Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On file-sharing sites and illegal e-book downloads

Many of my fellow authors get pretty hot under the collar about file-sharing websites that infringe on our copyrights by facilitating illegal downloads of e-books and files made by scanning physical copies of books. While I deplore the practice of sharing such files--it is, after all, a clear violation of both United States and international law--I am not of the opinion that every such file download, or even a large percentage of them, represents lost revenue for publishers and authors.

People will take just about anything that's free. If I gave you a link right here and now so you could download an e-copy of my latest book at no cost, dozens of you would click without even scanning the rest of this post. Well, sorry, there's no free (legal) download. But if reading my book is important to you, click here and download it from eHarlequin for a mere $4.46.

Did you click? Probably not. Right now some of you are muttering that you can't afford $4.46 just to read a romance novel. Yet you might end up going to the movies this weekend and spending more than that on your bucket of popcorn alone.

That doesn't hurt my feelings. We all make our own choices, and I accept that buying my book isn't a priority for most of you. But again, if I were offering free copies, many of you would hurry to get one before the offer expired.

That being the case, it's unreasonable to assume that all or even most of the people who download illegal copies of e-books would purchase those books (in print or electronic editions) if they weren't available via file-sharing sites. So I don't worry about losing money that way. In fact, I wonder if that activity might actually increase my sales. It's possible, isn't it, that some of the people who download illegal copies of my books are being exposed to my writing for the first time and might like it enough to actually buy a book some day?

Don't think I'm condoning the illegal activity. I'm just saying there's no way of knowing how much--if any--revenue the average author and her publisher are losing when those files are shared. And I'm saying that any truly lost revenue just might be offset by the "free advertizing" the books and authors receive from the lawbreakers.

Argue as much as you like in the Comments, but this is how I see it. (And those of you who are wondering if I paid for all of the songs on my iPod, the answer is yes. I even put $60 worth of iTunes gift cards in my kids' Christmas stockings.)

Now here's something sort of funny: This week a new file-sharing site has caused a fresh round of teeth-gnashing among my author friends, with several of them reporting finding titles of their as-yet-unreleased books listed on the site. That seemed rather strange, so I did a little checking. claims to have over 1,400,000 files (movies, games, software, etc.), which anyone can download after paying $4.95 to join the site. A quick search showed all four of my books available for download, and that smelled fishy because the first two were never released as e-books. Sure, the print copies could have been scanned and uploaded to the site, but I wasn't buying that. So I entered "Brenda Coulter My Next Book" and what do you know? They had that "title" available for download. I then entered "You people are jerks" and "Download Provider is a scam" and the search results showed files by both of those names available for download.

Of course I didn't join the site, so I don't know what would happen if a member clicked on a link to one of those bogus files. It's possible that a member's search wouldn't turn up results for everything, the way a visitor's search does. But I figure anyone stupid and greedy enough to pay a site like that $4.95 in order to illegally download copyrighted material deserves to get burned.


Turns out the website I mentioned ( is a total scam. They'll charge your credit card again and again and sign you up for porn sites, as explained by these frustrated people at Complaints Board ("Helpful information for consumers regarding allegedly unethical companies, bad business practices.")

It's not easy to feel sorry for the people who thought they were paying $4.95 for all the illegal downloads their little hearts desired and instead found themselves cheated, but somehow I still do.


Ann said...

I always wonder if publishers go after these sites. I'm always looking for free LEGAL book downloads for my blog readers but the vast majority of stuff I find is illegal (which I never link to ... but the search did snag your blog post which is what brought me here).

Does your publisher or that of your friends go after the illegal downloads? Or do they just consider it a cost of doing business (or free advertising)?

wordsworm said...

Not a fan of romance novels, so your novels are safe from me.

What can I say? I'm downloading tons of illegal copies of books for study. I could never afford them otherwise, and no online library exists that could cater to my needs. I'm on the go, internationally I mean, so packing even a few of my favorite books is usually a problem since 25kg is all I'm allowed on the plane between moves. Heck, I'd pay as much as $150/year for a good online library. Questia doesn't meet up to my needs.

That said, I'm working on my own book, and it's costing me a lot of money. I figure between renting an office and the very low salary of an artist in Indonesia, I'm still investing a good $5,000. Imagine, if after all that it got stolen and it spread all over the place.

I think, like you do, that while there are plenty of people who won't pay for books, there are also plenty of collectors out there that might appreciate the hard copy edition of my book. I think if a million people stole a virtual copy of it, surely out of that million 10% would probably turn around and buy a copy. If I could sell 100,000 copies for every book I worked on, I wouldn't get upset at the pirates at all. In essence, it's a 'try before you buy.'

Anonymous said...

Re the warning about that site and others like it ... I ALWAYS download things legally or not at all, but back in the fall I was desperate to download a TV episode that I needed for a class I was teaching and couldn't find it anywhere legally after much searching. This site (probably the same one you mentioned) claimed to have it when I searched for it, and in my desperation I actually registered thinking, "$4.95 is not bad; I can afford that just to get this download I need so badly." I LEARNED MY LESSON. I gave them my credit card number (another thing I normally never do) and it took awhile before I realized that under some bland generic name, they were charging my credit card over $100 US a month!!!

Fortunately I'm getting it all refunded by the credit card company, who must be familiar with these kind of scams, but I was richly punished for stupidity and illegality both (and of course never got the TV program I wanted, because it didn't exist there).

I have always been opposed to illegal downloads, though have been willing to consider them in cases where the thing I wanted (like a TV episode that was never released on DVD, or an out of print book) was not available by legal means. Now I'm even more opposed!

I have a writer friend who downloads tons of books illegally for her PDA. Seems like an odd choice for a writer to me, but who am I to judge?

Anonymous said...

Alas, I am one of those evil thousands (millions?) who download illegally swapped ebooks. While I initially started downloading files as a college student because I didn't have any money to spend on discretionary items, I've kept it up over the years because it HAS allowed to me experiment and seek out hundreds more authors/books than I would have if I had paid for each work at a local or online bookseller. I take chances now and read from genres that I might not otherwise venture into and I'm more willing to "try out" a new author -- especially if they seem popular amongst other file sharers. But once I discover an author I like, I WILL buy all of his or her recent work and back titles not readily available on file sharing sites. Part of the reason I'll buy all their new works in particular is because I'm too impatient to wait for a torrent to come out and/or its often too much trouble than its worth to sleuth out recent releases, but the other reason is because I want to honor the work the author put into that work and pay him or her the royalities he or she deserves so that they'll continue to write and publish. I realize that some authors may indeed loose revenue due to file sharing, but if you're a good author, I genuinely think you will make MORE money over time because your work is being exposed to more people. If I recall, there was an author (who wrote Steal This Book???) whose sales increased tenfold after he posted his books via a torrent -- and truth be told, I'm not surprised. Torrents/file sharing sites allow you to expose your work to millions more than any positive review on or a book blog site ever will...and when is more exposure ever a bad thing? I just noticed that a movie I worked on is now in torrent format and while it just make my stomach crunch up everytime I see the download numbers rise, I am cautiously optimistic that our sales figures will increase. Time will tell...

Anonymous said...

I'm a music show producer for my local community radio station and I often find downloads of rare, self-published, or out-of-print music (no ethical dilemma there) I was searching for a rare, old bit of music and got taken in by Sure enough; unauthorized charges, no way to cancel, no "customer service" and no material - also re-directed to porn sites.
I've de-activated my credit card and am pursuing the matter both through my bank and my state's attorney general. If enough people do this perhaps we can actually get these crooks shut down. It may be a Russian or Romanian or Israeli scam (common).e

Anonymous said...

I was stupid and paid for an alleged $4.87 3-day trial via credit card because they claimed to have some software I was looking for. I no sooner paid than was redirected to an unrelated porn site--and no sign of the files I was paying to download.

I immediately became suspicious and within 10 minutes called my credit card bank. My bank confirmed that the $4.87 debit was pending AND that several subsequent $1 'test' debits had already been made against my account by companies I'd never heard of. It was my bank's impression that within minutes of the initial transaction had either shared or sold my credit card info to at least two other entities which immediately made debits against my account to confirm that the pilfered info was valid. My bank said that since multiple entities were now abusing my card, there was nothing to do but close my card account and reissue a new card. I took my bank's advice and immediately canceled my card. are unabashed crooks. They're in business only to dupe folks like me into divulging their credit card information.

fabius said...

Everybody talks about illegal "downloading", but in my opinion the illegal act is the "uploading" of files.
If somebody "uploads" a copyrighted e-book making it available on a public and free file-sharing site, like for example rapidshare, he is committing an illegal act, while probably who "downloads" it should be considered not guilty.
Quite often this free files are clearly visible, advertised and in top position in Google search: if the author or the publishing company doesn't make anything to remove these files, why the downloader should be blamed?
It is like a counterfeit Gucci bag is given from free (not a few bucks, but really free) in a street stand just in front of a Gucci store, and the company is not doing anything to avoid it.
Why shouldn't I take one?

Anonymous said...

Wow, reading the other comments here I'm pretty impressed with my bank credit card -- clearly I got a lot better treatment after my stupid illegal download experience than most people have done. Anyway, it larned me.

Also, people should be reminded that if you want to check out the works of a wide variety of authors without the committment of buying their books, your local public library is still in business! (at least I hope it is!)

Brenda Coulter said...

I notice Google has put this post on Page One of the search results for the strings, "file sharing sites" and "download provider," so a lot of strangers are stopping by. Welcome, all.

[Ann wrote] Does your publisher or that of your friends go after the illegal downloads? Or do they just consider it a cost of doing business (or free advertising)?

My publisher is Steeple Hill Books, which is a part of the Harlequin family, and when Harlequin authors point out file-sharing sites that are infringing on their copyrights by offering illegal downloads, Harlequin does indeed take legal action. The problem is, as soon as they get one person shut down, somebody else posts the same files.

[Fabius wrote] If somebody "uploads" a copyrighted e-book making it available on a public and free file-sharing site, like for example rapidshare, he is committing an illegal act, while probably who "downloads" it should be considered not guilty....

It is like a counterfeit Gucci bag is given from free (not a few bucks, but really free) in a street stand just in front of a Gucci store, and the company is not doing anything to avoid it.
Why shouldn't I take one?

How about...because in doing so you are enriching someone who is engaged in illegal activity,which encourages that person and others to continue in and even increase that illegal activity?

Sorry, but I just can't condone the practice.

live_off_IP said...

I cannot believe the rationalizations of some of you jerks. Somebody works their butt off to write a book, or spends literally $millions to make a movie, and you think it's OK to just download it illegally because you "couldn't afford it otherwise". Do you walk into a store and take stuff that you "couldn't afford otherwise"? You suck.

live_off_IP said...

I cannot believe the rationalizations of some of you jerks. Somebody works their butt off to write a book, or spends literally $millions to make a movie, and you think it's OK to just download it illegally because you "couldn't afford it otherwise". Do you walk into a store and take stuff that you "couldn't afford otherwise"? You suck.

Michael Coulter said...

If you read their Terms and Conditions on their site, they even state they will do whatever they want with the information you give them. It's sites like these that people should actually read a bit before automatically clicking "I Agree" whenever they sign up on a site, or download a program.

The actual text of their ToC:

Any communication or material you send to Download Provider by email or via the Internet through our website are all on a non-confidential basis, and carries no promise by Download Provider that we will not use or reproduce they in any way. Any ideas, concepts, techniques or any information contained in these pieces of communication or material can be used in any way Download Provider, including the development, marketing and manufacturing of new products.

Anonymous said...

Everybody does it. I though want my books, music, and movies where I'm not tied to my desk at my computer. I want to take them with me to work, the park, lay in bed etc etc etc. And take my word for it when I say I could open my own library with the collection I've amassed over the years. Before the internet, I did the same thing with "library" copies. If I found a book I liked I'd buy my own copy. Downloading "free" stuff gives me a taste to see if I like it and then I buy a legal copy. So you can't lump us all into the same category because some of us use the free stuff as a taste test only.

Anonymous said...

I too am an illegal downloader, but it's not because I cannot afford the material. I like that I can "test" an author or series before investing in uninteresting novels that if purchased would inevitably take up space and that I won't want to reread. Downloading is an alternative that allows me to weed through what I do and do not want to read and/or purchase. Additionally, as a college student I move twice every year and carry text books with me daily, so purchasing novels is impractical. However, I would much rather purchase the hard copy of a book than an eBook (paper is simply more appealing and I love it when I can just pick up a favorite and start reading) and eBooks are often the same price as hard copies. But it's not going to happen for me until I'm settled in one place for longer than a year. Be that as it may on some level I feel bad and I certainly understand where you're coming from and even agree with you that it's wrong as work is put in to their creation...At the same time I do have one question for you -
How is reading a novel online for free any different than reading them for free at the library? -
My mother's house is walking distance from a library allowing me during grade school to exchange as frequently as I read, so why is it really so different? I used this too, to weed books and only ended up purchasing copies of my favorites...

smartalek said...

I seriously wonder about the actual intelligence of some people who, by virtue of their vocabularies and command of grammar, and their places in life (student, academic, artist, world-travelling businessperson) would appear to have high IQs.
here is an enterprise that purports to sell you, for a mere $ 4.95, access to books, movies, songs, etc, that collectively sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It's patently obvious that the files ostensibly being made available to you are stolen, un-paid-for, copyright-violating IP. So it is already clearly established that the enterprise is engaged in thievery; that is the very essence of their "business" model.
Now, knowing this....
...and I hope you'll forgive my shouting....
Of COURSE they're not going to just take $ 4.95 from your account, once you've handed them the keys to your strongbox!
They're going to back up a Mack truck -- also stolen -- and hoover out every penny you've got, and if you're foolish enough to put in more, they'll be back next week to do it again.
And you profess to be surprised at this?
Even ignoring the morality (read: lack thereof) of your wanting to exploit their blatant criminality (thus becoming complicit in it yourself), such an expectation is, what's that term again? Oh yeah: "galactically stupid."
No sympathy.