Yo, ho, ho and a boxful of books!

There be pirates out there.

At least two websites, Scribd and Wattpad, are set up as 'document sharing' sites - it's Napster all over again, but this time for documents instead of music. And, despite the mind numbing tedium of it, plenty of people seem happy to sit down and scan a whole book so they can upload a pirate copy to one or both of these sites.

Recently there's been quite a furore over Scribd particularly, whipped up by literary agent Peter Cox. Discovering full texts of books from popular authors like J. K. Rowling, he has stirred up something of a media storm about this theft. We've seen newspapers like the Times jump in, and most recently Sky News.

As Jo Brand points out in the Sky piece, the problem here is that the majority of authors aren't multimillionaires, they're scraping a living from the 50p per copy or so they get from book sales. And every copy stolen this way is taking money directly from them. No piracy can be encouraged, but where most movie and music piracy does take a little from the very rich, most book piracy hits people who can't afford to be stolen from - the vast majority of illegally copied books on these sites are not by big name authors.

The sites' owners say they will take down anything illegal if they are alerted to it - but this puts the onus on thousands of authors to check. It's just not acceptable. We should see publishers and authors' organizations banding together to insist that site owners who host this type of pirate material should be held responsible. If that means manually checking each submission, so be it. If they won't, it's time they were walking the plank!



    Feel free to add this email to the comments section if you like.

    For an alternative view about "piracy" and ebooks I would recommend reading Cory Doctorow. He sums it up nicely in his book "Little Brother", the biggest problem for most authors seems not to be piracy, but obscurity. You may think his views are rather extreme, but for a site which appears to be able to make "giving away" work, try http://www.baen.com/AboutUs.htm. I tend to agree with Cory Doctorow. There are an awful lot of books out there and the difficult thing is for them to catch my attention (this is where sites like yours, of course, come into the picture). Putting up a chapter on a web site free of charge is a good way of marketing a book. Most people still prefer reading a book on paper rather than electronically so making an electronic version available free can perhaps lead to more sale rather than fewer. (The only statistics I have seen on this are from Baen books, and they seem to think it is worth it).
    The one thing I do not want to see is publishers going the same way as the music industry and penalizing their readers. I have already suffered in this respect - I bought an mp3 tune from a website with drm and can no longer play it as I have switched computers and have lost the original order. I also bought a textbook on thermodynamics for my Palm, just to see if electronic books were something for me. Again, I can no longer access it for reasons unknown. This means that I will NEVER again buy anything with DRM - twice bitten, thrice shy!
    Lastly, in case you are wondering, I personally would never download a pirate copy of anything that I would have otherwise considered paying for. In fact I think I can claim that I have never downloaded any pirate copies of mp3 files/software/or indeed books. I do borrow books from the library though! (and listen to the radio)



  2. David - I've no problem with people offering free samples (I do this with all my ebooks) - or even the whole book for free. It's when someone else makes it freely available that it's an issue.

    Although at the moment it's not a huge problem, these scanned books are usually readable in ebook readers, and as they become more common, so the problem will grow.

  3. I probably shouldn't say much here, but I've had problems with one of these sites in my professional capacity. They pirate stuff, and when you contact them they are niceness itself and say, yes, they'll remove stuff but in the meantime bludgeon you with a lot of legalese which takes a lot of time and effort to get through. I guess most authors wouldn't havee the time, resources or speclaized knowledge to fight them, and so they get away with it. My feelings about this are not printable.


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