Someone somewhere clicked on my name. Actually, someone searched out one of my books. Yay! That’s a good thing!
Well, sometimes it is. Other times, instead of a Yay! it’s an Ack! This particular click was an Ack!
Seems a site is offering free downloads of a whole array of books… or maybe not. It’s offering free downloads of books to anyone willing to pay a premium subscription price… or maybe not. The more I read about the site, the more confused I became. Also the more concerned. Books that are legally protected by copyright are being pirated and used illegally, cutting me and my publishing company out of any profit. I mean, I see myself as generous, but really~!
Did you stop reading as soon as you saw free downloads? Are you saying, “All right! Where do I go?”
Not so fast. We’re talking illegal here. Pirate stuff. What at first glance seems like a good deal–even though it gouges into the authors’ royalty checks–can actually get readers into a whole bunch of trouble. Which is why I am so pleased to welcome Rick Acker to the blog today.
Rick is a lawyer who specializes in prosecuting corporate fraud for the California Department of Justice. But he is a doubly interested party, since he is also an author. His newest book, a legal thriller titled When the Devil Whistles, is coming out this fall. (More about Rick-as-writer and his book in an upcoming blog.)
Rick, thanks so much for offering to share your expertise, wisdom and insight into this frustrating situation. So what’s the problem here?
The same problem authors and publishers have faced since the invention of the printing press: theft of their books. It’s gotten a lot easier in the Internet Age because thieves no longer need printing presses, reams of paper, barrels of ink, and so on. All they need is a laptop.
Plus, today’s copyright thieves often don’t feel like they’re stealing. They think they’re just uploading free stuff for other “fans” of the same author. They don’t realize that they are actually taking money out of the pockets of both the author and the publisher. Worse, they may wind up making sure the author never publishes again. We are all only as good as the sales of our last book, and if that book had low sales because a lot of our “fans” downloaded it for free, there’s a good chance we won’t get to write another one.
Copyright theft nearly destroyed the music industry. Even today many musicians can only pay the rent by staying perpetually on tour because their album sales are so low. The reason: on-line file sharing by their “fans.” The book industry faces the same threat today, and very few authors can make money by charging $40 per ticket to hear them read.
There’s a real risk that many publishers will go under and that the survivors will only publish a few titles that will be guaranteed to make money no matter how many pirated copies fly around the Internet. I don’t think many file sharing booklovers intend for that to happen, but they make it more likely every time they upload or download a book they didn’t pay for.
Okay, but why don’t the copyright police simply go out and round these guys up?
Simple: They don’t have enough resources. If the FBI and the US Department of Justice tried to catch and prosecute all on-line copyright infringers, they wouldn’t have time to do anything else. But just because the government doesn’t go after every infringer doesn’t mean piracy is safe. Uploading or downloading pirated books is like shoplifting or lying on your taxes: a lot of people do it and don’t get caught, but those who do get caught can be in deep trouble.
Books can be expensive, so **FREE** sounds mighty good in consumers’ ears. Can hardworking moms and college kids and retired guys and other such seemingly harmless citizens really be held accountable for taking advantage of a good deal?
Absolutely. It may seem harsh, but under federal law those “free” books cost a minimum of $750 each if you’re sued by the copyright owner—and the cost can run as high as $150,000 per book if the judge thinks you were willfully infringing a copyright. The penalties are even heavier for people who upload or download a lot (say 50 books over a 6 month period): up to five years in jail and fines reaching $250,000. Here’s a link to the main federal law punishing copyright infringement: http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap5.html.
What should authors look out for, and what should they do if they see their books are listed on pirated sites?
A good place to start is to create Google alerts for your name and the titles of each of your books—which it looks like you’ve already done, Kay. While Google isn’t perfect, these alerts will catch a lot of instances of book piracy. You can also check the main file sharing websites (listed in this report: http://tinyurl.com/24pbzrp ) every few months and search for your books.
If you find out that one of your books has been illegally uploaded, the first thing to do is tell your publisher. Most publishers deal with this sort of problem regularly and know how to get the pirated file removed. But you can do it yourself if your book is self-published, out of print, or for some other reason your publisher can’t or won’t step in. The main thing you need to know is that the law generally requires you to send a notice to a person designated by the website where the infringing file was uploaded. The notice rules are technical and can be a pain, so make sure you read up on them before you contact the website.
To get you started, here’s a good Wikipedia article summarizing the law and the notice procedure: http://tinyurl.com/2kmnmf.
And here’s a sample notice procedure from a file sharing site that has a lot of books: http://tinyurl.com/23473xt.
Thanks so much, Rick! We will all be more savvy authors… and wiser readers… because you took the time to join us today!
“If you want to read a free book, go to the library.”