging high prices for your work, there aren’t any people out there who can’t afford it, that’s just a plain myth. Pirates are just crooks, and sadly, there are a lot of crooks in the world today.
    Just look around at our current political system and the freebies it offers to much of the population, and that should be pretty clear. They’re pirates because they’re entitled.

    Now Yes, it’s the price of doing business, sadly, and when it’s only a few, you just have to live with it. There’s no upside to it, but other than the occasional DCMA and D&C filing spree’s, there’s not much you can do. When it gets to be a large percentage of your audience (which I’ve noted before that it now is for one of the genre’s I write in – or rather – used to write in) your only real choice is either get paid up front, or stop writing in that genre. To the shock of a great many people, I chose the later and left them at book two in a trilogy with book three never to be done. (Unless well paid up front – enjoy that object lesson my hundreds of readers who ripped me off and actually left me in the red on a novel!)

    To continue, I got told the other day that I’m ‘huge’ in this one particular ‘fandom’ (that I’d never heard of before), and when I went to the website (which has thousand of users) what did I find? Links to my work, pirated versions. Thankfully I have a lot of fans who actually pay for that work, but I told the guy that those people aren’t fans because they’re ripping me off. And not because they’re can’t afford me, it’s just because they’re crooks and they don’t understand how little we writers actually make.

    I have since made a post to my fans and asked them to please, never, ever, give me a link to websites where people like my work if they’re pirating me, because it just pisses me off and I don’t get much work done that day. It’s just weird that I’m pirated at such high levels and numbers. Yeah, I know I shouldn’t let it bother me, but it’s a lot of money. I’ve even been thinking of only releasing certain stories in print, just to see if it would slow them down. (oh, and both dropbox and google docs are pirate heaven, because that’s one of the primary ways they’re passing my stuff around now – and filing copyright complaints on google is a pain in the butt, google loves pirates).

    Anyway, rant over.

  10. There’s another category of downloaders (though not pirates): Convenience Man. A distant cousin of Wrong Region Man, this is the guy who (for example) has purchased the DVD of a favorite movie, and wants to turn it into a video file for putting on his media-center PC. Rather than spend a few hours ripping the DVD, testing it to make sure the video quality came out good, then possibly re-ripping with different settings… he just goes to his favorite torrent site and downloads someone else’s video file. Technically he’s breaking the law, but he doesn’t represent a lost sale. (And, as long as he ends the torrent immediately after it finishes downloading, he’s probably only shared 5% of the movie to other people, so he’s only cost you 5% of someone else’s lost sale.)

    Another cousin of Wrong Region Man is Wrong Format Man, a.k.a. Why Should I Pay For It Twice? Man. This is the guy who owns the DVD of the movie, but would like a Blu-Ray quality version to put on his 1080p screen. Rather than going out and paying another $20 for the movie he already paid $20 for once, he feels entitled to download the Blu-Ray quality file from his favorite torrent site. “I’ve already paid them once for this movie,” he reasons, “and producing the Blu-Ray didn’t cost them anything more than producing the DVD did — they already had the master files, and didn’t have to re-shoot the movie or anything — so why should I have to pay them twice for the same work?” He also will feel justified in downloading e-book copies of books he’s purchased in paper, because “I’ve already bought the book, why shouldn’t I have it in the format that’s most convenient for me?” This guy does represent lost sales, but the question is whether his reasoning of “Why should I have to buy the same thing twice?” is ethically justified or not. (It’s not legally justified under our current laws, but a case could be made that those laws are wrong. A case could also be made that they’re not wrong, and that Wrong Format Man should have to purchase it twice. This would be an interesting subject to discuss.)

    1. The paper version, for Indies, is so expensive that I can see the reasoning, from the purchaser’s POV. But from the writers? I try to keep the PB as inexpensive as possible, by cutting my royalty to the bone. They still cost too much. I make three or four times as much from the ebook, for a third of the purchase price, as from the print book.

    2. My one and only pirated book was a similar variant, can’t buy from Amazon because of region. I forget about it for 6 months and then it pops up in the spam from a new local ebook chain that I signed up for but never actually got around to buying anything. I check , yes it can be read on apple, yes it can be read on my reader. I buy it, 4 hours later I still have not managed to move the drm version with its own special reader via some “approved” app that isn’t in English. 5 minutes after that I have a pirated and DRM free version on my reader.

      At least that publisher finally got a clue, i have the next book in the series on pre-order at amazon right now.

      As for movies. I have a certain movie in video, dvd, and iTunes HD all brought and paid for. I do find it somewhat ridiculous that I won’t be able to legally watch the original at any quality better then video tape for what? another 150+ years. I wonder how many different formats they can sell in that time frame.

    3. [eyes shelves full of DVDs, and the deadtree library that completely fills — as in no space left for air — the master bedroom]

      Yep, I know this one well. I see no reason I should waste my time doing an amateur-grade rip for my media server, when some torrent site has already done all the grunt work, and did a better job than I could.

  11. I rarely pirate books. I also rarely purchase them, though. My decision tree tends to go something like:

    1. Can I get it in eBook format from my library
    2. Can I get it in physical format from my library
    3. Can I get it via inter-library loan
    4. Is it on kindle unlimited
    5. Do I really, really, really, really want it?
    6. If uncertain, can I get it cheap enough to make me take the risk?

    My piracy tends to be limited to fan-based translations of foreign work which either isn’t licensed or not yet officially translated. Guess that is “wrong-reason man” with a mix of “broke”.

    I only have a couple slots a month for permanent work. Preference is given to
    1. Owned copies of things I got through the library and want to re-read again and again
    2. New works for an author/series I’ve already been collecting
    3. New works from indies for a series I already like.

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