Adventures in Piracy

It was bound to happen sooner or later—one of our books was stolen. The eBook file was copied and placed on a web site for free downloading.

For what it is worth, the offending site doesn’t promote free eBooks. It contains files of all types. And the infringer didn’t bother to remove the copyright ownership information, or claim authorship, so it’s obviously a stolen file.

Some folks don’t believe theft of books is a concern. Weak arguments, such as “it’s only been copied,” “the creators are rich,” or “information wants to be free” are made. Copyright is literally the right to copy something. When you buy a book (or a DVD, or stream a movie) you don’t get that right. Only the creators have it. They can sell the copyright or copies, as they wish, to make money. The money they make often barely covers expenses. The creators are rarely rich, and certainly no one associated with Somewhat Grumpy is.

It takes authors, editors, and publishers a lot of time to make books. The creators not only deserve to be paid for their time and materials, they need to be paid. The ability to tell stories should not be limited to the wealthy: If it is, we will get only the stories the wealthy want told.

As for “information wants to be free,” here’s the full context of the first recorded use:

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time.

This doesn’t mean information should be free. It’s a discussion of the factors affecting the price of information—up and down. The cost of getting books has gone down, thanks to eBooks. And fiction books are not information. They are entertainment. As good as our books are, you can live without them. If you really want one and can’t afford it, respond to one of our giveaways, or ask your library to purchase a copy.

The site that posted the stolen copy is clearly a scam site. The pages are plastered with ads, the supplied mailing address is a field in the middle of nowhere, the contact form does not work, and the about information is contradictory and incomplete. There is a DMCA takedown request button prominently displayed (itself a suspicious sign), but there was no response to the submitted request.

DMCA refers to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, an American law that has been widely adopted to enforce copyright on the internet. One of the problems with DMCA is abuse—a significant number of complaints are attempts to stifle competition or censor. Only 1/3 of complaints are legitimate.

To prevent abusive DMCA reporting, complainants must complete a lengthy and detailed form, including all their contact details, which are shared with the recipient of the complaint. In other words, a malicious web site can post stolen content, then use the DMCA complaints to harvest email addresses and phone numbers from the victims when they complain.

One of the joys of the internet is no central authority, but that also means there is no one to enforce rules like copyright. And while companies may claim to follow laws, they know a significant percentage of their income comes from suspicious sites.

The ads at the scam site are income for the advertising service and their clients. The company that makes money hosting the site won’t accept a copyright infringement complaint without the IP address of the site. The company that makes money hiding the IP address won’t provide it without a request from the hosting company. The company that makes money providing the domain name points out they are not responsible for site content. And even your local Internet Service Provider is making money from your use of the site. None of these companies, all of which provide legitimate internet services, want to cut into their profits by weeding out questionable pages and sites (no matter how obvious many of them are).

It doesn’t help that we use terms like piracy and wild west to describe copyright enforcement on the internet. These are terms that romanticize and minimize theft. And sites that engage in petty crimes like copyright theft may dabble in virus distribution, identity theft, and even money laundering.

What keeps the purveyors of stolen material in business, whether the material is books, catalytic converters, or antiques, are their customers. So please don’t obtain anything, including books, from questionable sources. Downloading a book from a sketchy site may seem harmless, but at a minimum you are depriving the author of their modest income from a sale, and you may be enabling other criminal activity.

Categorized as News

By trc

Freelance writer, freelance editor, web consultant, and film studies scholar.

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