June 1, 2015

British broadband providers shut down access to ebook piracy sites


(image via JISC)

(image via JISC)

Piracy doesn’t pose an existential threat to book publishing in the way it does to the music industry. However, it’s still very much a problem, and one to which publishers are fairly sensitive.

British publishers have targeted websites that offer links to pirated ebooks, and recently they won a court victory in their fight. Forbes reports:

The Publishers Association (PA) has won a High Court order forcing broadband providers BT, Virgin Media, Sky, EE, and TalkTalk to block access to seven sites that allow pirated e-books to be downloaded. The ISPs have ten days to comply.

The sites – AvaxHome, Bookfi, Bookre Ebookee, Freebookspot, Freshwap, and LibGen – are all hosted poutside the UK. They are said to offer more than ten million titles for download, of which more than 80% infringe copyright, and make their money from on-site ads.

Despite the ruling, the PA likely doesn’t expect the fight against digital copyright infringement and piracy to be over.

However, the sites targeted don’t actually host any infringing material themselves: they are all either linking sites or search engines.

The PA and its members have already issued nearly a million takedown requests to the sites. They’ve also asked Google to remove over 1.75 million URLs from its search results, as they link to copyright protected material on these sites.

Though there isn’t really of a precedent for large-scale action by publishers against digital pirates, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) expressed support for the PA’s actions. British ISPs have previously blocked access to other file-sharing sites like The Pirate Bay, using technology originally designed to block websites hosting child pornography, but this marks the first ruling specifically responding to book piracy.

So can we expect technology to adapt to the marketplace under these new restrictions, as we saw with music as Napster and Kazaa fell and torrenting replaced them both? Perhaps, but likely not that quickly, because quite simply, there aren’t enough interested pirates.

Statistics from regulator Ofcom show that of the 71 million ebooks purchased in the UK in 2013, only 10% were illegally downloaded.

While the cultural attitudes that foster widespread illegal downloads of music, movies, games, and television, don’t yet include books, perhaps it’s just a matter of time; enough readers and the balance will tip toward piracy. But frankly, it’s just that books are widely available and cheap that allows them to be pirated at a lower rate than visual or aural media.

This is due in large part to Amazon, though as we’ve previously covered, they sometimes just straight up give away books for free. So any of you advertisers buying space on American book piracy websites; get ready, because you may potentially lose out if the AAP decides to step to their online enemies.

Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.