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How to Fight Back on Book Piracy without Giving the Pirate More Traffic

This week Facebook blew up in my author community due to the re-emergence of a particular book pirating site.

People got vocal. He got more traffic and even more users. He thanked us all. He won.

I stood quiet, because I knew more traffic is what he wants, even though he’s not currently completely monetized on his site. And the more traffic we send him, the bigger he gets, the more users he gets, and the more money he’ll make when he sells the site to someone else (who may not understand the copyright violations happening). Or, when he decides to monetize his little online store (which to me, makes absolutely no sense when your entire user base is based on people who don’t want to have to pay for books).

Let me key everyone in on a few things beyond DMCA reports and de-listing sites like his on Google.

There are ways to subtly fight back without giving him more traffic.

Of course, yes, go through the ways and means of completing his DMCA form. But here are a few ways that you can 1) prevent your epub file from being misused and uploaded by other users to sites like that and 2) how to make his entire user base absolutely miserable and not want to return to his site and 3) make it utterly painful, revealing, and undesirable to upload your epub files to his site:

  1. The primary source I’ve determined where his users are getting files from are your galley uploads – NetGalley, your publisher’s pre-release galley, and from direct file transfer from YOU when you send out your ARC copies to your teams. Stop sending actual files and stick to .mobi-based files as ARC reader access, and use a service that only provides a .mobi file instead. Put a watermark at the bottom that makes it undesirable to upload – like “NOT THE FINAL BOOK”. Try uploading the file with a big watermark going zig-zag across the back as a PDF prior to converting to a .mobi. This will be a complete buzzkill for pirate copy readers, because they’re looking to score the real thing without having all that gobbly-goo all over it. True ARC readers will understand.You could even contemplate not publishing in epub format, and go exclusive on Amazon or only publish .mobi or .pdf copies watermarked and licensed with the purchaser’s name at the bottom of the file. It is a long, painstaking pain in the ass for pirates to remove that info. Remember, you’ll want to make things UNDESIRABLE for them. Make it hard.Look for what the pirate sites have in common. The ones everyone has been pointing to and linking to that I’ve seen have been epub and text files. That means they’re using non-DRM files and possible Calibre for file conversion.Consider not publishing epub-based files and uploading to review sites. I realize this may mean that you have to make some necessary business decisions on where to upload your books. But until you’re able to identify the leak and the source, I would recommend taking these steps. Maybe avoid free-for-all sites like NetGalley and such, where the pirates may be lurking. Focus more on your own tribe and accept less reviews from a smaller team. That way you can get back to writing and worry less about your book being uploaded and pirated by people you don’t know.
  2. Here’s the fun part, where we can all take part and toy with pirate sites that allow users to upload book copies. Upload FAKE copies of books, with fake covers, and make the interior completely bogus. Or, use your real covers and upload the bogus interiors. If the database gets filled with these, the users of these sites will get frustrated and not want to return. Because you’ve just made it hard to find real books with the actual interior, as there’s no previewing on these sites that I have found. This could be a lot of fun if we all banded together. In essence, you’re wrecking his traffic with bogus material. No one likes visiting a website and getting bogus downloads. They won’t return. This is a surefire way to fire back and teach pirate downloaders a lesson. Waste their time!
  3. Watermark your files. Keep your ARC group tight. Know who they are. Report people on Booksprout and other ARC release management software if you think they’re pirating your books. Consider using a service like Gumroad or Selz to have your book sent out with a downloader’s identifiers on it (this can be done if you make the ARC $0 or free), and make it a licensed ARC copy and not just any copy. That way you make it undesirable for them to upload it anywhere else.

Remember – sites like this are not going to go away. All people have to do is clone a website such as that and host it on a server in China, making it even more difficult to 1) communicate with government regulators there and 2) get the material removed. They’ll keep popping up, left and right. They’re already in a position to sell files on the black market, exchange, clone, and so on.

So it’s better to work on PREVENTION and DETERRENCE than it is to respond with social outrage and give him the exact result people like this guy want. Together, as a community, we can work together and essentially sabotage the pirates’ efforts. Let’s do this.


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