How to Combat Book Piracy

Pirated copies of hard copy books and original ebooks are appearing on free ebook sites throughout the internet, including those by many respected authors. It doesn’t matter if they were originally issued in hard copy or ebook form, because the pirates laboriously scan hard copy books, page by page, and turn them into PDF files. Piracy is a community issue that can have serious implications for the continued development of any field. It can discourage speakers and teachers who are interested in proper attribution and making money via copyright protection from writing books in the first place, with the result that what they have learned in the course of their careers is lost to the rest of us. Here are the steps that have been most effective in combating book piracy.


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    Don't panic. Most of these sites have copyright compliance officers or other support staff that handle these issues, usually within a couple of days after your request. They may or may not care about the ethics of piracy, but they do want to avoid lawsuits. Approach them in a matter of fact way, rather than accusatory, threatening, or demanding. Take time to vent your emotions privately (typically you may feel fear, rage, grief, and indignation), but do not approach the site itself in that tone. These sites have hundreds of files uploaded daily and do not have staff to verify the individual copyrights, only those that are reported to them.
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    Search the site for all versions of your work. If one of your books is pirated, there’s a chance others will be uploaded as well. Look for the title as well as your name, and be aware that cagey pirates may shorten the title and misspell your name in order to fool the search engines.
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    Make a record of the exact link(s) where your file(s) occur. You will need it for the copyright officer and also your own records so that you can go back and check to see if the file has been removed. To have an exact link, send yourself an email with it and cut and paste the link. You can also send yourself a copy of the full page, with the date uploaded and number of copies.
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    Find the Copyright Officer. Look at the top, bottom, or side of the page for the link (often in very small print) that says something like: copyright policy, copyright protection, removal requests, report violations, or report abuse. Read the policy carefully and collect all the needed information.
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    Collect and save the required information. Cut and paste a record of all the information requested, or send yourself a blind copy of the email, including the date of the request. Save it. You will need to return to the site in a few days and from time to time to make sure the file has been removed and that no other copies have been uploaded. Pirates are tricky and very determined.
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    Visit the profile of the person who uploaded the file. This is usually on a link on the same page of the site as the file, though the name is usually a screen name. Read the profile and consider sending a message to them. Many are well-meaning but naive people who do not understand that they are passing along stolen material. They might be chagrined and promptly remove all the ebooks they aren’t sure are legitimate. Others are defiant rebels who consider themselves heroes, and you’re better off not triggering their alert system. If you see that the person has uploaded dozens or even hundreds of files, this is clearly a career pirate. Most sites will ban them if you report them with proof of the piracy and will remove all of that offender’s uploads. By reporting them, you aren’t just handling your own problem, you’re doing a favor to other authors the thief has victimized.
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    Send a note to the Copyright Officer. Again, be reasoned and polite, not threatening legal action. They don’t need or want to read about your emotions, and emoting does seem to slow down their response time. What they generally need is proof that you’re the author and copyright owner and that you did not authorize the file. If it was actually copyrighted it through the government copyright office, say so and provide a number if possible. Send yourself a copy of the note also. Here’s a format that generally works well:
    • For a hardcopy book: “I am _____, the author and copyright owner of ____ published in hardcopy by ______ in (date). A pirated version has been uploaded to your site without my knowledge or permission by _____ (link to the member who uploaded the file). The book appears at this link on your site: _____ and I note that _____ unauthorized free copies have already been downloaded. The book is for sale on my website at _____ (or the publishers website or on Let’s work together to get this file removed. You may write to me at ____.
    • For an ebook: “I am _____, the author and copyright owner of the ebook _____ published by _____. A pirated version has been uploaded to your site without my knowledge or permission by ____(link to the member who uploaded the file). The ebook appears at this link on your site: ____ and I note that ____ unauthorized free copies have already been downloaded. The book is for sale on my website at ____ (or other site where the book is sold on the web). Let’s work together to get this file removed. You may write to me at _____.
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    Follow up. Go back to the site in a few days to see if the file has been removed, and also use the site’s search engine to make sure it hasn’t been reloaded by someone else or the same person with a new screen name. If it hasn’t been removed in a week, write to the copyright officer again with the original date and information. Ask if there’s anything else they need from you as proof of your claim, and again, say, “Let’s work together to remove this file.” Bookmark and revisit the site again periodically.


  • Please remember, free ebook sites do not condone piracy, and all of them have copyright compliance officers. It is simply a service that many authors use to distribute valuable information and also to promote their work through legitimately free ebooks. You will also find classic texts by long-dead authors whose work should be preserved.
  • Accept that you can't do anything about people pirating your book. Once you get your pirated book taken down on one site, it will just pop up someone else on the Internet. Be happy people are taking the time to pirate and read the book you wrote.
  • Remember, Copyright Infringement is not theft, per the Supreme Court. It is also a civil matter, not criminal, but in most cases if you are both persistent and polite, the infringing parties (whether knowing or unknowing infringers) will remove your works from their lists out of courtesy.
  • What if the book is out of print? It doesn’t matter, you still have the right to request the free ebook be removed. If the book is out of print, by the standard contract, you can and should get the rights back from the publisher to create a new edition of your own - and also to deal with situations like these.
  • Notify colleagues whose books you find on these sites. It’s not only a service to them and to your field, you may also be able to join forces to keep an eye on these sites and share tips about how to approach the copyright officers. Also, write to your organizations’ newsletters to alert others to the fact that this is occurring and that it is not okay. Again, avoid being overly emotional — it turns off possible supporters.
  • Consider notifying your publisher. If you need the big guns to get a file removed, consider writing to the Rights Department of your publisher, who will probably pass it along to the chief. Try removing it yourself first, reporting it only if you’re not getting anywhere.
  • Set up a Google alert. Create an alert that says “Your Name” + “free ebook” or, even better, if you’ve published only one book, use “Your Name” +” title of your book,” + “free ebook”. It can be somewhat tardy in reporting and yields many false positives. For instance; it may send you a notice about any site that contains both your name and the words “free ebook,” even if the book isn’t yours.
  • Be persistent! Keep at it, even though it’s a major drag.
  • Scan the Web periodically for new uploads. Once your book has been pirated and uploaded to a free ebook site, there’s a great possibility the pirate, or someone else, will upload it elsewhere. There are hundreds of such sites, so make yourself a pot of caffeine before tackling it. The format that is the most productive at Google or another search engine is: “Your Name” + “free ebook”.
  • You can also publish your book under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike license or a similar license. Many modern authors, including Cory Doctorow, use this license together with the possibility to purchase a hardcover version. The idea behind it is that your work will spread faster, and if the readers believe it is valuable, they will often still buy it, just to support you or because of one of many other reasons the normal book market has still not died out.
  • You can change the way you make money from your book by adding extra value for the reader, such as free access to your members-only website, early access, free seminars or meet-and-greet sessions.


  • If you are overly concerned about copyright and free distribution of your work, your writings will not reach as many people as they would otherwise. Therefore, if you are not keen on making money from your writings and making sure that everyone knows you wrote certain things, consider allowing your writings to be freely distributed to everyone.
  • In some situations and with some type of books, having a free or pirated electronic version of your book actually supports or increases sale of the book; John Hilton of the Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University is an example.

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