There were many apt titles for this blog which is regarding some of the happiest business news I’ve received in a while. I considered A Thousand Pecking Chickens Bring Down a 500-Pound Gorilla. But I just visited the most notorious fiction-ebook sharing site and read what was left of the thread of almost 5,000 posts over 4 days of whining from book pirates, so the Eliot reference seemed more appropriate. The book pirates are upset because their stolen fiction and discussions have been deleted. (What is and isn’t book piracy?)
The sense of loss is palpable, as is the sense of entitlement. Apparently, free books are a basic human right. Know what? I agree — and that’s why there are libraries. Anyone can read for free. But free, ultimate-convenience-in-the-format-I-want-the-very-minute-I-want-it-without-leaving-home books are not a basic human right. But book pirates disagree. They bemoan the books they won’t ever get to read now. Pick that statement apart: it’s an admission that if it isn’t free they won’t read it.
After the Whining, the Lying
Nevertheless, as they mourned the loss of their piracy site, ever-so-many pirates said they used the forum to “find new authors and buy their books.” Not only do they gainsay their own claim above, that myth has been debunked so many times by credible sources it’s like saying the earth is flat. They also repeated “sharing sites boost real sales” which is also a myth. While there is evidence that some authors for some projects willingly giving away free copies does boost awareness and sales, no author I know has reported a boost in sales when their books showed up on a piracy site. I know that some pirates do actually try a book and, if they like the book a lot, make it somewhat right by buying books, but the number who do that is minuscule — and it’s still piracy. (Book Piracy Myths.)
But we all know that people caught doing something persistently illegal will trot out any excuse to justify their repeated guilty acts.
Pirates Can Afford the Gadget and the Internet, but Not the Book
I love books, but books aren’t food, heat and shelter. I have more empathy for the person with no money stealing food than I do for people who can afford high-speed Internet and Kindles or iPads but steal books and claim economic necessity. Please. There are thousands of legal, excellent books available free, hosted and downloaded by convenient and safe Google, not to mention free ebooks on that Really Big Book Site. But pirates don’t want just any book–they want a good book that entertains them on the subjects they love (like lesbians in love, for example). Customized entertainment, just for them. For free.
The fiction forum at that 500-Pound Gorilla site was a criminal enterprise. In addition to the enormous romance fiction offerings, it hosted a lesbian fiction circle of over 350 books — every author you know and more — where you got into the circle by uploading a book they didn’t have yet.
Users committed piracy to get more pirated books. There’s no pretense of innocence. Not when people who monitored the site for authors were referred to as “snitches.”
Tired of Principal’s Office, Parents Deal with Toddlers They’ve Spoiled
Nobody was admitting that nearly everything in their libraries and on the site was stolen. They had a right to that book because it exists, how could it be stolen? Why are books not free when they already paid for their Kindle or Nook? The site administrators, however, finally saw the law in their headlights, and closed all fiction sharing threads saying “in most cases it creates problems for copyright owners.”
It seems that the site administrators simply got tired of dealing with the takedown notices. I know that from me alone they received well over 300 since last fall, sometimes 2 dozen in a day.
The lesfic area was small change, too – most of the pirates I’m citing above were users of the romance fiction area, getting their weekly or even daily fix of a new Harlequin or Susan Wiggs or Jude Devereaux — or works from small indie presses who turn out as many as three new romances every day. These small publishers, often run by and for women, would see many of their books on piracy sites in less than 4 hours. They never noticed a surge in sales, by the way. (Since this writing in 2011 several of these smaller romance presses have folded, and a prominent distributor of romance ebooks has also folded, all citing rampant piracy as one of the problems. Authors have little choice to go to the ‘Zon when there are no publishers left, so pirates have also helped create a monopoly.)
Try, Try Again
Our story doesn’t end there. While the site hosts took down the actual books, links to books and requests to get a book, they left up the chat area. When the shock that their site actually would enforce copyright law had abated, pirates began announcing the formation of a new site. Gorilla 2 was born. The uploading was immediate.
I’m happy to say that Gorilla 2 didn’t last 24 hours. A legitimate site host doesn’t want the headache of copyright issues – the last time someone put her entire library of lesfic books on a free hosting site that URL was also down immediately. Gorilla 2’s host didn’t bother with finesse – the books and the discussion threads all went away. The user who set it up probably got blacklisted. It ended with a bang, no time for whimpering.
Now It Might Be Inconvenient to Steal!
Back on the first site, the whining continued, and the pleas to be put on a list to be informed of when a new site was active were endless. But few people were offering to actually do that work…for free. There was resignation that they may have to go to Demonoid. Demonoid, known to the riddled with spam, fraud scams, malware, viruses and false claims of having a book or movie but what you get is something else (like malware, viruses and ads). It’s not a site for the faint of heart or anyone who doesn’t have hard core virus protection and who doesn’t know how to clean their own registry. And Demonoid is likely the “safest” of the piracy sites.
As with Gandolf on the Bridge at Khazad-Dum commanding the Balrog: Go back to the shadow.
Stealing should at least have some element of risk to it. If you’re intent on trading stolen goods, the least you should have to endure is some viruses and malware along with your I’ll-die-if-I-don’t-get-the-exact-book-I-want-for-free fix. Be forewarned: even Demonoid is now honoring takedowns and the “snitches” are everywhere. See, the readers who pay for their books and want to go on having access to good books by professional authors, aren’t keen on your undermining their access to books. They don’t want their favorite authors to flat out quit because they can’t get paid half what they used to for the same work.
Battle On, Sister Friends!
Meanwhile, I give a hearty high-five to all my sister authors who took the time and suffered the aggravation to send out takedown notices until we became the thousand pecks that finally made the site owners realize they had better things to do with their lives. I know of one brave soul who spent several weeks taking down the same file every day only to have the same pirate put it back up by the next day. It may have even been that epic battle that wore on the site admin’s final nerve.
Will we all see a spike in sales because this site is down? Probably not. But I am hopeful that all the lesfic authors will see slowing of the loss of sales overall. It will certainly be easier for me to embrace the ebook revolution if I no longer see public piracy of my books, and my readers seduced into easy file sharing, right in front of me.
As for the denizens of the original 500-Pound Gorilla site that reported me to my IP as a spammer, sent me email viruses, tried to post bad reviews or tried to post comments on my blog telling me that “Nobody said you had a right to make a living as a writer, get a real job,” I say in response,
“Nobody said you had a right to read my books for free. Today, at least, you shall not pass.”