Worried About Book Piracy?

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

We occasionally receive emails from our authors, reporting that they found another piracy website illegally offering their books. Everyone wants to know what to do about it, and understandably there’s a lot of hand-wringing over potential lost revenues. So I want to briefly address the topic of book piracy.

I read dozens of articles and opinions — there’s enough to make your head spin. Here are a few things I think you, as an author, should keep in mind.

•Piracy IS going on — and it’s much bigger than you.

Music. Movies. Television shows. Newspapers. Magazines. Games. And books. All are pirated, content being aggregated and sold or given away without the content creators and producers receiving a dime. One source says media piracy is costing the US economy $58 billion in losses every year. That’s billion with a B. Every year.

As much as you get frustrated and angry when you stumble across a pirate site illegally offering your material, remember you’re not the only one suffering. This is a big deal. It’s a global calamity, facilitated by the Internet. This is why so many people are trying to figure out how to fix the problem.

•Some people argue that piracy helps authors by giving them more exposure.

In isolated cases, the sales of a book, song, or movie can be helped by pirated copies circulating around the Internet, giving exposure to something that people hadn’t heard of. This seemed to be the case with the 2011 phenomenon, Go the F*** to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes, which gained popularity after pages were leaked and went flying around cyberspace, causing thousands to purchase the book. But these are isolated cases. Overall, piracy is more of a threat, not a help. (See above statistic. 58. Billion. Dollars.)

•Some argue that those who illegally download your work were not your potential customers anyway.

Many who visit pirate sites looking for free songs, movies, and books are the kind of people who wouldn’t have paid for it otherwise. This is probably true. But if there were NO way to get these products without paying, and these people weren’t habituated to “free,” wouldn’t we have avoided creating a whole generation of people who feel entitled to intellectual property without paying for it? In any case, plenty of freeloaders can afford to purchase books/movies/songs. They just choose not to.

•Fighting piracy costs a lot of money, with no guarantee of effectiveness.

Many large publishers are devoting considerable time and effort to combat piracy. David Shelley, publisher at Little, Brown, stated at the London Book Fair that one of the reasons publishers couldn’t increase digital royalty rates to authors was because of the increasing costs of fighting piracy. While many have questioned this and claimed it was just one more way publishers are trying to avoid paying authors, there’s certainly some legitimacy to it, even if piracy is only one of the financial pressures on publishers right now.

Fighting piracy can cost millions, and many say the only people who benefit ends up to be the lawyers fighting the battles. There’s no proof any of the anti-piracy efforts have had any appreciable effect. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) reportedly spent $64 million on lawsuits fighting music piracy — to earn back less than $2 million. Whatever’s being done isn’t working, as piracy has increased, not decreased.

•There are alternatives to fighting piracy head-on.

Recognizing the futility of spending millions fighting piracy, some are advocating instead spending the money to better connect with customers so they’ll be drawn to legal rather than illegal sources of content.

I don’t know how this is going to be done, but it seems to me it’s probably the most logical way to approach the piracy problem. Rather than simply trying to put pirates out of business, everyone in the media business can instead look at the pirates as competition and try to come up with ways to beat them at their game… ways to bring customers the content they want, easily available in many formats, at a reasonable price. This, I think, is the long term solution that everyone involved in the creation and production of our cultural content should focus on.

So what should YOU do?


If you come across a site that appears to be illegally offering your book, report it to your publisher in whatever way they’ve established. (For example, here is Simon & Schuster’s statement on piracy and a link to report it.) You can also report to various writer’s groups in which you are a member, such as RWA.


Seek out articles from a variety of viewpoints about piracy, and stay informed. Beware of reading only articles from one type of source. Every angle has its own bias. Try to form an educated opinion.


Whenever you’re aware of someone illegally file-sharing (nice euphemism, huh?), remind them that it’s stealing, it’s illegal, and that the people who created the music/movie/book deserve to get paid for their work.


Your publisher is most likely doing what they can to fight piracy, according to the resources they have available. Don’t overly concern yourself with how hard your publisher is working on this front. They could be spending millions and it still might not do any good. It’s better to concern yourself with how both you and your publisher will continue to connect with your readers and make it easy and attractive for people to buy your books.


Build relationships with your readers as best you can. Building a loyal following of readers who are willing to pay for your books is your most effective way of personally combating piracy.


At the end of the day, you want to try and let go of your anger and frustration at these criminals who are stealing your stuff, and turn your mind toward more productive channels. When all else fails, go for a jog, take a yoga class, or practice deep breathing.

P.S. I don’t pirate the photos I use on the blog – most are purchased from iStockPhoto, 123RF, or Pexels.

What are your thoughts on media piracy?




20 Responses

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  1. You stole the words heat-forged of my heart,
    whereby your shadowed soul opened to sin
    and allowed our surgeon-carpenter His part
    to cleanse your self-made wounds…and I win.
    * Many thanks for all the prayers. Are needed. Entering grim passage, but secure in knol that JC waits downstream.
    * And its not over yet.

  2. Mary Kay Moody says:

    I had no idea it was such a huge black-business. Thanks for the information and perspective, Rachelle.

  3. Carol Ashby says:

    Piracy is theft, pure and simple, and if I were publishing for personal profit, I’d be upset if it happened to me. But my novels are about people who don’t know Jesus wrestling with what they should do with the faith when people they care about are totally committed to Him. Maybe someone stealing a copy of one of mine and reading it could lead to a life transformed. If I found out I was being pirated, that would be my prayer.

    • Amen, Carol. God’s word has the power to change the hearts of pirates!
      * Rachelle, you mentioned those who feel entitled to free intellectual property. I suspect this is a mindset from the enemy, designed to undermine “the wages of sin” and substitute “I deserve grace.”

  4. Waaaaaaay back in the 1980s when I was working with youngsters, one young man showed me his beautiful new Bible … and then … confessed to me that … he had stolen it.
    You stole a Bible from the bookstore?
    How can you possibly sit and read it?
    It takes a painfully seared conscience.

  5. Lynn Horton says:

    I hesitate to post this comment, but I see this as a fundamental, cultural shift. As we move from a capitalistic (reward those who work and achieve) mindset to more of a socialistic (everyone has a right to a high quality of life/insurance/whatever) one, it becomes easier to believe that you’re entitled to anything and everything you want—without necessarily having to pay for it. The sense of entitlement has far-reaching implications—even to the arts. In my old career I twice went to court over copyright infringement and won both times. That was twenty years ago, and I would think long and hard before pursuing it now (despite the fact that my daughter will graduate next year as an IP attorney, and I will get a “family” rate). It is an ENORMOUS distraction to the rest of life, and sucks the creativity right out of your soul.

    Honestly, this genie is out of the lamp. I think we need to develop thicker skin.

  6. I often get Google notifications of my name and discover they’re from businesses offering my e-books for free. My publisher can’t do anything about it without spending a fortune on each one.
    I don’t know if anyone actually downloads my books, but I hope the books are appreciated by those who do.

  7. I love your recommendation to build relationships with readers. You’d hope there would be some loyalty.

    I was wondering if we write Christian fiction, will the pirated stories touch the ones reading and stealing stories? Then I read Damon’s comment about somebody stealing a Bible.

    Thanks for sharing, Rachelle!

  8. This sounds naive, but I didn’t think about the reality of book piracy. Of course we’ve all heard the stories and seen the blurb at the beginnings of DVD’s (does anyone else still watch DVD’s?), so I should have realized that books could be pirated too.
    *I always appreciate how you find a different perspective. In this case, acknowledging the fact that there isn’t a lot one individual can do to eliminate the crime of piracy makes sense. I like your alternative to fighting piracy head on. focusing on how to gain readers sounds like a great answer until something else can be done.

  9. Angie Arndt says:

    *I always thought pirating e-books was something teens to YA’s did for a lark. I saw a study today that said most are between 30 – 44 with an income between $60 – $99,000. They have the money. They know better. They still do it.
    *Thanks for the info, Rachelle. Like my prof always said, “No use worrying. You can only do what you can do.”

  10. Wow! I had no idea piracy was such a huge problem. I believe it’s due to a mindset shift of “my need vs. their need.” Like Saul Alinsky who when confronted by an interviewer (Alinsky’s last public interview) about setting up a scheme for himself and other university classmates to get free meals, and that it was stealing and criminal. Alinsky replied that he didn’t see it that way. He felt that his need to eat free outweighed the local eateries need to make money. No feelings if guilt or remorse at all. Unfortunately this same mindset has spread throughout our country as well as through other countries. Sin will abound until Jesus returns.

    I don’t want to stress over it unless it was something very much a combination of my art, poetry, and certain writing projects. I am constantly creating, and would hate to stop to have to deal with people that do that. I figure God knows and I hope God uses it. But, I would report because if they’re doing it to me, they’re doing it to others, and they’re responsible for their choices.

    Unfortunately, stop it one way, they find another way. I would work to gain loyalty from my readers.

    Thanks for this post about this topic.