Internet Pirates Target Top Authors

Posted on August 24, 2001

Publishers and authors have been concerned that the illegal delivery of books over the Internet would occur in the future. Unfortunately, a recent study has found that the illegal piracy of books over the Web is already occuring. Envisional, a UK-based Internet monitoring company, announced that many bestselling titles of top authors, such as J. K. Rowling, John Grisham, Stephen King and Terry Pratchett, are available for free download over the web. Results from Envisional's research showed that 7,267 different pirated ebooks could be freely accessed through newsgroups and Napster-like file-sharing networks such as gnutella. Envisional warned the publishing industry that the growing problem has the potential to impact upon the sector as hard as Napster hit the music industry.

Envisional's research found that science fiction and fantasy titles head the list of most pirated books, closely followed by technical computing books. Thousands of copies of horror author Stephen King's novels, including latest release Dreamcatcher, as well as It, Misery and The Shining were all available at different locations online. Other authors hardest hit include Harry Potter creator J. K. Rowling, with hundreds of copies of all four Harry Potter titles posted around the Internet. Terry Pratchett books were also popular targets, with nearly 200 copies discovered. There was also a growing trend towards popular thrillers, such as John Grisham's legal dramas and Tom Clancy's political yarns, with tens of copies of individual titles appearing on the Internet.

Top Ten Pirated Authors
  1. Stephen King
    - over 1,600 individual copies. Example titles include: Dreamcatcher, It, Misery, The Shining
  2. J. K. Rowling
    - over 700 individual copies. Example titles include: Harry Potter - all four books
  3. Terry Pratchett
    - 193 individual copies. Example titles include: The Colour of Magic, Wyrd Sisters
  4. Tom Clancy
    - 51 individual copies. Example titles include: Red Storm Rising, Patriot Games
  5. Douglas Adams
    - 49 individual copies. Example titles include: Hitchhiker's Guide
  6. J. R. R. Tolkien
    - 42 individual copies. Example titles include: Lord of the Rings Volumes, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion
  7. John Grisham
    - 38 individual copies. Example titles include: The Client, A Time to Kill
  8. Iain M. Banks
    - 23 individual copies. Example titles include: Complicity, Inversions
  9. Irvine Welsh
    - 13 individual copies. Example titles include: Trainspotting
  10. Douglas Coupland
    - 8 individual copies. Example titles include: Generation X, Microserfs

The report found two main piracy methods for illegal ebooks. Firstly, a minority are cracked copies of copyrighted ebooks, such as Stephen King's novella, Riding the Bullet. Secondly, the vast majority of ebooks available are traditional copyrighted paper books that have been scanned and then converted into plain text or popular ebook formats, such as Adobe eBook Reader or Microsoft Reader. Once downloaded, the illegal ebooks can be printed out or read on a PC, pocket PC, or dedicated ebook reading device, just as if reading a paper book.

Ben Coppin, chief operating officer of Envisional, said, "The Internet is set to have the greatest effect upon the publishing industry since the invention of the printing press. Similar to the problem caused to the music industry by MP3s, the development of new ebook reader software will have a significant impact upon the publishing industry. These new technologies have freed book content from its traditional physical form, enabling the instant distribution of intellectual property across the globe. Releasing texts from their original format offers great opportunities for the sharing of information, but also creates a need for accurate monitoring to ensure intellectual property rights are protected."

Clare Griffiths, a lawyer at Intellectual Property specialists Briffa, explained, "Copying ebooks and downloading them is a straight-forward copyright infringement by the pirate and may also implicate subsequent on-line users. Even if users only read material on screen they are still making a copy onto the hard drive of their computer, which is enough to incur liability. By doing so, it is possible to infringe the rights of a range of people from the author, editor, type-setter, publisher, illustrator and ebook licensee. Where the pirates copy the publisher's trade marks, further liability could be incurred for trademark infringement or passing-off."

Griffiths continued, "The quickest and cheapest way of tackling this piracy is by contacting the ISPs on which the infringing material is hosted. Once made aware of the situation, the ISP are obliged to take reasonable steps to block access to the site until the matter has been resolved. Where it becomes clear that the piracy has been on a scale to warrant further action, businesses can follow up with legal proceedings."

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