Internet pirates – Stealing, or free advertising?

As an author, copyrighting my literary material is an issue constantly at the forefront of my mind. Although theft is as old as time, a recent shift in social mindset has combined with a swift advancement in technology, creating the ultimate double edged sword: The Internet.

The internet is a tool which simultaneously allows authors to sell their work, whilst granting potential customers access to pirated copies of that same work. For most authors, this raises a very important question…

Is online publishing worth it?

kindlepicpoemsIn regards to this, the general consensus is absolutely yes. When a concerned potential e-book publisher raised the question of copyright infringement on the Create Space Community boards (A self-publishing e-book website), they were responded to with:

If you want absolute protection, do not publish your work; do not tell anyone about it; do not keep it on your computer.”

On first read, this response seemed very extreme, and I was surprised that all follow up replies basically just reiterated the same opinion. Then I crunched the numbers.

  • E-book sales rose from 10 million units in 2008 to 500 million units in 2013.
  • In 2015, the top 100 Best-selling books were sold %61 digital copy to %39 print copy.
  • Percentages in e-book sales have been increasing steadily each year since 2000, and recently hit a record high of %35 of the total book market overall.
  • E-books are completely free to create and distribute.
  • E-books are never out of stock, so no sales are lost due to unavailability.the e-books industry has grown tremendously in the past decade, primarily due to a higher supply and demand of e-book devices and applications, but also to lower prices compared to hard copies, as well as ease of travel and storage. the e-books industry has grown tremendously in the past decade, primarily due to a higher supply and demand of e-book devices and applications, but also to lower prices compared to hard copies, as well as ease of travel and storage.
  • According to a PwC forecast, total e-book sales revenue in 2018 will reach 8.7 billion U.S. dollars According to a PwC forecast, total e-book sales revenue in 2018 will reach us$8.7 billion.

With figures like these shown above, it’s easy to see why authors feel that their hands are tied when the issue of e-book publishing and piracy is raised.

Privateering your Paragraphs

E-books seem to be a generally positive avenue for authors, despite the risks, but the question still remains about what effect the pirates are having on the industry. Many authors are livid at their hard work being passed around for free, and understandably so, though others are seeing piracy is a different light. For some authors, the fact that enough people cared about their book to request or search for it is in itself positive feedback, which could of course lead to sales. Other authors have intentionally ‘pirated their own paragraphs’ and released their e-books online as torrents, download links or to file sharing websites, DRM Free. Dmitri Glukhovsky released his first novel ‘Metro 2033’ in its entirety for free on his website. He now has 5 novels under his belt and has inspired a video game series. More and more, debut novels are being released for free to stimulate readers, not cash flow. Books as part of a series might release the first book for free, with the hopes it would lead to sales on the rest of the set. Some authors post freely to websites and blogs, running purely on donations from appreciative fans.

Authors aren’t the only artists to do so, either. A relatively new trend for musicians is to beat the buccaneers to it and release an album for free online, so at least the artists retain control over the quality and presentation. The hope, of course, is that the word will spread, and be picked up by a larger audience than would have otherwise even heard of the content, and inspire discussions between pirates and potential customers alike on a global scale.

Black Beard, black flag, black hathand-schreiben-small

Regardless of opinions, there are times when piracy is undoubtedly harmful, as romance author Rachel Ann Nunes has discovered. Free and illegal distribution is one thing, but unfortunately, as most pirated works have been stripped of all DRM (Digital Rights Management), plagiarism is never far behind. A quick Google search resulted in at least five separate programs that do just that – remove DRM from e-books and videos. This was exactly what happened to Nunes, who received an e-mail from an avid reader who had recognized parallels between Nunes’ own work and the work of another author on Amazon. If this had not happened, the plagiarizing author may still be selling slightly altered versions of Nunes’ and other authors books, completely unnoticed. As anyone with a keyboard can upload a word document and call it a book, the idea that some of the content online may not be original is not unsurprising. For Nunes, it wasn’t the piracy that was the issue, but the extra step of monetizing a copy of her own work.

When Nunes tried to find out more about the plagiarist, strangers posted Facebook messages attacking Nunes’ character, and hostile one-star reviews began appearing on her Amazon author page.”

For Nunes, this has led to a $150,000 lawsuit – a route that many authors simply could not afford to pursue. As a community response to similar acts of plagiarism, an author has been created on Amazon named ‘NOT A BOOK’, who uploads blank documents named in such a way that it should appear above a plagiarized novel, notifying all that the book below it is actually a stolen work. Of course, this too is open to abuse regarding theft and false claims of ownership.

kindle-and-writing-pad-smlA more famous case of a stolen book being sold without copyright ownership is that involving one of George Orwell’s novels, where Amazon ironically reached into hundreds of customer’s devices and burned copies of 1984 from existence. It wasn’t just one occurrence, either, as copies of Harry Potter and Ayn Rand’s novels have also been eradicated.

King’s Pardon, or hang ‘em high?

Charles Dickens famously turned what could have been a huge copyright issue into a profitable and enjoyable experience. Before Copyright laws were internationally recognized, his book was being printed and distributed in America without a cent in royalties being sent back to the British author. He could have spent his days (and fortune) in conferences with lawyers, but instead he took it as free advertising, and spent a large amount of time touring America, signing books, giving talks, and getting paid.

On a personal level, I think that the piracy itself is not as harmful to the e-book industry as is made to seem, though it definitely is a gateway to more serious offenses such as plagiarism. I feel that there are more important things for authors to worry about than whether someone has paid for that $2 collection of 1s and 0s, as I myself would be happy enough just knowing that someone has gone to that extent to read my work. This does not mean, however, that I think authors as a collective should turn a blind eye, but rather accept the fact that digital copying is here to stay, and so should find innovative ways to work with it, instead of trying to work against it. Community reactions such as the ‘NOT A BOOK’ on Amazon prove that there are many authors who strongly feel that they have been wronged, and in the event of plagiarism, constant pressure should be applied to those who profit from the pain, (companies who take a slice of the profits, be they pirated e-books or not) to put more intelligent protective measures in place.

cropped-profilepicsmall.jpg Jonathon Best is a writer and poet from Perth, Western Australia. You can read his poetry free at

His near-future sci-fi novel Moppers Anonymous is now available at Amazon.


KDP Amazon

Sales Figures
print vs e-book
Revenue Forecast
Amazon publishers 2016

General Information
Advantages of e-book publishing
Lonely Planet free e-book
Nunes case
GoodReads Blacklist
Information doesn’t want to be free : Corey Doctorow(paperback)