How to stop ebook pirates

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Most people know that downloading copyrighted information without paying for it is against the law. But millions of people who are otherwise totally law-abiding have at one time or another illegally downloaded a copyrighted digital file.

Many otherwise honest people have illegally downloaded ebooks.

Many otherwise honest people have illegally downloaded ebooks.

How serious is this problem for digital books? A 2011 Digital Entertainment Survey stated that 29% of e-reader owners admitted piracy and 36% of tablet owners admit to illegal ebook downloads. Another research firm, Attributor, reports that ebook piracy is on the rise.

One of the problems with this issue is that honest people don’t equate downloading ebooks with “stealing.” The situation is reflected in the vocabulary we use. People have many names for the practice of accessing copyrighted information without an exchange of money. Each term carries with it a different level of severity, but they’re all the same thing:

  • Illegal downloads – sounds like what kids do all the time
  • Copyright infringement – sounds technical
  • Unlawful content sharing – sounds bad, but sort of friendly
  • Online piracy – sounds like a real crime

A new way to fight ebook piracy

The Center for Copyright Information is an organization that focuses on educating consumers about online piracy. This group recently established The Copyright Alert System. It’s a program that intends to get otherwise honest people to stop downloading digital books without proper payment. Here’s how it works.


Copyright owners, including publishers, movie makers, and music producers, join together with peer-to-peer networks and monitor downloading behavior. The content owners then confirm that files have not been properly paid for and identify the Internet Protocol (IP) address where the files went. The content owners then communicate with the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that serve those IP addresses. These companies AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon. The ISP sends a Copyright Alert to the owner of that internet address.


These Copyright Alerts are basically email messages designed make account holders aware that the ISP knows that their account has been used for “unlawful sharing. ” The ISP let the account owner know how to prevent this from happening again by directing them to legal download venues.


If illegal downloads continue to that Internet address, the ISP can take actions designed to encourage this behavior to stop. Consequences can include reduction of internet speed, downgrade of internet service, automatic redirection to web site landing pages with anti-piracy messages, and online copyright education training.

Will it work?

Does the Alert system have teeth? Certainly the messages will be a deterrent to those who want to do right. And certainly they’ll work for people who are unaware that the book they just downloaded was done so illegally. But real book pirates will probably scoff at the Copyright Alert warnings.

Photo via Shutterstock.

8 thoughts on “How to stop ebook pirates

  1. scottro

    The first place I go when I hear about an interesting new book is Amazon. If the price is too high (more than $8.99), I head to my public library’s Overdrive page. If it’s not there I head to Piratebay.

    Bottom line: Provide books at a reasonable price, make them available to libraries, cut out the braindead DRm crap and I’ll buy books.

  2. sabredog

    The publishers are shooting themselves in the foot constantly. They harp on about piracy, but do little to provide potential and existing customers with the ability to purchase online. Geographic restrictions, DRM to prevent conversion to differing formats, high prices (differing wildly between countries), terrible formatting, unavailability et al. Be proactive, adopt to modern distribution methods and casual piracy will probably disappear.

  3. Karen Anton

    The commentators who seem to give the green light to stealing via pirating complain that prices are too high as one of their arguments. If the price is too high, then don’t buy it. If you saw a TV in the store and just took it because you thought the price was too high, I doubt you would be writing from the comfort of your home. Nothing is different when you steal from a person or publisher who has spent hours and hours creating the content you are stealing. Would you have the same argument if your employer said, “Oh, I don’t want to pay you for your work just because I don’t want to.”? Bet you’d be screaming foul in an instant.

  4. LMW

    Scottro, do you get paid for what you do? Or maybe you should give it away in hopes of giving awy a lot of it will somehow make you a living.

  5. Mitzi Szereto

    I am an author who is spending far too much of my valuable work time chasing down my pirated books. I cannot keep up, and I know I’m missing even more that my Google alerts or random web searches don’t catch. Sometimes I’m successful, and sometimes I’m not. What I want to know is – WHERE ARE THE PUBLISHERS???? You’re losing money too. In fact, you’re losing far more money than authors, who earn a very small amount per book sale. Therefore why is the burden entirely on authors to get their copyrighted material removed? I’ve been told it’s my problem to sort out, and therefore I must spend my time (and money) to get my pirated books taken down. Why are publishers sitting on their backsides doing nothing? The music industry raised hell about it when music was being illegally uploaded. Why is the publishing industry so lax and why is the hard work of authors’ of such little consequence to anyone? We need to eat and pay bills just like everyone else.

  6. SFM

    I have one of my novels available in all major ebook stores on line. That book has sold a few hundred copies in four years. In that time, I have kept close tabs on the pirate downloads, and it has endured approximately 120,000 pirate downloads from various online pirate sites. Note this is only the ones I have found via google, bing etc. It does not include torrent sites, etc. Some of those sites include ratings for the files, and it consistently rates very well, so people are enjoying the book, for free. Now, at $2.99 with 70% kindle or kobo royalty, 120,000 copies sold would equate to $251,160 in royalties were those downloads paid for. I am not foolish enough to imagine that those people would all have paid. As much as possible I have policed piracy, and taken legal steps where possible, however I am one person with no publishing house and no money behind me. I work a day job. I struggle on minimum wage. I struggle to keep the bills paid. If ten percent of those pirates had purchased the book, my life would be different. My bills would be paid and I would be able to afford the groceries.

    I have received many email and website \contact the author\ contacts from readers stating their enjoyment of this particular book. How many? Approximately five time the number of sales it has had. Now, people can lend it, sure, but this begins to get ridiculous fast. I can not eat praise. Love it so much you will go out of your way to make contact with the author? Then BUY the damn book yourself! That is the best way to show your support to the author.

    So do ebook pirates hurt the publishing industry? I do not know. Do they hurt authors? You bet they do! If the legal download was twenty five dollars a copy, then you could say the author was greedy. But if it is only $3, you can genuinely say the pirate is a cheap bastard.

    Enough is enough. It is time for pirates to wake up to themselves, because it makes me question if I should ever release the next book.

    1. Martin Molano

      I can feel your pain brother, i create a medicine book, more than a year of hardwork. And in less than a month after the publish it was already on a lot af websties for free download, i’m tired of taking down the links, i really don’t know what to do.

  7. Eric Smitz

    ok folks
    I have heard every argument in the book on this topic…

    and believe it or not.. p2p/torrent has LITTLE to do with ebooks beyond the nyt best sellers. A HUGE populace of ebook piracy is IRC

    There are a few websites that inter-link to cyberlockers but remember it takes 5-7 days to remove a cyberlocker link via dmca… and can be ‘re uppd’ in a matter of a few hours

    There are two types of readers out there. Those who read your book merely because its available to read, and those who actually want to read your book… Only one of them is a possible ‘sale’

    Now that we have gotten rid of the ‘oh piracy cost me 120k in sales’ arguement. A problem today is that Ebooks cost as much, if not MORE than print books!! What sane person will even consider paying any more than 50% of the cost of a print version?

    NOW to really get an idea of how many people REALLY want to read your book… check it out on
    that 120k copies sold just went down to a few thousand did it?

    NOW you see the actual numbers!!

    Now how to benefit from all those people who read your book, but in actuality had no intention of buying it nor will buy it.. Use them for marketing…
    I find it hard to believe if an author has a 120k downloads on any piracy medium that only a few hundred actually paid for it.



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