Piracy and plagiarism have always been with us: one of the earliest cases is said to have been adjudicated by the 6th-century Irish High King Diarmait mac Cearbhaill, who pronounced, “To every cow its calf, and to every book its copy.” This started a war that resulted in the exile of the culprit, who repented for causing so many deaths, turned over a new leaf, and became Saint Columba.
There are writers out there who are on the record dismissing the importance of book piracy, and likening it to “free publicity.” But why encourage criminals? Others have compared piracy to borrowing books from a public library. This opinion is mistaken. Libraries purchase their inventory from reputable sources, so authors have been paid for each book libraries acquire. Libraries then lend their own property to their registered patrons. This is fair use. Readers may later purchase books that they borrowed from a library. I have often done so.
Piracy undoubtedly is exacerbated by the reluctance of many Indie Authors to obtain copyright registration. What should thieves fear, when their victims will have difficulty proving ownership without legal documentation of copyright? In the USA, copyright registration is easy, inexpensive, and should not be omitted.
A retailer giveaway may boost an author’s “sales ranking,” but such figures are deceptive: something that is given for free has not been sold. Assertions of popularity that are based on such misrepresentations destroy an author’s credibility. These promotionals benefit only retailers, who make claims to have “best-selling” authors in their stables. Participating authors may be disappointed when such promos neither improve nor maintain their incomes.
The distribution of free e-books also has made it simple and cost-effective for criminals to steal intellectual property. I believe that the pirates who advertise new paper books “in stock” are lying about their inventory. If they do get an order, they can easily download a cheap or free e-book and print from that copy. It’s not hard to reverse-engineer most digital documents, especially those which lack DRM.
It’s sad that so few people have read Irish Firebrands, but sometimes it helps to have published a sleeper, because I can account for every known legal copy:
- Only one e-book was sold (at $9.99 USD), and that was almost 2 years ago. I do not know who bought it, although it’s possible it could have been an investment made by a pirate who then made back the cost by selling copies to two of the three persons who left star-ratings (but no written reviews) at Goodreads. (I know the third person, who owns a paperback.)
- Only once did I do an e-book promotion for $1.99 USD, but none sold.
- I have never done a promotional giveaway.
- More than 100 people have downloaded the 51% e-book preview.
- I’ve given one ARC to a reviewer, and it was a PDF of a special edition that’s easily identifiable if it shows up elsewhere. The POD sold one print copy before I took it off the market, and I know who bought it.
- I have exchanged paperbacks with two authors.
- I have given two paperbacks as charitable donations to registered facilities.
- The POD has sold very few paperbacks. One was purchased via library distribution, and I know who all of the other buyers were. No paperback sales were made outside the USA. It has been more than a year since the last paperback sale.
- I sent an e-copy of the manuscript to a small publisher in the UK, who declined publication.
- I sent one paperback to a self-published author competition, so that one may be in circulation as a used book.
- About half of the chapters of the audiobook Beta edition are in the hands of a half-dozen identified listeners. Beta listener feedback is resulting in changes to the recording, so any recordings made from the Beta chapters would be pirate copies, and I’d know who did it. The audiobook text is also different to any of the others, so any e-book or paper copy that turns up and matches the audiobook text would be a stolen copy, taken from audiobook “dictation.”
My copyright was officially registered from the beginning of my book’s publication. I’ve seen my book on one of those dodgy “free e-book” distribution sites, but it’s accompanied by a copyright warning. If people are buying and reading pirate copies, nobody is reviewing the book anywhere (not even trolls).
I commend Indie Authors who register their copyrights. In addition, I encourage all to end free e-book distribution, and to set prices for their works that are commensurate with their value. Feel free to add the CAP IT! Badge to your blog’s sidebar or footer.
If you are one of those who have downloaded the 51% preview of Irish Firebrands, be aware that the e-book price at Smashwords returned to the original publication price of $9.99 on March 1. Amazon runs its own sales on the paperback (the latest was discounted 19%).