‘Free’ eBook Downloads A Billion Dollar Criminal Enterprise

 In Writing

One of our author clients recently became aware following publication of her debut novel that it had been pirated. It transpired that, in the first few weeks following release, vastly more copies had been given away by several ‘free eBook’ sites than had been sold via legitimate outlets.

eBooks are going the way of movies and music – made available via pirate websites and illegal file sharing so that illegally obtained freebies eat massively into sales.

The people who run pirate sites, that often change subscriptions for access to copyright books, films and music , know what they’re doing. They’re stealing.

The people who subscribe and download from them, or who share copyright files via Peer To Peer networks, know what they’re doing too. However, the rationale given by many of those who enjoy illicitly obtaining something for nothing is often breathtaking in willful arrogance or disingenuous sophistry.

A common excuse is that publishers/record companies/movie distributors are to blame for overpricing and if only titles were offered cheaper, people would buy them. But that wears thin when people complain that 99 cents for a music track is too high. Just how little do they really want to pay?

The answer is nothing.

A couple of years ago, one article noted:

It is estimated that up to 20 per cent of eBook downloads are from pirate sites. The Publishers Association issued 115,000 legal threats to websites to stop them offering free pirated books in 2011, a rise of 130 per cent on 2010.

There’s no reason to think those figures haven’t continued to rise.

British author Philip Pullman describes illegal downloading as ‘a kind of “moral squalor” and theft as much as reaching in to someone’s pocket and stealing their wallet is theft’. Crime writer David Hewson takes it further:

Hewson is angry that the people who run the torrent sites – which charge users a subscription – are making money on the back of his work. “I spent a year of my life working on [each of] those books,” he said. “They cost me time and money. Hosts of people at my publishers, people who also have the right to be paid for their work, were involved. What gives some thieving toe-rag the right to take all that work we’ve put in, steal it, then regurgitate it…? They are not Robin Hood, taking from the rich to give to the poor. I find it offensive.”

Another excuse offered by those Hewson bluntly characterises as thieving toe-rags is that Dean Koontz, Sony Pictures and The Rolling Stones are mega-earners so piracy only costs them an extra case of champagne or two that they’ll never miss.

But, as our justifiably miffed client put it, she’s not a mega-earner. Her debut novel took a year to write while also holding down a day job and she’s yet to see any royalties over the $100 advance her publisher paid.

The fact is the majority of authors can only dream of sales in the ballpark of those enjoyed by a Dean Koontz or JK Rawling, and piracy is something that gets them hot under the collar, not just with pirates but those whose businesses help them get paid:

Authors do complain as they have standing (ie their book is there) to infringement report@PayPal.com but so far, this fellow is too profitable for PayPal, Google, Yahoo, SocialGo, Picasa and all the others to ban, so complaints appear to be ignored and the abuse continues.

Meanwhile, many of the users of ‘free’ illegal downloads will find there is a price to pay:

Record companies can sue for as much as $150,000 per song.

But the costs can come sooner than following a court challenge. IFPI reported:

An experiment run by Benjamin Googins, a senior researcher at the international IT software management company CA, showed that a single download from an unauthorised MP3 site resulted in the installation without permission of trojan downloaders (and) spyware…

The trojan downloaders mentioned are easily hidden by hackers in eBook, movie and music files and can result in identity theft (for which only a person’s name, date of birth and place of birth is required) and the theft of bank details, website logins, Facebook accounts… the list is endless.

They can even copy all the photographs on a computer over to the criminal’s computers, exposing the victim to potential blackmail or extortion, even if it is ‘only’ low grade demands for a few hundred dollars.

All for a ‘free’ eBook? It hardly seems worth it.

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