Friday, June 11, 2010


By Maria Ferrer

I took an informal poll among the members of RWANYC on e-piracy and here are the results:

• 4 in 6 have downloaded e-books

• 1 in 6 own a Kindle/ Nook / other e-reader

• Everyone has heard of e-piracy.

According to Publishers Weekly, the publishing industry is losing over $3 billion a year due to e-piracy. E-piracy is when an e-book is copied and distributed without the author’s or publisher’s permission. This also affects paper books that are transcribed and uploaded as e-books and then illegally distributed.

$3 billion is a huge chunk of money. You may think e-piracy has nothing to do with you since you write “real” paper books (not my words) or write for the confessions market or you just sold your first book and you don’t have that many fans (yet), but that is not true. E-piracy affects everyone –the publisher, the author, the reader.

The Publisher: Publishers focus on the bottom line. If a publisher is losing money, that translates into budget cuts and layoffs. That translates into fewer editors available to read your work, buying less books, and taking chances on new authors, new ideas.

The Author:  Even New York Times bestselling authors are NOT rolling in the money. Lynn Veihl released her full royalty statement last year. She was #19 on the NYT list and made $50,000 on that book. That sounds like a lot, but it took years for her to receive that sum. Then there were author costs (agents, promotions, etc.). What I am getting at here is that the majority of authors are NOT rich and may never be. They need every sale to count. And, authors lose BIG when their books –any books– are pirated.

The Reader: Yes, readers, lose too with e-piracy. Readers downloading free books from illegal sites, passing along e-books to others or selling downloads on Ebay are stealing from the authors. If the author or publisher are not getting paid for those downloads, IT IS STEALING! And the penalty is jail and a fine.

The bad part about those illegal sites is that they are fan sites run by adoring fans who want to promote that author, that genre. Unfortunately, they are doing more harm than good. Writing is not free. It is how authors make their living and feed their families. If readers steal from them, then authors don’t get paid and have to stop writing. One example, author Shiloh Walker ended her Mythe Series early because of piracy.

The $64 million question is: What can authors do about e-piracy?

1) Start by educating the Readers. When Authors are speaking at readers groups, libraries, anywhere, talk about the bad effects of e-piracy. Let them know that writing is a business, that Authors are judged on their sales and that illegal sales DO NOT count. Let them know that e-books are the property of the AUTHOR not the reader even though they bought it. Let them know that authors can't write if they don't get paid, which means less books for them.  

2) Feed the Hunger. Often times, readers are just looking for more from their favorite authors. And let’s face it, it can be months, years, before the next book is out. Authors should think about offering “free” reads on their websites – deleted scenes, character sketches, proposal notes. This way the Author controls her material and the readers can still get something for free, and it’s legal. I know many authors are doing this already, and have chat rooms and yahoogroups. All good ways to keep readers’ interest and great places to mention that e-piracy is a no-no.

3) Boycott illegal distribution sites. E-piracy is not free promotion, is not a God-given right, is not free. E-piracy is a crime. (AUTHORS: you need to let your publisher know when you find these illegal sites so they can get the company lawyers on them.)

4) Let’s put the FBI Anti-Piracy Warning on ALL Author and Publisher websites and blogs. Paper books carry the copyright notice, but it’s lumped in with the publication data. Some paper books still carry the “stripped book” notice, about books without covers being stolen property. Maybe we also need to add the FBI warning in bold letters.  (See below.)

If anyone has any other ideas on how to stop e-piracy, please share your comments here. And, please respect an Author enough to buy her book.♥

                                FBI Anti-Piracy Warning

The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Maria Ferrer is the editor of the RWANYC newsletter. She is working on several projects.


  1. Thanks, Maria, for bringing this important issue to everyone's attention. I wholeheartedly agree. E-piracy is stealing! If people want to read a book for free, go to the library. At least the library pays for the book.

  2. I run a daily Google alert on myself. In addition to it being a great way to track reviews, blog references etc., it's also helpful in tracking e-piracy. I just followed a link to an e-piracy site a few weeks ago, which I reported to my editor and to my publisher's legal department. Not unlike privacy issues on say, YouTube, the burden (of proof) lies on the author or publisher's shoulders. You have to formally complain in writing/email, including listing information for each book. They (the e-pirates) may it as tough on you as possible. Not fair but it is the state of affairs. Fortunately Harlequin is typically very good about following up. In that, I'm very fortunate.

  3. E-Piracy has caused huge problems in both the digital music world and with the theft of movies. And unfortunately it is a very real, very destructive problem for books as well. As wonderful as all the new advances in digitizing books are, there is a very real threat that the industry, particularly authors, will be severely impacted by blatent piracy. So many people don't stop to think that they are in fact stealing when they download something for free that is intended for sale. And that somewhere out there an artist; recording, writing, acting etc... is being robbed--quite literally--of not only current income but potentially future income and job security as well.

  4. Great post Maria! Another way readers lose out is that those who do buy books and are honest, pay more to offset the loss to publishers. Readers with friends or family that download illegal books have to let them know that it's wrong. I did this my brother in law who though it was okay to download music he had not paid for. It took years to make him understand that it's stealing. I was so proud when he came up to me a couple of years ago and said he searched deep inside himself and realized I was right. He no longer downloads music unless he pays for it. Sometimes it takes a long time to get through to people, because if feels so innocent and like it really is free. Someone who would never think of stealing a book from B&N will download an illegal copy of a book, because it doesn't feel like stealing. We have to make it clear that it is.

  5. Maria, thank you for posting this topic. It is SO important and so devastating. I have lost thousands of royalties due to e-piracy on both of my Strangely Beautiful titles and it makes me sick to my stomach and it hurts, deeply, and its infuriating to be denied what is rightfully yours: Pay for your work.

    It will take many, many years for me to make back the amount of time and money I have put into the ten years I've spent hoping to get my books published, the thousands of dollars I put into promotion and events. The more people think its all right to download illegally, the longer it takes for an author to make back anything on that investment of money, blood, sweat and tears. I wish I could say I was making a living off my writing right now. I'm not, and the piracy issue certainly isn't helping.

    It starts with education. If we as authors can make people perpetuating this epidemic understand its like someone walking into their office and taking their lunch money every day, or just walking off with their paycheck, then maybe at some point it sinks in that stealing writer's paychecks- their royalties- is NOT OKAY.

    Its not only hurting authors but everyone who works for a publishing house, from the people in the mail room to the senior editors, all of whom rely on ongoing royalties, on actual book sales, to survive and feed all of their respective families.

    I challenge every single author in this chapter to bring up internet piracy at their events and public appearances, just as a way to change the culture. To make people understand that an author's ability to get a contract to write the next book depends on the sales numbers of their last book. The sales numbers. Not the illegal download numbers.

    We live in a world of instant gratification and entitlement. Its about making people see the consequences of how those desires and that entitlement mentality hurts working artists struggling to make a living doing what they love and the ability to continue doing so.

  6. While everyone's comments, and your great post, Maria, are terrific in showing the devastation that e-piracy can wreak, there is a further, unfortunate and ugly, truth. Many people who are providing pirated e-books are not fans at all. They aren't hungry for an authors books - they know exactly what they are doing. Some have an anarchist's motivation, just to break the law. Others subscribe to the theory that art should be free - that copyright is wrong and that everyone should be entitled to share freely in art, music, books, etc. A bizarre theory, in my opinion, but that is also some of the motivation. There are numerous file sharing sites and they are the places where a lot of the e-books are available. The sharing host will take down a pirate's site if you complain but more often than not they just pop up with another set of "identity" information. Infuriating - yes. And I think the one thing that CAN be done is educating the people who take advantage of the ebooks. Though, sadly, there too, I feel there are a lot of people who know what they are doing - and will keep doing it because they're getting it free.

    I agree with Leanna however. Keeping the topic front and center will help keep the heat on. And when possible, "outing" the pirates and siccing the law on them. The more pirates who are caught and pay the penalty, the more of them who will possibly think twice.

  7. I enjoyed reading this post as I am clueless with regard to e-books and piracy. Never read an e-book yet, but I have read stories posted on various publishing sites for free. I guess with every step up with technology, illegal supply & demand takes a step up as well. I remember when hi speed copiers came into being and one person would copy a book and sell the copies to people who thought they were 'beating the system' by paying less money for the books. The same can be said about photographs, artwork, movies, music and software available online. It's a cycle that unfortunately will never be broken as long as there is demand and pirates.