In looking through the most “persuasive words” lists in the English language, FREE comes up just about every time. It’s not surprising, as many people reacting to this word become very excited when they think that they are getting something they won’t have to pay for. That’s fine, as long as the giver is doing it legitimately, and the receiver knows what he or she is getting into by accepting the offer. This is very true with items being advertised online, and especially when it comes to books.
To be able to read an author’s work without having to pay for it is something that is still too common an occurrence. What I am talking about is online book piracy, the practice of illegally reproducing and sharing information over the Internet. Know that if an offer seems a bit “too good to be true”, it probably is.
According to a 2019 article in by Michael Kozlowski, e-book piracy is on the rise. Over $300 million was lost in legitimate author income in the US this year. A 2017 Nielsen consumer survey stated that $315 million in book sales was lost annually to online piracy. Similar situations are also happening in other countries as well. These are pretty sobering statistics. Both the Authors Guild and the Society of Authors have taken the matter very seriously. They have been working tirelessly to help protect the rights of authors by their continuous advocacy work.
I personally know about this frustrating situation only too well. I am an author and PR person by trade, and I have been the victim of many unscrupulous websites (mainly in foreign countries) offering my US trademarked, registered copyrighted and award-winning book, Profit and Prosper with Public Relations®: Insider Secrets to Make You a Success for free. Countless other authors have also experienced this same thing.
But in the midst of my recent research, I stumbled upon a unique type of website that took things to a whole new level. After I saw that my book was being offered as a free download without my knowledge or permission, this particular description really caught my attention. I noticed that it featured people’s comments and photos, and some appeared to actually be endorsing my work. This was very different to what I’d seen before with this type of fake site, bringing things to a new low.
One person’s message really stood out. Karen McKnight’s comments seemed like it could really be legitimate. She too is also in PR, and gave the impression that she was genuinely interested in reading my work. I wanted to contact her to mention that I had never authorized my book to be distributed for free.
Based on her post, photo and profession, I was able to track Karen down by sending her an email. What I learned was that she had never written the copy I had found on the illegal website advertising my work. Not only that, but she told me that she has been the victim of something highly unusual in regard to online book piracy scams. The following is her incredible story: (Note Karen’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.)
“Several years ago, I commented on a popular celebrity’s’ post on Facebook, and my message received 3,000+ likes right away. Ever since, my name and old profile photo have been used without my consent on a website claiming that I have access to thousands of different types of books. I get messages each month from people around the globe asking me to send them links to download books, PDFs and more.” She went on to say, “I have never heard of any of these books, or ever downloaded them. It’s frustrating to have my name and photo used without my consent. I know that authors work hard to develop and curate content, and I don’t want them believing that I am distributing their work without their blessing because that’s not the case.” She further states, “It seems that If I want to get my name and photo disassociated with all of this, I would have to delete my social media platforms that I have spent years building memories on.”
If this scenario can happen to Karen McKnight, it can also happen to anyone else. When I phoned her to follow-up, I found out that there’s something else going on. As previously stated, her comments on the fake site advertising my book mentioned how much she wanted it, and that she was glad to be able to get my work for free to help with her PR career. She said that in other similar situations, her comments get changed to match an author’s particular profession as well, in a type of catfish scenario. (Setting up a false personal profile on a social networking site for deceptive purposes.) Since her actual photo and real name appear to endorse a book, the author and public are left to think that she may really be an accountant, travel expert, or something else. This can damage her name, credibility, and reputation, and cause unwanted confusion.
What made our phone meeting so incredible is that she happens to actually be in my same field. What are the odds of that happening after appearing in hundreds – if not thousands of other sites as doing something else?
Knowing this made me want to help tell her story. I’ve decided to shed some light and better educate the public about a rather sophisticated new way in which these hackers and pirate sites are engaging in. They think nothing of damaging unsuspecting authors, and innocent people’s reputations. A point to note, Karen found out that the site in question doesn’t actually give away free books, but instead it offloads malware to unsuspecting participants.
I can only hope that Karen and others like her will not be left too vulnerable from online book piracy thieves, when they are merely commenting on social media sites. Think of all the potential ramifications. The continuing war against online book piracy sharing, and the newer methods for doing so is causing havoc for many unsuspecting people.
This is a type of crime that should be getting more public awareness and attention. The government, law enforcement, and cyber security specialists ought to be on alert. What transpired for Karen after she posted on social media and its aftermath is something that can actually happen to any one of us, either now or in the future. We should never just sit back and watch this happen. If you would like to contact me and share similar stories, please visit my website at: www.rhondareespr.com.
Rhonda Rees has been an advocate for online book piracy awareness, appearing on TV, radio, online and in print. She has given a webinar on the topic with the Independent Book Publishers Association, and has been in contact with the US Chamber of Commerce – Global IP Center, the Copyright Clearance Center, the Authors Guild, IP Watchdog, the Counterfeit Report, Piracy Trace, MUSO Company, the Book Publicists of Southern California, The Small Publishers Artists and Writers Network and more. In 2015-2016 the Bulldog Reporter named her Publicist of the Year for her online book piracy media awareness campaign.