Is paranoia over piracy leading publishers to extremes that could turn off their readers? Book reviewer Rebecca Blain was nonplussed to open a review copy of an e-book and discover a copyright warning that spanned several pages and included a threat of $250,000 fines for sharing it. She followed up with a post quoting the copyright notice in full, and comparing it to the copyright notices from printed books and a number of other e-books.

There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding of copyright out there judging by some of the comments Blain got in response to her posts. Some people claimed that the publishers had to put that kind of warning on or else they would be limited in their power to obtain damages. (While I’m not a lawyer, I’m pretty sure they’re misremembering having heard that it’s necessary to include a copyright notice at all to obtain more power over damages.) Others complained that her focus on the copyright notice detracted from the review itself (though it’s worth noting that the author of the book she reviewed popped up to defend her review, even though it wasn’t necessarily complimentary toward his book in other aspects).

In one of her comments, Blain elaborates:

Piracy is something to be concerned about. However, I don’t think these notices are *efficient* methods of piracy control. We’ve seen this demonstrated by the movie industry already. Those intrusive FBI warnings and all of the protections on the media haven’t stopped the problem. There are entire companies dedicated to piracy concerns and stopping it, and the pirates just come up with different ways around it.

I suppose for me, the big issue is a matter of formatting for kindles — 4 pages was a little excessive. One full page, shocker of fines or not, I would have sighed and likely just moved on and kept quiet. However, they’re an internet-based publisher as much as in print from what I understand… and I do think that consideration should be made for the time dedicated readers like me — who DO read the warnings and try to respect the author’s wishes on books — feel trapped and abused by such things.

Others (including other authors) feel that piracy is costing them money, and anything that might possibly cut down on it is worth doing. But Blain points out:

The problem is, as I’ve stated to other commenting individuals, is that we put up with these aggressive notices with the mental expectation that they work — that they somehow mean something.

The truth is, they don’t. People are aware that downloading free files is illegal. After SOPA / PIPA, the news coverage it got on CNN, wikipedia, and other sites, you would have to be living under a rock (or have never used the internet) not to understand that this is the case.

So the notices do not dissuade anyone determined to break the law, any more than those notices you see projected before movies telling you how piracy is illegal, and won’t you please think of the poor set painter or whoever whose way of earning a living is being harmed. They just aggravate readers (such as Blain) and potentially turn them off of the books they’re published on—while the larger publishers stick with a simple paragraph about unauthorized reproduction being illegal.

I suppose it’s an indication of just how panicked the smaller publishers are becoming over piracy that they try this. But the larger publishers seem to know better. Even Baen, who releases everything it publishes entirely free of DRM, is content with:

Copyright 2012 by David Weber

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

While it’s just as illegal to upload a Baen e-book to a pirate site as it is to upload anyone else’s, Baen doesn’t seem to fret over people not being fully aware of it. And Baen’s books tend to be pirated less than anyone else’s (though I expect the correlation there is more due to Baen’s enlightened stance on e-book DRM and the lack thereof). Perhaps the publishers that are apt to throw ominous four-page copyright warnings at their readers could learn from that example.

(Found via TechDirt.)


  1. Also except for ARCs, Baen ebooks are also reasonably priced at $6. In an interview with Chris Meadows, Toni Weisskopf, publisher of Baen Books was asked how they could price their ebooks so low, she said, “Well, part of the “secret” there is we don’t pay for expensive DRM schemes. I’ve never understood why we should add to our costs with the sole outcome that it’s harder for readers to buy and read the books we want to sell.”

  2. “And Baen’s books tend to be pirated less than anyone else’s”

    Do you have a source for that? I’d be interested in reading it. I find it rather hard to believe that Baen’s books are pirated less, given the easily availability of them – that doesn’t mean that they’re not doing quite well despite the piracy however.

    • I don’t have any one particular source I can point to off the top of my head. It’s just what I’ve picked up in reading Baen’s Bar for a while, and the columns by Eric Flint in the Library Prime Palaver and Jim Baen’s Universe issues. People who’ve tried to find Baen e-books on pirate sites don’t find them as easily because most of Baen’s readers respect the publisher too much to upload them (apart from the pack-in CDROMs that grant explicit permission to copy and share) and tend to do their own policing when they find them.

  3. It’s fairly easy to get a sample of what’s being pirated, and who’s downloading it.

    Go to a torrent site, search for “ebook” and sort the list by leechers. That will show you a snapshot of what’s available, and which of the offered torrents are the most popular.

    What you’ll find most of the time, are some collections of books, often textbooks but also sometimes fiction. Single titles are almost always either technical computer books, or else whatever is the most recent bestseller, with two exceptions: books that are not available for sale as ebooks at all, and books that are available for sale as ebooks at prices significantly higher than a used book or a mass market paperback.

  4. Nobilis wrote:
    “It’s fairly easy to get a sample of what’s being pirated, and who’s downloading it.
    Go to a torrent site, search for “ebook” and sort the list by leechers. That will show you a snapshot of what’s available, and which of the offered torrents are the most popular.”

    You really have to be monumentally naive. So a bunch of dishonest people who distribute illegal copies of eBooks world wide … but report honest numbers on the stats of their downloading ? Right ? They would never inflate their numbers to make it look like everyone is doing ! No !!!!!

    Oh please !

  5. I can certainly understand why this notice is so long and the earlier notices in paper books were so short. Things have really changed in the publishing industry as the crooks get bolder and the readers have the gotten the power to screw publishers and authors with ease.

    The publishers have to cover their legal butts with warnings about paperbacks without covers as well as the limitations of ebook “ownership” so the worst offenders they prosecute can’t claim ignorance, and they can educate those who mean well.

    Most people don’t understand even the simple aspects of copyright. I see that every time the subject comes up, and the idiots and ignorant start to talk on the subject.

    Part of the problem is the misinformation campaign by the pirates and their fanboys. Another is that most people aren’t that knowledgable about much of anything, and copyright isn’t exactly a bright and shiny bit of knowledge that’s as sexy as a foil-covered Easter chocolate that they want to open up. And, frankly, some people don’t want to understand it because they’d have to stop stealing books or admit they are doing wrong.

    Then, there are those who blame the authors and publishing industry for being victims who speak up, and anything these victims do to fight back is just another justification for the stealing.

    And, Chris, you don’t have to put a copyright notice on a manuscript that you are sending to a publisher or agent because copyright is automatic the moment you write it, but publishers do have to include a copyright notice on published books as part of the legal process.

  6. @Howard Yes, that kind of data can be faked. However, it has to be done through server-side languages, as opposed to client-side. It is not like manipulating the very information of a server through configuration files. Most data these days, especially this blog, is sent to and retrieved from a database and only server-side languages can retrieve such data to be put on web pages. After all, it is next to impossible for somebody to continuously update the kind of data BitTorrent trackers contain. Also, BitTorrent is used for both legal and illegal file sharing.

  7. Bryce. I maintain that server side is quite easily manipulated through client driven, server side, algorithms. Also many of these pirate sites have stats which are not even server side, but simple number generator java scripts etc.

  8. “Perhaps the publishers that are apt to throw ominous four-page copyright warnings at their readers could learn from that example.”

    Let’s face it, it is unlikely. This is all about making a big noise and the political battle being waged by Publishers to win tax breaks and get protection for their outdated business model.

    Piracy is being flogged to death as a complaint, based on fictitious and concocted ‘data’ and no serious independent study supports their claims.

    People know exactly what copyright means. They also know BS when they see it.

  9. On the “glass half full” side: At least they haven’t figured out how to act completely like DVDs. “I’m sorry, I don’t believe you actually read every word of those four pages. That should have taken you at least five minutes. I’m not going to let you get to the table of contents until that time’s up.”

    Ah! So *that’s* the real reason they want Javascript on e-readers!

  10. The other day I got in my car and started driving. And, my god, all these rules! And restrictions! Why, I can’t even choose what part of the road to drive on! To say nothing of all these stop signs, traffic lights, “yield” and “wrong way” signs telling me where I can and cannot go. And speed limits? What, like you know better than me how good I am at driving? I decided to go ninety miles an hour on the left side of the road. (After all, that’s legal in certain parts of the world, and for all you know that’s where I was driving.)

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