Joanne Harris calls on publishers to take online pirates to court

Joanne Harris calls on publishers to take online pirates to court

Joanne Harris has called on publishers to haul online pirates through the courts and set a legal precedent after authors rallied against website Ebooks Bike for allegedly allowing thousands of books to be downloaded for free.

Harris responded after authors began sharing their anger on Twitter against the website set up by Canadian Travis McCrea, a former leader of the Pirate Party of Canada.

McCrea was deluged with complaints from authors over the weekend who were horrified to find many of their books available to be freely downloaded from Ebook Bike, similar to a previous website he set up called TUEBL. The site allows people to share e-books which are then available for download and includes many big-name authors and self-published writers who have not agreed to share their work.

Harris, who said she found all her books on the site, has alerted her publishers Transworld and Hachette imprint Orion to the copyright breaches. Both have systems in place to deal with online piracy.

Harris insisted big publishing houses needed to hit back hard in much the same way music labels handled file-sharing services like Napster in the early 2000s. She complained publishers often issued takedown notices for individual titles rather than going after the root.

She told The Bookseller: “We need to get the site taken down and publishers need to do something about it. It’s certainly possible to do.

“The music industry has done this successfully for many years. But big publishers are sometimes not very quick to pick up on new developments. They need to learn from the film industry and the music industry and be very muscular.”

She added: “People say pirate sites are like mushrooms, you take one down then one pops up somewhere else. I can’t help thinking there actually needs to be a court case and a precedent set.”

Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the Society of Authors, said the organisation had issued an abuse report with the website’s host sites for infringing copyright.

She said: “This sort of pressure has been important in getting piracy sites taken down in the past. We are considering further options, working with the Publishers Association and authors' organisations across the world.

“We are also encouraging authors whose work appears on these sites to tell their publishers, who usually hold the right to take action for copyright infringement, unless they are self-published or have had the rights reverted. Authors should ask their publisher to issue a takedown notice, or report the infringement via the Publishers Association’s copyright infringement portal.

“Authors can issue a ‘notice and takedown’ themselves to the offending site by emailing them with the heading ‘takedown request’. They should include their name and contact details, the URL of the offending material, full details of that material, and an explanation as to why they believe it to be an infringement of their rights.”

In recent days, hordes of people in the industry from self-published authors to established names and indie publishing houses, have shared their alarm about the latest site on social media.

Karen Sullivan, publisher at indie Orenda Books, tweeted most of the group’s titles were on the site.

Harris, who has now written an extensive blog on the issue, pointed out that, for some writers, a loss of 500 to 1,000 sales because of illegals downloads could spell the end of a career. Meanwhile, libraries and bookshops would also count the cost in falling visitors.

She said: “It’s affecting everyone including self-published authors who may have only published on book and are utterly heart-broken that this guy is taking what tiny amount of money they get and draining value from their work.”

Harris added: “This has an impact on everything readers love and it’s something that can only be addressed from the top. It’s a big problem and getting bigger and they need to nip it in the bud now.”

Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said legal action was one approach and it had been taken in the past, but called for action from governments, search engines and internet service providers to do more.

He said: “This is a known, blatantly copyright infringing site that has been around for several years in different incarnations. Unfortunately, this is one of an enormous number of websites making books available illegally. According to the government’s own figures the number of people accessing ‘free’ pirate websites for books increased last year despite publishers being engaged in a continuous battle to get their authors’ titles removed and the sites taken down. 

“We actively support publishers in their efforts through our Copyright Infringement Portal and a range of other approaches.”

A spokesman for Hachette said: “We take book piracy very seriously at Hachette UK, and we have procedures in place to ensure that we respond swiftly to illegal copies of our books that are posted online. We don’t wish to comment on specific legal actions, but we are continuing to work with the Publishers Association and other publishers to ensure that the industry deals robustly with the threat of book piracy.”

McCrea tweeted on 3rd March an admission he had been “fanning the flames” on social media to get hits on his website. He added: “If you are upset that your content is on any website that you do not want there... you should consider learning about the DMCA. It's a great tool that helps both service providers AND authors properly communicate effective information to process your takedown request.

“Because email take-downs are slow, usually not filled out properly, and ineffective... I have created (above-and-beyond my legal requirements) an online form that you can use to have your copyrighted material removed from the site. You can fill it out and your book comes down.”

The Bookseller has contacted Ebook Bike for a comment.