The most revealing aspect of the study on online book piracy conducted by the online monitoring service Attributor was not the existence of piracy but its pervasiveness. Ed McCoyd, executive director for digital, environmental, and accessibility affairs at the Association of American Publishers, called Attributor's estimate that there were more than nine million illegal downloads of 913 titles tracked by Attributor in the fourth quarter of 2009 “staggering.” With e-books becoming a more important part of publishing, the study “should be a call to arms to everybody, including government officials, policy makers, educators, and readers to pay more attention to piracy,” McCoyd said.

The Attributor study monitored illegal download activity on 25 Web sites that it identified based on more than 53,000 takedown notices sent in the second half of 2009. Attributor found three million downloads from four sites that provide download data—,,, and—and estimated that those four account for about one-third of online piracy. (The site with the greatest amount of piracy was

Both McCoyd and Attributor v-p Rich Pearson agreed the sites are responsive to removing illegally posted content when they are notified, but one tactic the two would like to see more fully implemented is better filters that can identify material that has already been removed from a site and then block any further attempts to upload the same material.

Attributor found that for the books it tracked, the title was downloaded an average of 10,000 times, led by the business and investing segment where books were downloaded an average of 13,000 times. The average fiction book traced was downloaded a little over 2,000 times. Angels and Demons was downloaded 7,951 times, for example.

The amount of piracy occurring has convinced Hachette Book Group to maintain DRM around its e-books. Neil DeYoung, director of digital media at Hachette, said that the publisher doesn't agree with some who argue that trying to police piracy is futile and that dropping DRM is the answer to stopping piracy. “Piracy existed before e-books and DRM, so DRM isn't the root cause of piracy,” DeYoung said. “As long as we charge for content, people will try to find ways to acquire it without paying for it.” He noted that scanned copies of print editions are still the most popular form of pirated books, suggesting that while DRM can be cracked, it does make it more difficult to pirate a title, leaving “only truly motivated individuals” to pirate books by cracking DRM.

Just how much money is being lost to piracy is unclear, although Attributor estimated the value of pirated works at about $2.8 billion. McCoyd said that while no one knows exactly how many lost sales have occurred because of piracy, the evidence suggests it is “substantial.” Pearson noted that piracy is a problem “that is not going away as the release of e-books grows. Publishers need a strategy or they will watch money fly out the door.”

Top 10 File-Hosting Sites

Host site Share of book piracy
Source: Attributor 35.6% 32.7 7.4 3.7 2.4 2.1 2.1 2.0 1.5 1.2