To help fight the growing problem of the online piracy of romance novels, the Romance Writers of America has established a database on its Web site that lists sites where romance novels are available for illegal downloading. The database, found at, also has instructions for copyright holders (authors) on how to protect their works.

“As theft of intellectual property affects all creators, RWA hopes to raise awareness of this issue and assist authors with the knowledge to demand the takedown of unauthorized copies of their works,” said Allison Kelley, RWA executive director. The problem of unauthorized copies of books appearing online is rampant. For instance, Kelley said, she searched for free downloads of works by Ballantine author Linda Howard, who is a member of RWA's board, and got more than 2,000 hits.

Colleen Stanley, associate counsel at Harlequin, quoted figures from a 2005 study that found between 60,000 and 150,000 pirated books on the Internet in a two-week period. “It's a concern [for Harlequin] in terms of principle and where it could go,” she said. HarperCollins, too, is concerned about piracy. A spokesperson said, “We regularly send cease-and-desist letters when we learn of pirated copies of our books. We also monitor Web sites about which we have received multiple complaints and are interested in exploring other industry methods for actively identifying pirated books.”

Stanley said many pirated books are posted by fans. “I think they think they're doing a favor to their [favorite] author,” she said. “But at the end of the day, the publisher isn't paid, [and this] hurts aspiring authors and fans of romance fiction.” Many fans input the books by simply typing them into Word documents or scanning them and creating PDFs. And, Stanley said, as the e-book market continues to grow, policing illegal file sharing becomes even more difficult for publishers.

RWA's Kelley noted that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act requires online service providers to block access to infringing material or remove such material from their systems when they receive notification claiming infringement from a copyright holder. With help from Carol Ritter, whom RWA hired from the Houston Better Business Bureau, RWA assembled a database that includes contact information for each site's administrators, links to each site's takedown procedures, instructions for sending notice to these Web sites and a sample takedown letter. Kelley urged agents, publishing professionals and writers to use and contribute to the database. To report additional offending sites, industry members can e-mail “Change can only happen through the combined efforts of everyone affected,” Kelley said.