One of our specialties is helping authors, and we know that it’s upsetting to learn that someone has pirated your book for their own personal gain. But you can protect your copyrighted books online, either on a DIY basis, or with professional help. Enforcing your copyright increases the value of your books and helps to protect your career as a writer.

Online piracy has evolved to the point that it’s often more of a challenge to enforce your copyrights than it used to be, because infringers as a group have grown more creative in their efforts to evade punishment. This guide will help maximize your chances of success in protecting your copyrighted books.

This information is general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for the advice of an attorney. It refers primarily to books and ebooks published in the U.S. by American authors who are protected by U.S. copyright laws.

Organize your research and plan your approach

Before you click on links to potential copyright infringement sites, be sure that your computer’s anti-virus software is updated and active. Most of the sites that claim to host free versions of copyrighted ebooks are scam sites and are likely to infect your computer or mobile device with viruses or malware.

Document your work as you go. You’ll want to track results and increase enforcement efforts against any repeat infringers.

Evaluate your options

Don’t take infringement personally. Pirates use software programs to find and steal your content. It’s not a compliment when they steal your books, and it’s not a personal attack. It’s just what they do.chained and locked ebook

Hunting down and blocking stolen books are cost-effective only to a point. You have better things to do with your time and energy than to invest it in days of fruitless searching and frantic emails to non-responsive infringers. There are probably only a very few sites that you need to focus on, and I’ll show you why:

Evaluate each potential infringement case you find and focus on removing the most potentially damaging ones from the Internet. It won’t take long before you can tell at a glance which sites are truly stealing your books, and how best to approach each case.

Step One: Search Google for your book’s title in quotes, bearing in mind that a title alone is not protected by copyright. Once you find an infringing site, you can search within that site to discover more of your books. A good rule of thumb is to look for one of your older book titles that has had time to be indexed in search engines.

Step Two: Determine whether sites listed in search results that claim to offer your books for download actually have them.

Most websites I’ve found that claim to host free copyrighted books for download are actually scam sites built to capture and exploit credit card data. (These are the sites I warned you about when I reminded you to enable and update your anti-virus software.)

Scam sites are usually easy to spot; if you click a link to download your book and are directed to sign up for a membership before you can access the download, you can be 99% certain that your credit card information will be required before you can download anything.

When you find your titles on a scam site, whether your book is actually available for download on the site is a moot point. If any person is greedy and stupid enough to risk identity theft and thousands of dollars of fake charges on their credit card account when they could simply buy your book through a legitimate source, let them have it. These sites are not worth your time and effort.

Which pirates are worth pursuing?

Any site that is hosted in the U.S. and that you have verified is offering your content stolen for unauthorized access or download is worth pursuing. Those should be your targets.

How to remove access to your stolen books

There are two main ways to remove public access to pirated files: one is to remove the files (or the page from which the files are linked) from the host server, and the other is to remove the files from Google and other search engines so they can’t be found and accessed by the public.

DMCA options

U.S. Copyright law provides a formal means for you to demand that your books be removed by anyone who publishes them or offers them for download or online reading without your authorization. copyright symbol and padlockThis process is called a “DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998) takedown notice.”

Infringers can be fined up to $150,000 per infringement plus attorney fees and court costs, and professional thieves are fully aware of this. That’s why they hide.

Occasionally, an infringer may respond to your takedown notice with a counter claim stating that they have a right to use your work. In that case, you will need to file suit in a court of law and notify the hosting provider of the suit before they will remove the content. If this happens and the infringement has the potential to significantly affect your sales, an attorney can draft a cease-and-desist letter on your behalf or advise you about filing suit.

I personally know of one blogger whose photo of her child was stolen, and the overseas infringer filed a counter claim to her takedown notice, falsely stating that he owned the photo. The blogger would have had to first register her copyright and then file a lawsuit to have the photo removed from the infringer’s site, and she was financially unable to do so. Fortunately, that’s less likely to happen to a book author than a photographer, since proof of copyright is often easier to demonstrate with a book.

Be aware that you are not required to formally register your copyright before claiming infringement. When you write an original book or story, you own the copyright by law. However, to be able to file a lawsuit against an infringer, you must first register your copyright.

Sending a DMCA takedown notice to the infringer

Begin with this if you can locate an email address or contact form for the infringer. Some websites that allow users to upload content or links to pirated content have their own DMCA takedown forms available on their websites. Others have DMCA agent email addresses listed either on their own websites or in the online U.S. Copyright Office Agent Directory. Start by contacting the website owner(s) through one of these methods if available, because it can be faster and easier than tracking down the hosting company.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Any DMCA takedown notice sent to a hosting provider or search engine company should be carefully and thoroughly completed. You get one chance to file your notice correctly—there are no do-overs with DMCA notices. Because of this, you may want to file individual notices for each instance in the case of multiple infringements. File the first one, and if it is accepted and if your content is removed from the website, you can repeat the process for the other instances of theft. If the recipient says your first DMCA takedown notice is insufficient, you can correct any errors on subsequent notices.

Sending a DMCA takedown notice to the hosting company

If you cannot find a form or an email address for the infringer, and if they do not have an agent listed with the U.S. Copyright Office, you will need to locate the hosting company that owns the server where your content resides. This can be tricky for several reasons. Not only do habitual infringers usually try to hide the source of their hosting, but your book files may not actually be located on the site where you find them. For example, General-ebooks.com is a front for pirated books that physically reside on servers for blacklib.com hosted in Ukraine. General Ebooks shows your book in something known as an “iframe,” which means they display content from another site without it being on their servers. The technology is similar to that which allows you to display a live feed from Twitter or Facebook on your blog. It’s like a window into another website.

I have provided a link to a sample DMCA takedown notice template in the Resources section at the end of this post.

You must include valid contact information on your DMCA takedown notices. IMPORTANT TIP: Consider using a free Google Voice phone number and commercial mailbox for all of your online business dealings to protect your private information. Alternatively, use a DMCA takedown service to act on your behalf, which will also serve to protect your private contact details.

Sending DMCA takedown notices to search engines

If you determine that the infringing site you’ve found through a search engine is hosted in a non-U.S. or EU country, you’re probably better off skipping ahead and filing takedown notices with the search engines instead of wasting your time filing with the host—even if you can track it down.

Finding the source

You could search for the domain registrar—the name and contact information for the person who registered the domain name—but that’s usually a waste of time. Most deliberate infringers hide behind private registration, and you cannot usually file a DMCA takedown with a domain registrar. However, you may get lucky and find that the infringing site has a valid U.S. contact.

In most cases, you’ll want to begin your search on the WhoIsHostingThis.com website. Type the infringing domain into the search bar, and if you’re lucky, you’ll find that it’s hosted with a mainstream Internet service provider such as SiteGround, Bluehost, or GoDaddy.

If you find that the host is in another country, your best bet is to immediately file a notice with Google to request the infringing page(s) be removed from its search results. Although several countries are officially part of an international treaty to enforce copyright laws, you’d be wasting your time to try to remove your content overseas. If the infringer is based in a Western European country or Australia, you’d still have a good shot at being taken seriously; however, odds are a mass-infringer will typically host stolen content on a server in a country that is known for its disregard of copyright laws and regulations.

Case Study: General Ebooks (general-ebooks.com)

Recently, one of our clients decided to offer a free download of one of her historical romance novels directly from her website in exchange for newsletter signups. Our job was to design the page, develop the signup process, and reasonably secure the files while prepping them for download, a process I will detail in a later post.

I wanted to track whether this limited-time, free book campaign would increase the availability of pirated copies of the book online, so I did a preliminary search for unauthorized downloads currently available online.

While there are hundreds of sites that claim to host unauthorized, free downloads of the book, only one actually did. That website was General-ebooks.com.Book removed notice

If your books are or have been available on any legitimate retailer’s website, there is a good chance you’ll find your books available for download on General Ebooks. This case study will show that our client’s books were removed from the site within 72 hours of filing the copyright infringement complaint to help you do the same.

General Ebooks’ website is one that is hosted in the U.S., but it displays books in an iframe from a site hosted in Ukraine, Blacklib.com. It is challenging to enforce copyright law in Ukraine, and Blacklib’s pages are not indexed in the search engines. They specifically block search engines because the site is designed to be difficult for copyright law enforcement.

In addition, General Ebooks’ website has been online for several years. They make money with advertising on the site, and possibly from affiliate links to legitimate book sellers. Even though they are technically not the infringers, since the stolen content does not reside on their servers, they don’t want any trouble that could result in lost advertising revenue. They have links on each page to report copyright infringement, and they have a reputation of responding affirmatively to proper DMCA takedown notices. So that’s where my takedown efforts began and ended with them in this case.

I wanted every possible trace of infringement against our client’s copyrights removed from this site. On several web pages displaying our client’s books, there were no download links, other than those linking to Amazon to buy authorized copies. No one had yet uploaded links to stolen copies, but there was a statement on the page encouraging people to upload such links. I wanted that removed, as well. I also wanted the author page removed to reduce the odds of the page showing up in search engines and pirates being encouraged to upload stolen copies of the author’s books. So the takedown notice reflected that.

When filing a DMCA takedown notice, you need to include every single link to stolen content. On General Ebooks’ site, there are potentially four links to stolen copies per page, and a URL, or link, for book’s main page, as well. One author that General Ebooks appears to be infringing on has 78 books listed for “free download” on General Ebooks. That’s a possible 390 links to find and include in the DMCA takedown notice. It’s not fun, but if you’re going to do it, you have to list every single one of those download links as well as the URLs for the pages that link to them.

Below is a partial copy of the DMCA takedown notice I submitted via General Ebook’s copyright violation reporting form, which resulted in the prompt removal not only of links to our client’s stolen copy, but also to her author page on the site and the text encouraging people to upload links to pirated copies of her books.


sample DMCA takedown notice

I will continue monitoring the site for our client’s books. If a repeat infringement is found, I will report the site to Google, Bing, Yahoo, and the site’s hosting provider as a repeat infringer and provide documentation of the first takedown notice, which I saved as a PDF file before submitting. Repeat infringers may be dealt with more severely, because intentional infringement is seen as more serious under the law that a case of possible “accidental” infringement.

Example images to help you file your own takedown notice with General Ebooks:

how to find links on general ebooks

 

How to copy link URL

Discouraging future theft

While it is not mandatory to officially register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office when you publish a book, it does help to protect your rights. Potential infringers realize that by stealing a book with a formal copyright, there is nothing to keep you from immediately filing a lawsuit against them and winning a hefty judgement against them.
Hands showing stop theft
Other methods of preventing or minimizing the odds that your work will be stolen include advanced DRM (Digital Rights Management) protection. For example, if your book is encrypted and only available through protected servers—not through direct download—you probably won’t find stolen copies online. That’s a very expensive and inconvenient process, and could result in fewer readers and fans for your books.

Some piracy has to be accepted as the cost of doing business, just as retail stores factor a certain amount of losses to theft into their costs, in addition to taking reasonable security measures.

I recently developed a unique theft-deterrent process that includes a combination of technical and social theft-prevention measures to enable a popular author to host her own free book downloads for a promotional campaign. I am currently tracking the effectiveness of those measures and will post an update here in a few months with results and a guide to help you do the same.

There are additional precautions you can take, and ways to quickly discover infringement so that you can stop it. We’ll cover those in a future post. We also offer professional security and takedown services.

Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for the advice of an attorney.

Resources

DMCA Takedown Sample Template
General ebooks claim form
Google’s infringement claim form
Bing’s infringement form links and instructions
Yahoo’s infringement form (login required)

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