Wednesday, October 21, 2009

ePiracy or Just a Book Swap?

(pic courtesy of Etirv!)
If I love a book, I tell my friends. I loan out my copy so others can enjoy it as well. I hope my friends will love it as much as I did and go look for the author's backlist. As an author, I'm totally thrilled when someone tells me they have shared their copy of my book with others. First, because it's a huge compliment and second because it's the absolute best way for an author to build a readership.

But what if that book was an ebook or pdf? Is it wrong to attach it to an email and send it to your cousin in Tallahassee?

Probably not.

What if someone was offering hundreds of titles online to people they don't know?

At that point, in my mind, even if the pirate is offering the ebooks for free, it becomes a theft.

As more publishers are turning to electronic methods of delivering their books, e-piracy is becoming more of a problem. My friends who write paranormal or erotic romance are more likely to be pirated than historical authors, but I have seen tons of Amanda Quick titles offered online. As more and more readers get comfortable with ebooks, epiracy will become a bigger problem.

I think part of it is that readers have been used to sharing books for so long, they don't see a difference between loaning one to a friend and offering pdfs to their entire Myspace friend list.

But the difference to the authors involved can be crippling. The only time a writer earns royalties is when a book is sold new. We earn nothing on used book sales (though I totally support used book stores. It's a great way for a reader to try a new author with very little risk. We hope a reader will enjoy the used one enough to buy the next release new!) Certainly nothing is earned on free downloads. Ebook piracy hasn't affected me much yet since historical readers tend to like a paper book in their hands, but several of my friends have lost a lot of sales to the pirated copies.

Occasionally, publishers offer a free download title from an author's backlist as a way to increase interest in an upcoming release. I downloaded a Sherilon Kenyon novel this way. This is something very different and perfectly legal. In this case, the publisher hopes the download will go viral and be sent from one reader to the next.

But how can we as readers know how an ebook got out on the web? Is there a way to tag something as a legitimate download? What do you think about this issue?


Christie Craig said...


I think you are right. It will become a bigger issue as more and more publishers go to e-printing.

It's scary how little seems to be being done with this now, and how quickly it seems to be a growing problem.

Great post.


EmilyBryan said...

And unfortunately, enforcing a copywrite falls to the copywrite holder. I know several authors who've had their lawyers write "cease and desist" letters. But as soon as one site pulls the title, another puts it back up.

The only way to stop this sort of piracy is for readers to refuse to participate in it.

Some people compare sharing a download to using a library, but I don't think they are comparable at all. For one thing, a library can only lend so many copies of a particular title and only one at a time. An e-pirate can send out thousands of downloads.

Stacey Joy Netzel said...

Great post. Hopefully more will be done as e-publishing gets bigger.

I just read on Romantic Reads that the new B&N e-reader, Nook, will allow e-book sharing. One feature I thought I'd mention: a reader can send an e-book to a friend to keep the file for 14 days. What's your thoughts on this? On the one hand, the e-book file has a limit, (good) but I don't believe there's a limit to how many lends a person can do. I was a little surprised by this, since it seems just a different version of...not quite piracy, but a definite possibility for loss of sales.

(That said, I still want one! *grin* I don't have an e-reader yet and this one looks awesome.)

Stacey Joy Netzel said...

Oh, and thought I should mention, I saw A Christmas Ball on the B&N shelf--face out! It's just so pretty.

EmilyBryan said...

That's interesting, Stacey. I didn't know they could make a file "self-destruct" after 14 days.

I think a Kindle download licenses the user for use of the material on up to 5 devices, so that means 5 legal sharings. But I don't think there's anything intrinsic in the code that keeps a reader from sending it to more.

EmilyBryan said...

Stacey--Yay for a face out display! A CHRISTMAS BALL has such a gorgeous cover, I confess that I face it out every time I see it if it's being shelved spine out.

Stacey Joy Netzel said...

I'm not sure how they limit the time on the file, there isn't much information on it yet. With a library, or book sharing between friends, it's one book that has to be read and returned before it can be given out again, but I wonder with the Nook if a reader can share with 10 people at the same time. Hopefully it's just one share at a time.

Stacey Joy Netzel said...

So sorry to keep posting, I should've read more before I even mentioned it. Looking further at B&N, here's some info on the lending with Nook: "All you need to know is your friend’s email address. You can lend many of your eBooks one time for a maximum of 14 days. When you use our LendMe™ technology, you will not be able to read your eBook while it is on loan, but you always get it back."

So, it sounds like it's a one time lend, just like a paper book.

Unlike the piracy sites that give out free copies to unlimited readers, who can in turn copy to all their friends, and so on.

Jane L said...

Emily, I guess this brings up so me very valid points and concerns about e-pub! I guess this is really weird, but I personally do not feel comfortable sharing a download book. I just feel like its wrong, which of course it is probably ok for the most part. But a great thing to keep in mind!

Just wanted to share after your plea to go and get a mammogram, I did. It was my first at 46 and they found a small nodule, today I have been assured it is nothing and actually they could not see it at all during the 2nd mammo!! The dr said I was clear for a year and no worries of breast cancer!!

Patricia Barraclough said...

It is really unfortunate that there is no way to tag e-books so they can not be passed along. It is hard enough for you writers to make a living, they shouldn't steal your sales. Many libraries have started a download lending program with both audio books and e-books. You use your library card to "check" the book out and the file expires at the end of a specific time period which varies from library to library. We offer it, but I haven't done it. I like a paper book, but the audio book might be an option.

Evelyn Applegate said...

Interesting point. I agree that the place to draw the line is with sites set up specifically to offer pirated ebooks. A way to tag legitimate downloads would be really useful if that's possible.

EmilyBryan said...

Stacey--Since the Nook doesn't allow the owner of the ebook use of it when it's being loaned, they've set things up to mirror what happens when you lend a paper copy.

Except this one comes home automatically!

EmilyBryan said...

Jane L--I'm so glad you got good news from your mammogram!

EmilyBryan said...

Patricia--I've used audio books from the library almost every time I take a road trip. Especially when my kids were little. We didn't have a video screen in our mini-van, we listened to books. Oh, how we boo-hooed through "Where the Red Fern Grows" together!

Listening to a book is so much better for a child's mind than passively watching vids.

EmilyBryan said...

Evelyn--Even a warning about illegal use, like they put on videos, would be helpful. It would at least make people think.

EmilyBryan said...

Guess I'm not the only one concerned about this issue. Here's a bit from the NYTimes:

Shayna Englin, a political consultant in Washington who purchased a Kindle this year, also says she reads more than ever: a book a week, about three times her old pace.

But she has actually never paid for an e-book. Exploiting a loophole in Amazon’s system, Ms. Englin has linked her Kindle to the Amazon account of some nearby friends, allowing all of them to read books like “The Lost Symbol” at the same time — while paying for them only once.

“I read much more, I tend to read faster for some reason, and I read a greater variety of things,” said Ms. Englin, adding that this is nearly the same as lending a physical book to friends. “We haven’t really looked closely at Amazon’s terms of service. But I do suspect we are breaking the rules.”

Click here to read the full article.

Heather D said...

Good Morning Emily,

I have been away from my blog and blog hopping for several days and I come back to find a lot of discussions going on about this topic.

I have a Kindle. I love it!! The one thing I hate about it is that it is difficult if not impossible to share books. I guess if you are really techy you might be able to find the right program that will open the files. Amazon books are not in pdf. they are azw. My computer does not open the files at all. I have the option of downloading the books to my computer instead of my Kindle, but it does me no good as I can't open them. Yes you are allowed up to 6 devices on one account. I am not sure that Amazon was anticipating people of different households using the same account. You have to have a credit card linked to your account because of the whispernet feature. So the people that spiked the discussions have to truly trust each other. They must have worked out some sort of system as to how and who pays for the books purchased from Amazon. I believe Amazon was thinking that more than one Kindle would be purchased in households, plus Kindle books are readable on Iphones, so this feature benefits the person who also reads using their phone.

This is the only thing that I dislike about my Kindle. I can't read a book and say OMG I loved that book! You can borrow my copy. Or what ever I might say when it comes to a really great book. I have not been able to share any of my Kindle books. As far as how long a user has the book and is able to share it with the other devices... I believe it is deleted from the Amazon account then all devices will lose it.

Other readers use formats that are more easily accessible to the majority of readers. The pdf format can be shared on a widespread basis. This is where pirating can really become a nuisance. PDF is readable on all computers without any special software to break into it and convert it.

I love sharing what I read. My mother and I used to share back and forth all the time. The distant between us has made it a little more difficult. And now I have a Kindle and she doesn't. So she doesn't get most of my new books. But I can tell her to go get this book and she will!

There has to be some trust with authors and readers. Most readers are not going to over step the bounds of sharing. They are not going to send a book to everyone in their address book. They will send it to a select few. And I think this should be OK with everyone. After reading some of the stuff out there about sharing and how some authors feel, it makes me nervous to mention how I may have received a book, or that I loaned my copy to someone else.

I applaud all the authors that are stepping up and making it a point to share their views on this subject.

I have one question though... If authors (not all of them) feel that sharing a book with a friend is wrong, then what am I suppose to do with the books that I am done reading and don't have room for in my closet? Am I suppose to send them to the dump so that no one else can have the copy I have already paid for? That is just an appalling idea to me.

And I have to say that there will be one author I will not purchase a book by. Her attack on a reader for sharing the books was uncalled for. If I feel the need to read this author in the future I will make sure to find her at the library. That way I don't offend her by giving my copy away or loaning it to a friend.

Heather D said...

Ms. Englin has actually came back with some clarifications for that article. I just read them on another blog.

Ms. Englin may not have paid for it herself, but someone on that shared account has. There are a lot of free books out there to be downloaded. Harlequin has at least 16 out, there are several classics, and some new releases or publisher specials. But like I said in my previous comment there is a credit card attached to the account, someone has been paying for those books.

Sandy said...

Sorry to be so late, Emily.

As someone who has been pirated, I'm hoping that something gets done about it. I don't think a whole lot can be done since they haven't protected the music industry much.

I found all of the comments interesting.

Jane L, so glad you got a clean bill of health but it will be best to be diligent. Do you do self-exams? They are the very best way to catch breast cancer early.

Very good blog, Emily.

EmilyBryan said...

Heather--Most of the authors I know support the idea of readers sharing books with their friends. I hope I made that clear in my post. (Please, please, please share my books with your friends!!!)

I love it when a reader tells me they found my work in a library. I support used bookstores. (Even though it can be argued that they cost sales, this is shortsighted. Used booksellers benefit authors by introducing new readers to them!)

It's not the one book at a time sharing that creates a problem. It's sending hundreds or thousands of downloads to virtual strangers that cuts into an author's livelihood.

Heather D said...

Emily I did catch your "share my books" in your blog post! I am happy to hear that you are among the many authors that are fine with readers sharing.

And I completely agree that it is wrong to send out a mass email with the book attached. Piracy is completely wrong!!! I just wanted to share with readers that don't have a Kindle that it is not as easy to share books purchased through Amazon as it would be those purchased at Ellora's Cave (for example). You have to have a Kindle or another device that is compatible with the AZW. files to even open the files or a special program that will convert the files, and I am not sure that there is software that will convert the files yet.

I have in the past contacted an author to ask permission to share the pdf formatted book. She preferred that I didn't share it. So I deleted the book completely from my computer. This author lost a potential reader. The author is only published in ebooks right now. My friend who has never read the author or an ebook won't read her now. She still has not ventured into the ebook world.So I really feel that both parties are missing out!

I am still reading some of the comments posted... They do have something in most of the ebooks I have read about copyrights and redistributing. The books that you purchase from Amazon have just about every page that a print book would have.

Unless we find a way to prevent piracy from occurring (which I find doubtful b/c they haven't figured it out with the music world yet) the only way to help prevent it is for readers not to use those sites. Making purchases through legitimate online bookstores is the only way to do it.

I attempted to use the downloading of audio books from my library, unfortunately my MP3 player was not compatible. It really ticked me off because that was the main reason I bought the thing.

RowenaBCherry said...

Heather D made a very interesting point. It is actually quite hard to delete an ebook, and I applaud her technical ability and her ethics.

If you "share" an ebook with one person, you create at least 5 copies. There's the one in your hard drive, one on your desktop (or maybe one in your trash), one in your Sent mail, one in your friend's In Box, and one on her desktop.

Unless you have a Trojan, in which case a hacker has it, too.

Ebooks that were created by a publisher (as opposed to by a pirate) will have a warning in the front matter, pointing out that the ebook purchaser has purchased the right to read the book on a certain number of private devices, but does not "own" the ebook or its contents.

A lot of people don't understand that.

You are technically breaking the law when you share, even with a select few. Why? Because that select few have the ability to also share their copy of the copy you sent them....

The law is the law. Either you are breaking it, or you are not. I'd prefer a don't ask/don't tell approach.

EBooks and music are different for many reasons. One is that authors don't give concerts. Another is that most books are read once, whereas the more you hear a song the more you want to hear it.

Heather's ebook author (who is only published in ebooks) may have the type of contract where her book won't ever transition into POD unless or until she sells several hundred copies.

For every reader who does not purchase a copy of the ebook but reads it anyway, that e-pubbed author slips further away from another contract and print publication.

It's no justification to say that you loved the book, and you'll buy her next one... she may not get to write the next book.

BrennaLyons said...

Okay... I'm probably going to post several times, addressing different issues. Bear with me.

e-Piracy is NOT only the bane of e-publishers. There is no such thing as a piracy free book. DRM can be broken; there's no security on a file that can't be broken. Paper books can be OCR scanned and pirated as e-books.

Please, don't think this problem is something that affects ONLY e-publishing.

BrennaLyons said...

There is a petition for readers to show solidarity in not engaging in piracy at


BrennaLyons said...

What the Nook from B&N is doing is good. They are doing it right...getting publishers to opt in or out, having time limits and lending limits, etc. Amazon, by comparison is dropping the ball. It's no different than other legitimate e-book lending programs.

You can read more about my thoughts on that at my blog

BrennaLyons said...

I have no problem with the idea of someone sharing a book with a friend or two. That's no worse than the UBS thing, at all. It's the major pirates, sharing thousands of copies of a single purchased book. THAT is where our problem lies.

Unknown said...

I agree with you on your take of it all. It is theif it is put on a share file. I do loan my paper back books to my sister to read and she really enjoys them, but I don't do e-books yet because I don't like to set at the computer to read and I don't have an e-book reader. I can see how this could really hurt sales for book authors and its not right. How could it be stopped?

Unknown said...

Sorry I forgot to leave my e-mail.


EmilyBryan said...

Well, I guess this is a fitting end to this post's story. After blogging about e-piracy, I found that DISTRACTING THE DUCHESS was just posted on 10/23 on the piracy site I'd been trolling.

Rather a pointed slap, don't you think?

No, Virginia, I don't think there's a way to stop it. People who are determined to steal will always find a way.