Digital book piracy isn’t going anywhere, legal enforcement on the issue is getting worse and worse, and if publishers and authors don't band together and force compliance, they'll be playing e-book buccaneering Whack-a-Mole forever. These were the takeaways from Wednesday’s “Changing Tides: Novel Approaches to Combating Piracy” panel. Moderator Mary Rasenberger, Authors Guild director, was decidedly gloomy on the subject of e-book piracy, even as its panelists remained dedicated to fighting it—and hopeful that the rest of the industry will eventually rally to their cause.
That hope, however, seems hard to maintain. Following Rasenberger’s postulation that publishing probably lost significantly more money this year to e-book piracy than the $300 million it lost two years ago when a survey last crunched those numbers, romance author Sarina Bowen kicked off the panel by noting that “half of my colleagues in independently published romance don't look at piracy because it's so depressing."
Later, Macmillan Publishers anti-piracy manager Catherine Bogin’s kept it light with a quip cribbing the myth of Sisyphus. "You roll the rock up the hill and watch it roll back down,” she said. “It's something of an endless game." Umair Kazi, staff attorney at Authors Guild, wasn’t much more positive. "If you find out the site is in the U.S., you're well-advised not to send a takedown notice, he said. “They'll just take the content elsewhere" where there are no legal recourses.
The “good” news there is that piracy websites, by and large, aren’t based in the U.S. The bad news for publishers, the panel contended, is that such sites are typically based in countries with lax laws on copyright compliance and piracy, with Kazi noting that Cyprus seems to be a big hub and other panelists nodding to Denmark as a culprit as well. “They’re still trying to get the Megaupload guy into the U.S.,” Bogin noted, referring to Kim Dotcom, whose Hong Kong–based piracy site was shut down in 2012 by the U.S. Department of Justice after nearly seven years in operation. Dotcom, who lives in New Zealand, launched a new file-sharing service, Mega, in Auckland shortly after. It is still in service.
The problem is not that Google, Amazon, and other big tech players aren’t complying with takedown notices when they are served, Rasenberger said. The problem is, instead, that for every singular pirated copy taken down, another pops up in its place nearly immediately after. It doesn’t help, Bowen added, that many authors don’t even know what they’re up against. "The biggest obstacle to fighting e-book piracy isn't technology,” she said. “It's education.”
There are steps to be taken. Bowen pays an assistant to send cease-and-desists daily, though not all self-published authors could afford to do the same. She also names image files on her website in ways that are meant to fool search engines and their users. For instance, images on her site pertaining to her book Overnight Sensation might bear the file name “overnight-sensation-read-free.pdf” to drive readers eager for a free e-book to a site her own space. Bogin said they work with vendors to create web crawlers to help automatically ferret out pirated titles, from both lesser known sites and heavy hitters like ebook.bike and epub.pub.
Ultimately, though, Bowen noted, there’s really only one solution: “a partnership between authors and publishers and everyone in the book publishing community. This is something,” she added, “that we need to fight together.”