Authors and Book Piracy

Online piracyLately I’m getting more frequent emails from my authors, reporting that they found another piracy website illegally offering their books. Everyone wants to know what to do about it, and understandably there’s a lot of hand-wringing over potential lost revenues. So I want to (briefly) address the topic of book piracy.

I spent significant time reading dozens of articles and opinions about media piracy — there’s enough out there to make your head spin. I’m going to boil it down to a few things I think you, as an author, should keep in mind.

•Piracy IS going on — and it’s much bigger than you.

Music. Movies. Television shows. Newspapers. Magazines. Games. And books. All are pirated, content being aggregated and sold or given away without the content creators and producers receiving a dime. One source says media piracy is costing the US economy $58 billion in losses every year. That’s billion with a B. Every year.

As much as you get frustrated and mad as hell when you stumble across a pirate site illegally offering your material, remember you’re not the only one suffering. This is a big, big deal. It’s a global disaster, facilitated by the Internet. Pirates are making billions of dollars on professionally-created content; but by stealing that content, they are hastening the day when good quality content is no longer available because media companies will no longer be able to afford to produce it. Sound dire? It is. This is why so many people are trying to figure out how to fix this problem.

•You’ll hear some people argue that piracy helps authors by giving them more exposure.

In isolated cases, the sales of a book, song, or movie can be helped by pirated copies circulating around the Internet, giving exposure to something that people hadn’t heard of. For example, this seemed to be the case with the recent publishing phenomenon, Go the F*** to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes, which gained popularity after pages were leaked and went flying around cyberspace, causing thousands to purchase the book.

But these are isolated cases. Overall, piracy is clearly a threat, not a help. (See above statistic. 58. Billion. Dollars.)

•Some people argue that those who illegally download your work were not your potential customers anyway.

Many who visit pirate sites looking for free songs, movies, and books are the kind of people who wouldn’t have paid for it anyway. Okay, maybe this is somewhat true. But if there were NO way to get these products without paying, and these people weren’t habituated to “free,” wouldn’t we have avoided creating a whole generation of people who feel entitled to intellectual property without paying for it? In any case, plenty of freeloaders can afford to purchase books/movies/songs. They just choose not to.

•Fighting piracy costs a LOT of money — with no guarantee of effectiveness.

Many large publishers are devoting considerable time and effort to combat piracy. David Shelley, publisher at Little, Brown, stated at this year’s London Book Fair that one of the reasons publishers couldn’t increase digital royalty rates to authors was because of the increasing costs of fighting piracy. While many have questioned this and claimed it was just one more way publishers are trying to avoid paying authors, there’s certainly some legitimacy to it, even if piracy is only one of the financial pressures on publishers right now.

Fighting piracy can cost millions, and many say the only people who benefit ends up to be the lawyers fighting the battles. There’s no proof any of the anti-piracy efforts have had any appreciable effect. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) reportedly spent $64 million on lawsuits fighting music piracy — to earn back less than $2 million. Whatever’s being done isn’t working, as piracy has increased, not decreased.

•Recognizing the futility of spending millions fighting piracy, some are advocating instead spending the money to better connect with customers so they’ll be drawn to legal rather than illegal sources of content.

I don’t know how this is going to be done, but it seems to me it’s probably the most logical way to approach the piracy problem. Rather than spending millions simply trying to put pirates out of business, everyone in the media business can instead look at the pirates as competition and try to come up with ways to beat them at their game… ways to bring customers the content they want, easily available in many formats, at a reasonable price. This, I think, is the long term solution that everyone involved in the creation and production of our cultural content should focus on.

So what should YOU do?

In my humble opinion, as an author you should:


If you come across a site that appears to be illegally offering your book, report it to your publisher in whatever way they’ve established. (For example, here is Simon & Schuster’s statement on piracy and a link to report it.) You can also report to various writer’s groups in which you are a member, such as RWA (here is their piracy statement).


Seek out articles from a variety of viewpoints about piracy, and stay informed. Beware of reading only articles from one type of source. Every angle has its own bias. Try to form an educated opinion.


Whenever you’re aware of someone illegally file-sharing (nice euphemism, huh?), remind them that it’s stealing, it’s illegal, and that the people who created the music/movie/book deserve to get paid for their work.


Your publisher is most likely doing what they can to fight piracy, according to the resources they have available. Don’t overly concern yourself with how hard your publisher is working on this front. They could be spending millions and it still might not do any good. It’s better to concern yourself with how both you and your publisher will continue to connect with your readers and make it easy and attractive for people to buy your books.


Build relationships with your readers as best you can. Building a loyal following of readers who are willing to pay for your books is your most effective way of personally combating piracy.


At the end of the day, you want to try and let go of your anger and frustration at these criminals who are stealing your stuff, and turn your mind toward more productive channels. When all else fails, go for a jog, take a yoga class, or practice deep breathing.

* * *


I came across a fascinating book in my research for this post — one you may want to look at if you’re interested in the topic of piracy. Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back by Robert Levine.

Author Neil Gaiman isn’t worried about piracy and in this video, he explains his view that it’s NOT a lost sale, but is in fact advertising for your books.

And here are a few of the online articles I read:
Book Piracy: Less DRM, More Data (O’Reilly)
The Millions: Confessions of a Book Pirate
A Book Author Wonders How to Fight Piracy
Fighting piracy is the dumbest thing you can do
E-book business should take a page from music industry and go DRM-free
Authors demand drive to raise readers’ awareness of book piracy’s cost
Ebook piracy – one author’s opinion
ISPs Fight Piracy: Meet the Six Strikes

P.S. I don’t pirate the photos I use on the blog – most are purchased from iStockPhoto.

What are your thoughts on media piracy?

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Reading Room XIV | Wadadli Pen on September 9, 2015 at 10:15 PM

    […] As with any theft, it feels like a violation…and it’s cutting in to your royalties. This article provides tips for writers on dealing with […]

  2. […] Kiernan explores the perceived ethics of piracy and condemns it in no uncertain terms, as does Rachelle Gardner. The latter has a great list of additional reading, both in favor and against […]

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    […] I knew most forms of creative output were subjected to piracy but I just assumed that books were somehow immune. I was completely wrong. […]

  7. Tilmon on December 14, 2011 at 8:20 PM

    In some ways I prefer paper books but lets face it electronic books don’t yellow and the binding doesn’t fall apart. I can’t carry 1000’s of paper books with me in one pocket. The commercial ebooks are just speeding things up. I know people that have personally scanned a 1000 books.

    The loss of money due to electronic downloads is BS. The people that go and download a book on IRC or a torrent weren’t going to buy the book anyways in most cases. They are the ones that checked books out from the library or bought them at yard sales for a quarter anyways. OR in some cases they download a bunch of books they read through them and then they go buy the ones they like. Ones they would have NEVER bought before because they had never heard of the author.

    “Pirated” books tend to serve the EXACT same purpose as books publishers give away at conventions, they are advertising to promote interest in a book. Except they don’t have the printing and distributation costs that the printed giveaways did.

    If publishers don’t want book pirated then they have to get the price down and make them available for sale worldwide.

    When cars got popular, the people in the horse and buggy industries HAD to adapt or go under. Same thing now. Adapt or die.

  8. Ti on November 29, 2011 at 10:25 PM

    There are several concepts being conflated here, which is doing more to muddle the subject than elucidate it. Let’s go through them one by one:

    Stealing vs. Copying

    I should think the difference between the two would be obvious. Someone attempted to compare file-sharing electronic content to stealing a golden bowl, which is a flawed analogy. A bowl is a physical object that only one person can possess at a time. A file is a non-physical object that many people can possess at one time. The comparison is untenable. The only way to make the analogy fit is to posit the existence of molecular replicators a la Star Trek.

    To steal means to deprive someone of his property. When you copy electronic content, you are not depriving anyone of his property.

    Some will object that money is property, and when you copy electronic content, you are depriving someone of his money, thus, his property. But that’s not at all clear. Where is this supposed money? If you were broke before you copied content, does money suddenly appear in your wallet? If you had money to start, does copying the content suddenly transfer ownership of that money? How much? The price of an ebook, a paperback, a hardcover? (Does it depend on which one you would have bought if you had bought it? We’re getting into quantum physics now.)

    Piracy vs. Copyright Infringement

    Concerning intellectual property, piracy is the selling of copyrighted content (without permission). Not sharing it for free. Most people here are conflating the two.

    Illegal vs. Criminal

    Violating a law is not the same as commiting a crime. This is for the person who seemed to think that the government (which government?) should be doing something to “fight piracy.” First, if you’re conflating piracy with copyright infringement, there’s your problem. Copyright infringement is not itself a crime. Second, as many have pointed out, piracy is not really an issue in places where the content is available legally. It’s only where the content is not available legally that piracy is rampant, and in those cases, the government doesn’t really have a vested interest in protecting foreign copyrights.

    Legal vs. Ethical

    It should go without saying that just because something is legal doesn’t mean it is ethical (e.g. slavery) and that just because something is illegal doesn’t mean it is unethical (e.g. gay marriage). It is sad to see that for some, the two are one and the same.

    I am not going to argue that an author does not have the right to compensation for his labors. What I am going to argue is that there is no (ethical) justification for artificial scarcity in the face of infinite reproducibility. If you had a replicator that could produce an infinite supply of apples – enough for anyone who wanted one – but you only gave apples away to the people who paid some arbitrary amount for them, you would be a monster. Plain and simple. To deny someone a good that it costs absolutely nothing to give is surely monstrous and inhumane. (One might even say un-Christian, for those bemoaning the state of Christianity in modern America.)

    We can quibble about details, but I rather think they’re irrelevant. Keep in mind that the replicator is analogous to the technology that enables content reproduction, not the content itself. Thus, in this example, the apple is analogous to the content. (With so many companies patenting seed strains nowadays, the example is strikingly apt.) So, does the creator of the apple deserve compensation for all the time and labor and resources that went into designing it? Sure. Does the creator have the right to arbitrarily deny apples to those he considers undeserving? No. Even if there are some, surely the determining factor as to their status as human beings deserving of apples isn’t the size of their disposable income.

    To sum up, it isn’t really a question of whether authors/creators/inventors deserve compensation. They do. However, there are competing ethical considerations which trump the matter of compensation.

    My personal opinion is that information and culture should be free to everyone because they are inextricably tied to education and, consequently, quality of life.

    As a final note, I was amused to see the comparison of file-sharing to prostitution. Did you know that around 1900 reproducing sheet music was equated to slavery? I can only imagine what they would have thought of mix tapes.

  9. Wodke Hawkinson on November 28, 2011 at 11:55 PM

    Just discovered this and we are furious.

  10. Theresa Milstein on November 12, 2011 at 7:02 PM

    I read Neil Gaiman’s You Tube video about piracy. It seemed to have helped him. With so many books lent from libraries and borrowed from friends, authors never had any idea of a book’s reach outside of their sales anyway. Why is it legal that way but not the other way? I’ve never illegally downloaded a book or music. They say people who illegally download music spend more $ on music than those of us who don’t. I hope it’s the same with books.

  11. Nikole Hahn on November 12, 2011 at 12:37 AM

    Once upon a time recording a cd wouldn’t have made me think twice. Now I just can’t do it anymore. I had my husband decline a movie that was pirated because it just wasn’t right. Maybe it’s a Christian thing where God gets into your heart and suddenly things that were considered the norm aren’t so normal anymore.

  12. Verla Powers on November 11, 2011 at 11:35 AM

    I was surprised to find that Google Books allows viewers to “preview” approximately 23% of a novel. This is not a random preview. It is the first 23% of the story. Piracy?

  13. David Todd on November 9, 2011 at 10:22 AM

    I have had a number of my articles stolen by pirates. Each time I’ve become aware of one, I contacted the pirate according to the DMCA, and each time the article was taken down. However, it was a time consuming process. First the search for the article (or the setting up of a Google alert), then using a whois search to find out who owns the website, then writing sending the first e-mail, then the second, then the third, then checking to make sure it was removed. I quit bothering. If they want to steal my work let ’em.

  14. shadaik on November 9, 2011 at 4:31 AM

    Yeah, about those 58 billions… That number is mostly made up. Mostly because there simply is no way to reliably calculate the damage piracy does. Not even close.
    We cannot count pirated downloads reliably, we don’t have any clue how many of those “pirates” eventually bought what they downloaded when they happened to like and value it etc. pp.

  15. Claire Hennessy on November 8, 2011 at 10:45 PM

    Great blog post. Thanks for the information.

  16. nex on November 8, 2011 at 3:27 PM

    Interesting article! You can find a large archive of articles on this website. And with all different viewpoints.

  17. P. J. Casselman on November 8, 2011 at 4:53 AM

    My word…Who opened this can of worms anyway? Let’s talk about politics next. 🙂 On a side note, I think all piracy should be done wearing eye-patches. Arrrgh!

  18. Melanie Fowler on November 7, 2011 at 11:20 PM

    Piracy is something that will always exist and people who create things, such as; movies, books, and music, need to understand that it will happen. They just need to keep an eye out for it and do their best educate their fans about it.

    Piracy IS wrong, and we, as creators need to help each other out. Buy a book or two and share it along the way.

    • Timothy Fish on November 8, 2011 at 10:11 AM

      I’m a little surprised that we don’t have more messages about piracy in books. You can’t watch a movie without first seeing a notice that warns about piracy.

  19. Brian on November 7, 2011 at 9:36 PM

    Just write and focus on your readership.

    Piracy is one of those things that can’t really be stopped, so why worry about it?

    Sure, some potential sales might be lost since a pirated eBook looks the same as a paid for eBook.

    But as a writer, I don’t want the reputation of suing my fan base. That’s just bad PR.

    As for successful examples of books that are made available for free and still make money with their paid version, I have to point you to this super interesting blog:

    I pretty much agree with his stance on this issue.

    And another great post by him:

    Am I ready to release my books under the creative commons, not yet? But I don’t want to fight a war that I can’t win either.

    • Timothy Fish on November 8, 2011 at 10:09 AM

      On the other hand, we can make the claim that fighting piracy is actually helping our fanbase. When people steal from us by obtaining our books illegally, we have to charge our true fans more money to cover our costs. Put an end to piracy and we can charge less and still make money.

      • Brian on November 8, 2011 at 3:46 PM

        You can’t sell something for more than someone is willing to pay. And eBook prices are going down, not up.

        As a writer I am against fighting piracy. I’d rather someone read my work illegally, rather than not at all.

        And I definitely don’t want to go after folks reading my work illegally. I’d rather publishers pay authors more than waste capital fighting a war they can’t win.

        And I’d rather write than patrol the web for pirates.

        Do you want to be known as the writer who sued some poor kid downloading your books from some torrent site? I’d rather be nice to my fans both pirates and paying customers.

        Maybe I’m just secretly a nice guy.

        • Timothy Fish on November 8, 2011 at 6:51 PM


          As a copyright owner, you are well within your rights to publish a license that says something like “Any poor kid who wants to can make as many copies as he wants.” Then the kid isn’t doing it illegally. The point of fighting piracy is that we want to stop the people we don’t want copying our stuff from doing so.

          • Brian on November 8, 2011 at 7:15 PM

            It’s the wrong fight.

            I’m far more mad about the agency model and insanely low royalties publishers are paying for eBooks. And I’m mad about hardcover pricing for eBooks, which any pirate would tell me is insane.

            Why waste time going after a bunch of folks struggling to get by in a recession? What do I gain by taking action against folks making average salaries around 30k? This looks like a nasty PR nightmare even though piracy is illegal.

            Do I want to be the author named in a suit that declares crazy damages on someone? Heck no.

            I would rather fight to increase royalties from the publishers that are making bank as eBooks take off.

            Sorry. But I don’t want to waste time going after my readers. Call me crazy.

          • Timothy Fish on November 8, 2011 at 9:15 PM


            The problem I see there is the “death by a thousand cuts.” While you may not like the idea of going after the guy who is making only $30k, without the fear of God in him, he and his little buddies will soon multiply. On the assumption that no one is going to make them do the right thing, they won’t pay for any books and there will be no profits in publishing.

            That would only push prices up for honest customers. Your concerns about how much publishers are charging are simply not valid. It requires thousands of sales to recover the cost of a professionally produced e-book. Some books are simply not going to sell more than a few thousand copies, no matter how low the price is. Publishers must price books at the level that will give them the highest profits, not the price that will give them the most sales, if they hope to have a chance of staying afloat.

    • Jaimie on November 8, 2011 at 7:43 PM

      Brian: agreed.

  20. Dan Meadows on November 7, 2011 at 9:05 PM

    I’ve been reading through the comments here and I see a lot of folks demonizing “piracy” as its been defined by the media industry. I think part of the problem is that its been painted with too broad a brush. I am 100% in support of going after people or sites who are selling copies or access to copies. That is piracy without a doubt. But someone downloading a file for free, now that’s debatable for a couple of reasons. One, there’s no commercial element, meaning its essentially sharing, and not really piracy. Copyright infringement, no doubt, but its not piracy. Two, where do we draw the distiction in sharing? Either its never acceptable or it is in some cases. If I dvr a show to watch later with some friends, is that piracy? If I rip some songs and make a mix cd for my girlfriend, is that piracy? I used to have a circle of friends who pass off their old books one to the other, is that piracy? I’ve still got a few Superbowls from years back recorded on VHS tapes, and a James Bond movie marathon that was on cable way back when, is that piracy? I think part of the issue here is this kind of casual sharing of copyrighted material goes on all the time and we all engage in it. It’s kinda hard to say that a download is wrong but a copy of an album from a friend isn’t.

    Obviously, the scale of downloading is the major issue, but just broadly labeling it stealing doesn’t help because to the average person, its not materially different than behavior that’s been accepted and widespread forever.

    I’d also like to point out, as someone else on here did, that $58 billion lost sales figure is complete b.s. I’m sure there’s losses, but that’s a figure that presumes every download would have been a sale which is a sheer fairytale. I’m of the opinion that the music industry accelerated its losses with the hardline approach to downloading and the onerous DRM they turned to. They alienated their own customers and just made the downloading problem worse. I hope publishers are smarter than that and learn from their mistakes, not follow the same dead end.

    For the record, I’m an author with several ebooks out there, and I refuse to use DRM on my work, and I really have no problem with downloading. It’s increased exposure that its up to me to figure out how to capitalize on. I’ve always held the belief that nobody is entitled to customers just because you make something. That doesn’t mean people should feel free to rip me off, but at the end of the day, its my job to convince people to want to pay for my work. You can blame anything you like, but if I can’t encourage people to willingly pay, then that’s on me, not piracy, bit torrent, downloading, libraries or whatever.

    • Timothy Fish on November 8, 2011 at 10:05 AM

      Just because people have always done something doesn’t mean it is right. For a long time, copyright laws were pretty much non-existent. But with the increase in technology, they have become necessary. Think about some of the things you mentioned, like “If I rip some songs and make a mix cd for my girlfriend, is that piracy?” The answer actually depends on whether you have permission to do that or not. If you have requested and obtained a license to copy those songs onto a CD, then no, it is not piracy. If when you decided to make that CD, you purchased all of the songs going onto it, whether in the form of CDs or individual downloads and then destroyed them after the CD was created, so only the person listening to the mix CD would have access to them, then you might still be on questionable legal ground, but ethically you would be fine. But if you have four or five CDs you like and you pull off all the best songs and give those to your girlfriend, but you hang onto the CDs for your own listening, that is wrong on many fronts.

      That action equates into lost sales for the music company. Because she already has the songs, your girlfriend no longer has a reason to go buy the CDs. Also, because the songs are removed from the CD, your girlfriend may be unaware of the other songs by the artist. So she might not choose to purchase other CDs.

      While it is true that we’re not entitled to customers just because we make something, it is also true that no one has the right to refuse to pay when they use something that we make. If people don’t want to pay the price for what they want to do with copyrighted material, then their option is to not do it. It is not a situation where people get to do what they want and only pay if they think it is worth it.

    • Jaimie on November 8, 2011 at 7:41 PM

      You, sir, have the right idea about piracy. Thanks for that comment.

      (And 58 billion IS BS.)

  21. Peter DeHaan on November 7, 2011 at 7:08 PM

    Since the beginning days of Contemporary Christian Music, my wife and I tirelessly educated our friends that giving or receiving a homemade copy of an album/8-track/cassette/CD/MP3 file was illegal.

    People were at times offended that we would tell them what they were doing was unethical and illegal. Some would even say, “I am sure that (fill in artist name) would not care if I passed out copies of his/her music — after all, it is for a good cause.”

    By now, I think most people know that bootleg copies are illegal, but they elect to acquire them anyway.

    As long as the demand is there, there will be those who will continue to bootleg music/books/software to meet that demand.

    • Timothy Fish on November 8, 2011 at 9:38 AM

      People never like being made to feel guilty, but that doesn’t mean they won’t think twice about it the next time they consider doing it.

  22. Karen Ranney on November 7, 2011 at 6:45 PM

    Sorry, meant to say: Publishers have never been as active as MPAA or recording artists against copyright infringement.

  23. Karen Ranney on November 7, 2011 at 6:44 PM

    I’ve been fighting piracy for three years. If an author hasn’t been involved up until now, it’s a little (to borrow an analogy from another pirate-fighting author) like using a thimble to empty out the ocean.

    Publishers have never been as active as MPAA or the recording artists against copyright. Wish they would be.

    The new Senate and House bills are designed to at least help content creators a little, by hampering those websites that profit from disseminating copyrighted books, movies, and music. Now, the uproar from the pro-piracy crowd is that such laws will kill the Internet, and that information should be free.

    I don’t write information. I write entertainment. If the Internet exists only to steal, then perhaps it should die.

  24. Jenna on November 7, 2011 at 5:51 PM

    Thanks for this well-thought out article about piracy.

    The only part I take a little issue with is the $58 billion estimate. There is just no way to say that’s the lost potential income. What I would be comfortable with is saying that $58 billion in goods/IP are ‘stolen’. There’s no way to measure intent or whether the people doing the pirating would have bought the, say, book if it were not available for “free”. It is just statistically impossible to know what percentage of downloads occur because someone feels entitled but would have bought the product otherwise, and someone who is taking an item for free that they would have gone without otherwise.

    • Timothy Fish on November 8, 2011 at 9:34 AM

      It is always hard to put reall meaning to figures like that. From an economic standpoint, there is still money changing hands, so it increases the size of the economy. There is also the money companies are spending to put a stop to it, which is putting food on the lawyers’ tables. But it still amounts to the people doing the work not getting paid as much as they should.

  25. Theresa Froehlich on November 7, 2011 at 4:01 PM

    Piracy is a big problem. But if it’s costs a lot – in terms of financial and emotional costs – to fight it, our resources may be better spent on connecting with the legal and paying readers.

    Coach Theresa

  26. Dee Krull on November 7, 2011 at 3:11 PM

    I have one simple comment about those you do and buy illegally.

    Karma – what goes around, comes around.

    • Timothy Fish on November 7, 2011 at 4:03 PM

      I don’t believe in karma. I prefer 2 Peter 2:9, “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:”

  27. Wendy on November 7, 2011 at 3:08 PM

    Thanks for opening my eyes more to this topic. I’ve been careful and have refrained from posting chapters or chunks of my work due to my own paranoid writing tendencies, but apparently there is cause for concern. Yikes.

    Argh. I’m all about beating them at their game by relating and working hard to build relationships with my readers.

    Insightful (as always).
    ~ Wendy

  28. Katherine Bolger Hyde on November 7, 2011 at 2:54 PM

    Isn’t the government doing anything to fight piracy? It is a violation of law, after all. Isn’t there some way to report violators to the FCC, copyright office, or whatever instead of just to publishers?

  29. Kaitlyne on November 7, 2011 at 2:07 PM

    I think it would also be helpful to make it socially unacceptable to pirate goods. Among my peers, I actually am treated as the freak because I won’t pirate goods. If I ever say that I bought something on iTunes or that I bought a movie to download, the response is always “Oh, you’re one of those people.”

    I hate it. It seems just incredibly wrong to me that people my age (and I’m not that young) don’t see any problem with piracy and actually consider it pretentious to pay for something.

    I believe that dialogue needs to change. If we’re going to have people quit pirating goods, we need to have people holding each other accountable. Rather than make negative comments about people who buy products legally, we need to be giving people hell for pirating goods.

    There will still be people who do it, much as there are still people who shoplift, etc., but if we can make it not socially acceptable it will become less common. As a group, I think we need to value paying for goods end encouraging others to as well.

    • Timothy Fish on November 7, 2011 at 2:45 PM

      That’s a little like saying that what prostitutes do is wrong, but it isn’t wrong for the johns to sleep with them.

      • Kaitlyne on November 7, 2011 at 3:13 PM

        I don’t see how that comparison comes in at all.

        I’m saying it is wrong to pirate electronic items. I 100% think that it’s wrong, which is why I don’t do it.

        What I’m saying is that I think the only way to really combat it isn’t to take a handful of people to court, but to make it socially unacceptable for people to do it.

        If someone said, “I downloaded this the other day. I’m totally not paying ten dollars for a book. Screw that. I can get it for free online” and the response from other people was “Wow, that’s messed up. You realize that’s stealing right? And that the author is now losing out on royalties for work she spent a year on?” and so on, fewer people would be interested in downloading things illegally.

        Right now it’s the opposite. If I say I downloaded something I paid for, people say things like, “Dude, don’t you know you could get that for free online?” or (worse) “Oh great. You’re one of those people who has to act all ‘morally superior’ to the rest of us.”

        Prosecuting it isn’t making a difference, having sites taken down doesn’t make a difference. What will make a difference is decreasing demand and that’s going to require society as a whole to decide this sort of thing isn’t okay and holding one another accountable.

        I don’t see *at all* how this is similar to saying it’s okay for a guy to buy a prostitute.

        • Timothy Fish on November 7, 2011 at 3:55 PM

          That’s not what I saw in what you wrote. The statement you made is, “Rather than make negative comments about people who buy products legally, we need to be giving people hell for pirating goods.” This seems to be saying, “Don’t make negative comments about those who buy (the johns), get on to those who sell (the prostitutes).

          • Kaitlyne on November 7, 2011 at 5:22 PM

            The major difference here is that when you buy the product legally you’re doing the moral thing. A john buying a prostitute is buying illegal goods. It would be more equivalent to a person buying a bootleg copy–yes they spent money but it’s still piracy.

            Right now there is an atmosphere in which the person doing the right, moral thing (buying the product legally) is the one receiving a negative response rather than the person downloading products illegally.

            I don’t really want to argue over this. I’m still not really seeing the comparison, but if you’ve never been on the receiving end of negativity for doing the right thing, you may not understand. I apologize if I’m just being obtuse.

          • Timothy Fish on November 7, 2011 at 5:46 PM


            I misread what you were saying. I withdraw.

      • Iola on November 13, 2011 at 11:09 PM

        Where I live (New Zealand), prostitution is legal, and they advertise in the entertainment section of the local newspaper, right beside the Dilbert and Garfield cartoons.

        Whether or not something is legal does not change the moral connotations. As a Christian, I believe that prostitution is wrong for both the prostitute and the customer.

        Piracy is also wrong. It is stealing. Whether it is legal or illegal, it is still theft, and still against God’s law.

        However, I see piracy as quite different to a library where the book has been paid for, and where the author could (in theory at least) refuse to allow copies to be loaned (in the same way as many DVDs carry a warning that they are for home use only).

        I was watching an American Football game a couple of nights ago, and there was a warning at the beginning to say that it could not be copied redistributed in any physical or electronic manner. So if you have watched Football highlights on YouTube, you have contributed to piracy too…

  30. Dan Miller on November 7, 2011 at 1:02 PM

    Wow – love the discussion here. As an author I’ve always viewed my printed material as the low-hanging fruit. It’s the least profitable part of my business. Yes, lots of my material is pirated – we periodically take a look and laugh. But I see my books as simply a marketing tool for the profitable parts of my business – those being seminars, workshops, coaching, speaking, affiliate links, holiday open houses, and much more. I don’t try to hold on to content as a primary revenue source – only as a feeder to real income generators. Any author who tries to “protect” his/her material will do little more than expend negative energy and give up time that could be spent in profitable directions.

    • Timothy Fish on November 7, 2011 at 1:55 PM

      It is good that works for you, but not many of us can say that. I your case, it sounds like piracy actually helps your business.

    • Rachelle Gardner on November 7, 2011 at 2:11 PM

      Dan, your business model applies to those who write non-fiction, and like you, only sell books to support the major revenue-generating parts of their business.

      It’s irrelevant for novelists, though (and 50-75% of my readers are novelists). For them, the book IS the business. They spend months or years on each “product.” It’s a creative endeavor, not an informational one. So while piracy isn’t a big concern for those in your position, it’s definitely an issues for others.

  31. Suzanne on November 7, 2011 at 12:47 PM

    And yet I still want to keep pursuing a career in this industry…. I do love to write. Just a thought to back up what you mentioned to combat the issue: I have always tried to buy directly from those authors and their publishers whose work and persona I respect. It does help to support the industry that way. Oh, and as a writer and respectable citizen, I don’t pirate anything!

  32. Jessi on November 7, 2011 at 12:33 PM

    In my mind, libraries are pretty similar to pirates because they buy a book which is often read many, many times by people who don’t pay for the book. Pirates are a little more dangerous since they can distribute a copies to many more people and still have their own copy. Still, how many people don’t buy a book because the library had it? The library is loaning out free words. Yes, they do buy a few copies of the book but if they buy a book for $10 and it’s checked out by 20 different readers, that’s only 50 cents for the publisher per reading. Almost every library I know of has Hunger Games, and yet, the book still sells very well when you know the readers probably could read it for free. Will piracy change this? I don’t know.
    I think in some ways, piracy can hurt authors, but so can libraries. There are books I might have bought if I could not have got them for free at the library but there are also books I bought because I discovered the authors at the library.
    In the case of little-known authors, there probably isn’t much money to be made by pirates so most books are probably pirated by fans, who only seek to let their friends read a great book and don’t try to get people to pay for them. These people don’t bother me much because they’re just trying to get their friends to read a great book, they’re not trying to hurt the author. In some cases, they might even think they’re helping the author. I think educating these people would probably work well since they generally aren’t trying to hurt someone.
    I know one author who was upset because someone translated his book into Spanish and put it online for free. There was no Spanish version of his book so I’m guessing the person who did this was probably a very devoted fan since translating such a long book had to take a lot of work.
    I’m not published yet but, in my mind, I’d only have a problem if the pirating caused me to lose sales. If someone who wasn’t going to buy the book got it for free, that would be fine with me. Maybe my book would help them and that’s one of the reasons I write. I want my books to help people, not just make money. (Making money would be nice though.)

    • Timothy Fish on November 7, 2011 at 3:41 PM

      I have mixed feelings about libraries. As an author, I would love to sell the book to everyone who borrowed one of my books from the library. It upset me one time when a woman thought she would be cute and say that she wanted me to sign her book, but when I told her I would, she told me it was the one from the church library.

      But on the other hand, it seems like a waste of resources to print one book for each reader. If I have a book that I’m not currently reading, it makes sense for me to loan it out to someone. The library system is simply a formal way to maintain a shared pool of books for the people of a given area or organization.

      Where piracy is different is that the pirates aren’t sharing a resource but they are making many copies of the resource. In the library system, only one person can check out a book at one time. To increase availability, they have to pay the publisher. With piracy, they may purchase one book, but when they want to make it available to more people, they just make more copies.

    • Kristin Laughtin on November 7, 2011 at 6:05 PM

      Library worker here, shaking my head. Here’s the difference: even if a book is loaned out multiple times, it is still paid for. This is the exact opposite of piracy. Libraries make up a SIGNIFICANT portion on book sales, and it would be noticed if these were abolished.

      If it is loaned out many times, libraries buy multiple copies to provide adequate access. You’d be surprised how quickly library books wear out; if a book is really popular, copies will be purchased just to replace the old ones. If it’s not popular, chances are it will be weeded out to make room for other things on the shelves, so in reality that cover price only covers a few reads. It’s very rare these days that a book stays on the shelf and garners hundreds of uses for a $10 book. It just doesn’t happen.

      If it’s an ebook, libraries are not paying the same price you’d pay to buy a book for your Kindle. It’s actually much, much more to purchase lending rights, and even more if rights are bought to check out to more than one person at a time.

      Furthermore, libraries are a cultural and educational institution that do far more good for the community than harm and raise awareness of reading and support for authors. Without them, many people wouldn’t discover authors they love, and their books would never be purchased. We’re far more beneficial than you’re giving us credit for.

      Also, if you want to get technical, libraries are funded by tax dollars, so all those people who check out a book are paying for it. They’re paying to borrow it, not to own it, but they’re paying nonetheless. In any case, it’s far better to borrow a book or a CD from a library that has paid for something than to pirate it in a way where the publisher/author/artist/etc. gets no money.

      • Jessi on November 8, 2011 at 1:44 PM

        Kristin, I don’t mean to say loaning out books is immoral like piracy is. I think the economical implications of libraries might be a little similar to piracy.(Though not to nearly the same extent.) When a person checks a book out of the library, the normally consider it “free” since they’re not forking money over for it even if tax dollars are paying for it, which could devalue books in the eyes of the reader. The books are getting read more than most books that are bought by normal readers too so there is a chance sales are being lost.
        Like I said, libraries do help people discover the authors they love and I think they are probably very beneficial for the lesser known authors who need publicity but I do wonder how much they’re helping the bigger name authors. (I also wonder if a bit of fan piracy of lesser known authors might help them become more well-known and sell more books.)
        I admit, if I ever do get published, I might donate my book to the local libraries since I use them a lot.

  33. Jacob on November 7, 2011 at 12:25 PM

    I agree that competing with free and trying to connect to readers is the best way to go. Fighting piracy just makes the pirates stronger. Ha it worked with any other illegal activity? Ever? No.

    Could we even make a way to profit from piracy?

  34. Amber Argyle on November 7, 2011 at 12:20 PM

    Oh. My. Gosh. Thank you! I’m so sick of people pirating my book and spouting all over the internet that it’s no different than lending the book. Yeah, to thousands of people??? I don’t think so.

    Witch Song has been illegally shared and sold thousands of times and it’s so frustrating! I’ve heard all the arguments “It doesn’t hurt authors. They make tons of money anyway.”

    The average American author makes 9k a year.

    “Why should I pay for something that doesn’t cost anything to produce.”

    Authors, editors, agents, etc all work so hard. Don’t they deserve to be paid for their work.

    Gah! I could go on and on. I’ll just go write my own post.

    Thanks, Rachelle.

  35. Brendan Gannon on November 7, 2011 at 12:17 PM

    I happened to blog about piracy today as well. Mostly taking a different point of view, but your last point is excellent. The best way to fight piracy is to reduce barriers to legitimate content. Make content available in every market, every format, ease or get rid of DRM restrictions, set a reasonable price–all of these steps help connect consumers to content. Every barrier a customer runs into is an opportunity for them to turn to illegitimate channels.

    I think an excellent example of this phenomenon is the iTunes store. It’s such a streamlined solution for finding, buying and downloading music that I know people who didn’t realize there were other places to buy mp3s. It really is easier to get music there (at a buck a song) than to find a pirated copy.

    • Timothy Fish on November 7, 2011 at 1:44 PM

      I agree that making it easy to obtain things legally can reduce the problem. I buy all the books I buy from one place, so I never look elsewhere and have no idea if pirated copies are available.

      However, I think you are placing the blame in the wrong place. A barrior may be an temptation to obtain books elsewhere, but it is not an opportunity to obtain books elsewhere. Piracy involves two evil deeds, one is that people are making illegal copies. That produces the opportunity, but without the second evil deed, which is the actual purchase of the illegal copy, the illegal copy would go nowhere.

  36. joan Cimyotte on November 7, 2011 at 11:16 AM

    It’s a strange internet generation where persons feel the world owes them a living. It’s hard to think what is being taught in college when the wide eyed adult children think we the people should pay for their education. I’m just saying kids, grow a pair and move out of mom’s basement. And as for the adults who steal free stuff, hasn’t the internet generated a sneaky little troll mentality of sitting in the dark against the glare of their computer screen?

  37. Martine on November 7, 2011 at 11:08 AM

    Here are Neil Gaiman’s thoughts on piracy:

    I believe this is very insightful.

    As a budding writer, I make sure I never pirate a book, but I do lend books to my friends, and I do have friends who pirate stuff. And they do what Gaiman speaks of: they download the books for free, and if they like them, they buy them anyway.

    I think your conclusion is right: publishers need to compete with free, not try to beat it down. And I think free ebook editions, free chapter samples, extra material, authors connecting with readers, and using the web as the biggest marketing tool ever. Because that’s what it is.

    • Martine on November 7, 2011 at 11:10 AM

      *sorry, I made a sentence structure error there. Let me try again:

      And I think the way to do that is to offer free ebook editions, free chapter samples, extra material, authors connecting with readers, and using the web as the biggest marketing tool ever. Because that’s what it is.

  38. Marilynn Byerly on November 7, 2011 at 10:57 AM

    As an ebook pioneer, I’ve been on the forefront of fighting pirates for over ten years. Piracy can’t be stopped, but it must be fought if those of us who love to read and love to write want to continue getting our fictional fix.

    We may not be able to win against the most venal of the pirates, but we must fight and win against those who don’t know any better or need their conscience nudged enough so they remember that stealing is wrong as well as those who don’t know it’s in their best interest to pay for the books.

    My own way of fighting piracy is through education. I have created a series of articles on copyright including a reader’s guide to copyright and a layman’s explanation of how The Doctrine of First Sale doesn’t apply to ebooks as it does to used books. These articles can be posted on anyone’s website with my permission, or they can be linked back to.

    To find them, click on my name which will take you to my blog. From there, click on the “copyright” label.

    I also recommend that all authors and publishing pros who deal with copyright theft join the Yahoogroups list, .

    Author Rowena Cherry, other authors, and the folks at some publishing houses share resources and examples of the different forms of takedown notices, etc., as well as share links to sites where blatant copyright is happening.

    Sometimes, the group will blast the pirate site’s host with complaints to make them notice the complaints, or they will send complaints to the advertisers who fund the sites with their ads.

  39. Robert Lynch on November 7, 2011 at 10:48 AM

    I live for the day that people will enjoy my writing so much that they would steal it. When that day comes, however, I’m sure that I’ll be wishing they paid for it!

  40. Ann Bracken on November 7, 2011 at 10:47 AM

    It is up to us to get the message out that piracy is stealing. Like the pastor who didn’t know sending on an article was illegal, there are many who are simply ignorant of the laws. We must politely inform those around us. If we see someone copying, downloading, file-sharing something, speak up.

    Not everyone will listen, and many won’t even care, but remember that smoking used to be socially acceptable until word got out how bad it is. We can influence those around us for good. Who knows, maybe piracy will become unpopular in another thirty years.

    • Jill on November 7, 2011 at 12:53 PM

      Are you really encouraging people to be tattletales–see something, say something, like homeland security? That’s all we need is a society full of snitches. There are better ways.

      And as far as I’m concerned, smoking still is socially acceptable.

      • Timothy Fish on November 7, 2011 at 1:32 PM


        In many case, there is no need to go tattle on someone because once it is brought to their attention that what they are doing is wrong, they will take the action to correct it. But if they know it is illegal and they are still doing it, then it is the responsibility of the people who are aware of it to report it.

        • Jill on November 7, 2011 at 2:43 PM

          Yes, but seriously, who do you wanna go after, the junkies buying sub-quality products, or the dealers? Snitching rarely springs from pure intentions.

          • Timothy Fish on November 7, 2011 at 4:35 PM

            Personally, I would rather not have to go after either one. I would rather that people chose to do the right thing on their own. That isn’t, however, the way the world works. But there are some people who will choose to do the right thing when they realize other people are watching.

      • Rachelle Gardner on November 7, 2011 at 2:53 PM

        Jill, your perspective is clear simply through your choice of words – “snitching” and “tattletales.” But I disagree with that characterization.

        I never said in this post to be a snitch or a tattletale. I’m recommending two things: (1) report piracy websites to your publisher, so they can send a cease and desist letter and add it to their list of known pirates, and (2) Among your own social circle, refuse to be involved with piracy and remind your friends that if we all want continued access to good movies, books, TV shows, etc., we need to pay the people who create them.

        Smoking might be socially acceptable in some circles; it’s a sad commentary that stealing is also socially acceptable. I think we can gently hold each other accountable for this without causing problems or endangering relationships.

        • Jill on November 7, 2011 at 5:08 PM

          Rachelle, I was replying to the previous comment, not your post. There’s not a lot I disagree with in your post. Sorry if I made that unclear.

          • Rachelle Gardner on November 7, 2011 at 5:16 PM

            Gotcha! Guess we’re all trying hard to get our perspectives across, and we’re all a little passionate about it!

      • Ann Bracken on November 7, 2011 at 3:15 PM

        At no time did I mention ‘snitching’ or ‘tattle-telling.’ I used the example of explaining to the pastor for a good reason, that being that most people simply don’t know. The speaking up would be to those who are breaking the law when we see them doing it. I’m sorry I didn’t make that clear.

        It requires courage and gentleness on our part to teach the general masses and hope the message gets out. The example of smoking was used because there was a time when it was considered healthy and people were encouraged to do it. As education spreads public perception changes. With diligence the same can happen here, but it will probably take at least as long if not longer.

        • Jill on November 7, 2011 at 5:16 PM

          I misunderstood what you meant by speaking out. Honestly, I thought you meant “turn people in” by your words “speaking out”. I apologize for that. However, I would have to disagree with you that many people don’t know it’s wrong. In my peer group, I’ve gone around and around with people (mostly thirty-something-year-old men) who justify pirating with “that’s the new business model.” They know it’s illegal, but they don’t think it’s stealing. I’ve already voiced my opinion with them, told them it’s black and white stealing, not shades of gray, but they won’t listen. My only consolation is that the products they’re downloading for free are usually of poor quality.

        • Jill on November 7, 2011 at 5:21 PM

          Oh, and as a p.s., I had an irrational reaction to the smoking comment, which circumvented my brain, and I can see now that your comment doesn’t say anything about “snitching” per se. My bad.

    • Rachelle Gardner on November 7, 2011 at 3:28 PM

      Ann, please note that my comment was addressed to Jill and appears below Jill’s comment. Sorry for the confusion.

  41. Michael W Lucas on November 7, 2011 at 10:45 AM

    I just blogged my thoughts on my books being stolen on Friday:

    My situation is slightly different, because I write nonfiction tech books. They’re specifically designed to help people improve their technical skills, and hence their income, which gives me a different slant.

    If someone in East Africa downloads my book, I don’t really care. I’m not losing a sale.

    The first world computing professionals who make a good living but who download my books illicitly really demoralize me, however.

  42. Colin Smith on November 7, 2011 at 10:42 AM

    Rather than spending time, money, and creativity trying to punish the offenders (which is often impossible), media as a whole (books, TV, movies) should try to figure out ways to reward those who abide by the law and purchase their entertainment legally. Discount coupons e-mailed to online purchasers, bonus content offered with proof of sale, that kind of thing.

    Just my 2c.

    • Aimee L. Salter on November 7, 2011 at 3:21 PM

      I love the bonus content idea. Then every book that sells for real has a one-use coupon. Even if it’s pirated, the new person won’t receive the extra goods.

      That said, bonus content will probably be pirated and available separately anyway…


  43. Cassandra on November 7, 2011 at 10:25 AM

    I have sometimes explained the problem like this:

    There are people — including some very big companies — that insist that information should be freely available to everyone, and therefore “piracy” is not stealing. Okay, let’s say that facts — words — are free. That doesn’t mean that the form or arrangement in which those facts are delivered to you is also without cost.

    Let’s say all the gold in all the mines in the world is free. Everybody agrees on that. Somebody goes out on his own into the mountains, spends years of back-breaking labor digging for gold with a pick-ax (at his own expense, with no income), and finally makes a strike. He loads up the gold-laden rocks, carts them out of the mountains, pays from his own pocket (somehow) to have the gold refined and assayed. Then he designs, from his own imagination, a beautiful bowl or a piece of jewelry. He invests in the equipment, makes the bowl, polishes it up, and it’s beautiful. He pays, or promises to, an art gallery to display his bowl for sale. All this has taken maybe five years, during which he’s borne all the expense and been paid nothing at all.

    Then, somebody steals the golden bowl. Just because they want it, and they don’t want to pay for it. Maybe they can’t pay for it, or they say nobody sells gold in their country but they want it and so it’s okay to just take it. It’s gold, they say, and all gold is free, right?

    So the miner/refiner/designer/craftsman/artist works for years and gets nothing for his time, labor, and talent.

    Some people say it’s not the same because pirates and people who use them are only taking a copy, not really depriving the artist of his work. But if the miner…artist made two bowls, or ten bowls, would it be okay to steal one, or five, or nine, just because he’s got another?

    Or people say the miner can make another bowl. But will he? Will he go back into the hills with his pick-ax and his burro and spend more years breaking his back and eating beans, alone with the rocks, looking for more gold to make another bowl? When he knows that somebody will steal that one too?

    Pretty soon there will be no golden bowls for anyone.

    Not because I imagine anyone will want to do so, but in the spirit of this discussion, permission to copy and disseminate this post is granted.

    • Timothy Fish on November 7, 2011 at 1:22 PM

      Often, I see the argument for information should be free made from a slightly different angle. Rather than saying that people should not be paid for their work, the statement is made that people who have access to the information should be able to use it freely. That religion is rather pervasive in the software world with Open Source software. Either way, it ends up with people not making money from their work. But the idea in the software world is that the people developing the produce benefit because more people are helping them do the work. It is similar to a wiki. With books, it makes no sense to follow this pattern because one person is doing the work and providing free access to it doesn’t improve the quality of the product.

  44. Else on November 7, 2011 at 10:22 AM

    Wow. This is really interesting.

    Rachel, I have a related question. The day a book appears in print, “used” copies of it are available on amazon. Just where are these used copies coming from? Are they review copies that the reviewer decided to sell rather than read?

    I read somewhere that in France it’s illegal to sell a book used until a year after its publication date, and I sometimes wish we had that law here.

    • Rachelle Gardner on November 7, 2011 at 11:23 AM

      Else, this has been the case as long as Amazon has offered used books. Big resellers often list that they have a used book available, even if they don’t have one. If someone orders it, they’ll get a copy somehow. I don’t know where they get them. Some are selling ARCS, but that’s usually in the listing if it’s the case. (Keep in mind, used bookstores have been around forever – far longer than the Internet.)

    • Timothy Fish on November 7, 2011 at 1:08 PM

      I’m sure it depends on the book, but I know that with my books there are people who list used books and will order the book when they receive an order. So the person buying the book will actually receive a never read book, but it will end up being shipped twice. A person could actually make money at this, if they are operating as a bookstore and are able to get the bookseller discount.

  45. kbr on November 7, 2011 at 9:29 AM

    Two brothers from Ukraine (in their 20’s) live on an island in the Mediterranean. Their business is pirating books. If you are an author, they have probably pirated your book. They make a reported $60,000 a day per brother. They and their families live in mansions, own yachts, speedboats, expensive cars, etc. This was reported in the news here in Europe (authorities are trying to nail these guys, but certain laws prevail on their island, etc). Were I published, would my stopping them from pirating my book break them? No, but I owe it to myself and to every other author who spends hours, weeks and months writing their stories, to pursue them.I have abbreviated their lifestyle here because of space, but you would not believe the riches they and their families enjoy off of someone else’s hard work.

  46. Susan Bourgeois on November 7, 2011 at 9:21 AM

    Great information. You always provide a a wealth of information for your readers.

    I love your photos. I’ve always appreciated that you have a knack for selecting just the right photo for each post.

    It’s good to know that you purchase most of your photos from istockphoto. They have a great selection.

    You’re clearly not a pirate!

  47. Gwen Stewart on November 7, 2011 at 9:18 AM

    Hi Rachelle,

    I’m no lawyer, but I think I’m doing my part–in a small way. I teach my upper elementary music students that PAYING for music (and other creative artwork) is very important. We talk about copyright, “intellectual property”, why I can’t buy one piece of sheet music and make copies for the entire class, etc, etc.

    It’s a hard concept for kids: you can hold a book, movie, or artwork in your hand. That’s “property”. But a song? A book in digital form? That’s more difficult for them to understand, but we talk about the fact that creators need to make a living, and if no one gets paid for writing, producing and performing music, then who will be our future musicians? The home-run question is, “If you grow up to be Taylor Swift, don’t you want to make money from the songs you write?” (All the girls go, “Oooooh,” and all the boys go “Ewwww”. 🙂 Such is the life of an elementary school music teacher.)

    Great topic. Enjoy your Monday!

  48. Richard Mabry on November 7, 2011 at 9:11 AM

    Rachelle, Thanks for digging into this and sharing with us. I use Google alerts to spot instances where something about any of my books turns up, and it’s helped me find quite a few pirate sites. I turn the info over to my publisher, and let their legal department take it from there.
    It’s frustrating, but since there’s not a lot I can do to prevent piracy, it’s interesting to read your suggestion that authors and publishers can be pro-active in other ways.

  49. tara tyler on November 7, 2011 at 8:50 AM

    ie, suck it up, take the hit, tough knocks, its part of life…should we take out insurance? (then the ins comp would get all the $)
    i hate that! and yet, as you said, its easier to steal than to pay for defending our rights. argh!

    btw, is citing the source enough when using internet pics? i usually use powerpoint or my own, but once in a while i borrow, but always link back.

    • Timothy Fish on November 7, 2011 at 9:12 AM

      Tara, publishing copyrighted material without permission is illegal and wrong, whether you cite what you “borrowed” or not. There are a few people who give blanket permission, as long as you cite where you got the information, but unless you have a statement from the copyright owner saying that, you should assume that you don’t have permission.

  50. RayS on November 7, 2011 at 8:12 AM

    Suggest everyone read earlier posts at to see why Morris Rosenthal has gotten out of the business. As a self-pub, he was an early online seller, both digital and paper and followed what affected his sales, including piracy. In addition to stealing his digital work, someone even digitized one of his paper books.

    The DMCA act needs to make hosting sites more responsible and needs to invoke penalties on piracy. Right now, if a host shuts down one online site, neither he nor the host suffers – and the pirate moves to a new host.

    Paper is no guarantee against piracy but less vulnerable than digital. I will not epublish anything except what I want to give away for free.

  51. Janet Bettag on November 7, 2011 at 7:49 AM

    Thanks for this post. I’m bookmarking it for future reference.

    It is, perhaps, a byproduct of the digital age, but I am old-fashioned and any form of piracy rankles me. Whatever happened to “Thou Shalt Not Steal”?

  52. Timothy Fish on November 7, 2011 at 7:30 AM

    The only solution to stop piracy is for people to stop buying pirated material. There is no way to “beat them at their own game” because their game is stealing what other people have done and then selling it as if they owned it. That’s like saying we’re going to beat copper theives at their own game. Theives can take something that requires great investment and sell it for very little and have it still worth their effort. We can’t do that, nor should we try.

    • james on November 7, 2011 at 6:54 PM

      That is thinking like an economist Timothy.

      Make it difficult to find and download. Better yet, make it difficult to find, and then make it worthless to download.

      I think the money used for litigation could be better served hiring a few very ethical CS/Network/Computer people for the purpose of being on top on pirating trends and how to thwart them. It would be clever and challenging.

      • Timothy Fish on November 8, 2011 at 9:25 AM


        Unfortunately, too many of us computer people think that way. When we see a problem, we assume that there must be a computer program we can write that will solve the problem and we fail to see the simple solution because it isn’t a computer program.

  53. Claude Nougat on November 7, 2011 at 6:10 AM

    Great post Rachelle thanks! Just tweeted about it because I think your approach is most sensible. Piracy is here with us to stay, and as one of your commenters pointed out, it it worse in the developing world where the stuff is not legally available at all.

    The only way out is to consider piracy as you so rightly say as COMPETITION. That means not only establishing closer links with a fan base via a readers community (Goodreads is a good model)but expanding the availability of the material in markets that don’t have it.

    As simple as that!

    Sure it takes time, but I’m convinced some sort of equilibrium will be reached and pirates – while always there – will see their role reduced…

    And btw, your advice to writers is well taken. That’s exactly what they should do!

  54. Paul Salvette on November 7, 2011 at 6:00 AM

    Piracy is rampant because the industry has not figured out how to charge for digital goods on a sliding scale. An eBook actually costs more in expanding markets like SE Asia than it does in the USA, despite the fact that some people’s entire wages for the day in say, Vietnam, wouldn’t allow them to buy most agency-priced books. You can get a DVD with thousands of eBooks for about 3-5 dollars in Thailand. These are not just in back allies, but in the premium malls of Bangkok. Charging on a sliding scale is something worth considering that addresses the root cause of people wanting digital goods but not being able to afford them. However, the industry seems so focused on lawsuits and pressuring government agencies.

    • Timothy Fish on November 7, 2011 at 9:03 AM


      I feel for poor people, I really do. I realize that “to whom much is given, much is required” and all of that, but can we say that just because a person is poor we should give them books for next to nothing? I’m all for helping those in need, but often the best way to help someone is to encourage them to help themselves. Instead of giving them books written and published for wealthy markets, would it not be better to encourage them to write and publish their own books for their own people?

      • mark williams international on November 7, 2011 at 10:10 AM

        But Timothy, your logic is fatally flawed.

        “Publishers aren’t going to make books available in places like that because they can’t compete with the black market. If I’m trying to sell a book for $15 and people are buying it for 50¢, it isn’t likely that I can sell enough copies to honest people to make it worth my effort. When people stop buying off the black market and start paying full price, then publishers will work to make books available to them.”

        In fact the argument is crass. How can people stop buying off the blackmarket and start paying full price when there is no supply inn the first place? How utterly stupid!

        Amazon and ebooks as an example. Amazon DO NOT download ebooks to 200 million English-speakers in West Africa.

        For the 1.2 billion in India Amazon levy a $2 surcharge on ebooks. If an ebook costs 99c in the USA a buyer in India will be charged $2.99.

        Amazon also do this for people in Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Spain. Buyers outside the Kindle countries like UK, France and Germany are surcharged.

        Your later comments about the poor writing and publishing their own books instead of stealing from the rich west are beneath contempt. You really should be ashamed.

        • Timothy Fish on November 7, 2011 at 12:56 PM

          Wow! It seems I hit a nerve. There are actually two issues here. The first is that if you can’t buy something legally, you shouldn’t be buying it at all. If that means you have to go without, so be it. The other is that publishers have difficulty making money in a market where the government will not give them the copyright protection they need.

          As for people in those areas writing their own books, I don’t see what problem you can possibly have with that. Such a person knows the people, knows the language, and can afford to write books for the amount of money that the people in that area are willing to pay. Besides which, if they see authors as someone who could live on their street instead of as one of those rich Americans or rich British who have more money than they really need anyway, then they might be more willing to pay the author for his work instead of buying illegal copies.

      • Paul Salvette on November 7, 2011 at 10:55 AM

        This wasn’t really the point I was trying to make, Timothy. Asia has 2/3 of the world’s people and piracy is a serious problem here. Entertainment is one thing that the West does well at a time when we’re getting clobbered in other areas. People in Asia are willing to pay money for entertainment (books, movies, etc.) that comes out of the West. Why not sell digital goods at a price that they can afford?

  55. mark williams international on November 7, 2011 at 4:43 AM

    We see our books on pirate sites all the time, and frankly it doesn’t bother us in the least.

    The $58 billion supposedly lost to the US economy is a pie in the sky statistic.

    Most piracy occurs outside the US and UK, and with good reason. Because the material isn’t available. Amazon does not allow ebook downloads to West Africa where I live – there are 200 million English-speakers in West Africa. There is no distribution of US films on DVD here. If I want to read an ebook or watch a DVD a pirate version is the only option.

    The US economy loses precisely nothing because there was no sale to be made in the first place.

    Piracy within the US and European economies is insignificant by comparison, and anyone who will put up with a shoddy DVD from a flea market or risk their card details to download an ebook from a pirate site clearly don’t care about quality and wouldn’t pay full price anyway.

    • Anee Stod on November 7, 2011 at 7:22 AM

      What Mark says is real. TV shows can take ages to show up here, books and the whole media sometimes never show up. The only industry who apparently understood the concept of global market are the gaming ones – you can find most of PS3 and Xbox360 games in stores. My friends in Europe also complain about prices – what costs 30 bucks in USA translate in 30 pounds/euros, i.e. there’s no reasonable exchange rate.
      What you can do about piracy is to report an item, as Rachelle said. If it’s in a torrent it’ll be hard to remove it, but if it’s on sites as Megaupload or MediaFire (and similars) they usually remove the content when requested.

    • Timothy Fish on November 7, 2011 at 8:51 AM

      The other side of that coin is that publishers aren’t going to make books available in places like that because they can’t compete with the black market. If I’m trying to sell a book for $15 and people are buying it for 50¢, it isn’t likely that I can sell enough copies to honest people to make it worth my effort. When people stop buying off the black market and start paying full price, then publishers will work to make books available to them.

    • Rachelle Gardner on November 7, 2011 at 11:17 AM

      Mark, your point is well taken. This is why I advocate, rather than “fighting piracy,” the better approach is to keep working to provide content to people who want it, at a reasonable price. Obviously this is going to take time.

  56. Sharon K Owen on November 7, 2011 at 4:31 AM

    I agree with everyone that this is a sad situation. However, I agree with Rachelle that the writer should build as good a relationship as possible with their readers, write the best books possible and try not to obsess about the piracy issue.

  57. P. J. Casselman on November 7, 2011 at 4:07 AM

    What is truly sad is the number of Christian books, songs, and videos that are being downloaded by Christians. It breaks the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule to steal from anyone. They are taking it a step further and stealing from a brother or sister in Christ. Worse, I have heard teenagers tell me their youth ministers told them where to get the free stuff. One way to combat this is to touch the hearts of pastors so they can let their congregations know that thievery is a sin and piracy is theft.

  58. Neil Ansell on November 7, 2011 at 4:03 AM

    My book is currently only available in hardback (the paperback is due out soon.) Hardbacks are rather the preserve of those who can afford them – myself, if I see a new book I like I think…I’ll get that when the paperback comes out. There have always been options for those with less money – libraries, borrowing a book from friends, buying it secondhand, etc. On a recent trip to China, a Chinese friend pointed out my book for sale to download for the equivalent of 50c, and there are several free download sites here that have it.
    Personally, I would rather people wanted to read my book for nothing than didn’t want to read it at all. So long as enough people pay for it to make it viable for me to carry on writing then I don’t care.

  59. Rick Barry on November 7, 2011 at 3:34 AM

    I once had an experience of a Christian editor pirating an article out of sheer ignorance. I submitted my article because the magazine was listed as a paying market. Meanwhile, the magazine had switched to a non-paying basis, and the new editor was a former pastor who no inkling of copyright law nor the meaning of “first rights.” Since I never received a check nor acknowledgement of acceptance, I didn’t know he had printed my piece–until he phoned and excitedly told me he’d granted a famous university permission to reprint it! Imagine my confusion: a guy I’d never heard of is suddenly giving away my property for free? Yes, I believe in Christian ministry, but I still informed him he was breaking the law. “Oh. I didn’t know.”

    • Rachelle Gardner on November 7, 2011 at 11:15 AM

      Good point, Rick. I added to my post the idea that we should remind folks that piracy is wrong.

  60. Aimee L. Salter on November 7, 2011 at 2:58 AM

    I think your comment about relating to your audience is the best and brightest way to combat this.

    In the end, digital piracy is unlikely to go away. But if you create a community of people who love you (the author), they’ll pay for the books because they see themselves supporting you, a person. Rather than just ripping of the Big Business that made the book.

    • Lindsay Harrel on November 7, 2011 at 10:29 AM

      I agree, Aimee. This goes back to the idea of marketing yourself, not creating a “brand” for yourself. Let people get to know you, and they will want you to succeed–and they’ll help support you in any way they can. I hope to get there someday!

  61. Donna Amis Davis on November 7, 2011 at 2:27 AM

    Hi Rachel,

    This is a serious question I have. We have some young friends (20-something) who offered to share with us a file they had that they said contains 1000 books. They said it had all of John Grisham’s books, all of Stephen King’s books, etc. We declined the offer, though it was tempting. But, as you mention, there is a whole generation of people habituated to getting music on the internet for free, and that habit will likely continue when it comes to e-books. It makes me wonder if the early adopters of e-readers like the Kindle and so forth, are those people just a little older who aren’t habituated to getting things on the internet for free. So the spike in e-book sales reflects that. But as time goes on and the demographics change, will there be many left who are willing to pay for what they could get for free?

    • Timothy Fish on November 7, 2011 at 8:36 AM

      New technology always suffers from this problem. When cassette tape recorders became common place, people realized that at the press of a button they could record anything. They didn’t stop to think that it might be illegal. Of course, there is also the Xerox copier. Suddenly, people had the ability to copy any printed material they could find. It didn’t occur to them that they might be breaking the law. But often, when people are educated about what they are doing and they understand how it is hurting the content creators, they will stop doing it. That isn’t the case with everyone, but it is for many people.

  62. Bailish on November 7, 2011 at 1:49 AM

    I think the entertainment media could learn a lesson from professional sports. Even though sporting events are terribly expensive, people still go to the games. They get enough bang for the buck, and there just aren’t easy ways for people to get inside without paying.
    Movies have made attempts at making the cinema experience worth the added cost, but I think the markup on 3D movies is getting excessive without providing enough bang. Hence, piracy is big.
    Books, on the other hand (how many hands does that make?), have virtually no added bang. You won’t get a handle on piracy until you find a way to provide a better experience that can’t be ripped off.

    • Timothy Fish on November 7, 2011 at 8:27 AM

      In fact, professional sports does have a problem with piracy. There are churches that illegally show the Superbowl and then have preaching during half-time.