Authors' fury at website offering free book downloads

Authors' fury at website offering free book downloads

Authors including Philip Pullman, Robin Stevens and Maz Evans have reacted angrily to a new website offering free illegal downloads of their books.

OceanofPDF.com has a US domain name and offers users free PDF or Epub downloads of many bestselling authors’ books, including eight Philip Pullman titles, 14 books by Malorie Blackman, 11 by Bali Rai and more than 50 by Michael Morpurgo and Jacqueline Wilson.

On the website the founders say their mission is to make knowledge and information “free and accessible to everyone around the globe”.

“There are many developing countries where you cannot easily buy your favourite books. They are literally out of reach of many people. Secondly, Amazon doesn’t deliver to many countries and not everyone has the financial means to buy stuff from the internet,” it says.

Scores of authors have already complained about the website. Pullman sent a tweet to @OceanofPDF saying: “Please show me the agreement you have with my publishers, or my agent, or me, which allows you to give my books away free.”

Fellow author Maz Evans said: “@oceanofPDF - my publisher's lawyers are on the case. Good luck with that”, whilst Robin Stevens tweeted: “You’re literally stealing my livelihood, and the livelihood of other authors. I will not be able to continue to write books if I’m not paid royalties for them - in giving my books away for free, you are taking money away from me and taking books from my fans. Please stop.”

However, the founder has told The Bookseller he wants to keep the website active for as long as possible, despite protests from writers and the Society of Authors. Nicholas Liam of OceanofPDF said he had “not decided” whether to take down the site or keep it live. However, he said: “We'll try to keep it active as long as we can."

He added: “We're just a small team of four guys and do all the stuff ourselves. We only process users requests. Once we get an email from user requesting a book that he/she cannot afford/find in the library or if he has lost it, we try to find it on their behalf and upload on our site so that someone in future might also get it.”

Liam claimed that “a few” authors sent their books to to him to upload to gain user reviews and increase their readership.

The site is six months old but came to the attention of authors after writer Michelle Harrison found out about it via a Google alert.

"I found a Google alert in my emails late Friday evening informing me of a free download of Unrest, so I followed the link to check it out. I get lots of alerts about this particular book of mine so that in itself wasn’t surprising. However when I followed it I was horrified to be able to download the book for myself in a matter of seconds," she told The Bookseller. "Normally these sites try to make you register or sign up, but this was immediate, there for the taking. I was even more shocked to discover that every single one of my books is listed there. The PDFs are not my publishers’ proofs, they’ve been re-set or retyped which shows the trouble they’ve gone to to do this.

"I searched some other author names and saw the scale of it, then saw the contact option for the site (for requests for more downloads) and then I saw red. So I emailed them, which is the message you’ll have seen on twitter. No response of course, only the flippant tweeted replies."

YA author C J Skuse, who found all six of her books freely available on the site, told The Bookseller: “I didn't imagine any of mine would be on there as I thought it was only the big hitters being targeted but as it turns out it looks like every single PDF they can get their hands on is on there.

“I am absolutely furious but not just for myself. This job does not pay well for the vast majority of us and the fact that there are people out there who would steal something people have worked for years to craft, rather than pay less than the price of a latte for it is, in my opinion, truly abhorrent. It's hurting our industry beyond all measure."

Her publishers have already issued take down notices for all their titles, she added.

Martin Reed from the Society of Authors (SoA) said there was “no justification” for OceanofPDF's behaviour. 

The society is encouraging authors to complain directly to Twitter and GoDaddy, which hosts the OceanofPDF website, and to report the website to their publishers. After complaints from the SoA, Twitter has now suspended the OceanofPDF account, said Reed.

Stephen Lotinga, c.e.o. of the Publishers Association, urged the government to do more to support copyright holders in enforcing their rights.

"The Publishers Association has been actively supporting publishers to issue take down notices through our Copyright Infringement Portal to remove infringing books. We are also employing other approaches to tackling infringement such as supporting educational initiatives, site blocking and working with the police to cut off the revenue to such sites," he said.
 
“We continue to call on the government to do more to support copyright holders in enforcing their rights and will be highlighting this issue once again to MPs today as part of British IP Day, which is focused on reminding politicians of the importance of copyright to our businesses.”