by Kathryn Miller Goldman, Esq, @KathrynGoldman
Hardly a day goes without me hearing from a writer that one of their books is showing up on a pirate site within days of the book having been published on Amazon or some other legitimate platform. It’s uncanny how fast it happens, and I bet it has happened to every published writer who’s reading this post.
Almost since the beginning of electronic self-publishing there has been electronic thievery. In that same relatively short time span, I have tried every weapon in the arsenal short of litigation in an international court to remove links to illegal downloads on pirate sites and get the sites shut down.
I’ve issued DMCA takedown notices to the site owners. Sometimes a link will come down, then a new and different one goes right back up. It turns into a game of whack-a-mole. I’ve issued takedown notices to the ISP hosting the site. That works for about a minute, too.
The most effective technique has been to issue a notice to Google which results in suppression of the link in search engine results pages. The link to the illegal download still exists though. And if someone knows about the pirate site and wants a particular book, they can bypass the Google search engine altogether.
Over the years, I’ve gotten tired of the platitude, “The folks who are illegally downloading your book will never be a paying customer anyway.” I hate saying it and I hate hearing it. I find the notion that there is nothing effective to be done by hard working authors to protect their work deplorable. These sites, their operators, and the folks who seed the downloads are truly in a basket of deplorables.
The movie and gaming industries have gone to war with these pirate sites. Coalitions of international government agencies have worked together to bring down these sites, chase and imprison the operators, and freeze ill-gotten millions of dollars. The enforcement expense is astronomical and the impact is minimal, specific only to the target site. Scores of other pirate sites continue to flourish around the world.
The frustration felt by the writers who come to me about this issue is palpable. My mission to find a tool to address this problem has been growing day over day, year over year.
P2P Networks And BitTorrent Protocol
Last year, I offered a live online course called Content Protection for Creative Professionals. During the lesson on enforcement of creative rights, I offered a tip on how an individual author can combat these pirates. It’s something I learned from the gaming industry. It won’t bring a site down, it won’t remove a link to an illegal download, but it just might keep your book off of the computers of those who want to take it without paying for it. I call this tip “The Bad Seed.”
In order to understand the Bad Seed you need to have a basic understanding of pirate site technology.
Most pirate sites use BitTorrent technology. BitTorrent technology allows distribution of unauthorized copies of copyrighted material through its file sharing protocol. The technology itself is not illegal. How some people use it to infringe copyrights of others is.
The BitTorrent protocol makes even small computers with low bandwidth capable of participating in large data transfers across what is known as a P2P, or peer-to-peer, network. To begin an exchange, the initial file provider intentionally chooses to share a file with a torrent network.
The Seed, The Client, And The Swarm
This initial file is called a seed. The Bad Seed tip starts right here at the beginning of the process. Other users, or peers, connect to the network and connect to the seed file to download. As more peers request the same file, each additional user becomes a part of the network where the file can be downloaded.
To become part of the torrent network — to get an illegal download and become part of the distribution system — a user must install a piece of software on his computer. This software is called the “client.” The individuals who participate in the illegal distribution of copies are known only by their Internet Protocol (“IP”) address assigned by an Internet Service Provider (“ISP”).
Each new file downloader receives a different piece of the data from users who have already downloaded the file. The pieces added together make up the whole file. This piecemeal system with multiple pieces of data coming from different peer members of the network is referred to as a “swarm.” Distribution of even a small part of an unlawful copy of a film, or an ebook, can accelerate the worldwide distribution of that single copy to an unlimited number of people.
With this technology, every downloader is also an uploader of the illegally transferred file. This means that every peer user who has a copy of the infringing copyrighted material on a torrent network can also be a source of a download — a distributor — for that infringing file.
The distributed nature of BitTorrent leads to a rapid of viral spreading of a file throughout peer users. As more peers join the swarm, the likelihood of a successful (and faster) download increases.
The apparent anonymity provided by the Internet and BitTorrent Technology to download pieces of copyrighted material makes the peer extraordinarily difficult and expensive to trace leaving a creator without the ability to enforce her rights.
What You Can Do
Beating these torrent sites at their own game involves creating a fake first chapter of your book – one that you might give away anyway. You end the chapter with an admonishment like this: “You have downloaded this book from a website that engages in online piracy. If you want to finish reading this book, you can purchase it legally by going to Amazon.com.”
Then, with your browser in incognito mode and an email address created especially for this purpose, you create an account on the torrent site and upload your chapter as though it were the entire book. Do this before you publish your book through legitimate channels.
You have just planted the “Bad Seed.”
From that point forward, everyone who downloads your book using that file from that torrent site will be spreading the “Bad Seed.” There are some well known pirate sites out there. This DIY enforcement mechanism can slow down the thievery of your work from those sites.
I know that at least one of my clients is using this tactic. Is it effective or the impact measureable? Hard to say, but it might give you just a little bit of satisfaction if even one person reads to the end of the chapter and receives your smack down.
Be The CEO Of Your Creative Career
For the past two years, I have been surveying writers and artists to learn what it is they want to know about the many facets of their businesses. Using that research, I have put together the CP2 Blueprint for Creative Professionals who want Content Protection for their work.
The CP2 Blueprint breaks down the four major practical and legal concerns of a creative business:
- Identifying the most important work to protect
- Protecting if easily and effectively
- Monitoring your portfolio
- Enforcing your rights
The CP2 Blueprint dives one step deeper and breaks those four categories into smaller, discrete, easily understood topics to help you become the CEO of your creative career.
This Friday, I will be opening the doors to the Content Protection for Creative Professionals training program for the only time this year. If you are interested in learning more about enforcement techniques like the Bad Seed and other strategies that are effective and affordable, be sure to download the CP2 Blueprint.
Kathryn Goldman is an intellectual property attorney who wants you to become the CEO of your creative career. She has built a framework strategy called CP²:Content Protection for Creative Professionals to help creative professionals reach that goal, one manageable step at a time.
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