7 Ways Writers Protect Their Work from Piracy

Thursday, May 12, 2016

by Scott La Counte, co-creator of PiracyTrace
You’ve spent months on your book; you’ve paid for editors; designers; marketers—this book is your baby! And then someone kidnaps it. Without warning, you stumble upon your book being offered free—or worse, someone is actually profiting from it and not passing that profit on to you—and you feel violated. Piracy happens. But if you care about your work, then there are ways to limit and eliminate it.

Understanding Your Rights as an Author

The first step to protecting your work is understanding what your rights actually are. The most obvious thing every author should know is copyright. Many writers think they need to register their work to copyright it; this is only “kind of” true. A work is technically considered copyrighted when an author makes it public; that means if you put it on any website that a general audience can get to, then your copyright has begun (and it lasts the life of the author plus 70 years). So why do so many authors and publishers register a work with the copyright office? In two words: legal protection. While your work is copyrighted, you cannot actually sue someone for copyright infringement until you register your work. Registering a work is actually pretty cheap (depending on what you are registering, fees start at $35), and does not require a lawyer. You can find out more about how to register your work here.

Piracy vs. Scam

Piracy isn’t always piracy. Many authors learn this the hard way. What does that mean? There are literally hundreds of websites out there that either sell your work or give it away for free—except they don’t actually sell or give it away for free. These websites generally scrape Amazon and other retailers for inventory, then create a bogus website that appears to be hosting your work. To make it more believable, they even list a fake number of downloads. When you attempt to download your book, you will be asked to either add your credit card or perform a series of tasks (such as signing up for a trial for software or buying a magazine subscription). While it’s certainly your right to contact the website and ask for your book not to be listed, it’s usually not worth your time.

Understand Where & How Piracy Exists

So where exactly does piracy exist? While torrent websites like The Pirate Bay are what people would normally associate as the culprit, piracy exists all over the Internet. A growing number of Internet forums such as Mobilism (which typically requires user access) have become popular with people hunting for free e-books. User access means you’d have to sign up to see if your book is there, but sign-up is almost always free. If your book is DRM protected, how is any of this possible? Unfortunately, DRM is very easy to remove and there are several tools to help people out. If your book is somewhere you do not want it, the first step is contacting the website and sending a DCMA notice; if there is no contact page, you can perform a simple WhoIs search to see the contact.

Alerts

No one wants to spend several hours each day or week devoted to searching the Internet for piracy; fortunately, you don’t have to. There are plenty of free and paid services to help writers out. The first is to set up alerts. Google (and other search engines) allow users to add free alerts so anytime there’s a search match, you will get an e-mail. With this method, you can add several alerts such as “Author Name” + “Book Name” + “Free Download”.

Digital Watermarking

Many publishers and authors have turned to digital watermarks to protect their content; watermarks are added to e-book files and are not actually seen. Think of it as adding a tracking device to your book; once it’s there you can see everywhere your book is at—as long as the watermark is still attached. There are several services that help writers and publishers add a digital watermark. Two of the bigger companies offering this service are Digimarc and BooXtream.

Text Scans

Watermarking is an effective form of protection—but they don’t protect from people who copy only portions of the text or scan hard copies and convert them into digital copies. If you are concerned about the actual content of your book being stolen and used on the Internet, there are several content based scanning services that help you track who might be using your content without your consent. PlagScan and Dustball both have free and paid services. Turnitin is one of the most powerful paid scans, but another worth checking out is Grammarly, which has reasonable pricing and also checks your grammar.

Full-Text Automated Scans

Text scans have two main limitations; one, they are marketed toward educational institutes, which means they have a hard time with works longer than 5,000 words; authors get around this by breaking up the text of their book. The second limitation is that most text-based scanners are not automated. What this means is that an author or publisher has to upload their work each time they want to scan it. A less time consuming method is PiracyTrace, which scans a work indefinitely and sends e-mail alerts anytime parts of a work are found online. PiracyTrace plans start at $1 per month.

Book piracy will continue to be a problem in the future, but with little effort or money an author can make sure their work stays protected.

Scott La Counte

Scott La Counte is a librarian and freelance writer. He helped create PiracyTrace, which helps authors and publishers protect their work from being used online. His next book, #OrganicJesus, will be released by Kregel Publications in June.