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REVIEW: Don’t Let Fear of Piracy Rob You of Profits

images.jpgJK Rowling is famously known amonst online book circles as the highest profile author to refuse to allow digitization of her books. This has not deterred individuals from offering a home brew ebook version of every title in the Harry Potter series. In fact, Book 6 was released at midnight and online reports told of the ebook version available less than twelve hours later. Recently, the High Court of Delhi required eBay to halt four auctions on eBay India of illegal ebook versions of Potter’s book.

If one can get past the piracy issue, it is important to understand that there were purchasers of this illegal ebook version. Which means that there is a market for the ebok version and rather than the market being filled by a legitimate source, authorized by Rowling, the market is filled with illegal versions for which Rowling will receive no royalties.

The argument some have made is that piracy is the very reason that Rowling and others like her refuse the digitization form of their books. The fundamental fallacy in that argument is the idea that not having ebook versions prevents piracy. It is obviously untrue. Christine Feehan suffered the ignomy and insult of having her books digitized and sold on eBay as well. I am sure that there are other such tales. With declining costs of scanning equipment, it is possible for a home user to transform paper books into ebooks. In fact, it is likely safer, legally, to transform the paper books into ebooks.

There is no specific prohibition to the format shifting of a paperbook into an ebook. It’s not an issue that has been brought before the Supreme Court who interprets the laws enacted by Congress. Time shifting, what TIVO does now or what your VCR used to do, which is preserve entire television shows to be viewed at a time convenient for the user, is specificall permitted under Supreme Court case of Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 464 U.S. 417 (1984). Under Section 109 of the Copyright Act, the first sale doctrine effectively terminates the distribution rights of the publisher. (The author’s distribution rights were terminated at the sale of the work to the publisher). Under the Audio Home Recording Act, a 1992 amendment, purchasers of legal copies of music may make unlimited copies for personal use. It’s a bit ironic that if the user starts out with a paper copy or a CD and then transforms that into a digital copy, it is not an infringement. Take a legitimately purchased e-version and make a copy and you are a criminal.

The inside copy of each book denotes that the scanning and uploading of a book is a crime, not the scanning itself. If an individual chose to go to the effort to scan in her own library, she is probably within the letter of the copyright law. If she scans the book in and digitizes it for her own use, it is likely within the letter of the copyright law. It is once she shares that digital copy without the permission of the copyright holder (in this case, the publisher who owns the distribution rights to the work in the US), that the copyright law is broken. Thus, there is actually some motivation for the reader to digitize her own library so that she can use the e version on whatever ebook reader she chooses without the fear of breaking a law. But what reader wants to spend the money and the months to digitize her library when she can just buy a new digital copy? This is where the author loses out if there is no ebook version.

The best argument against that I have heard is that the sales of a digital release are not considered in calculating unit sales for the big Bestseller lists. I can definitely see why an author would chose delay the digital release but it’s a bit of a two edged sword. If you think that esales are going to be big enough to prevent a bestseller list appearance, then how many esales are being lost by the delay or non existence of eversions? My plea is that all authors make the ebook version available to readers in all popular formats. It might increase your sales, rather than detract from them. As readers, we need to contact publishers and let them know what authors to put in ebook format. We should also contact the USA Today and NYTimes and tell them that digital sales need to be include so that authors aren’t punished by increasing esales.

  • USA TODAY7950 Jones Branch Drive
    McLean VA 22107-0020;
    Fax: 703-854-2053. Feedback to editors: 800-872-2215.
    Link to online suggestion box. (I would put “Life” as the category as the Book Section falls under that heading)
  • Contact for NY Times
    Bill Keller, Executive Editor
    The New York Times Company
    229 West 43rd Street
    New York, NY [email protected] or leave a message at 1-888-NYT-NEWS.


    The Editors
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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Fiona Glass
    Mar 11, 2007 @ 13:09:04

    Fascinating article – thanks! I’d be interested to know whether it’s JKR’s own decision (and others like her) or that of her publishers? Speaking for myself, I think I’d rather have the royalties from every possible source/version of my book. Of course, this is a pipe dream at the moment… :)

  2. Sarah McCarty
    Mar 11, 2007 @ 16:23:22

    Well, my understanding it’s not just a matter of royalties. Career survival is a matter of having the numbers publishers deem important behind your books. At this time, it’s those all important print sales generated at crucial times.

  3. Teddy Pig
    Mar 11, 2007 @ 21:29:42

    Well, I heard JK hates computers too so that sorta figures.

    No dear the camera is not going to steal your soul but here have some salt to throw over your shoulder anyway if it makes you feel better.

    At some point I have to think money will talk and the old print sales will drop and someone… some CEO, I should say, will discover the low cost magical land that is e-publishing.

    Notice how everyone hated the I-Tunes idea till… well the iPod and now you can’t find well stocked record stores much anymore.

    Until then, we can all just shake our heads and smile at the simpletons on th grass. They are cute even if they are terribly scared of their own shadows.

  4. Angelle
    Mar 12, 2007 @ 03:01:45

    I think that there’s a bit of difference between iTune and ebooks.

    I don’t mind ebooks as long as they’re easy to read and inexpensive. iTune is relatively cheap (and I can buy the songs I want, not the entire album) although the player can be a bit pricey. But with ebooks, they’re just as expensive as print books (and some are priced as same as hardback!!!!) and I have to buy an ebook reader, which costs at least $200 or so. So I don’t understand, at this point at least, why I should buy ebooks, some of which don’t even have the standard format / incompatibility, at the same price as print books PLUS shell out a lot of money for a reader that won’t destroy my eye sight.

  5. LinM
    Mar 12, 2007 @ 06:42:50

    Despite the price of ebooks, sales seem to be increasing by about 20-30% a year (this is according to articles from “Publishers Weekly” although the articles confess that the figures reported by the industry vary widely). So I suspect that we will not see a major change in the price policy. Ebook prices will continue to match paper prices in some form because those of us who buy ebooks have already shown that we will pay prices close to the paper price. And the number of ebook readers is slowly increasing year over year even with the current price and DRM disadvantages.

    I think writing to publishers and NYT is a brilliant idea. (Despite Cary Doctorow, I don’t want a pbook if I have a digital edition especially if the ebook is free). Does anyone know what percentage of book sales are ebooks?

  6. Teddy Pig
    Mar 12, 2007 @ 06:51:48


    There simply is no iPod out there for eBooks yet. There will be though.

    The initial response of the record companies to Apple was that exact same argument of piracy. The record companies would very likely have you paying full price also if Apple had not fought tooth and nail to keep it low and enticing to the public and they in most respects won on the whole 1.00 per song deal.

    Some groups will still, after it was proved that iTunes did not open the flood gates to complete anarchy, not let Apple sell their songs due to that pricing policy. Others have gotten their way and made Apple change that policy in order to carry their catalog. But… in the end it was not piracy that was the real underlying issue it was “how can bands make a bigger buck out of the deal”.

    The funny thing is that those groups making their songs and albums unavailable online or more expensive are most likely going the ones who get pirated.

    People for the most part will by the official version of something as long as it is reasonably affordable. Grabbing pirated copies of anything is difficult and time consuming and you know you are not dealing with kosher people so you also worry about other things.

  7. Jane
    Mar 12, 2007 @ 07:04:02

    I don’t think that anybody should buy ebooks unless that is the format that they prefer. There are people who prefer the format and it makes sense to offer it given the high margins of profit (ie charging comparatively the same price as a print version without the printing, shipping and warehousing costs).

    The failure to have it available in ebooks leads to piracy and loss of royalties, imo, as Itunes has shown that a great majority of people would rather buy than pirate.

  8. Art Parham
    Mar 19, 2007 @ 19:58:03


    You need to look at what Baen Books( is doing with e-books. Their entire SF/F line is available in e-book form BEFORE publication at below-pb prices. E-book software to read them is free. They are opposed in principle to DRM, so everything is unencrypted. They even have a FREE library of complete e-books to get you hooked. Authors you may like: Asaro, Bujold, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller (just recently joined for e-books only- see for details.) Unlike some e-book publishers, they will download the e-books that you purchase as many times a necessary or you can read online.

  9. Al
    Jan 25, 2009 @ 18:21:38

    “There simply is no iPod out there for eBooks yet. There will be though.”

    Stanza for the iPhone/iPodTouch has downloaded over a half million (500,000) copies since introduced. I would guess that younger eyes than mine are reading off those devices. Now if the iTunes App store will just release a magnifier….

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