In our last article, we were writing about e-book piracy and more specifically, the magnitude of this phenomenon among students. We will try to understand the real impact of piracy, but most importantly, we will analyze whether it is possible to fight against the income loss that occurs as a result. Indeed, while music, movies and games have all seen an overall decline in piracy and download rates in recent years, e-book piracy has seen an unprecedented increase.

There are several methods to protect and defend your content: technical solutions such as DRM, legal measures, and what we can call proactive approaches – looking for your content online, and requesting the removal of copyright infringing content.

The (limited) effectiveness of DRM

In essence, DRM protection software is supposed to make sure that your e-books will be protected from unauthorized use and abuse. This is a data encryption method that prevents any user who does not own the appropriate access key from from being able to open the content.

Most online bookstores use DRM and watermarking to ensure that only the original buyer can open the file. Watermarking is in fact a visible or invisible imperceptible thread, integrated into the code of the electronic book when the transaction takes place. It includes the buyer’s personal data, such as name, e-mail address and sometimes the publisher’s or author’s contact information.

This technique aims at preventing the distribution of the protected content, since the buyer’s contact information is integrated into the e-book. As a result, if an infringement is recorded, publishers can easily track down and prosecute the person who illegally distributed the protected content.

But in practice, it only takes a few minutes for someone with some technical knowledge and the right tools to remove these protections and easily make a pdf, mobi or epub copy of the ebook they want to pirate. DRM can therefore prevent part of the piracy, serving as a first filter, but it is far from being an absolute security.

The Grisham / Amazon / Penguin Random house case: a clear signal against piracy

Some authors do not let this happen and fight back. That’s why Amazon Content Services, Penguin Random House and a group of Authors Guild members, including American author John Grisham and British writer Lee Child, filed suit in a Washington state court against the Kiss Library site. The site, hosted in Ukraine, sold pirated digital works at low prices, obviously without having acquired the rights and therefore without paying any remuneration to the authors and rights holders.

In July 2020 a temporary injunction was filed against Ukrainian nationals Rodion Vynnychenko and Artem Besshapochny, with no response from them. The order aimed at restricting the activities of the targeted sites: online payment sites, access and domain name providers, advertisers, and search engines were thus prohibited from collaborating with the designated sites and individuals. The court granted the plaintiffs the maximum damages allowed, $150,000 per work identified. Once added up, the amount of the sentence amounts to 7.8 million dollars.

Doug Preston, journalist, writer and president of the Authors Guild says the suit is filed “not only on our behalf but for the thousands of authors who work for years to write a book, putting their heart and soul into every sentence, only to see their income lost to piracy.” 

Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Guild also said in a statement, “Authors rarely have the resources to fight piracy on a commercial scale and engage in prolonged litigation, so we are extremely grateful to Amazon Publishing and Penguin Random House for their collaboration in this action.”

Indeed, the silence of the defendants allows us to assume that this sum will probably never be paid despite the human and financial resources committed to the trial. However, the size of the amount sends a very clear message to offenders, and brings renewed visibility to the fight against e-book piracy, which is often overshadowed by the much larger sums lost by movie and series producers.

What to do if your book is pirated ?

  • You can do a WhoIs search to try to find the email address of the owner of the site making your content available illegally, and send an email requesting the removal of your book(s). But very often, you will not receive an answer.
  • You can also search for the name of the hosting company and then contact them with your complaint.

Recently even one of the world’s largest book piracy sites, known for not removing its content, was blocked in several countries including India, which shows that governments are more and more aware of these issues, and that they are not limited to trying to fight film and TV piracy.

If you want more details about these matters, you can contact us; on your own, this will require many hours of work and will be of limited effectiveness.  A company specialized in anti-piracy has the right tools and expert staff that will be able to research and pressure the sites and hosts much more effectively. Indeed, if sites and hosts do not necessarily react to a DMCA form sent by an individual, they are often more receptive when the request comes from a company specialized in anti-piracy.

Please visit us to read our back-to-school article, on September 15 for in which we will look at the cooperation between the major film studios and the international authorities and the cooperative actions implemented to fight against piracy.