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.)