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).