Sooner or later, every author suffers that dreadful experience of finding websites offering free illegal downloads of her book. For most of us, our first reaction to such digital piracy is to send a nasty email or better yet, hire an attorney to write one for us. After all, someone is stealing our work!
Wait! Before you pay hard-earned money to an attorney, let’s look at less expensive options.
First Option – Do Nothing
Generally, I advise authors to ignore these sites. Most likely, sites offering cheap or free downloads and PDFs are not selling books at all. They are scams that spread malware and harvest email addresses and credit card numbers. (See more about these “phishing" sites in this post by Carla King.)
While it’s upsetting to see your work stolen or used as bait, the theft may have little economic consequence to you. I suspect that anyone who downloads a free copy wasn’t going to pay for your book anyway.
Chasing down these sites could quickly become a game of whack-a-mole. Take one site down, and five others will take its place. Your energy is better spent creating new work and finding new readers.
Second Option – Do Something
At a recent conference, I gave a writer the ‘do nothing’ advice, and the look on her face said it all. She felt betrayed. She couldn’t believe I wouldn’t do what’s right and stop these lowlifes.
I get it. It’s difficult to sit there and let someone use your work for nefarious purposes. So, if you want to fight the fight and stop these sites, try the following:
Set up Alerts and Notifications - To let you know when sites are posting your work, set up Goggle Alerts and Mention Notifications for your name/pen name, title and perhaps a string of unique words from your work. Or you might try a service such as Blasty, that will monitor the internet for unauthorized uses of your content, send you alerts, and allow you to send takedown notices with one click or “blast.” Although still in beta, considering the interest in fighting digital piracy, I expect this service and others like it should be quite successful. (More about Blasty in Carla's post.)
Send Takedown Notices - Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), you can send a takedown notice to the internet service provider (ISP) hosting the infringing site. To identify the ISP, go to https://www.whois.net/ and type in the domain that is listing your book. Many ISPs have online forms for sending takedown notices. If there is no online form, Plagiarism Today has downloadable samples of a cease-and-desist letter and DMCA takedown notice.
Notify Search Engines - Use the Google Copyright Infringement Reporting Tool to request that the infringing site be removed from their search results. You don’t want the bogus sites to appear above legitimate ones in search results.
Once the ISP or search engine receives a takedown notice, it contacts the alleged infringer. If the infringer does nothing, then the infringing material is taken down. End of story. If the infringer disputes your claim, they may file a DMCA counter-notification. In that case, the online service will repost the infringing material unless you notify them within 14 business days that you have filed a legal action against the alleged infringer. If the ISP is not based in the United States, it may simply ignore the takedown notice and do nothing. In either of those cases, skip to Hiring an Attorney below.
Digital Piracy & Knock-Offs
What if the site is doing more than offering free PDFs? What if someone has copied your work and is selling it through Amazon or other sites? Or they are selling a knock-off with an intentionally confusing title?
Amazon has an ongoing problem with eBooks intended to trick buyers into purchasing the wrong product. Thirty-Five Shades of Grey and I Am the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (both fakes) sold thousands of copies before they were removed from Amazon’s site. If your book has suffered digital piracy in this way, Contact Amazon and other retailers directly. Amazon will work with you to remove infringing materials or confusing knock-offs. Their copyright claims procedures can be found at Notice and Procedure for Making Claims of Copyright Infringement.
No matter what you do, register your copyright in your book. You cannot file a lawsuit unless the work is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. If you threaten to sue, and the infringer searches copyright records and doesn’t find your registration, they may call your bluff.
Hiring an Attorney
If the digital piracy persists continues despite your efforts, then consider hiring an attorney. A cease-and-desist letter on lawyer letterhead may be taken more seriously.
However, I would not hire an attorney or jump into litigation without asking yourself whether it will be worth the effort. Sure, if you win, you may be entitled to collect damages, but your damages (lost sales) may be small and difficult to prove. The infringer may be overseas and unreachable. And litigation consumes money like wildfire, not to mentioned time, attention, and sleep. And as I said before, your time is better spent creating new work and finding new readers.
Disclaimer: Helen Sedwick is an attorney licensed to practice in California only. This information is general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for the advice of an attorney authorized to practice in your jurisdiction.
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