The European Commission’s Vice-President has admitted that EU copyright law is “pushing people to steal,” because users end up seeking pirated copies of e-books that might not be able to legally purchase in their own country.
Many people within the European Commission are publicly stating that one of the reasons why piracy is running rampant is because of Geoblocking. Actually, this has has nothing to do with copyright law – it’s a contractual issue concerning the markets that the publisher has purchased the right to distribute the material into and what ones they don’t. This is why the big events like the London Book Fair, Frankfurt Book Fair and Book Expo America are so important. They provide avenues for publishers to sell the distribution rights into other markets and have the works properly translated.
Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Google operate digital bookstores where customers can purchase and read e-books. Sadly, these retailers do not provide service in every country in the world. This is primarily due to publishers rights in that specific region or the bookseller not having the proper infrastructure to provide proper service. All of the big companies have their own content delivery network (CDN) or have server farms in order to quickly send data.
Does the lack of accessibility drive people to pirate?
I don’t think its the lack of accessibility, but the cultural drive to consume things for free, without having to pay for it. Just because the digital title might not be available in your own country, you can still likely order the print edition online.
DTI News recently did a report on e-book piracy in Vietnam. They stated “The problem here is the awareness of the copyright. In developed countries, where customers always believe that they have to pay for all products and services, thus facilitating the development of e-publication. Meanwhile, Vietnamese people have the habit of using products and services free of charge.”
China is the second largest e-book market in the world and their digital publishing industry has shown impressive growth. e-books, digital newspapers, and digital magazine grew by 52.6% in 2012. It is currently estimated that 200 million Chinese consumers read digitally on a daily basis.
The big problem in China is not e-book piracy, but the need to replicate physical books and sell them cheaper or offer digital versions for free. The local publishing industry has not really tackled this problem in a meaningful way, because its considered a cultural norm. Some companies do speak out though, “It’s unavoidable to have so many pirated books on the market. I think all local publishinghouses should cooperate to combat piracy and build a market with a more rational order.” Said Wu Hong, vice editor-in-chief, Shanghai Translation Publishing House.
That is certainly a tall order no doubt, given that cheap pirated editions crop up on a regular basis. In fact, a parallel industry thrives in China where they take pride in coming up with exact clones of the original, be it electronics or anything else. There have even been instances of an entire Apple store being replicated in China, which should be a clear indicator of how seriously they value their replicating skills.
Meanwhile in Spain e-book piracy resulted in €350 million in lost revenue for the €3 billion Spanish publishing industry in 2012 according to a report from Spain’s Federation of Publishers’ Associations and Spain’s ISBN Agency.
How can we Combat Piracy?
There are major barriers for the publishing industry to create a united front in which a clearly defined anti-piracy campaign could be launched. For one, they all compete against one another and if somehow they magically got in one room to discuss the issue, it would be collusion. This is would be illegal in the US and would likely be considered to be forming a Cartel, which is illegal in the EU.
The vast majority of anti-piracy technologies are coming from 3rd party companies that have developed social DRM and Watermarking technology. This is starting to catch on in Europe in a big way because traditionally this market has an aversion to Adobe DRM. The great thing about Social DRM is that you can share the books you buy with your friends and load them onto your e-reader, smartphone or tablet without breaking any rules. Social DRM is engineered in such a way that every purchase is traceable to discourage file sharing to file sharing or torrent websites.
Ultimately though, it comes down to our local government and bodies that speak for and protect author rights.
France has stepped up their game to combat digital piracy. They ran national promotional campaigns that featured young actors and celebrities to build cultural awareness about this issue. Libraries and bookstores also got into the action, letting their customers know, this is bad behavior and has to be curtailed. Their efforts helped boost digital content sales by anywhere between 5% and 30%, depending on the content.
The United Kingdom is set to unveil a brand new anti-piracy campaign aimed at educating people about copyright and legal ways to download digital content, but e-books are not even the focus.
The goal is to send emails to UK internet users who pirate films and music, warning them that their actions are illegal. Those suspected of copyright infringement will be sent up to four warnings a year, but the campaign does not include any punitive action, reports the BBC.
How will content providers be able to track who is downloading what from where? Well, four years ago the UK government brokered talks between media outlets and internet service providers. This resulted in the creation of the Voluntary Copyright Alert Program (Vcap) and is supported by the largest UK ISPs , the UK recorded music industry trade association BPI, and the Motion Picture Association. In a few months time, a massive new campaign will begin to get this thing rolling.
At the end of May 2015 a UK high court ruled that five of the largest internet providers had to block access to several pirate websites. BT, Virgin Media, Sky, EE, and TalkTalk were told that had not display any links from AvaxHome, Bookfi, Bookre Ebookee, Freebookspot, Freshwap, and LibGen. The sites were said to offer more than ten million titles for download, more than 80% of which infringed copyright according to the Publishers Association. The websites in question had 1.75 million take down requests from authors and publishers in the last year.
The entire publishing industry does not really care too much about piracy right now. e-Book sales in the US are 21% of the trade industry and and in most European countries they are less than 3%. Print still rules the world, and this is where the priorities are.
When you engage in e-book piracy it is a deeply moral choice and the decision whether to do it or not defines your character. e-Book piracy is not just black and white, dare I say it’s 50 shades of grey?
What if you knew the online bookstore you have buying e-books from for the last three years was going out of business. They said all of your purchases would disappear in a few months. Would you accept your fate, or download the books, strip the DRM and protect your investment? Remember you would be breaking the licensing agreement.
What if you lived in the UK and wanted to buy e-books from Amazon, but the extra 19% VAT is starting to add up. Should you use a US address and credit card to save money and buy Kindle books from the American version of the store?
What if you are a student on a budget and it came down to not eating or buying books? Would it be OK to download a few for free from the internet, knowing when you get out into the workforce you could afford to buy them? What if you are a poor university student and its either buy this textbook for $300 or pirate it and use that money for food?
What if you are a voracious reader and like to experiment with new authors and genres. Is it OK to pirate a bunch of books and then buying the e-books you truly liked?
What if you live in a country where many of the books you want to buy online are simply not available? Is it a valid to pirate the book, knowing that you WOULD pay for it, if you could?
Michael Kozlowski has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.