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Writer's Station > Dealing with book piracy

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message 1: by Assaph (new)

Assaph Mehr | 21 comments Hi guys,

I have always maintained that digital piracy is unavoidable, and it is therefore better to treat it as a compliment. It is not a lost sale but more like a book borrowed from a public library – and with the right attitude, you can potentially gain a long-term fan.

I have been approached by about it, and they have graciously published an interview with me on the subject. You can read it in full here:

I'd love to hear from other authors what they think and how they deal with it! (And readers too ;-)

message 2: by Heather (new)

Heather (asuras) | 4 comments I would have to disagree that, because it is hard to prosecute or stop piracy that we shouldn't protect our work as writers or for anyone who works within the arts. Do you expect to pay for things and be paid for your work? Artists deserve respect just the same.

The fact is, most authors are not millionaires. They are hard working people who write throughout their lives, while also doing other jobs to make a living. I should think any fan should and can understand that.

Stealing the work isn't in my view a compliment. I wouldn't think it a compliment for someone to walk into my home and steal from me, just as it is not a compliment to work another type of job and not get paid.

I do not think it is a compliment for someone to steal. For me, my writing is as intimate as my inner self.

Could I be forgiving if it happened? Yes. But I do not think it makes it acceptable.

message 3: by Assaph (new)

Assaph Mehr | 21 comments Just to be clear, I much prefer to get paid too :)

This came about because I know that (for the foreseeable future), book piracy is unavoidable. That left me two options: get mad, or get over it.

Since getting mad is largely useless, I decided on the alternative approach. Focus on the fact that someone, who will likely never actually pay for the book, still took the time to read it. I therefore put an appeal inside the book, to remind those that enjoyed it to support further novels - either by purchasing a copy or by leaving a review. (As a new indie author, reviews are sometimes worth more than a single sale).

I got the idea from an article I read a few years back. An indie game development company left a similar comment on torrent sites. The response comments were very favourable - quite a few "pirates" went back to buy the game.

So until there is an actual working solution for digital piracy (and as someone whose day-job involves document security I can safely tell you not to hold your breath), I think this approach will work better than impotently railing at the situation.

Time will tell.

message 4: by Yzabel (new)

Yzabel Ginsberg (yzabelginsberg) | 6 comments Piracy sure isn't going away--all the more since a lot of the current "solutions" are actually inconvenient for *paying* customers (DRM, or getting through long minutes of "piracy is bad" on bought DVDs...). It's not fair, but I think going with the flow works better than trying to white-knuckle people into buying. The people who download tons of books and never read them wouldn't have bought them anyway, with or without piracy, while others won't pay but will leave a review, potentially generating sales later.

If a lot of paying solutions weren't so crappy, maybe it would help.

message 5: by Assaph (new)

Assaph Mehr | 21 comments Yzabel wrote: "Piracy sure isn't going away--all the more since a lot of the current "solutions" are actually inconvenient for *paying* customers (DRM, or getting through long minutes of "piracy is bad" on bought..."

Yeah, DRM sucks. It doesn't even slow down the pirates, and it only annoys the legit customers. I released my book without DRM on Amazon.

I was even thinking for a while to seed my own pirated book with a readme file with the same message, but decided including it in the book itself might be better.

My only regret? The pirates got the version with some typos and the wrong cover. It reflects badly on me :-P

message 6: by Yzabel (new)

Yzabel Ginsberg (yzabelginsberg) | 6 comments Assaph wrote: "Yzabel wrote: "Piracy sure isn't going away--all the more since a lot of the current "solutions" are actually inconvenient for *paying* customers (DRM, or getting through long minutes of "piracy is..."

Why, here is the solution: if you want the best version, buy the book! XD

message 7: by Assaph (new)

Assaph Mehr | 21 comments Yzabel wrote: "Why, here is the solution: if you want the best version, buy the book! XD"


message 8: by M.o. (new)

M.o. Farah | 28 comments How much the copy right and ISBN # serve to deter the pirates? This is a painful issue that has to be addressed by all writers...

message 9: by Assaph (new)

Assaph Mehr | 21 comments M.o. wrote: "How much the copy right and ISBN # serve to deter the pirates? This is a painful issue that has to be addressed by all writers..."

Nothing really deters pirates, and that's the problem.
Legally, they are usually out of reach.
Technically, DRM is barely noticeable.
Ethically, well - we know they're deficient there.

I don't have a good solution. What I presented above is merely an attempt at reducing the need for antacids amongst writers.

message 10: by M.A. (last edited Dec 06, 2015 05:30PM) (new)

M.A. Demers | 36 comments Sorry, Assaph, not true:

In France, legislation goes after the pirate site users rather than the pirate sites, because doing the latter is like playing whack-a-mole. So in France, if you get caught three times illegally downloading copyrighted material, you are banned from the Internet for a proscribed period of time. The result was a 50% drop in piracy in that country. Most piracy there is among friends, using flash drives or emailing directly to each other, much like in the old days when friends would tape albums for their friends. But sharing among friends is a far smaller circle -- and problem -- than sharing on the web with a world of strangers.

In Poland, publishers have been experimenting with social DRM: instead of locking the book with Adobe DRM, social DRM embeds the buyer's name into the metadata and displays it prominently in the book (usually in the header). Sure, like Adobe DRM, social DRM can be broken, but most people are not that clever. The proliferation of piracy is premised on anonymity -- and therefore the belief that one will not get caught -- and social DRM removes that anonymity. People are far less likely to post a book on a pirate site when their name is prominently displayed in said ebook. The result in Poland is that ebook sales tripled but piracy rates fell.

It is never a compliment when someone steals your work, any more than it's a compliment if they steal your car. What infuriates me the most is the hypocrisy of the average downloader: if someone mugged them and stole their paycheque, they would be apoplectic, probably call the police, then cry about their victimization. But steal a writer's paycheque? It's a compliment! And if I leave you a review, consider it a gift!

The problem with theories like Cory Doctorow's is that it is premised on the idea that piracy is a fait accompli. But it's not. It's part of a culture of free that the Internet has fostered. A culture that will actually kill itself off if it continues: writers cannot feed themselves with positive reviews. I agree it's pointless to get worked up about it, but acceptance is not a solution any more than shrugging our shoulders at car thieves and saying "Boys will be boys" will stop carjacking. Education is the solution. If those stealing ebooks understood that in 20 years there may be no more books to steal, at least not of the quality expected, then maybe it might curb their insolence.

message 11: by Assaph (last edited Dec 06, 2015 06:55PM) (new)

Assaph Mehr | 21 comments Thanks M.A.

I didn't know about France. It sounds promising... until you realise that with a VPN service all the illegal downloads have just shifted across the border. So the numbers are vastly skewed.

Same with Social DRM. It might stop the clueless user from sharing their copy, but it won't slow down the pirates. If they can get the book, they can strip the DRM, and then strip the names from the books.

It's a cat & mouse game. Each step might slow down piracy a little bit for a short while, but it's by far not a solution.

The analogy between digital piracy and someone stealing your car is pure diatribe. If you steal my car, I'm less a physical object that's costly to replace. If you steal my book, I'm less a theoretical sale - and actually it's a sale I would never have made. It's not the same, and the more people yell that it is, the more it actually distracts from looking into long term solutions.

So while I would still prefer to be complemented by being paid, I'd rather not bury my head in the sand. I'd rather ride the tidal wave than sink under it.

message 12: by M.A. (new)

M.A. Demers | 36 comments Assaph: it IS slowing down the pirates. A good deal of file sharing is done for and by average people who do not know how to strip DRM. If they did, social DRM would not have the effect is clearly has. Moreover, many people are afraid of the sites/apps that strip DRM because they also contain viruses, spyware, or adware. And many are afraid of the file sharing sites for the same reason.

If you take DRM out of the equation, you take those fears out of the equation. Then everybody will simply email ebooks to each other because there will be no repercussions, legal or social.

Yes, DRM is a pain (and breakable), but so are anti-theft clothing tags, so are laws against theft, etc. It's the price we pay to maintain some semblance of order and honesty. Social/legal controls to curb human greed have been around since time immemorial. Do these controls curb ALL human greed? Of course not. Are they a definitive solution? No. Do we throw these mechanisms away just because they are not 100% effective? Again, of course not. Why? Because they curb enough of it that, as a result, we live in a relatively evolved society instead of one of anarchy.

Moreover, the analogy to car theft is not pure diatribe. As someone who has worked in the creative industries for 30 years, I can tell you that digital theft is destroying them. It has all but killed off the stock photo industry, it has killed off most of the independent film industry, it has killed off a chunk of the gaming industry, and wages for creatives have FALLEN dramatically (as much as 90% in some industries) due to competition for the few paying jobs that remain.

Meanwhile the keywords in Silicon Valley are "content aggregation," also known as "how to make money off content creators without paying them a penny." Is it any wonder that so many of the most vocal supporters of piracy work in the computer industry? (And I see you are a software engineer.)

So while I may not lose any sleep over piracy, in no way am I going to embrace it, and I'm certainly not going to endorse it just so people will read an interview with me.

message 13: by J.D. (new)

J.D. Hughes (jdhughes) | 13 comments There is a partial solution to digital piracy. Paper. Not that a book may not still be copied, but it is less likely that a thief will take the time and trouble to scan it, print it, market it, package it and mail it.

Of course, said thief may also offer the stolen work as a download, but if the book is not available on any major digital platform it would be easier to monitor and then take action. Amazon and the other providers would not be too keen on enabling a sales outlet for stolen goods, otherwise known as 'fencing', and might be liable for compensation or further legal redress.

I am aware that paper is not a complete solution and that there are flaws in the above model.

A second approach might be to make every ebook free or 99p/99c. That authors and creators need to make a living from their works will demand a new model and surely responsibility for this should rest, not with those who produce the content, but with those who market it.

No model will stop file sharing amongst friends, but the idea of 'content aggregation' as described by simply theft on a commercial scale and the usual way to combat corporate theft is with aggressive legislation. The likelihood of this happening soon, if at all, is much less than one of my novels winning the Nobel Prize for Literature .

message 14: by Assaph (new)

Assaph Mehr | 21 comments M.A.,

I am sorry that you got hit with the reduction in creative salaries (I really am), though I assure you that my post is not clickbait.

You seem to have a misunderstanding of how piracy works. The process is usually:
- Book is released on Amazon
- Alice buys, gets the book, and cancels the transaction (essentially paying nothing)
- Alice keeps the book file, removes the DRM (doesn't matter if encryption or social)
- Alice converts the book and uploads it to file sharing site, then posts about it in forums
- Post is being picked up by others, who then package it as a torrent and seed it
All this is done in countries where legal enforcement is non-existent

Now Pierre (The French guy) hears about the books and decides he wants to read it without paying.
heard about his country's restrictions. A very quick search leads him to any of a number of articles on the subject. He signs up for an annonimous VPN services, connects to server in Romania (to pick a random example) and downloads the torrent.

The actually traffic is recorded as coming out of Romania, hence France boasts that the measures it implemented are working.

They're not.

No matter what kind of DRM (encryption or social) you put on the file, it doesn't matter to the pirates. Nor does it matter to Pierre, as he first decides to get the book without paying. The only real solution is educating Pierre - but good luck with that.

Side comment: those who take those pirated books and try to then sell them are a brand of particularly disgusting slugs with a special circle of hell reserved for them. Luckily it's easier to go after the site that host those schemes than torrent site or off-shore file sharing sites.
That doesn't affect the original pirates or Pierre, where no money was involved.

This is why I say that the sale (to Pierre) was only theoretical. It never would have happened as Pierre would never have paid for my book.

But because he's already reading it, I'd rather put a message in there - and maybe, just maybe, get something out of it that I wouldn't get otherwise.

message 15: by Assaph (new)

Assaph Mehr | 21 comments At JD,

Funnily enough I am now in the process of getting my novel into the Russian market (long story). Over there the book market is predominantly paper. Publishers have realised that if you put something online it will be pirated, so they only provide services to authors who release exclusively on paper.

The pirating process then becomes: buy the book, scan it, OCR it (i.e. translate into an ebook by machine recognition), and release the ebook.
This obviously costs the pirates money, time, and ends up with a sub-par result so it does not happen all too often.

I do agree though, that paper is not the way to go. Costs are higher, margins are lower, potential reach is lower, and I for one would rather we saved our trees.

I'm not sure who's "responsibility" it is. I am sure Amazon it's doing it's commercial best (i.e. they do whatever is still cost-effective for them, not for us) to solve it. Other start-up may come up with technical ideas (which is a game of cat & mouse), governments will come up with new legislature (which is mostly useless), and there might be other things. I'll share that Nobel prize with you before it has any noticeable effect ;)

message 16: by M.A. (last edited Dec 11, 2015 01:06PM) (new)

M.A. Demers | 36 comments Assaph: Why not admit it was clickbait? The interview is three questions, one of which is about piracy. No surprise, because Mobilism actively promotes piracy, and is a peer-to-peer linking site. So while you say that you do not promote piracy, only resign yourself to it, you gave, and are promoting, an interview with a site that actively rips off content creators:

Which means either you do agree with piracy, or are an unwitting stooge for Mobilism (sorry, but how else to explain?).

message 17: by Assaph (new)

Assaph Mehr | 21 comments Hi M.A.

Thanks for that lovely article. I do find it supports my view :)

As to the rest of your post Mobilisim approached me for the interview, not the other way around. I do not promote piracy, nor do I agree with it - but I do recognise that any attempt I can make to fight it is futile.

The story is, I had similar discussions with others here before. After my novel was released, another Goodreads author emailed my the link to my pirated book. It appears that it was pirated within hours of being released. I can even find the transaction on the Amazon report - it was the only one that was reversed.

However, rather than fight a losing battle and lose sleep over this, I took a similar approach to that of Lloyd Shepherd. I went on the site, and left a comment that anyone who enjoyed the book could support further novels by buying a copy or leaving a good review on Amazon. Mobilism has then approached me for the interview. It only has three questions, because that is what they asked.

My post here is for the benefit of other authors. While it would be wonderful if the publishing industry as a whole could come up with a good solution, that won't be any time soon.

For the benefits of other authors who go through the same process (and it's probably all of them) I present a different view. One that - hopefully - cuts down on the need for antacids. If you realise that this is done wholesale, that there was never any actual sale lost because the people who chose to download your book would never have bought it in the first place, you might be able to suffer less heartburn. The next step, of including a plea for supporting authors, is engaging the pirating community and hopefully will generate more sales (reference the link to Neil Gaiman in the article you quoted).

message 18: by M.A. (new)

M.A. Demers | 36 comments Hi Assaph,

It doesn't matter who contacted whom; you gave an interview to a site that promotes piracy. That is NOT the same as shrugging one's shoulders. That is certainly NOT engaging the piracy community in any way that will change their views. Instead, you justified their views and now you want others to do the same.

And you did not post this to help other authors; it's not like this is a new issue or your interview went on to dissect the issue. You have provided no evidence to support your position, that it helped your sales or garnered you more reviews. So what help you have given anyone here is a mystery. If anything, bringing the subject up again is more likely to create anxiety and stress in those like myself who put it out of our minds as much as possible until someone like you raises the issue again just to drive traffic to his website and interview.

Speaking of which, the link you provided does not link directly to the interview. Instead it links to your website, from which one has to copy and paste the link to the FB interview (you might want to put in a hyperlink; it would be easier on your readers and I assume a software engineer can figure out how to do it). Why did you not post directly to the interview if the link was not clickbait? Because you knew if you started a thread that was headlined, "My author interview with Mobilism on my website" you would be ignored, or accused of spam and the thread removed. So you baited us with a thread on piracy, which you know to be a heated topic that would get you the attention you wanted.

And now that you have it, let me add that Neil Gaiman's and Paul Cohelo's posts have been repeated ad nauseam on the net to justify piracy. Unfortunately, their experiences are outdated. As I wrote in the 3rd edition of The Global Indie Author: Your Guide to the World of Self-Publishing:

"Smashwords suggest readers listen to a video by Neil Gaiman, who credits piracy in Russia with creating a market for him there. Ditto Paul Coelho, who, according to a 2012 Guardian article, 'has long been a supporter of illegal downloads of his writing, ever since a pirated Russian edition of The Alchemist was posted online in 1999 and, far from damaging sales in the country, sent them soaring to a million copies by 2002 and more than 12m today . . . [Says Cohello,] 'The more people "pirate" a book, the better. If they like the beginning, they’ll buy the whole book the next day, because there’s nothing more tiring than reading long screeds of text on a computer screen.'

"It is that last line that gives the game away: both Gaiman and Cohello benefitted from piracy at a time — fifteen years ago! — when pirated copies were really bad photocopies or PDF scans that were irritating to read on a desktop computer and pointless to print out. That Cohello thinks 'there’s nothing more tiring than reading long screeds of text on a computer screen' reveals his age, not his understanding of technology and piracy in the twenty-first century, or of the quality of the modern pirated ebook. To truly adopt the same strategy that made piracy work for Gaiman and Cohello, you would have to publish your book in print only and then voluntarily put up a poor-quality static PDF of it online."

Cohelo, in his naivete, even made a public display of putting his book up on The Pirate Bay. And yet, on Wattpad, which is a site where authors FREELY upload their own content for others to read, and which has readers all around the world, in the poorest of countries where books are otherwise hard to obtain, he has not. Instead, he has only posted to his Wattpad account an excerpt from Adultery, some short stories he cannot publish traditionally (not enough of them for a book), as well as an essay on why he writes. So one has to wonder why the inconsistency.

As for Gaiman, he has no presence at all on Wattpad. Someone published Coraline, and he hasn't ordered it down, but that's about it. Again, why is Gaiman not embracing a legitimately free site if he believes such sharing promotes sales?

I would put it to you that maybe both don't believe in piracy quite so much anymore but don't wish to retract their earlier statements for fear of looking foolish.

It is somewhat ironic that you are releasing your book in Russia, where only print books are sold. There is a reason for that. In Russia, 90% of available ebooks are pirated copies, which has discouraged investment in a legitimate ebook market: the pirates killed the market before it could even be built. In India, where print books are widely copied (costing publishers an estimated 20% of their revenues), DRM is seen by many as the ONLY way to build the ebook market there. The biggest player, Flipkart, uses DRM on all ebooks.

And finally, to offer some balance, I leave you with this, also from my book:

"Is there an upside to piracy? Has there been any real research into it? Unfortunately, the research is scant, but back in 2009 one publishing consultant did conduct a study for O’Reilly Media, who produce technical books, and found that sales did increase after the books appeared on pirate sites. It was assumed this was a case of try-before-you-buy as these were generally expensive textbooks. This reminds me of my own forays into pirated content when I went online to watch episodes of Boston Legal before deciding to buy the DVDs. But this was similar to the 1999 pirated Cohello books, a case of inferior experience: low-resolution files streaming over a slow network. But today’s high-speed Internet capable of streaming high-resolution files changes the game considerably.

Consultant Brian O’Leary, who performed the O’Reilly study, warns that the study cannot be extrapolated to the industry as a whole, but suggests that increased visibility provided by piracy might be beneficial to the otherwise obscure author. But he also points out that one of the driving factors behind theft is unmet consumer demand. As we concluded before, one strategy to combat piracy is to make your product as widely available as possible."

message 19: by Assaph (last edited Dec 12, 2015 02:17PM) (new)

Assaph Mehr | 21 comments Hi MA,

Thank you for that thorough analysis of my character and thinking, and the excerpt from your own book.

It's rather tiring arguing with someone who knows better what goes inside my head than I do, especially when their research skills (as you keep referring to me as a software engineer) leave a lot to be desired.
I'll just chalk it to the old adage that no good deed goes unpunished.

Have a good day.

message 20: by M.A. (new)

M.A. Demers | 36 comments Hi Assaph,

If it had been a good deed, I could see your point. But it wasn't. It was clickbait and you got caught out. There was nothing of use in your blog post or interview, unlike the article I linked to where the author did in fact engage with pirates and tries to offer some understanding of the phenomenon. Your post was just a plug for your book.

I know it's embarrassing, Assaph, to be caught out, but consider it a lesson in not treating people like idiots. And sorry, software product manager, not engineer. Do you really think that's the point?

message 21: by Assaph (new)

Assaph Mehr | 21 comments To everyone else - happily there seem to be more indie authors who appreciate this view and recognise the situation for what it is, rather than the rabid froth-in-the-mouth file-sharing-is-stealing-cars brigade.

This is from one of my favourite fantasy authors groups on FB:

I also updated the original posting on my blog, to help clarify.

message 22: by Sara (new)

Sara Pascoe (sarapascoe) | 7 comments Sorry if I've missed this in the discussion so far (as I have read it and your helpful article, Assaph, but might have missed something), but I was wondering the following. How do you know/figure out if your book is being pirated? Are there things to avoid to lower the probability (hmm, I hear you laughing, Assaph)? Dodgy advertising schemes, for example? I'm new at this, obviously.

message 23: by Assaph (new)

Assaph Mehr | 21 comments Sara wrote: "How do you know/figure out if your book is being pirated? Are there things to avoid to lower the probability (hmm, I hear you laughing, Assaph)? Dodgy advertising schemes, for example?"

Hi Sarah,

In my case it was when a friend on GR alerted me to it, and then I looked for more instances (and found more...)

I actually thought no one would bother with my book, being a first time author and all. I think it's some sort of semi-automated process though. It was pirated within hours of being released by Amazon, and the user who posted it averaged posting 20 books a day for the past 3 years (and I doubt they read that much).

I can't think of anything that would lower the probability, at least not without seriously hurting real sales. You could release the book in physical format only (paperback) - they'll have to scan and OCR the novel which is a pain. But at the same time you will lose on all the ebook sales, which are probably the majority of sales for indie authors. I know that mine was gotten off Amazon, as I saw a reversed purchase as soon as the book was released (i.e. they buy the book and cancel the purchase as soon as they get the copy - but in these 15 minutes they already pirated it).

I don't think the dodgy advertising schemes affect it much. If it's an ebook and they heard about, they'll put it out there. It's completely independent from those who later decide they'd rather not pay and then go look for it.
However in all cases you are trying to reach more readers in general. It's not like there are advertising channels that attract more pirates - they look at the general advertising just like the rest of the readers.

message 24: by Sara (new)

Sara Pascoe (sarapascoe) | 7 comments Hi Assaph,
Thanks for that. Everything you say about not getting our tails in a knot about pirating, is in line with what I've heard in writing groups and other places. And that it can actually help the end, although I appreciate M.A.'s comments about that data being dated, and out of synch with current technology. But it seems to me, short of changing careers and going into cyber-security, the 'bad guys' are already thousands of miles ahead of us on these issues. But at least this gives me confidence that if I decide to pony up for a bit of advertising--I won't necessarily be hurting myself!

Sara (yes, '.co')

message 25: by Assaph (new)

Assaph Mehr | 21 comments Sara wrote: "Hi Assaph,
Thanks for that. Everything you say about not getting our tails in a knot about pirating, is in line with what I've heard in writing groups and other places. And that it can actually he..."

Glad I could help :)
It's a cat-and-mouse game. Inventing a new technology to lock the books only slows the piracy down till it gets cracked. Unfortunately that doesn't normally take long...
And a lot the DRM schemes I've seen actually annoy the legitimate users more than they do the pirates. So it's not helping with the fan-base either :-/

I don't have a good solution either (and I do work in the industry...). That's why I focus on getting more books out there, and reaching more paying customers. The rest are just not something that is worth the cost of antacids.

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