How to catch the ebook pirates

The International Publishers Assocation (IPA) defines Book Piracy as follows: “Any unauthorised use of a copyrighted work, such as a book or a journal article, is an infringement of copyright, or a case of copyright piracy, unless covered by a copyright exception. Piracy has a harmful impact on the revenue streams of all creators”. But as they go on to say:

“Whether unlawful copies are made with or without commercial interest, by commercial pirates or by private individuals, for publishers the damage can be the same. Any unlawful copy of their book or journal, in paper or electronic form, affects their business as much as the theft of the same work as a book in a shop. Any unlawful copying amounts to a misappropriation of their property. Consequently, copyright laws generally sanction this theft, under civil and sometimes also under criminal law, just like the theft of tangible property. Unfortunately, copyright infringement is not as easy to detect as the theft of physical goods, particularly not in the electronic age where electronic files can be created and widely spread within short time periods. This renders the enforcement of copyright particularly difficult, and makes awareness-raising particularly important.”

Here is an example – the website claims to have links to over 2 Billion books for free download and over 20 Billion articles (another widely-cited example of this kind of search engine is Library Genesis). I searched on BookZZ website for the Life of Pi, by Yann Martel (see below). There were 28 hits – the first two links indicated that the pursuit of the hosting site by the legal owner has resulted in the download links being deleted – but many others on this site remain available, with downloads offered for the Life of Pi in ePUB, HTML and Text formats as entry #21 below shows. Clearly breaches of copyright and hard to eliminate.

So what do you do if your publications has been pirated, or your suspect this to be the case? Maybe you have issued them with limited security (e.g. Adobe-based PDF security with no DRM) or via a major DRM-enabled channel, such as Amazon or Apple, that has not provided the protection you expected? The answer is a three-fold approach:

1. Pursue the pirates by all means available;

2. Improve the level of protection you apply to your publications; and

3. Minimize the commercial impact of piracy on your business, if possible. We look briefly at these elements below, but please investigate the links provided for a fuller picture of the options available.

1. Pursuing the pirates can be a difficult and potentially expensive process, but specialist law enforcement units and commercial and trade bodies can help a lot. On the law enforcement side there are organizations like the UK’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), and the US Govt National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center. Then there are working groups, seminars and even summits on how to tackle piracy (see for example the annual Anti-Piracy and Content Protection Summit), Finally there are commercial providers of anti-piracy services (stopping the abuse of your copyright) such as Digimarc Guardian and Rightscorp. These latter organizations take a pro-active approach to copyright abuse, seeking out websites and services that distribute material illegally and implementing a multi-step approach to removing the links and identifying the perpetrators.

2. The second part of the process is to try and improve the protection provided to your PDF publications. One key mechanism is to use a combination of static and dynamic (intelligent) watermarking to make any attempt to copy your material extremely difficult without inclusion of these watermarks. Of particular value are watermarks that uniquely identify the end user, as this provides a means for directly pursuing the individual or corporate body responsible. Our blog article on watermarking is a useful starting point. A strong DRM is also vital (Drumlin for example, but there are quite a few to investigate), but that is not always possible because distribution channels like Amazon and Apple have their own, proprietary DRMs. For those not dependent on such channels a powerful DRM combined with watermarking and strong Warning Notices is the preferred option. And where proprietary material is provided to Corporates, make it clear in your contracts that the Corporate will be held liable for any copyright abuse by their staff – which will encourage them to police their own staff and advise them of the sanctions available if such actions occur.

and finally…

3. If your publications are commercial, making the access to the material fast, simple but secure, and making the per copy cost reasonable (depending on volumes and content of course) may well help – this is how the big players in the ebook world, video and audio-media distributors, and games world have tackled the problem – basically they accept that piracy will occur but seek to make piracy pointless – worthy of consideration, always assuming that your business model can support this approach!

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