Someone has posted my ebook for free online!
What do I do now?
I hear this all the time!
Piracy has become a growing concern with the proliferation of ebooks and it seems to be happening more often these days, particularly when you promote your book and start selling well. Writers used to shrug it off and chalk it up to ‘all PR is good‘. But today, when ebooks make up nearly half of all books sold and it’s just so darn easy to copy and post an ebook, piracy is becoming a bigger issue. And the most recent news is that some authors have gotten in trouble with Amazon.com when they publish through the Select program and Amazon finds their supposedly-Amazon-exclusive books offered free on a pirate site.
Alas, Amazon.com, with its millions of books, is relying on algorithms to handle its housekeeping. Good move for them since algos don’t want much of an hourly wage and never ask for vacation time, but bad news when they net innocent authors, and it can sometimes take you weeks to get a real person (who does get vacation time) to undo the damage. Too bad for you if you got kicked off Amazon.com right when you started a major promotion campaign!
Because of the Amazon.com algorithm concern, you really do want to pay attention to your book and make sure that it’s not being offered for free on some pirate site. Google is an ethical search engine and it does seem to inform authors when their books show up on sketchy sites — sometimes.
Don’t rely on that.
Search for your book title on Google, Yahoo, and Bing and see if anything shows up. And be careful! Some of these sites seem to be phishing sites, asking authors to input ‘copyright ownership’ information to ‘fix’ a copyright issue. You really do not want to put any personal information directly onto a site obviously operated by hackers!
You are protected by the Digital Milennium Copyright Act, the DMCA, and you can file a DMCA Takedown Notice with the site’s host and the search engines. That is a formal notice, delivered to the website’s host, that says ‘a site you host is engaging in piracy’. The host has to take it down.
Not so fast.
Don’t plan on having your day in court if the pirate site is not in a country that has agreed to abide by the DMCA. Essentially, that is the US, the United Kingdom, the EU countries, and Canada, at least if you’re a US author. Yes, Russia has recently updated their policies on intellectual property theft, but it is not as easy to file a DMCA takedown notice with a Russian host.
Do beware of major phishing on some of these sites or even sites related to copyright infringement. I ran into a couple of instances as I researched this article where a fake ‘hacker alert’ asked me to input my Google account info and password! Remember that malware abounds and make sure your firewall and antivirus program are up to date!
The How-To Step By Step
Yes, you really can do all this.
I now suggest that all authors register their copyright with the US Copyright Office. You can file an electronic copy of your book with the Library of Congress and register your copyright for $35 (single author, same claimant, one work, not for hire) or $55 dollars (all other types of books).
You can also file a copyright infringement complaint there. You will probably want to pursue more timely action through a DMCA Takedown Request, but the federal registration is the ultimate proof that you own that copyright. ‘Cheap’ alternatives such as Fedexing yourself the book or sending it to yourself via registered mail may work in a US court, but considering the fees for mailing or Fedexing a manuscript, it’s probably cheaper and certainly more certain to go to the US Copyright Registry and simply register your book.
Smart Marketer Tip: Do register the copyright for the book before you send it out to your friends or ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) readers. A book does not have to be published to be copyrighted. Same thing if you offer free copies to your email list so that they can review the book when it’s released. Your computer and email may be secure but is theirs? You don’t want to find the book out on a pirate site before it shows up on Amazon.com! It’s also a good idea to send the book out without the final cover before release day. That makes it less attractive for immediate reposting.
Is all this work? Yep. Especially if your book is popular and shows up on pirate sites often. Can you pay someone to do it for you? Yep. Surely. Take a look at what the service charges and decide if it’s worth the savings in time and aggravation.
We are surely going to see more creative approaches to the fight against piracy coming down the pike. Do sign up for the free Literary Midwife Newsletter to hear about them first!