Last month, I talked about the site OceanofPDF, wherein thousands of PDFs of books were available free to download despite issues of copyright. That site had shut down last year but made a return several weeks ago. They weren’t the only ones partaking in this prevalent problem of literary piracy. Ebook.bike, a now infamous site, currently hosts thousands of books available to download in seconds. At the time of writing this piece, there were 4730 results for searching Stephen King, and downloads were available of authors as varied as Courtney Milan, Megan Abbott, Irvine Welsh, Rick Riordan, James Patterson, and much more. There are plenty of self-published authors’ works on this site too. To nobody’s surprise, the vast majority of the books seem to still be under copyright.
Ebook.bike is the work of Travis McCrea, a self-described ‘social justice bard’ and former leader of the Pirate Party of Canada. Ebook.bike works through user-uploaded content, which is common for book pirates. When the site was called out last month by authors, McCrea acted rationally by bragging that ‘trolling you gets you to post links of my website to your fans and we have hit 10K additional unique visitors this week…’ (McCrea’s tweets are currently protected). He then instructed authors whose works were hosted on his site that if they did not want them there they should ‘consider learning about the DMCA’.
Recently, authors like Joanne Harris have pushed for publishers to more actively fight the problem of literary piracy and take on sites like Ebook.bike. For someone who thrives in controversy like McCrea, this seems like a great opportunity. He told the website TorrentFreak that he wants to be taken to court because ‘I want to win that case and then have legal precedent which should let me start finding ad partners, not having to deal with as much BS.’ Essentially, he wants to make a big song and dance in court so he can continue to push stealing other people’s copyrighted work as a personal and moral freedom. He’s now getting his wish.
In a lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Texas, author John Van Stry is now suing McCrea and his alleged business partner for direct, contributory, and vicarious copyright infringement. According to TorrentFreak, ‘the suit alleges that the US Court in question has jurisdiction because Ebook.bike and hosting provider Frantech “allows for and does reproduce” copies of copyrighted works without a license into Texas, despite being issued with notice of infringement.’ The suit claims the defendants are ‘vicariously liable’ for infringements of the site’s users since they were aware of direct infringement. Basically, they knew the site was being used for illegal piracy and copyright infringement so they’re liable for harm caused.
McCrea has made piracy his pet cause. Indeed, in 2014 he was listed as a Reverend in ‘The Kopimist Church of Kopimism’, a Swedish group with officially recognized religious status that believes copying information is a sacred virtue. Ebook.bike’s own FAQ claims that what they are doing is beneficial to authors and readers alike and that they have 1500+ ‘confirmed partner authors’ working with them, although it doesn’t name any of them. The FAQ makes the claim that ‘when a person loves an author, they become that author’s biggest consumer. They see the author in person, they buy the physical copies of the book (frequently multiple, to give to friends and in different editions), and they support the author however they can. We want to give authors even more though, so we provide analytics to authors who want them so they can learn where their users are coming from and other useful information which they can then use to target book sales, advertise, and market themselves more effectively. We also have user feedback, so authors can learn what people like and don’t like in their writing.’
Okay, so here’s why that’s bullsh*t.
Authors already have to deal with the stereotype that they’re all obscenely wealthy and as such as fair targets for theft. Last year, a report by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society showed that median earnings for British authors had fallen to under £10,500 a year, well belove the average annual wage.
Ebook.bike claims they provide analytics for authors to allow them to make savvy business decisions, so here are a few numbers from writer Rachel Caine.
My series books are *heavily* pirated. Real talk: Ink & Bone sold 47k copies. It's been downloaded from *just 1* pirate site 101k times. Book 2 sold half as much but was downloaded more. By book 4 only 7k copies sold, many times that downloaded. It's unsustainable. https://t.co/8xs8nkCwJ4— Rachel Caine at WonderCon! (@rachelcaine) March 31, 2019
There are at least 3 people up with the audiobook of Prince of Shadows. Added together, it’s about 500 listens. Guess how many audiobooks Prince of Shadows sold? Fewer than that. Also: paper only sold 5k copies but had been downloaded at least 20k times.— Rachel Caine at WonderCon! (@rachelcaine) March 31, 2019
Also way to gaslight authors by claiming your participation in thousands of people’s stealing of their work is an incentive for them to market themselves better. Real classy.
A recent survey by the Guardian talked to more than 130 people who admitted to pirating ebooks. Their reasons for doing so varied and there are some who come across as having the ‘perfect’ reasons to steal that pro-piracy figures love to play up. But amid the disabled and unemployed readers and the young kids from poorer backgrounds were plenty of people who admitted they stole just because they could, many of them professionals with the funds to buy books with ease. As the Guardian piece notes, it’s a whack-a-mole situation trying to deal with these sites. One shuts down and two new ones spring up.
Regardless of what happens with Travis McCrea’s suit (he tried to raise funds for his defence via GoFundMe but that page was shut down), the problem of ebook piracy is one that will require far more diligent responses from publishers, writers and readers alike. We also need to be more empathetic towards artists and understand the value of their work, because so much of this scourge comes from age-old ideas that ‘true artists’ will do what they love for free and not complain about silly things like money. Nobody is ‘sticking it to the man’ by downloading ebooks from sites like this. You’re just being a brat who wants free stuff, regardless of who gets hurt in the process, and make no mistake, people do get hurt by this callousness.
Image sources (in order of posting): Abhi Sharma // Books HD (via Flickr, courtesy of Creative Commons)