For Publishers and Authors: Investigating and Understanding eBook Piracy

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Filesharing is ever-present online. The ease of distributing files and information is what built the web into what it is today. That freedom to share can pose issues for people and organizations who rely on distributing paid material to continue operating. eBooks can be especially vulnerable to piracy because they, unlike a printed book, are easily distributed online. Front Edge Publishing has a nuanced approach to investigating and resolving eBook piracy. This approach is informed by more than a decade in publishing—and is designed to make the best choices for our authors.

Suspect piracy? If you’re a Front Edge Publishing author or partner publisher, please contact your project manager or [email protected] before personally investigating potential instances of piracy. Trying to chase a pirate online—or even probing to try to gain more information—can potentially entangle you in a complex online connection. So, if you suspect piracy—contact us.

Best Practices in Combatting Piracy

Detecting piracy

To determine how to address a particular instance of piracy, it must first be located. The most straightforward way is through automatic online alerts. Google Alerts and other alert systems like Talkwater Alerts (which also covers social media mentions) are easy to set up, configure and monitor. It’s a great idea to track online mentions of your content even if you’re not concerned about piracy to make sure you don’t miss any media mentions. Setting up an alert for the title of your content is usually sufficient. Adding the tag ‘free’ to the alert will make it more sensitive to piracy alerts. 

What does piracy look like when you find it? eBook piracy usually consists of a free download of a PDF or .epub eBook file because these are the most flexible file formats for eBooks.

Carefully investigating specific instances of piracy

When an alert shows up in your inbox, you may want to click further to confirm whether a violation of copyright is taking place. However, it’s very important to be cautious when investigating potential piracy, as it’s not uncommon for free downloads of copyrighted material to be associated with malicious software that can damage your computer.

Before investigating potential piracy, we recommend taking the following precautions:

  • Prevent the website from leaving tracking cookies in your browser. Cookies are data that is stored on an internet user’s computer in order to remember the user’s history with a website. Cookies can also be used to track you online. To prevent this from happening before investigating a suspicious link, make sure you’re using a browser add-on that blocks tracking cookies. 
  • Double-check that your malware software is active. It’s a good idea to run a manual scan after investigating the website as well.

If you have discovered an instance of piracy, there are several options available to you.

Understanding the DMCA

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a piece of U.S. legislation that is designed to protect the rights of copyrighted content owners on the internet. It is usually the most effective tool in reducing eBook piracy because it provides a legal backbone for requesting the takedown of content that is being distributed in violation of copyright. This is called a DMCA Takedown Notice.

When is it worth issuing a DMCA Takedown Notice?

Ignoring a DMCA Takedown Notice can open the receiver to a potential lawsuit in a U.S. federal district court. That’s why the majority of file-sharing or sales platforms have an automated DMCA Takedown Notice form processing service available on their website. In these cases, you can submit a DMCA Takedown Notice through a form provided on the website. It’s easy to do because these platforms want to protect themselves against users violating copyright law on their platform.

If a platform does not have a DMCA takedown form available, you can also send a filled-out form letter to the DMCA agent contact listed on the site. In some cases, you may need to research who is acting as the DMCA agent. That may include an agent at the ISP that hosts the website. Here is an example DMCA Takedown Notice template, as well as some additional information about the DMCA. Make sure to fill it out fully before sending.

Note that it does not cost anything to issue a DMCA Takedown Notice. There are numerous paid services that offer to manage the DMCA Takedown Notice process on your behalf. In these cases, you are paying for professional assistance, not the DMCA Takedown Notice itself.

When is it not worth issuing a DMCA Takedown Notice?

The DMCA is U.S. legislation and does not apply outside of the U.S. That’s why sites hosted outside of the U.S. will not react to a DMCA Takedown Notice. Keep in mind that even if a web page originates from outside of the U.S., the DMCA will still apply if the website host is in the U.S.

DRM decisions

Since the launch of the Kindle in 2007, publishers have hotly debated measures to defeat pirates. Ultimately, the strongest anti-piracy methods conflict with the freedom that is the very foundation of the internet. For example, Digital Rights Management (DRM) refers to various controls on digital materials, a technological movement that began in the 1980s when computers were first widely sharing content. Book publishers remain divided on whether eBooks should be sold with DRM. At Front Edge Publishing, we believe in following the best practices in protecting our authors, and we agree with those publishers who don’t use DRM.

That’s part of our nuanced approach to pursuing pirates. We agree with publishers who have found that DRM places an undue constraint on our eBooks. It remains an option in the industry. Many eBook distribution platforms, including Amazon.com’s Kindle store, give authors the option to add DRM to their eBook at the point of publication.

At first glance, this practice seems like it would prevent eBook piracy. Unfortunately, using DRM often hurts readers who buy the eBook legitimately. For example, eBooks published with DRM can prevent anyone who isn’t the original purchaser of the eBook from opening and reading the eBook. In many cases, DRM results in the customer finding it difficult to read their book on their preferred device and unable to lend it to family and friends. Moreover, it’s simply not bulletproof. Pirates can remove many versions of DRM from eBooks using free software.

Making sure the book is as accessible as possible will be much more beneficial for the spread of the message and popularity of the author in the long run, which also results in increased sales. If anything can defeat piracy, it is convenience. Readers don’t have to search the whole world for our books, winding up in some pirate’s back waters. They are easily found and downloaded in the most popular online bookstores.

How far should we chase a pirate?

Similarly, we carefully weigh how much time to spend on chasing pirates. Investigating a pirate outside of the U.S. that hosts a blog or web page with only a small amount of traffic uses a lot of staff time for little benefit—time that can be better spent by marketing our authors directly.

Front Edge print books are safe

All of the above applies exclusively to eBooks—not print books, which are completely secure.

Front Edge Publishing’s print-binder partner, Ingram Lightning Source, follows state of the art security practices when printing books in the U.S. and through their printing partners around the globe. Every single printed copy and the files that are used to print that copy are carefully tracked and secured. Combined with Front Edge Publishing’s careful use and tight control of Advance Reader Copies (ARCs), these practices ensure that ARC reselling and distribution of Front Edge print books in a way that violates copyright are virtually non-issues.

About Dmitri Barvinok

Director of Production Dmitri Barvinok works on the digital development, print layout and distribution of new books. He coordinates Front Edge editors and designers and works with the BookEdge software suite.