Has my Book been Pirated?

May 19, 2015 | The Publishing Industry


Piracy is still a big issue for ebooks, in spite of the fact that DRM has been optional for a while now on Amazon (the only platform that counts*). I’m still of the opinion that it’s basically irrelevant – you can’t control it, can’t prevent it, and worrying about it is a waste of your time and money. That said, though, how do you know that your book has been pirated at all? It occurred to me that, although I could find out in a heartbeat whether my book has been pirated and from what source, it takes a level of technical knowledge that not everyone has access to. So, without further ado, here’s a primer on figuring out whether people are getting your book for free, and what you can do about it.

1: Time for Google!

Do a google search for “my awesome book title torrent”. This is always the first port of call – checking the most popular torrent sites for a torrent of your book. If a listing shows up, it’ll likely have the title, author name, and ISBN or ASIN. Even pirates like to know they’re getting the right book!

The torrent listing can tell you some very interesting things: the current number of seeders, the current number of leachers, and the number of times the file was downloaded. (Seeders are the people who have a complete copy of the ebook file, and they’re collectively providing bits of that file to the seeders, who only have an incomplete copy.) It’ll also tell you when the listing was added.

Google doesn’t index the Pirate Bay site any more, as far as I know, so you may have to go to it directly to search it.

Next thing to do is run another search for “my awesome book title free download”. This will cover non-torrent sources like sites that get people to sign up before they can download free ebooks. Ebook files are much smaller than movies or music, remember, so there are many more methods for transferring them about the internet.

2: Try to get a copy of it

This seems obvious, but if free copies of your book are being made available somewhere, you should try to get one! Looking at the file itself can be interesting. It should tell you which service the original file came from, if it was pirated from one of them. It might also be a scanned, OCR-read copy of a print book.

Some authors are irritated by the quality of the pirated copies. The sixth Harry Potter book was bought, scanned using OCR, proofread and turned into an ebook only 12 hours after the print copy was released; most pirates are nowhere near as diligent, and can leave in spelling and grammar mistakes. It’s also possible to get a broken copy, where bad formatting and code errors make the book itself unreadable. Not really a good advertisement for an author!

3: Decide what to do next

Okay, so you know your book has been pirated. You know where the copy came from, and you know what it looks like. What now?

Well, it depends. Is it worth your while to try to take down the listing? Torrents are very easily replicated, unfortunately – if you take it down, it can be restored in a matter of minutes, if another pirate decides to make it available. There are too many torrent sites, and too many people with a lot of technical knowledge. It really comes down to whether you think the time it’ll take to remove the listing constantly is worth it for the number of readers who’ll get free copies.

If you want to get rid of it, you have a couple of options. Check the site to see if they have a contact form or some other method of getting in touch. See if they have a policy about pirated content, and if they’re willing to remove the listing willingly for you. This is the easiest and quickest option – simply contact the site, inform them that they’re hosting your copyrighted material, and ask that they remove it.

If this doesn’t work, you’ll need to figure out where the site is based, and then decide what legal measures to take from there.

First of all, you’ll need to do a WHOIS lookup to get more information about the domain. Take the domain name,  www.eviltorrentsite.com (or whatever it is) and do a search on whois.domaintools.com. You should see that it’s already registered; scroll down and you’ll see a list of domain information. Look through this to get an email address for the owner of the website and, again, contact them and ask that your books be removed.

If the site is being hosted in the US, then a DMCA notice is the next port of call. Use this form to automatically generate a DMCA notice using the URL of the listing. This has some legal clout because it means the host, not the website owner, must take down the listing to avoid liability. The actual process varies from host to host, but it means the listing will be removed within 14 days. (If it’s not taken down, then the host becomes liable for damages as if they infringed on your copyright, and no hosting company wants to get dragged into a lawsuit.)

Outside of the US, you may be out of luck, unfortunately. Your best bet is to go to an intellectual property lawyer and get some advice. You may have no other options apart from having them create a cease and desist letter to send to the owner of the site, or the host, and hope that they comply.

Filing a lawsuit against a website owner in another country is, I’m afraid, a complete waste of your time and money. If the MPAA and RIAA couldn’t take down the Pirate Bay after years of litigation, it’s very unlikely that an author who doesn’t have access to millions of dollars and teams of attack lawyers is going to do it.

Have you got any other questions? Feel free to ask in the comments. I’m not a lawyer, and I can’t give you legal advice, but I do a lot of reading on copyright law and I might be able to point you in the right direction.

* Restrain your caps-lock, I’m only kidding 😛