Illegal book-sharing websites may seem like the easy option for avid bookworms, but those that set up or use these websites give little thought to the impact on authors
It doesn’t take long to find evidence of illegal book sharing, or the apparent justification for this practice. A Google search delivered 10 million plus results, with the top entries lists of sites to get pirated books from.
Among these lists was a 2019 article by The Guardian titled, “I can get any novel I want in 30 seconds: can book piracy be stopped?” Anonymous users of piracy websites, both polled and interviewed, justified their actions by citing ease of use, lack of funds or nearby libraries, or viewing anything on the internet as fair game.
"It doesn’t take long to find evidence of illegal book sharing, or the apparent justification for this practice"
Targeting "monied" big-name authors only was also a claim. While no one could blame a bookworm for feeling the pinch during a cost-of-living crisis, the sheer amount of low-cost or even free options available quashes even that argument, and making any assumptions on authors' incomes, at any level, isn’t fair either.
How does book piracy hurt authors?
Sunny Kumar, an intellectual property lawyer from Global Firm Ashurst, explains, “The illegal sharing or reproduction of any substantial part of a copyright-protected work has negative consequences for authors. Firstly, their economic rights are infringed, and therefore royalties which would normally be collected would potentially not be available to the author or collecting society, resulting in significant financial losses, especially given the significant investment in time spent by each author on producing their work. Naturally flowing on from this is that copyright infringement ultimately leads to authors being disincentivised to write, which could significantly decimate the creative arts industry.”
While we are hopefully a long way off the latter, and it's impossible to measure exactly how many are using illegal book-sharing websites, authors back up the legal standpoint that it really doesn’t help. When I put out a call for authors that have found their books on piracy sites, Fiona Leitch started by saying, “Find me an author who hasn’t.”
Authors put a lot of time into writing, and book piracy hurts them financially
Fiona writes the Jody Parker cosy crime series for HQ/One More Chapter and has found pirated eBooks, PDF files, and audiobooks on YouTube. She says, “There’s no way of knowing how this impacts authors financially, as we don’t have figures to show how many people use these sites, but bear in mind as most of us struggle to make a living already it’s not helping. Most mid-list authors' eBooks sell from between 99p and £3.99—it’s not exactly a lot. If you can’t afford a book, go to a library. That way we still get paid.”
It’s important to shine a light on the PLR (public lending right system) as every loan of a print title, audiobook or eBook, for free, from a public library will pay authors royalties. It all helps, sometimes more than you know, and for authors like Sandy Barker, this is a big deal.
"There are literally millions of authors who cannot make a living from their books and need other sources of income"
“There are literally millions of authors who cannot make a living from their books and need other sources of income," Sandy says. "I hope one day to be a full-time author, but still have a day job—and I have 8 books out with a Big 5 publisher, and have just signed a new 5 book contract with Boldwood Books. I am a successful author by many metrics, but I still cannot afford to live off my royalties. Every reader who has read my books via illegal pirate sites has stolen from me, and moved my goal further into the future.”
Authors spend countless months and years honing their craft, securing publishing deals, writing and editing their novels, and promoting the release. To have to spend time on takedown notices and reporting piracy websites is an infuriating and time-consuming battle—one that psych thriller author Casey Kelleher knows only too well.
Make use of your local library to enjoy affordable books
"I’ve actually had hugely supportive family members illegally download copies of my books without realising that they weren’t legitimate audio and eBook copies," she says. "It's one thing to be ignorant or have no knowledge of eBooks being pirated, but it’s even worse when the readers knowingly steal copies of books, knowing that they are contributing to the loss in author’s earnings and just not caring.”
Please care about where your books come from. If buying or loaning books is difficult, then your nearest community book project will be able to help. That way we can all buy, borrow, or re-home legitimately and support authors who put everything into the work we so enjoy.
Some sources for free or pre-loved books:
Read more: 9 Ways to read more books
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