Piracy is an issue for all content creators, and there’s no question that downloading someone’s book without paying for it is an illegal, immoral act that hurts writers and publishers through lost revenue and even other readers because popular series and authors won’t continue if they aren’t profitable.
But this post isn’t about whether or not piracy is wrong and harmful (it is). This post is about whether or not new and mid-career authors should worry about piracy and spend time/money taking action against it.
There are several services out there that will scan the internet for copies of your book and report those copies to you. At least one of them (Blasty) will give you the results for free, though to have Blasty fire off DCMA take-down requests for you, you have to pay at a starting rate of $6.99 a month.
In order to understand the extent of the piracy problem, I signed up for a free Blasty account. Mind you, this post is not meant to endorse or discredit Blasty in any way. Blasty is doing what it’s advertised to do, which is scan Google search results for copies of your book and report those links to you.
In alarming fashion, the first report from Blasty indicated there were more than 100 copies of my books out there! That certainly sounds like a problem I might want to spend $6.99 a month fixing. I don’t have the time or knowledge to send out more than 100 takedown requests. But before committing to a monthly expense, I decided to check out these links, to see if copies of my books really were available for download.
I focused on Aftercare, the most popular of my books. If any book were going to be pirated, it would be that one. There were 41 links reported for Aftercare.
Of those, 18 were clearly not my book, just from looking at the title of the URL. They had some other combo of the word Aftercare or my name. Another 4 turned out not to be my book once I followed the link. Again, there were some matching keywords, but it wasn’t my book
4 of the links were my books but weren’t Aftercare and 3 went to search pages from which multiple of my books were listed. I did follow through on those 7 links since they were relevant, but my guess is that they’d be repeated for other of my books, meaning the more than 100 total reported probably included dupes.
Of the links that appeared to relate to my books, 3 didn’t work at all. They’d perhaps already been taken down. 4 of them resulted in pages full of ads with Aftercare by Tanya Chris appearing on the page but no usable download link anywhere.
11 links redirected to a total of 3 websites. That is, there were multiple original URLs but if you followed the download links you eventually ended up at 1 of 3 websites. All 3 required registration with a credit card. 2 of them claimed the credit card was only required to verify the country you were in (because a site dealing in pirated books would obviously want to follow international law). The other was offering a trial membership with credit card to be charged if you wished to continue.
I didn’t put in my credit card info. I don’t know what kind of idiot would, but they’d surely deserve whatever happened to them next. Were my books available to people who registered with a credit card? Possibly, but unlikely.
Only 1 link actually generated a download for me, but the download, which was supposedly an epub, extracted to a setup.exe which I didn’t run because I’m not stupid. Again, whoever executed that program so they could get a free book probably got exactly what they deserved instead.
In summary, after following 41 links, I didn’t end up with a single readable copy of my book. It’s important to note that Blasty searches for a title and author pairing. It isn’t using the text of the book. It only knows that someone is claiming to offer my book for download. It doesn’t verify that the book really is available for download.
That’s not to say that pirated copies don’t exist, especially of really popular books. They clearly do. But as a mid-career author, I have to decide where to spend my time, money, and psychic energy, and I’ve made the decision that this isn’t it. My $6.99 would be better spent on an ad which might bring in new readers than in trying to thwart pirate readers, who may or may not actually exist. The 2 hours I invested in following those links would be better spent working on my next book, and by letting go of piracy as an issue I can go back to focusing on why people on Goodreads are so mean to me.
This is just my experience and isn’t meant to discredit anyone else’s or to say that Blasty or any other service is doing a bad or unnecessary job, but I’d like to suggest that you do your own cost/benefit analysis before signing up for a paid service.
Also, a super-duper reminder to tread cautiously when dealing with scammy sites like the ones claiming to have pirated copies of your book. Don’t give anyone your credit card number, use a throwaway email address, and never, ever execute a program. Make sure your anti-virus is up to date and surf cautiously. It seems that “pirate” sites are much more interested in duping wannabe-thieves than in stealing our work.