Online book piracy has existed for the entirety of younger generations’ lives. And most people don’t feel any guilt for illegally downloading books. After all, millions of people have grown up never paying for cable, porn, or even internet access (if one can figure out a neighbor’s wifi password). But pirating doesn’t feel that harmful to people – after all, what’s one free book? – especially when a library is already free to use. But piracy is a huge problem that eats into authors’ sales. It can cancel box deals and be the difference between earning out your publishing advance. So how do you protect yourself from book piracy?
Admit Book Piracy Will Happen
Step one is admitting you can’t completely stop people. To some degree, book piracy will happen. You can share articles on why it’s bad and you can certainly tell your excited followers that pirating your new book would hurt your sales, but it will still happen. And it’s okay to be mad and hurt. However, focus on understanding how book piracy happens and how to limit it, instead of dwelling on how it can’t be fully stopped. Because if you understand how pirating happens, you can know what you can and can’t control.
The 2 Types of Book Piracy
There’s two main types of book piracy: illegal book downloads and illegal book reproduction. Occasionally, large marketplaces will defend authors against illegal book downloads. For instance, if someone signs up for Kindle Unlimited with a fraudulent account that doesn’t actually pay the subscriptions fees (perhaps by using an empty Visa card), they might read your book for free. However, Amazon will still pay you. Amazon won’t pay you much, but they’ll cover the small loss. Not every large entity does this though. If your book is uploaded to a book piracy site (Red Penpals is choosing not to name them), your book can be downloaded by thousands of people and the host won’t pay you a dime.
So if you have big plans for your book, protecting yourself against book piracy should be part of your publishing plan. In order to stop piracy sites, you might consider the Maggie Stiefvater method. Best-selling author Maggie Stiefvater protected her Raven Boys series by essentially faking out pirates. She did this by copying the first few chapters of her book over and over in a document until the document was the size of a full novel, and loaded that into the piracy sites. This protected Stiefvater against book piracy because people who tried to pirate her book were tricked into downloading what was essentially a sample. In an ironic twist, this actually increased Stiefvater’s book sales… for a little while, until piracy took over again. You can read Maggie Stiefvater’s own words on her experiences with book piracy here.
So How Else Can You Protect Yourself?
The second way you can protect yourself from book piracy isn’t preemptive. After publishing, you periodically have to search piracy sites for your work and file copyright claims. This can be too expensive or tedious for many small authors. Piracy sites count on that because they know they’d lose in court. Because it can be too expensive, there are a few other simple tricks you can use to protect your books. I highly recommend Inkwell Editorial’s 12 Steps To Protect Yourself From Book Piracy for additional tricks that can make a difference.
When people do more than steal your book
However, it’s important to talk about the second type of book piracy that we mentioned a few paragraphs ago: book reproduction. This is where someone downloads your ebook, uses software to copy the text, possibly makes a few minor changes, but otherwise uses entire scenes or chapters from your work and calls it their own. This is overwhelmingly common in the world of ebooks and is especially present in the romance and erotica genres. Book piracy is queen in these genres because there’s so many books available and they sell like hotcakes. The likelihood one reader will come across two books with the same writing (and recognize it!) in the ocean of romance ebooks online is slim to none. There’s entire markets of ghostwriters who write and sell pre-made scenes for romance authors to buy and use. They often even sell the same scene as many times as they can.
When this second form of book piracy happens, it is extremely hard to find, let alone prove and stop. The copycat author may have changed just enough that it doesn’t qualify as copying or they might’ve downloaded your entire book, changed the cover, and sold it as their own. In either case, your best option is simply to report the book to its marketplace seller and show them your book’s publishing date versus the copycat’s. Hopefully, the marketplace will remove the copycat, but it won’t give you the money the copycat made. In the worst case scenario, the faker won’t fake any repercussions. You can shame them on social media, but that’s about all you can do.
Focus on what you can do
All this is not to bum you out. It’s simply to teach you about the realities of book piracy. Too many authors regret publishing without preparing for book piracy. Think about it now, before you publish that shiny new idea, before your sales are attacked. Give your book the safety net it deserves. You’ll be far less likely to regret the damage book piracy has done.
If you’d like to read an article that asked book pirates why they illegally downloaded books, this Guardian Article asked perpetrators from low-income individuals to doctors. If you want to learn more about questionable publishing practices, we recently examined if Grammarly owns your writing.