My Book Is Being Pirated! What Can I Do?

DMCA TakedownYou’ve published your book, and as many authors do, you Google it periodically to see where it might pop up. Is it on Barnes and Noble yet? How about Kobo? As you scan the search results an unfamiliar site stands out. We’ll call it IStealBooks.com. (At the time of this writing, that wasn’t a real website. Let’s hope it’s still not.)

A quick search of the site shows your book is indeed listed, complete with a big, red, FREE DOWNLOAD button. Someone is giving your hard work away for free! Panic sets in. What should you do now?

First, take a deep breath and try to remain calm. The majority of these sites don’t actually have your book. Some are designed to install viruses and malware when you click on the “download” button. Others are an attempt to steal credit card information when you sign up to open an account. Some are web crawler sites (also known as spider sites). They’re designed to crawl around the web and looks for entries for a search engine index.

It’s never a good idea to click on the button or link (for the reasons listed above), but do take a look around. Search the name of the site with “pirate” or “free books” in the search bar and see what the internet has to say.

If the results indicate that the site actually does have a free downloadable copy of your book, there are a couple of things you can do.

The first is to send a Digital Millinium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice. The DMCA is a federal U.S. law that helps protect copyright owners. DMCA takedown notices must contain three key elements:

  • A statement by you that you have a good faith belief the disputed use is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or law.
  • A statement by you that the above information in your notice is accurate, and that, under penalty of perjury, you are the copyright owner or authorized to act on the copyright owner’s behalf.
  • A physical or electronic signature of the owner of the copyright, or that of a person authorized to act on behalf of the owner.

A simple example:

Date:

To Whom It May Concern:

In accordance with Section 512(c) of the DMCA, I am submitting this takedown notice in writing and with a digital signature at the bottom. 

My name is (add name). Effective (add date) it came to my attention that my copyrighted material, specifically (add title) is being offered as a free download on your site.

I have a good faith belief that the use of these copyrighted materials on your site is not authorized by the copyright or intellectual property owner, its agent or the law. Under penalty of perjury, I certify that the information in this notice is true and accurate, and that I am the copyright owner of the copyright(s) involved.

Under this statute, you are required upon receipt of this notice to remove and disable access to the infringing materials specified in this notice.

The title is as follows, with an active link to this item on your website:

Title: 

Link:

Thank you for your assistance and for handling this matter promptly. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me via email at (add email).

/Name/      

It’s important at this point to remind readers I am most definitely not an attorney. If you’re going to send the notice above, you need to be sure you do have a good faith belief, the information in the notice is true and accurate, and you are the copyright owner. If you have questions about any of those items, you need to contact an attorney.  Keep in mind the site receiving your notice will be given the opportunity to dispute it, and you don’t want to be the one in the wrong.

That’s the notice, but to whom should you send it? Some sites provide a tab or link named something like “DMCA,” or “Copyright Concerns.” If you don’t see that link, do a search. For example, not long ago I found one of my books offered as a free PDF on Blogger. I searched “send DMCA to Blogger” and found the information I needed.

If you’re still unable to find a recipient, take a look on WHOIS.com. Wikipedia identifies WHOIS as a “…query and response protocol that is widely used for querying databases that store the registered users or assignees of an Internet resource, such as a domain name, an IP address block, or an autonomous system….”

Enter the site’s url into the WHOIS search bar, and you’ll find the domain owner as well as contact information.

Every so often, you’ll find a site that doesn’t want to comply. Maybe they’re based in a country that doesn’t recognize U.S. copyright law. If that’s the case, don’t give up. There’s another option I’ll discuss in my next post on the subject.

Author: Melinda Clayton

Melinda Clayton is the author of the Cedar Hollow series, as well as a self-publishing guide. Clayton has published numerous articles and short stories in various print and online magazines. She has an Ed.D. in Special Education Administration and is a licensed psychotherapist in the states of Florida and Colorado. Lear more about Melinda at her Amazon author page

54 thoughts on “My Book Is Being Pirated! What Can I Do?”

  1. Excellent post, Melinda. Thanks for the heads up. I’m assuming your “research” came from an actual situation, and if so, your trials become our gains. I’m bookmarking this, but hope I never need it.

    1. Thanks, Melissa. I also hope you never need it. Unfortunately, I’m still dealing with old copies of my books (from my previous publisher) popping up on sites every so often.

  2. Great article, Melinda. I’ve also discovered my books listed on pirated sites and as you’ve pointed out 9 times out of 10 they’re fishing for credit card numbers, etc. That said, I didn’t realized I could follow up on WHOIS.com. Thank you!

  3. Thank you so much Melinda. I am certain my books are on many sites. I have kind of given up but I will save this page when I am in the mood to take action. It can be endless but I appreciate your research and your example message. Very helpful.

    1. Good luck, Brenda, and remember, most of those sites don’t really have our books, they’re just trying to get information from us or install malware.

  4. A good approach for sure, something you can write and then copy and paste as needed. Still I wonder if it isn’t a bit like playing wack a mole?

    I try to look at it from a different perspective, you have created something worth stealing! My book and associated content was pirated by a woman in a Middle East country and she has done far more with it than I was ever able to. While I can only read my translated material using Google translate, she seems to have largely kept all of my original content and then added her own touch to marketing and building an audience, something I failed at.

    Confronting her is impossible, let alone forcing her to comply. In addition I’m rather flattered and impressed by her. My content is being read and used, which is more than I can say when it was my project. While I’m against pirating material and support artists rights, sometimes you have to change your perspective and find the positive.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Marc. I have to say, I admire the way you’ve chosen to look at things. I also agree we can’t spend too much time getting worked up over it. There are some steps people can take, however, when a pirate site from a different country refuses to remove content. I’ll speak more about it in a future post, but in a nutshell, Google will remove a page from Google Search if it appears to be violating someone’s copyright.

  5. Thanks for the advice, Melinda. For me the hardest part is trying to determine if the site is actually giving away people’s work or just malware. Sometimes Google isn’t as helpful as I would like it to be. If only there were a directory. These are the pirates, and these are the rip-off artists hoping to steal your credit cards/infect your machines. Alas, life can never be that simple.

  6. Good advice. I don’t think we have to get too worried if the pirate site is in a country that doesn’t follow our copyright laws, though. That country often has no access to Amazon or other ebook retailers, so the only way somebody in most of Africa and the Middle East can read your book is from a pirate site. You may be building a fan base in a country where they can’t read you any other way. But as Amazon expands, you’ll have readers there.

  7. A very interesting article. A number of my books appear on some of these sites. Even novels like XXMMY appear. in fact on some sites you can type in any word you like and you will be given the chance to download it free. Clever, but clearly a scam.

  8. Thank you! I have in fact found one of my books advertised for free on sites similar to the one you’re describing. I wrote to Amazon about it but have not received a reply. Your takedown notice will probably be my next step.

    1. As far as I know (this is from lurking through the KDP forums) Amazon doesn’t take action on pirated books. The DMCA might be your best course of action. Good luck!

  9. Thanks, Melinda. Hopefully none of us will find ourselves in that position. But we writers and other artists always have to prepare for the worst, which includes anticipating that some fool feels they don’t have to pay for the hard work we’ve done. On one hand, many people feel artists are already independently wealthy or somehow have earned tons of money; while on the other, they think we all enjoy that starving artist syndrome and won’t mind if they purloin our work because we’re getting exposure, and supposedly, that’s all that matters to us anyway.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Alejandro, and I agree – hopefully folks commenting will never find themselves in a position to ever have to send a DMCA notice. Hopefully.

  10. As an attorney who deals with online copyright infringement frequently, I would offer this quick tip. Study the WhoIs information to identify the hosting company for the site. File a DMCA takedown notice with that hosting company, which usually does the trick. Authors can also file DMCA takedowns with Google, Yahoo and Bing to get the listing removed from the search results.

    1. Oh, I think many are interested – they’re just not exactly sure how to go about it. It’s nice to know there are attorneys out there specializing in these areas – thank you!

  11. This is a great post, Melinda. Most new authors aren’t sure what to do in case their work pops up somewhere it shouldn’t. I found your post very informative. There’s just one question I have. Do you know if an author in the U.S. needs to apply for copyright registration with the government (it costs around $25-$35) *before* sending the DMCA? I’ve only heard that registration is needed for lawsuits.

    1. Hi Ivan – that’s a great question. Technically, your document is copyrighted as soon as you write it. HOWEVER (and that’s a big “however”), courts don’t automatically recognize that claim. The best way, in my opinion, to make sure you’re legally covered is to apply for copyright registration with the government. If you don’t, it’s your word against the pirates, and you’re forced to prove you’re the one who created the document. That’s easier said than done.

      One pirate site actually asked me to provide proof of copyright before they would act on my DMCA notice. It was really nice to be able to provide a registration number for my book.

      1. Let me clarify (because I missed part of your question), you don’t have to have registered with the U.S. Copyright Office before you send a DMCA take down notice. You can send it, regardless. But just know, as in the case I cited above, they may ask for proof.

  12. I read several years ago (as in 1980-something) that mailing a copy of your manuscript to yourself is a quick way to have it tentatively copyrighted because of the date and time stamp. This is NOT in lieu of a formal copyright from the U.S. Copyright Office. But it’s apparently there to buy you some time, until you can complete the appropriate forms and pay the registration fees to obtain the actual copyright. If that’s the case, I wonder if email will have the same effect.

    Does anyone have some thoughts on this?

  13. The “poor man’s copyright” – yes, I’ve heard of doing both, either snail-mailing or emailing. I suppose both are effective in that you have an established date attached to the manuscript. I’m curious, too, to see what others think. Thanks for asking, Alejandro.

    1. The last time I did that was back in 2004 when I had a contract for a screenplay. I only did it for proof that I had indeed created the work by a certain date. Even back then, I was told that was no longer a valid method of protection, but I can’t recall by whom.

      1. Yes, I did this back in 2004. Putting the manuscript into an envelope and self-address so that the postmark showed the date stamp is a way but flawed in that it does not necessarily prove that the envelope contained the content claimed for copyright.

        The equivalent today could be saving the book electronically where the date and time this was done is embedded in the document, and then archiving in the Cloud, which date and time will also be embedded.

  14. I actually did that in 1983 with a science fiction story I’d written. It had started out as a stage play (I was seriously contemplating a theatrical career, as both an actor and a writer) before I realized it was too big of a project. I then began converting it into a novel; whereupon it grew even larger with more characters and a much more complicated storyline. It took me about 3 weeks to type it up, before I put it into a small box and mailed it to myself. My father got the mail that day the box arrived and was perplexed when he noticed the sending address was our own. I still have a copy of the letter, dated January 30, 1983, requesting a copyright form from the U.S. Copyright Office. I filled out the form (in blue ink), but never sent it back.

  15. Goodness me! Never thought about this. Googled and found 15 pages of me and 9 places offering free downloads.
    You point out that many are after credit card or toher details. How does one tell?

    1. Getting to see pages of an e/i-print book free is not uncommon, be it Google, Kobo or others. Different sites refer to it directly such as “Get a chapter”, other “Preview’ so that interested people can get a flavour of the book to decide if it what they want. Some you have to set this up to happen, others are a default setting. This is not intended as ‘pirating.

    2. P.d.r., are they offering the entire book for free? If, as iGO said, they’re only offering a preview, that’s actually a good thing. But if it’s the entire book, that’s another story. The first thing I do is Google the site with the words “pirate” or “scam” in the subject line, to see what else I can learn about them. If that doesn’t pull up anything, take a really close look to see if all they’re offering is affiliate links, or links to a legitimate site. If so, that’s also a good thing. But if they are, in fact, offering your entire book for free with the click of a button on their site, that’s when I’d send a DMCA notice.

      1. Checking is the operative word and yes if is some ‘pages’ then perhaps ok. But if an entire book that Melinda is right in the action that should be taken.

        There are settings is man sites where you can remove the preview if this is of concern, or of pre-determine either how many pages, or what pages can be viewed as a ‘taster’ so perhaps logging into our account and checking for these to review what actually goes out into the public domain is a worthwhile exercise.

        1. Thank you, everyone.
          Yes, these sites have a download button and you register with them as a member and then you can get a free download of my novel ‘Tizzie’, th ewhole book.

          They are not sites affiliated with Smashwords or any other reputable place as far as I have been able to find out.

          So I need to send Take Down notices and wait for Melinda’s next article?!

  16. SUCCESS! Melinda, thank you again so much for researching and reporting this issue! So far, I’ve had seven takedowns and am working on an eighth. In one instance, the same website owner had my book for “free pdf download” on four of its sites. I $plurged and sent them a snail-mail letter via certified mail, return receipt requested. They complied, but not long after that, the identical URLs simply redirected to new sites, and WHOIS showed a different website owner, located in India. I reported those to Google and Bing, and now when you click on the sites, it says page doesn’t exist. A Russian website has taken its page down after an email takedown notice, and I notice that now it has a “DMCA” button on its home page. I set up a Google Alert for my book some time ago and recently received notice of another site that’s offering a “free pdf.” I sent them an email takedown notice, and I’m waiting to see what happens on that.

    The only problem I’ve had so far is that my scatter-brained publisher sent one takedown notice to the owner of those four sites I mentioned (except she only covered two of the four) without telling me or even sending me a copy, and this was AFTER I told her I would be handling it. And it took her weeks of begging to send me a copy of it. This could be a potential problem if/when the matter ever goes to court, because obviously you and your attorney will need *everything* pertaining to the case. It should go without saying that the right hand definitely needs to know what the left hand is doing.

    Good luck to everyone else who’s doing this! It really has been worth it.

    1. I’m so glad it’s working for you, Candace! I’ve run into that issue, too, where one website owner seems to have multiple identical sites. I’m not internet-savvy enough to figure out what they get out of it, exactly, but it sure is a headache for the one sending the take down notices.

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