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E-Book Piracy and What You Can Do About It

e-book piracy and what to do about it

Writing and publishing an e-book can be beneficial in many ways. People view e-books as more reputable than articles and blog posts so it can help you establish yourself as an authority in your field.

You can distribute your e-book for free as “bait” to get people to join your email list. Offering premium content is a tried and tested method of building email lists – and email marketing is one of the most cost-effective types of digital marketing.

E-books can also be a direct route to revenue—selling e-books can prove a lucrative source of income.

Whether your goal is to build your email list, gain reputability, or generate income as a writer or publisher, in writing an e-book, you are creating a valuable piece of intellectual property.

What will you do if you discover that someone is profiting through the distribution of pirated copies of your work? What can you do stop pirates? Is there a way to prevent this from happening?

You worked hard to write your e-book. It’s your work, and you should do what you can to protect your rights as an author. Fighting digital piracy is not only in your best interest, but it helps to create a better economic environment for all content producers.

What Constitutes Digital Piracy?

The definition of digital piracy is “the practice of illegally copying and selling digital music, video, computer software, etc.” Anyone who obtains, copies, or redistributes your intellectual property in a way you have not permitted is engaging in piracy.

It doesn’t matter whether the pirate is charging money for the e-book or not and this applies to downloads straight from the pirate’s website and from third-party websites like Amazon.

If you find out someone is distributing your e-book illegally, you are well within your rights to do something about it.

Of course, the best way to deal with digital piracy is to take the necessary steps to ensure that it does not happen to begin with.

Here we’ll explore instances of digital piracy, how to prevent it, and what your recourse is when your work is pirated.


Some pirates may attempt to get away with piracy by spinning content. Spinning occurs when minor changes are made to the source text and then presented it as a different work from the original. In some cases, pirates do this by running the text through an automated program that substitutes words for synonyms.

Spinning creates a gray area regarding intellectual property rights. A work based on yours that has only minor revisions is legally your work, and your copyright still applies. As pirates introduce more and more changes to the text, however, piracy becomes increasingly difficult to prove.

In most cases, if you can show that the derivative work follows the same structure as your e-book and addresses the same ideas in the same ways, that is enough to establish that piracy has occurred.

For example, if all of the derivative work’s chapters have the same or similar titles, that is a clear sign that the “author” has violated your copyright.

Fair Use

When investigating concerns of digital piracy, make sure you know what does or does not constitute infringement. Simply quoting or referencing a copyrighted work does not make someone a pirate or a plagiarist.

In the case of an e-book, people can quote and reproduce sections of your text in their own texts so long as they do so for criticism, comment, reference, etc. They also need to give you credit when they do so. What they cannot do is produce a work that exists for the same purpose while quoting heavily from your creation. Neither can they reproduce your work in full or present all or part of it as their work.

Some people incorrectly assume that “fair use” is any use in which the person reproducing the material does not profit. There are many instances of fair use that apply to commercial initiatives, and there are many instances of plagiarism and piracy in which the perpetrator does not profit at all.

How to Prevent E-Book Piracy

When it comes to e-book piracy, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to protect your rights is to make it harder to infringe on them in the first place.

Register Your E-Book With the Copyright Office

Contrary to what some may think, you do not necessarily need to do anything for your e-book to have copyright protection. If you are the original author, you own the copyright. Period. That said, the United States Copyright Office and similar offices in other countries allow you to register your work for extra protection.

Registering your original work with the Copyright Office helps establish that you are the author of the work and that any copies or derivative works made by others without your consent are infringements upon your rights. If you sue someone for copyright infringement, you’ll have a much stronger case if your copyright is registered.

Do Not Use an Easily Accessible URL

Too often, e-book authors place their e-books in a subfolder of their website with a highly intuitive URL slug. For example: Upon seeing the title of the work, people can guess the URL, and obtain the e-book for free.

In most instances, it is good practice to create intuitive website slugs rather than just using gibberish, as it helps with SEO. In this case, you do not want people accessing this URL except by going through proper channels, so it is better to use a slug with random letters and numbers that people cannot guess.

Put Your E-Book Behind a Login

Anytime your e-book is accessible in a subfolder on your website it is not insecure, even if you make the URL unintuitive. Anyone who obtains the URL can easily share it with others. Also, there are no safeguards in place to stop people from just copying the e-book and making it available elsewhere.

      1. To take your security up a notch, consider creating a membership portal where people need to log in and use a password to gain access to your e-book.

Use a DRM Service

Placing your e-book behind a login barrier helps to limit accessibility, but it doesn’t keep others from redistributing your work without your consent. Once someone has obtained your e-book, he or she can easily copy it and make it available to others through other channels.

If you want to ensure your e-book is protected, you need to go beyond changing your URL slugs or creating a login framework and implement a Digital Rights Management (DRM) system.

DRM is a systematic technological approach to copyright management that restricts access and use of copyrighted works. EditionGuard provides a DRM platform to its subscribers that helps prevent unauthorized copying and redistribution of an e-book, even after people have obtained it.

With EditionGuard, you have the choice of deploying Adobe’s state-of-the-art DRM technology or utilizing Social DRM, which encodes a digital watermark unique to an individual. Social DRM allows you to trace piracy back to the source.

Use Google Alerts to Monitor the Internet for Piracy

Google Alerts is a content monitoring and notification service. Once you create an alert, Google automatically sends you an email once it finds new results for the keywords you specify. You can be proactive in monitoring for piracy by creating an alert for the title of your book as well as variants that a pirate might use. If a pirated version using those keywords is made available online, Google will send you an alert notifying you of the fact.

Use the FBI Anti-Piracy Warning Seal

To help combat digital piracy, the FBI allows content publishers to use its anti-piracy warning seal. This seal conveys a sense of seriousness, showing would-be pirates that you mean business and that you will go after them if they steal your work. However, note that, since this is an official seal of the FBI, there are certain guidelines you must follow in using it.

How to Respond to E-Book Piracy When It Happens

It is possible that despite your best efforts to protect your intellectual property, pirates will make unauthorized copies available online. Here are some steps that you can take to deal with this issue:

Notify the Payment Processor

If a pirate is selling your work online, this requires the use of a payment processor like PayPal. Payment processors are mindful of the transactions they facilitate. If they knowingly empower digital piracy, they become legally liable for damages. Knowing this, processors typically respond quickly to accusations of piracy by suspending or closing pirate’s accounts.

Of all the approaches you can take to defend yourself against digital piracy, this is probably the easiest for you and the most painful for the pirate. It hits them right where it counts: the wallet.

Notify the Web Hosting Company

The next thing you can do is to notify pirate’s the web hosting company. To find out who is hosting your pirate’s website, simply go here and enter the domain name.

As with payment processors, hosting companies may be found legally liable if they know their clients are engaging in illegal activity and do nothing to stop it. For this reason, they also tend to be quick to respond to such complaints, and even provide portals for people to file them.

For example, popular web host and domain name registrar GoDaddy’s abuse report portal has a link to report copyright infringement prominently displayed.

reporting piracy to a hosting company

If the web hosting company believes that copyright infringement is occurring, they will typically respond by shutting down the website that the pirate is using.

Notify the Pirate’s Advertisers

If the pirate is distributing your work on a website that runs advertisements, you may be able to contact the advertisers and notify them of the situation. In many cases, they will prefer to stop advertising there rather than be considered guilty by association. As with payment processors, advertisers have influence over the pirate’s income, which gives you power.

Finding out who the advertisers are, is often as simple as clicking on the advertisement and seeing where it takes you. Syndicated advertisements like those offered by Google AdWords and Outbrain also tend to have a small bit of text identifying themselves as such on any given website.

Issue a Cease-and-Desist Letter

Suing digital pirates is a time-consuming and expensive prospect and at the end of the day. there’s no guarantee it will result in a sufficient payoff. In many cases, simply issuing a cease-and-desist letter can do the job by scaring the violator into compliance. Even large corporations often use this tactic, as it is more efficient and cost-effective that filing a lawsuit.

When issuing a cease-and-desist letter, it is advisable to consult with a lawyer. This will help ensure you are doing everything correctly and that you’re making a strong case. from the beginning. A legal letter also has more gravitas if a legitimate law firm’s name is attached to it.

You do not necessarily have to consult with a lawyer to issue a cease-and-desist letter. There are templates available online to help do the job. However, there can be legal repercussions when falsely asserting claims in a cease-and-desist letter. Be safe—consult a lawyer.

Publicly Denounce the Pirate

People who commit digital piracy are usually clever enough not to broadcast their identities on the Internet. However, in some cases, unwitting pirates may brazenly post links to pirated content on social media pages, etc.

If the perpetrator has a website, their personal information may be available in the WHOIS database. If you can find out who the pirate is, you can denounce this person on social media or elsewhere. In many cases, this may hurt them professionally.

Such denouncements are particularly useful in fighting against “gurus” — people trying to establish themselves as experts in their field enabling to sell information products, classes, and high-end consulting services. Since branding is so important for such people, the effect of such accusations can be severely damaging to them.

The fact that these accusations can be so damaging is what makes it important to tread lightly.It’s wise to consult with a lawyer before taking such action. If there is anything inaccurate in your public statements, this could have legal repercussions. Theoretically, the person you are accusing can sue you for defamation.

This course of action can be a legitimate and effective one to take but should be used caution.

Report the Crime to the FBI

Since digital piracy is a federal crime, the FBI has jurisdiction over such complaints in the United States. You can report the crime to the FBI by going to the local FBI field office or by filing a complaint with the FBI’s Internet crime complaint center.

The FBI’s resources are limited, and since the person pirating your work may not be considered a major offender, it is uncertain whether taking this step will produce results. Additionally, the FBI has limited authority if the perpetrator resides in a foreign country.

However, by involving the authorities you now have something to hold over the pirate’s head. The mere mention of the FBI conveys a sense of seriousness that may cause the pirate to cease their illegal activities.


There are numerous benefits to publishing e-books and there is no denying that writing one is hard work. While copyright law does afford you protections if your intellectual property is infringed upon, the various options for fighting piracy are not as desirable as preventing it in the first place.

Here again are the steps you can take to safeguard your valuable copyrights:

  • Register your work with the Copyright Office
  • Do not use an easily accessible URL
  • Put your e-book behind a login
  • Use Digital Rights Management (DRM)
  • Use Google Alerts to monitor possible piracy
  • Use the FBI Anti-Piracy label

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