Pullman and SoA call on government to tackle online book piracy

Pullman and SoA call on government to tackle online book piracy

Society of Authors president Philip Pullman and 32 other leading writers have called on the government to tackle “the blight” of online book piracy.

An open letter to Business Secretary Greg Clark, signed by Pullman, Hilary Mantel, Malorie Blackman and Kazuo Ishiguro among others, warns piracy sites are becoming increasingly prevalent.  

The letter argues “online book piracy has the potential to damage the legitimate book market and make it even harder for authors to make a living from their work".

Citing research by the Intellectual Property Office that a sixth of e-books read online in the UK in 2017 were pirated, the authors warned piracy could lead to new writing drying up and impact the UK’s already struggling library system.

They said more robust action was needed to tackle breaches of copyright and have claled for a meeting with Clark to discuss their concerns.

Pullman said: “Online piracy of books, music, and other expressions of the human spirit needs to be properly understood: it’s an offence against moral justice. It’s the very opposite of freedom of speech, because it acts to prevent those who create beauty, knowledge, consolation or delight from earning even a modest living from their efforts. The law of copyright is one of the bastions of civilized living, but the acid rain of online piracy is slowly dissolving something we thought was set in stone. Surely it should be a fundamental duty of any decent government to defend the rights of those who help to create what civilization is.”

Among the signatories was Joanne Harris, who last month called for publishers to take online pirates to court after a storm of complaints about website Ebooks Bike.

The letter in full:

We are writing regarding online book piracy. We are British authors and members of the Council of the Society of Authors.

We are concerned that websites offering illegal downloads of books are becoming increasingly prevalent. Research by the Intellectual Property Office found that a sixth of e-books read online in the UK in 2017 - around four million books - were pirated. We do not want to give any of these sites publicity by naming them here, but they can easily be found.   

Authors are not asked for permission before their work appears on these sites, and they do not receive any remuneration. Authors’ earnings are in decline and many are struggling financially. A survey carried out by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) in 2018 found that the median earnings of a UK author from their writing was just £10,500 per annum.

The growth of online book piracy has the potential to damage the legitimate book market and make it even harder for authors to make a living from their work. This will harm writers and readers alike – if authors can no longer afford to write, the supply of new writing will inevitably dry up. It could also cause further damage to our library service (which does pay authors, both for the purchase of books and, through PLR, every time a book is lent), at a time when libraries are already facing cuts and closures across the country.

The UK’s great literary heritage has always been underpinned by a robust copyright regime. Unfortunately, this regime is not respected by online pirates, who flagrantly infringe copyright law by both copying our books and offering them for download. As Secretary of State whose department has responsibility for copyright and piracy, we are calling on you to take action against the blight of online book piracy.  

We would be happy to meet to discuss further and we look forward to hearing from you.