Sex For Money is a semi-regular blog series about my experiences in writing, publishing, and marketing gay erotica and M/M erotic romance. All of this information is from my own experience, so your experience may differ. It’s hoped that sharing this information might be helpful to new and aspiring erotica and erotic romance authors, as I see a lot of questions and a lot of misinformation out there. To read more Sex For Money posts, click here.
Piracy is, unfortunately, a common crime in our modern world. Why pay for something when you can get it for free? I doubt any of us are truly innocent — I’ve downloaded my share of music over the years, as well as a TV show that I couldn’t wait to be released on DVD.
Ebook piracy happens. Some people will buy your book and then post it publicly somewhere so that others can download it for free. Other times, piracy hasn’t occurred, but it appears your book has been pirated, but it’s a ruse for other purposes.
So what is an author to do? Mostly nothing. You’re honestly not losing much, if anything, in sales.
Stick with me — I’ll explain.
Let’s start with the basic habits of the reader. Some readers will always buy the books they read. Others will only read it if they can get it for free. These are largely two separate groups of people. Someone who always buys books is unlikely to scour the internet for the free copy they can illegally download. Conversely, someone who only downloads pirated books is unlikely to read your book if they have to pay for it.
Last time I searched for free copies of my books — and I did that search maybe two years ago — I found my first novel, Autumn Fire, and my first short story, Go Deep, on torrent sites, as part of larger m/m ebook bundled downloads. I didn’t put up much of a fight about it because I realized that if someone is going to download an illegal bundle of m/m ebooks, then they’re likely looking for whatever they can get for free — they’re unlikely to say, “Hey, that one specific title I wanted to read isn’t here. I better go buy it.” Rather, they’d just move on to something else for free. I also realized that readers who usually purchase ebooks are unlikely to go in search of an illegal download to save three or four dollars. Did I lose some sales? Possibly, but I don’t think I lost many.
Now, let’s move on to the other scenario. There are sites all over the internet that appear to have your ebook for illegal download. Ninety percent of the time, they don’t actually have it. Instead, they’ve posted your cover and blurb and claim to offer it as a free download — but before the reader can do so, they need to enter a credit card number “for verification purposes.” They’ll then find out the book isn’t there and these scammers now have their credit card info. Some of these sites instead package viruses into the download — so the reader doesn’t get the book, they get a virus.
That scenario is a little more insidious. However, since they don’t have your book, you’re not losing sales on them. If anything, your readers might be angry at the website for conning them. But on the other hand, a smart reader can see there’s something wrong about the whole set-up.
So what can an author do to prevent all this?
As authors, we’re told that enabling DRM — Digital Rights Management — on our titles helps prevent piracy. It’s a little bit of code that’s added to your ebook to prevent it from being shared. What we’re not told as authors is that DRM is largely ineffective and a real pain in the ass.
If I were unscrupulous and wanted to buy your book and then distribute it illegally (or even if I was an honest person that just doesn’t like the hassle of DRM), I can “crack” it in seconds. A quick Google search of “how to crack DRM” brings up immediate results that even a not-too-capable tech person like me can follow. To someone who’s determined to share your book illegally, DRM means nothing. (And I see I can crack DRM using Calibre, a program I already have on my computer.)
For the honest person, DRM can be a real pain in the ass. Some of the books I read have DRM on them — and now that I’ve got the process down, it’s not too huge of a hassle, but the first couple times, I was like, “Oh, fuck!” After purchasing the book, I downloaded it, then had to download a DRM management program, then had to create an account, then had to unlock the ebook in that program, then I had to sync my ereader with that program, then copy the file over. What should have taken about ten seconds instead took about ten minutes. (In hindsight, if I had downloaded directly to my Kobo, it might’ve avoided all those steps. However, I prefer to side-load via my laptop.) This whole process left a sour taste in my mouth and made me feel like I couldn’t be trusted as a reader.
So, whether or not to enable DRM is completely up to you as the author. DRM can add the feeling of security, but keep in mind it’s just a feeling. It doesn’t actually secure your ebook.
Let’s say that someone has uploaded your ebook and is either offering it as a free download or even charging money for it. Or, let’s say that a site claims to offer it for free but you know it’s one of those scam sites. Can you do anything?
If you want to invest the time in doing so, you can send the site a DMCA notice. (DMCA stands for Digital Millennium Copyright Act.) To do this, do a search for “DMCA notice template” and you’ll find free samples of takedown notices. Plunk in your information and send it to the email address attached to the website. They are legally obligated to take your book (or if they don’t have your book, take the cover image and blurb) off their website. From what I’ve seen when people have tried this, the website complies, even if it’s a scam site run be people who don’t care about theft.
So what happens if they don’t comply? Your next step is to report this infringement to Google. Do a web search for “report copyright infringement to Google” and you’ll find the proper links. While this may not remove the site from the internet, it will be removed from Google search results.
But there’s one last thing to keep in mind. Remember I found Autumn Fire and Go Deep listed on a torrent site? As far as I know DMCA notices are ineffective for torrent sites. Here’s why: Normally, when a site has your book illegally, it’s on their servers and they can just delete the files. Torrent sites are different — torrent sites don’t actually have your book files. Instead, these sites connect individual users who have the files. So, while my books were listed on a torrent site, they weren’t on the site’s servers, they were instead on some random person’s hard drive. I didn’t bother sending the torrent site a DMCA notice as they don’t actually have my books, rather, they’re facilitating the connection between two people who want to share my books. While a torrent site may choose to block the transmission of certain files, all it takes is for someone to change the file name to work around such a block.
Does piracy suck. You bet your ass. Is there something you can do about it? Yes. Is it worth your time? That’s totally up to you and your answer might vary based on the individual situation. For myself, I don’t worry too much about piracy, but then, I’m not exactly raking in the cash. I’ve maybe lost a few dollars over the years. Personally, my time is worth more than that. But I totally get if someone feels personally violated that their book has been pirated, or if their book is being used to scam someone out of their credit card number. I felt violated the first time it happened. But after about the fifth or sixth time I found it, I just stopped caring. I don’t even Google my book titles or name anymore to find out what’s happening because I just simply don’t care — because for every site you successfully have your book removed from, another site has just uploaded your info. It’s a never-ending game that takes away valuable writing time. Instead of worrying about a few lost dollars due to piracy, I’d rather work on creating a new work that will bring in ten times more than what I’ve lost.