Wednesday, June 27, 2012

On Theft and Entitlement

By Andrew E. Kaufman

I’ve had Google alerts set up for my books and my name for years. I like keeping up on where and how my work and I are being mentioned over the Internet. It goes with the job.

But for several years now, I’ve noticed a growing and disturbing trend. The majority of my alerts now come as advertisements for “torrent” feeds offering up my books as free downloads. Generous of them to do so, but unfortunately, it's being done without my permission.

I get these advisories several times a day now, and they always seem to come from different websites. Insidious little bastards, they are, and I can only assume that since the volume of books I sell through approved channels has grown substantially over time, so too have the unapproved ones. There is always a price to pay for success, and this, I suppose, is one of them.

I can also assume that all this means there is probably a very large number of people who are reading my work free of charge. How many? There’s no telling, but according to what I’ve read recently, the numbers could be staggering.

Torrents work by dividing large amounts of data into smaller chunks. Through this process, files like movies and e-books can be disseminated very rapidly and very widely, spanning well beyond the U.S. and into other countries.

Of course, torrents themselves aren’t illegal. What’s illegal is when they’re used to pirate copyrighted materials, and more often than not, that seems to be the case.

Unfortunately, stopping this kind of activity is about as easy as nailing jello to a tree. Many of the sites operate from overseas sites where copyright laws don’t apply. The U.S., in an effort to circumvent this, has started prosecuting people who download copyrighted materials via torrents. Unfortunately, because of the large number of people doing it, the process is cost prohibitive at best. Some companies have also  taken measures by “poisoning” torrents containing their material. Some have even filed cease and desist orders to Internet service providers of torrent users. But again, we’re taking about what amounts to a drop in the bucket when you take into consideration the size and scope of the problem.

Does it bother me that possibly hundreds of thousands of people could be enjoying my hard work without paying? It certainly does. Do I let myself get worked up over it? Not really. I mean, let's face it, pirating is nothing new—it’s been around for ages—and the art of thievery is one that’s even older. Of course, with the advent of the Internet, these efforts become amplified to the nth degree, which does make it more troublesome.

And while I hate to take the “There's Nothing I Can do to Stop it” attitude, I know that there's in fact really nothing I can do—except maybe complain, get all upset, and stomp my foot. But then I just end up with a sore throat and foot, and the behavior that caused it continues on anyway.

But here’s the thing. I'm not worried about the money. Honestly, I'm not. If I were, I wouldn't have given away more than a hundred-thousand copies of my books this past year. What bothers me is when people steal because they feel they're entitled to do so. Kind of like when someone sees your fancy new car in the parking lot at a shopping mall and thinks it's perfectly okay to drive away with it just because they want to. When people steal because feel they deserve what I've worked so hard to get--that's when I start to get miffed. And what about all the wonderful readers who actually spend their hard-earned money on my books? Is if fair to them? Nope.

What do you think? Authors, does it bother you to know people are stealing your work? And readers, how do you feel knowing there are folks out there who are taking what you had to pay for?


  1. I don't like it, but I don't worry about it either. Like you, I've given away well over a hundred thousand ebooks. It's easy with digital files and doesn't cost me anything. Which is probably how the torrent-site users justify their free downloads. They figure it doesn't really cost anybody anything. Most of those people probably wouldn't steal a physical book from a store. Or maybe I'm kidding myself. Either way, if they steal our ebooks, at least we know they have good taste.

  2. I guess this is one of the "pick your battle" kind of things. If I thought about it too often, I'd stew and accomplish nothing for it.

    I've wondered about the free download of songs we can get now from libraries. It sort of legitimizes this sort of activity in the minds of people who may have been inclined to pay for music (and books) in the past.

  3. Like you, I've found one of my works on a torrent site. Also like you, I recognized that there was little-to-nothing I could do about it; they're offshore and different laws apply. The UK did shut down one of the sites where my work was pirated, and I know other countries are also working on it. At the end of the day, I too decided not to worry about it overmuch.

  4. Here's what I think is the most dangerous thing about piracy - the slippery slope.

    Say that Reader A wants your book, and Googles you to find which one. Let's say that the first 50 links are to free books. She's going to think that, well, Karen Ranney doesn't give a flying flip if her book is free.

    But I do, and I shut down as many of them as I can. I build in pirate hunting into my work day - it's my cost of doing business. I am occasionally verbal about piracy, too, so no one "assumes" that I'm sanguine about it.

    I've gotten really good at ferreting out links and I'm a whiz at a DMCA.

    I think that writers who don't make a stand encourage readers who don't know any better, only because they think the writer doesn't mind. And that's the slippery slope I mentioned.

  5. Karen, I'd love to know more about what you actually do to stop or discourage piracy.

  6. It really is a thin line these days in the digital world where the product is no longer a tangible. Having said that, what takers tend to forget is that it still requires the same amount of work to produce it, and just because it's easier to nab doesn't mean they should. I suppose we're all on a learning curve, and it will take time to sort all this out...if we can.

  7. I have a master list of pirate sites I check every day. I use OneNote to make it super easy - just a click and I document when I checked. I also have a DMCA template that I have on OneNote - but I've used Word, too, before I became super organized.

    Bottom line, torrents aren't as dangerous to writers as P2P sites, places where people broadcast where the link is, and how to access it. The reason? Most readers won't mess with torrents, but they will offhandedly visit a "free ebook site".

    I've become known as a "trigger author" which means that most sites would rather people not post my work. It's frankly more trouble than it's worth.

    I've also helped the Copyright Alliance (they're always looking for authors ready to speak about copyright). Plus, one of my OpEds was featured on the, which prompted a flurry of retaliation. Hey, you steal my work and expect me to keep silent? Nope, not gonna happen.

    I've subscribed to, which helps find the esoteric links that I haven't.

    One of tricks that lots of people don't know is this. Go to Type in your name. No links? Good. Now, go to Google and type in yourname - and don't be surprised if you find oodles of links.

    If you'd like my list of the 25 worst pirate sites, let me know.

  8. I think this is terrible. As a freelance book editor, I know how very hard writers work to produce a quality book, and to think that people would just help themselves to a free copy is inexcusable. So sorry this is happening to you and other authors, Drew. It's just not right. I hope Karen Ranney's tips help you and other authors! Thanks for sharing, Karen!

  9. Karen, how much time does it take you on a daily basis to do this? And how much success do you feel you've had?

    Is it a never-ending battle? Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel?

    Do you think that some of those pirated copies may have help increase your sales as some have reported?

    I guess what I'm saying is that I don't want to be naive but at the same time I don't want to be consumed. Life is too short, and so is the amount of time I have to write.

  10. Great questions.

    I budget an hour each day. It normally takes me about 15 minutes or less, lately. When I first started - 3 years ago, it took longer, because I had more links to kill.

    I measure my success by comments from pirates: "Karen Ranney links never last." "I can't find links to Karen Ranney books."

    I'm so tempted - but never do - to send them to Amazon or B&N.

    My problem is that the genie is out of the bottle for me. I know piracy impacts my bottom line, so I can't ignore it. I can't pretend that it's going to go away or not impact me.

    As for pirate links spreading the word about my books? There are some links I can't get taken down. I rationalize that those are the ones helping my sales.

    Again, going back to my first point, I'm trying to make it difficult for the casual reader to be able to download one of my books for free. I want them to know that I do mind my books being pirated. I'm not trying to get rid of the aggressive, career pirate. If someone wants to steal from you, he will.

  11. Karen, I for one, would love your 25 worst pirate sites. The problem. I have no idea what to do with them when I find their giving my book away for free. You wouldn't happen to have an article or tutorial or something for the less knowledgeable, would you?

  12. Karen-
    One thing I'm still not clear about is how you get them shut down. Is there someone our readers can contact to report them?

  13. So sorry to be late with the answer.

    There is a process you need to follow according to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which is followed by most countries (with some exceptions).

    It is remarkably simple, and with the new ISP regulations coming into play this year, most pirate sites are more than happy to remove the links quickly so they're not reported.

    I can put together a quick tutorial on how to do it as well as a DMCA template.

    How about sending me an email with PIRATE STUFF as the subject line, to and I can send it out next week. Is that okay?

  14. Geez! It's like getting rid of sugar ants! All I can say is, I hope that those who read my books get a guilty conscience after they read a pirated copy of my books. (I write about heaven and hell and the journey of the soul).

  15. I've even read some very different, potentially guilt-inducing, copyright notices at the beginning of some ebooks. Throw in a little heaven and hell and a soul in jeopardy and maybe one or two people would think twice.

  16. The whole pirating thing sickens me. Music is pirated all the time and has been for years, so I guess it's inevitable the same thing happens with our ebooks. Amazing how low some will go, considering the average price of an ebook is so cheap. Karen, I'd love the info you're willing to share. Thanks so much.

  17. Thank you, Karen. I appreciate your helpfulness! Just sent an email to you.


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