Monday, January 26, 2009

Combating Pirated Content

Thar be pirates! Not the cute, Johnny Depp kind, but the kind that steal book content and put it online for people to download for free. Even worse, some of them charge people a subscription fee to download all the free content they want. The catch is that they don't own this content and aren't paying the publishers or authors any royalties.

It's usually not a matter of them somehow stealing our e-books, I don't think. They are actually taking printed copies of the books and scanning them in as PDFs. However they do it, it upsets my authors every time they get back their Google alerts on their names and find more of their content pirated online.

My husband works in foreign rights for Pearson, so he has seen his share of this happening. He has in the past advised me that all you can do is find out where the site owner lives and send them a "cease and desist" letter. But if the perpetrator is on foreign soil (and they usually are), U.S. copyright law is unenforceable. So the usual reaction is for them to ignore the letters.

Today when I got the latest piracy alert from an author, something occurred to me. Publishing 2020 blogger Joe Wikert is always saying that giving away content is not always a bad thing and that we need to loosen our grip a little. So I wondered what his thoughts and experiences have been with piracy.

"I do believe these piracy sites both hurt and help our industry. I have no stats to prove one way or the other though," he said. So although they are probably helping to build buzz, they're probably also hurting sales. Although he's entertained a few creative suggestions for halting this kind of infringement, Joe ultimately agrees that the cease-and-desist letter is probably our only practical weapon--and it's an ineffective one, at best.

One consolation was that when our corporate counsel was investigating a particular site, she downloaded a virus. So I guess it's comforting to think that some of the people out there trying to steal content might meet the same fate.

Do you have any experiences with combating the content pirates that you can share?

Update: Coincidentally, GalleyCat has an article today about an author who faced just such a situation and decided that if she couldn't beat them, she'd join them. I swear I had already written my post today before I read this article. How freaky!

1 comment:

Mark Roy Long said...

We've sent out a few cease and desist letters about our books being posted online with responses ranging from genuinely apologetic to pretty nasty to absolutely nothing.

I think with fiction that being posted online might build buzz. After all, most fiction readers--I think, at least--like to support the authors they like.

On the other hand, with our line of technical textbooks, students are willing to get that content however they can if it can reduce their costs. Plus, since we don't sell directly to students, our real customers are the faculty who decide adoptions . . . and most of them aren't cruising for pirated versions to make those choices; instead, they'll just contact us for a desk copy.