I'm a part-time writer, still working on my novel (with a long term goal to make a living as a writer). My partner is also a writer, full time, with a couple dozen novels in ebook format, who makes a reasonable living solely from ebook sales. Recently, however, there have been a number of incidents where novels (by other authors) intended for ebook self-publication have appeared on torrent sites before they were available on Amazon. In other cases, my partner's novels have been available illegally within days of release.

I've been aware of authors proactively putting mangled copies of their own works on the torrent sites, in order to judge the reaction of those who'd rather steal a book than pay for it -- and it seems to boil down to "Who has a legit copy of novel X? This one has the same two chapters repeated a dozen times."

My understanding is that Amazon uses DRM for ebooks they distribute; that would make it a crime (in the USA) for anyone to defeat the DRM in order to redistribute the book, but it seems Amazon will not pursue ebook pirates or pirate sites. Yet, when a book is available for "free" before you can buy it, it provably reduces sales -- costing both the author and Amazon, though the author is the one who suffers (not having a few hundred billion dollars to soak up a few thousand in losses).

Some of the thefts have been traced to ARC -- advance review copies provided to reviewers -- but even when those are eliminated, it takes mere hours to days for ebooks from a popular author to be pirated.

Is there a practical, effective way to prevent this IP theft? Or is it just a "cost of doing business" -- that might prevent new authors from being able to begin writing full time?

Following up, a year and a half later. I never accepted an answer here, because there was no answer that I felt really answered the question (though several amounted to "you can't, and trying will make it worse"). I just read back through all the answers, and this is still the case. Answers seem to fall into two categories: use technology to make piracy inconvenient, and risk loss of sales specifically due to the technology used, or just accept that (in some cases) there will be orders of magnitude more pirated copies of you work in the world than legitimately purchased copies, and you'll have trouble paying the rent until you finish the next book.

Bottom line, there still isn't an answer that offers an actual solution. However, I found my own way out: I realized that I was writing in hopes of being able to quit a job I hate, and was never going to get there before retirement because it takes too many years to build up a back list I can live on between (presumptive) best-seller peaks. And seeing things that way, I quit trying to write for money. It's not worth it, to me, to give up every other enjoyable use of my time to be able to write fast enough, while working full time to pay the bills, to eventually (in five or ten years) live on my writing (with or without theft -- and yes, i still call it that -- taking money out of my pocket).

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    "when a book is available for "free" before you can buy it, it provably reduces sales" [citation needed] Dec 8, 2017 at 15:23
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    @ZeissIkon I was asking for data, not an anecdote. One author convincing themselves that a correlation is causation is not data. And even if you could prove the harm, you'll be much harder pressed to find even a single example of attempts at directly fighting piracy (as opposed to just making your product better and more readily available) showing a net gain in the long run. Dec 8, 2017 at 15:45
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    Of possible interest, The EU Suppressed a 300-Page Study That Found Piracy Doesn’t Harm Sales: “In general, the results do not show robust statistical evidence of displacement of sales by online copyright infringements. That does not necessarily mean that piracy has no effect but only that the statistical analysis does not prove with sufficient reliability that there is an effect.”
    – DaG
    Dec 9, 2017 at 17:58
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    I read a book on game programming two decades ago, back when piracy was in its infancy. In that book, they stated that there is only one proven way to combat piracy: "Make a game that is so unbelievably good that the pirates go out and buy the game!"
    – Cort Ammon
    Dec 9, 2017 at 22:57
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    My current tactic is to generate so few sales as to stay well under the pirates' radar. Very effective, but there are some unfortunate side effects. Dec 9, 2017 at 23:49

10 Answers 10


It appears to be just the cost of doing business. Pretty much everything I am going to say here comes from https://techcrunch.com/2011/08/23/book-piracy-a-non-issue/ but I will sumarize.

First, in the days of paper, authors only got paid for a fraction of the people who read their book. Many readers borrowed the book from a library or from a friend. Many bought them a second hand book stores. Many read them in the common room library of Inns and B and Bs or found them abandoned on the train.

Ebooks could actually mean more sales for authors since you can't lend or resell an ebook.

And it is vanishingly unlikely that pirated ebooks represent lost revenues. The people who pirate books were likely not going to buy them if they could not get them for free. And since (unlike physical goods) there is no unit cost for a ebook, you don't suffer shrinkage or a lost sale.

This is why, as Tim O’Reilly explains in a quote in the linked article, O’Reilly books does not use DRM. He reckons it is actually better to sell 10,000 books and have 100,000 readers than to sell 10,000 books and have only 10,000 readers.

You will probably make a lot more money by spending your time and energy on writing more and better books than by worrying about book piracy.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – user16226
    Dec 8, 2017 at 13:25
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    ...Weirdly enough, now that I know O'Reilly Books doesn't use DRM intentionally, I'm much less motivated to share my O'Reilly ebooks with other people.
    – anon
    Dec 11, 2017 at 7:29
  • I never understood why libraries are legal...
    – user541686
    Dec 11, 2017 at 9:47
  • @Mehrdad Libaries predate the whole idea of copyright by centuries. Copyright, once it was codified, had to accommodate the ideas of lending and reselling books (on paper only, in those days). Copying just got far, far easier when we started storing books on computers.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Dec 11, 2017 at 12:16
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    @Mehrdad Public libraries, in the modern sense, are a social service designed to make information available to the poor so that they have an opportunity to better themselves. How we got from that purpose to what seems to be their current main function of lending contemporary novels to the middle class I don't know. I think that practice should be banned. Indeed, given the ubiquity of information on the web, I think it is time to take most books out of libraries and replace them with public terminals, which would better serve the original social purpose of a public library.
    – user16226
    Dec 11, 2017 at 13:57

Is there a practical, effective way to prevent this IP theft?


As someone who has pirated countless books, I might give you some insight into my frame of mind. There's a very simple way you can counteract this "theft":

Put a donation link on your website.

You'd be surprised if I told you how many times I wanted to donate to an author after reading their book but couldn't because they didn't take the simple step of enabling it.

Prefer a easy to use payment method - paypal and bitcoin are good candidates. You don't have to phrase it as "paying for pirating". "Supporting my writing" would be appropriate.

As a reader, here's things I care about, in order of importance:

  • I want to read your book
  • I want to finance your future books (so I can read them as well)
  • I want to get a sense of contributing to the development of culture and society

Here's some things I don't want:

  • complicated DRM schemes that at best make my e-reader slow, or at worse, don't work with my model at all, or make me unable to read on my computer.
  • lose access to my book when I migrate to another book publisher service, e-reader or computer.
  • I don't care about exclusivity agreements. I won't create a new account in a new publisher again just because your book is there.
  • I don't care about middlemen like amazon profiting at your and mine expense in an age where data distribution is virtually free.
  • I don't care about the price of your e-book being virtually identical to the price of a paper copy. No matter what the actual production costs are, I feel I'm getting ripped off.

Finally, please consider subscribing to a crowdsourcing/patron platform like Patreon. Or letting donators leave a message. The only thing better than supporting authors you love is doing it publicly.


I want to read your book in whatever way I see fit. Please just make it easy for me and take my money.

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    @ZeissIkon Exactly. FYI, my reader doesn't support mobi. I can convert it, but it's a pain. And I don't want to buy a "amazon reader" that reads "amazon books" any more than I want my car to run on Ford Gas. You don't need to necessarily give the books away, you can still have sales in parallel.
    – BookPirate
    Dec 8, 2017 at 19:52
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    I've normally seen the phrase "I don't care about" to been "I do not have preference one way, or the other.". Where as it sounds like you stongly care not to have some (all? idk) of those things on your second list. This answer could be a lot clearer if you said "I don't want" Dec 9, 2017 at 8:20
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    @ZeissIkon "give the books away, with the hope that a lot of readers will pay" Actually, not necessarily. Just make it easy to do the right thing! I've paid for a bunch of ebooks because it was the easy way to do it and I got them in non-copy-prevented formats that I could and can easily read on whatever device I happen to have handy. Really, I don't want to buy a particular device or operating system to read your book; I don't want to download special software to read your book; I don't want to need an Internet connection to read your book; I just want to read your book! Make it easy!
    – user
    Dec 10, 2017 at 22:00
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    Bear in mind that DRM can result in lost sales. If you aren't willing to give me a permanent, fungible, standards compliant, and infinitely transferable copy of your work in exchange for my cash, then I refuse to pay you. I don't care how good your work is, I'll find a way to get it that doesn't involve paying more than the few pennies a rental is worth (e.g. via a library.) If I can't find it that way, I'll find another author -- copyright is already restrictive enough, and ideas are rarely so unique as to justify paying you and your great grandchildren leasing fees in perpetuity. Dec 10, 2017 at 22:43
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    That's...an odd reading of my position. Framed differently, why should I pay a high price for a non-transferable license to read your work on a device that I don't even want to own? I only pay the DVD rental store a dollar for that; is that what you want to be paid when someone reads your book? Keep in mind books aren't often re-read... Dec 11, 2017 at 3:34

There is probably no stopping of file sharing in the modern world.

But there is a chance we can make it cool to be backer and investor, sponsor and patron.

Patreon, flattr, kickstarter, indiegogo and many other sites and services exist at this point and then I haven't even searched particularly notoriously after them the last year or so.

There is a certain status in being able to say I helped funding this guy to become this great.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Dec 8, 2017 at 1:58
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    Patreon, etc is a good suggestion. I've seen it used by many users recently on YouTube (free/public video). Or alternatively, make the e-book free and sell merchandises based on the content (in this case, anything relevant to the novel)
    – Andrew T.
    Dec 8, 2017 at 5:15
  • What services would you recommend?
    – Ooker
    Dec 8, 2017 at 10:03
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    I'm not mathreadler, but I would suggest Patreon for uses like this, @Ooker. Kickstarter and Indiegogo are really oriented more to "products" (as in buyable products with development staff or whatever). Patreon is more towards content creators (e.g., Youtubers, Twitchers, or book authors). You don't pay for a concrete item, but for the person directly.
    – AnoE
    Dec 8, 2017 at 14:44
  • "We" could commission a creator to make something we want. There are platforms to implement this now. Patreon is one example.
    – Joe
    Dec 14, 2017 at 8:12

If you want people to be honest, make it easy for them to do so.

Eighteen years ago, there was a hugely popular computer program called "Napster". It let people share their music collections with each other in violation of all sorts of copyright laws. The music publishers were up in arms over this, and filed hundreds of thousands of lawsuits against individual users, software developers, and the occasional ISP. Yet, no matter what the industry did, Napster and similar file-sharing programs grew in popularity.

These days, you almost never hear about music sharing. You know what killed it? A little program called "iTunes". Instead of downloading a file of uncertain contents and unknown quality from a sharing service, people could go to a central location and easily find and purchase exactly what they wanted.

Don't waste your time attacking the pirates head-on, the way the music industry did. Instead, do what Apple did and focus on making your ebooks easy to purchase and easy to use.

  • Isn't this exactly what Amazon is (trying to be)? Not just a one-stop source for ebooks, but for $10/mo, you can read all the books you want (as long as the authors put their books on Kindle Unlimited). Doesn't seem to be helping that much. We don't hear about music sharing mostly because the most popular site, Napster, closed, and when they came back, they were a legit streaming site, like Pandora.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Dec 8, 2017 at 0:02
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    Amazon's making half-hearted gestures in this direction, but they're not doing too well at it. I can't take an arbitrary Amazon ebook and be certain that I can read it on my Linux desktop, or my digital camera, or my ten-year-old XO-1 laptop, or my uncle's Chinese-made ebook reader (in contrast, I can do all of that with Project Gutenberg ebooks). There's also the perpetual risk that they'll decide to take back a book that I've purchased, like they did with 1984.
    – Mark
    Dec 8, 2017 at 0:45
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    On the same basis Steam killed videogame piracy, and netflicks killed TV show piracy. (by killed i mean significantly reduced.) In these cases and in the case of itunes, yes the products include DRM, but it wasn't the DRM, it was the convenience . However, seems like this isn't something a self-publishing author can solve. Unless you want to recommend a particular strategy around selecting some existing service to sell your books on. Dec 8, 2017 at 6:25
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    @ZeissIkon "Doesn't seem to be helping that much." Based on what metric? You may be tempted to go find some numbers about how many books get pirated, but those are the wrong numbers to look at. What's relevant here is how much money is going to authors as a whole. The problem with earning money as an author these days is that there are so many more authors writing so many more books in a market with so many more things for people spend their money on. But without looking at the numbers myself, I'd wager that a greater amount of money is going to authors now than 20 years ago. Dec 8, 2017 at 15:33
  • I do miss the discovery of the Napster/Kazaa era -- you'd find that the song you wanted was on Fred's Files, so you'd browse around and discover other artists in that genre - they may be indies from Fred's town, not known on your coast yet, but BAM - now you're the trendsetter! Mar 15, 2019 at 18:19

As a blog author and publisher and open source programmer, I feel even more exposed to "IP theft".

But "IP theft" does not exist for me when I write or publish program source codes, even though I earn good money with those.

Why? I ditched that frightening term from my vocabulary. It does not contribute to anything, quite the opposite in fact. If carry fright, anger or anxiety in you, without having the ability to change it, it just takes away creative or entrepreunerial potential and ruins your evening, irreversibly.

How so? Because no practical way to prevent "IP theft" exists, given analog holes. My scanner has no problem scanning from my Kindle device and sending the scan through an OCR program. Even more comfortable and a lot faster: If available, I order your book on dead tree, cut off the binding, and put the pile of sheets into a multi sheet scanner. After a maximum of a few hours, I have "pirated" your book.

The only method I know (and believe in) to minimize the negative effects of content piracy is to maximize the reader's satisfaction.

I lied. Actually there is a way to prevent "theft": Create something that is uninteresting, unhelpful, boring, and that never gets traction.

Also, my consumer persona want to add this: If I have the choice between two equally great books, I choose the one which restricts me less.

  • So, "ignore it and it'll quit bothering you (because it'll never go away)?" If I were writing "open source" books, I'd expect most people to read without paying -- but I can't make a living selling support for a book, the way Canonical does with Ubuntu.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Dec 8, 2017 at 15:08
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    @ZeissIkon: I didn't mean to publish your content for free or even open source just because I publish (some) of my stuff for free. And even open source is not a superset of "for free", just like "for free" is not a superset of "open source". Dec 8, 2017 at 15:20
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    @ZeissIkon All he's saying is essentially that there's no use crying over spilled milk, and nothing can be gained by futilely trying to put the milk back in the bottle. Dec 8, 2017 at 15:36
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    @ZeissIkon If they like what they read they will become curious to know what happens in the story. You will have created a demand for your future work. "wow this is cool I wonder what the next chapter / piece / thing is gonna be like" Dec 8, 2017 at 19:53
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    +1 for reference to "the analog hole". Wikipedia says, "Media publishers who use digital rights management (DRM), to restrict how a work can be used, perceive the necessity to make it visible or audible as a "hole" in the control that DRM otherwise affords them." Here's another way to prevent theft: Don't make the IP visible or audible!
    – Beanluc
    Dec 8, 2017 at 21:57

It is sad but true that without strict enforcement of anti-piracy laws, and in the absence of broad cultural perceptions that consider the act of acquiring and reading a pirated ebook as either criminal or unethical (and I am talking society and culture here, not intellectual property laws or their enforcement) any reader who can get an ebook free is unlikely to insist on paying for it or buy a physical copy. They will simply read the book, and use the money saved there for some other purpose, such as buying a memory card for their mobile phone. There might indeed be communities where many people would rather pay for their books or ebooks, but that indicates to me a broad cultural understanding in those communities that pirating ebooks is criminal or unethical. That is however not yet understood in every part of the world.

Circumstantial exceptions that might tempt a reader to choose an unauthorised 'free download': Sometimes the physical book or even a legitimate ebook is unavailable or no longer available for purchase via bookstore or online shopping in the reader's country or locality, or else the reader does not possess electronic payment means such as a credit card to complete the online purchase transaction. [I know many people who do not have any credit cards or debit cards or any other online payment options mainly because they consider it a risk for online fraud.]

In short, a reader reading a pirated ebook represents an actual sale lost only whenever the person had the motive, means and opportunity to buy a legitimate ebook or physical copy, but still chose piracy simply because it was easier, cheaper and socially not unacceptable to acquire and read a pirated ebook, irrespective of intellectual property laws or digital rights.

This is the hard reality for writers in the digital age, but forms of piracy existed even before ebooks and the internet. Also, @Mark Baker in his answer here has made the pertinent point that even in pre-digital eras, the author was not being paid for every time their book got read by a new reader, since many readers would borrow books from their friends, a library or the hotel; get gifted second-hand physical copies; or buy second-hand physical books whose resale does not create royalties for the writer. All of which practices continue in the digital age (even if some studies seem to suggest that reading as a whole is quantitatively on the decline, and even though friends will tend to 'send/receive' digital copies rather than share physical books, whenever digital sharing is the convenient option). Add large scale indiscriminate online piracy to the mix and it's the last straw that can break the author's back!

@Mark Baker also notes that the type of person who reads a pirated ebook is not the type of person who would actually pay for it if it weren't illegally obtainable for free, but I think there are far too many easy ways available at present for even specifically interested readers to read an ebook without needing to pay the publisher or the author in order to get access to the written work, so the widespread "free sharing" of ebooks does represent an additional drain on potential (if not necessarily actual) sales.

However, it can be sobering for every author or potential author to reflect that, if digital rights were strictly enforced, your work would still only be paid for and purchased by somebody who considers it a work worth paying good money to buy and read, even if that person is ethically against piracy and would never read a pirated work. So the free circulation of pirated ebooks actually gives many authors a 'casual' reader base, many of whom wouldn't read the book if they had to pay for it, but at least some of whom could form a dedicated fan base and/or might later be ethically motivated to pay for the writer's hard and honest work.

On the other hand, as also pointed out by @Mark Baker in comments, DRM is always an option. But if enough digital locks (read DRM) are placed on a work to absolutely prevent piracy, could that possibly affect your legitimate sales via legally purchased ebooks and physical copies? Also, is the publisher/distributor who guarantees you complete digital protection really capable of getting your work the best possible exposure and earn for you the maximum possible revenue? That is what you need to work out for your particular case. On the broader societal level, individual readers need to take an ethical stand against helping themself to "free" ebooks and communities need to develop the cultural consciousness that reading pirated ebooks is unethical and a crime.

Most people tend to commit actions that they personally and their community in general don't consider unethical, whatever be the legal position -- and obviously a huge number of people still do not consider piracy unethical. So this trend is likely to continue until cultural values change to reflect the unethicality of piracy, or 'until laws come down harsher on this type of theft and a way to hold people accountable, so this act becomes not worth the hassle', as noted by @ggiaquin in a comment.

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    People tend to commit actions that they personally and society in general don't consider unethical @ggiaquin, whatever be the legal position. Now edited to clarify, using material you kindly provided here. Dec 7, 2017 at 21:03
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    Oh I did now -- just look at the last paragraph latest edit, and thanks for pointing out @ggiaquin! Dec 7, 2017 at 21:09
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    @ggiaquin Everyone knows that a pirated book is theft. - that's a loaded statement; a not inconsiderable number of people disagree and consider 'copyright infringement' an entirely separate act. You appear to be taking the moral high ground without checking whether everyone agrees that it is the high ground. Dec 8, 2017 at 8:08
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    That "any reader who can get an ebook free is unlikely to insist on paying for it or buy a physical copy", seems unlikely to me. Most people can pirate e-books if they want to, but I am willing to bet good money that bought copies outnumber pirated copies on an order of magnitude.
    – eirikdaude
    Dec 8, 2017 at 9:15
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    @ggiaquin, copying is not theft. We certainly need ethics regarding copying that are fair to creators, but mixing up terminology is not helpful.
    – Carsten S
    Dec 8, 2017 at 9:27

I've been giving this some thought, and while I don't have a complete answer to this problem here are my current thoughts as a fellow IP creator (different industry, same problem):

  1. Bear in mind that DRM can (counter-intuitively) result in lost sales. If an author isn't willing to give me a permanent, fungible, standards compliant, and infinitely transferable copy of their work in exchange for my hard-earned cash, then I refuse to pay them anywhere near what their work would normally be worth. I don't care how good that work is, I'll find a way to get it that doesn't involve paying more than the few pennies a rental is worth (e.g. via a library.) Then, if I can't find it that way, I'll find another author -- copyright is already restrictive enough, and ideas are rarely so unique as to justify paying you and your great grandchildren leasing fees in perpetuity.

    NOTE: I take a hardline stance on this largely due to the information hole that the 120+ year copyright term plus DRM has created. From my perspective, you absolutely should be paid for your work, but that work must become a permanent part of society, beyond you or your publisher's ability to recall. Basically, by creating and publishing a work, you have actually removed something from society as a whole -- specifically, there is no way to "delete" your work from the minds of people that read it, and you have prevented others from creating that type of work for over 120 years.

    This, in turn creates a sort of debt to society that copyright has attempted to balance (fairly successfully) in the dead-tree era (think rare book shops for the most valuable works), but that balance has been massively upset with the introduction of DRM to the point where many authors are no longer satisfying this societal debt. Remember, copyright is effectively a (old and very long-standing) contract between consumers and producers, and the rise of piracy in the modern age is partly due to perceived breach of this contract in favor of the content creators.

    tl;dr on this section: Your readers have rights too. Piracy can be looked at as a reaction to perceived violation of their rights, and DRM can actually make the monetary situation worse as a result.

  2. Stepping back and looking at the dead-tree era, unauthorized copies existed there too. One could argue that the specialized equipment needed to produce the fakes made prosecution easier, but this is hardly a new problem.

    In that era, a fake would be worth less than an authorized copy as anyone picking it up could (theoretically) tell it was a fake, and then be liable for infringement. What if we replicate that model using blockchain technology; that is, each authorized copy is made unique and has a permanent, verifiable "provenance"? The idea being, you release the basic rights people have with dead-tree copies, but at the same time you are the only person that can generate real, authorized copies, and anyone receiving a copy can easily check if it is genuine or not. Essentially, this makes the whack-a-mole of copyright enforcement somewhat easier since anyone can check if a copy is pirated or not.

    Going down this hypothetical route, you would watermark each official copy of your work to make it unique, then record that in the blockchain as being created in exchange for currency. This becomes a permanent record of the fact that you have created an authorized copy, and the current owner can prove that they are authorized to own that copy. That owner can then sell it to another person, losing their right to own that copy (again, publicly recorded). Essentially this prevents you or your publisher from recalling the work, while still retaining the concept of a copy of a work that has some intrinsic, unremovable value, and is therefore worth paying for.

    tl;dr on this section: Don't fall for the existing, centralized DRM model that is making people angry and encouraging piracy. Look for a non-intrusive DRM solution and use the extensive legal options in place to stop piracy on a large scale.

  3. Make purchase easy, and offer value adds! Extending on the above concept, with parallels to the dead tree era, why not offer a "signed" edition for more money? Surely enough people will enjoy a good work enough to want a personal touch from the author -- this costs you very little and helps the bottom line.

    Purchase should be as easy as "select item, send money, get license to use item". It should not include additional steps like "purchase authorized reader hardware, agree to restrictive EULA, install insecure reader software", etc.

    Consider a sale every now and again -- e.g. 25 standard copies at a discount, when they are sold out you have to pay full price again.

    tl;dr on this section: Make it easier to pay for your work than to pirate it. Offer a product that is more valuable than the pirated version. Make the work accessible even to those that don't have a lot of money.

  • The basic problem with your blockchain idea is that most readers (and most authors) don't understand blockchains -- and in your answer here, you're arguing against modern ebook publishing while you argue in favor of going another step into even less accessible technology (I have no idea how to set up a blockchain, and don't want to spend time administering one and, seemingly, being involved in every "used book" resale).
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Dec 11, 2017 at 0:53
  • Yeah, I literally just came up with this idea. I envision an open-source app that handles all of this behind the scenes, and keeps people honest. Really, all you can do is stop casual piracy even with heavy DRM, so why lose all the sales from folks like me that just want to actually own (NOT illegally copy!) a copy of your work? Dec 11, 2017 at 3:52
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    One other thing I should mention is that you would not be involved in any resales -- the system automatically handles that. From a practical perspective you may need to be willing to publish the same work on more than one platform, otherwise those who disagree with that one platform may tend to turn to piracy to get what they wanted to begin with. I'm seriously considering creating an easy to use DRM platform based on the above concept; this would operate in parallel w/ Amazon, etc. and hopefully stem "EULA-related" piracy Dec 11, 2017 at 5:44
  • Aside from the possibility that quantum computing may break almost all encryption, including blockchain in the future, this isn't a bad idea. You're creating a new source of value which can be owned and transferred without much muss or fuss and with no need for paternal organizations profiting from and controlling it. While implementing it might be challenging, using it would probably be very easy.
    – Joe
    Dec 14, 2017 at 8:54


This is common with high-priced (>$30) documents, such as building codes and scientific journal articles. The downloaded file will include "Purchased by [email protected]" in the footer of each page and a unique ID in the meta-data. If the file ends up in the wild or in the black market, the publisher knows from who to seek damages.

Technical solutions can only discourage copying. Once copying happens, your problem is legal, not technical. It's up to you to enforce your copyright, so it's to your benefit to make enforcement as easy as possible. Easy enforcement also discourages anybody who fears litigation.

Watermarking is an option only if the publisher offers the feature, because the file must be dynamically generated for each customer. Also, watermarking relies on customers' identity being authenticated. Credit card transactions may offer a path to an identity, but anonymous payment methods won't work.

  • You know, I dislike this less than any other answer so far. Is there a way to make a visible watermark stay in place through Amazon's formatting and conversion process? Or would it need to be steganographic in nature?
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Dec 8, 2017 at 17:41
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    >Implying that pirates wouldn't use disposable email addresses and TOR. Dec 8, 2017 at 21:02
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    @ZeissIkon Even if you could watermark in a way which would make it through Amazon, how will you watermark effectively without knowing who the buyer is?
    – Beanluc
    Dec 8, 2017 at 22:01
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    @Beanluc Correct, this occurred to me after commenting -- watermarking as a piracy deterrent requires individually modifying every sold copy, in order to trace back the source of a "leak." This is practical for Advance Review Copies (which have been a known source of torrent availability), but not for general sale of, hopefully, thousands or tens of thousands of copies.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Dec 9, 2017 at 14:15
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    @RedactedRedacted or just rip it out as part of extracting the content to a less-insulting format.
    – fectin
    Dec 9, 2017 at 17:58

Apparently the following section requires emphasis! :-)

I do not endorse this solution, I do not USE this solution, I am a semi-retired professor in computer science that is aware of this product, I met somebody that uses this product to protect their work and likes it. It is a Windows-only product, but at last report 91.8% of all laptops, desktops and non-phone computers are Windows-based. Thus it restricts your audience.

My specialty is not security, but my informed opinion is that all security is deterrent, not certain, but that said, deterrents do indeed reduce piracy, especially when the price and/or effort and/or risk and/or learning curve required to circumvent the deterrent exceeds the price of the product.

The rest is basic computer science: If an author is intent upon protecting their work then some licensing and restrictive scheme is necessary, either to a device (disk, MAC address, dongle) or requiring an online connect to ensure only X simultaneous users at a time. The latter can be accomplished at some multi-hour checkpoint intervals, to cover spotty network availability.

The hardware type of licensing can be more invisible. Disks have unique serial numbers, network cards have unique MAC [Media Access Control] addresses, and USB dongles can be read-only devices that are difficult to hack. That said it is possible to run software that has an encrypted form of such a signature; and reads that unique signature from a device and then encrypts it, and refuses access to the encrypted content if it does not find a match. That encryption can be a one-way hash; meaning even if the user can see the hashed outcome they are supposed to match, they cannot reverse that to find the hardware signature that would hash to that.

Thus, With no endorsement whatsoever, but awareness of the product, see this eBook Compiler, a commercial product that costs money, but they basically can encrypt your eBook with a licensing thing like commercial games, tied to a specific computer, so it can only be read on that computer. They offer services (for a minor fee) to handle all the licensing communications for you.

The easiest way to steal your book is if someone takes photos of the screen, and then transcribes those to text (there are character recognition programs that could assist in that).

So it isn't as easy as copying a file and a cookie or whatever. The license can be tied to unique hardware on a specific computer. Software is required there. The first time the user gets it they must register and be online, that is the only time they have to be online, and the use (on that machine) can be invisible thereafter.

I don't know how easy it is to use, or how good their support is, or how the whole thing works.

Any form of security is going to inconvenience the consumer. That said, for an author intent upon protection and willing to sacrifice some sales to protect their copyright, strong deterrents exist.

I will leave this answer up despite the negative reception: It is an actual answer to the question instead of a rebuke to the whole idea of protection, and all the negative responses seems to be from people ideologically opposed to any form of protection. But the question was not "should I try" but "How to prevent ebook piracy". This is a potential answer, with the caveat already given: Protection by its nature inconveniences and restricts legitimate customers, which may significantly reduce the number of legitimate customers.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – user16226
    Dec 11, 2017 at 13:23

The blockchain and Qr code can be used to identify that the book is original. The store and the book author jointly meet in a chain so that they can confirm that they have purchased the official book.

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