If you’ve worked in the publishing industry in the past few years, you’ll know we have a piracy problem. The idea of pirates attacking our business conjures up images of bloodthirsty seafarers or gaudy hackers
—but while vigilantes and hackers are part of the problem, the business of digital piracy is increasingly complex, as are its players. In this post, I’ll try to better define the digital-piracy landscape and highlight some of the changes and trends we’ve seen over the last year. Most importantly, I’ll discuss what we can do to stem the tide of illegal filesharing.
We have seen a rapid evolution of sites and networks dedicated to filesharing. Napster, a site dedicated to music filesharing, was arguably the first to become widely known, and the world watched as the fate of that site played out in the media and the US justice system. It was some time before the book industry experienced a similarly focused threat, with early piracy occurring on mixed-use cyberlockers and document-sharing sites. Today though, we too must grapple with an increasing number of sites dedicated exclusively to illegal book piracy.
The largest of these—and in my view the most threatening—is a network known as Library Genesis. These sites are a wholly non-responsive ‘family’ of sites based in various countries which appear to operate independently (based on site-server location, host location and DNS information), but which are clearly related through the content they host. Current and past family member sites include libgen.info, libgen.net, libgen.org, sci-hub.org, bookos.org, bookos-z1.org, book4me.org, bookza.org, bookre.org, booksee.org, bookfi.org, and bookzz.org—and this is just a sample of some of the largest. Unlike some sites, the type of content posted by users spans virtually every genre, from trade to STM. As an example, we have detected nearly 60,000 infringements on bookzz.org since the site went live in April—approximately 50% of them trade works, 40% educational and STM and 10% document-based or niche content.
Some of the Library Genesis sites have in fact been brought down through the work of rights holders and vendors like Digimarc Guardian. But the alarming pattern is that when one site goes down, one or two more replace it under new domain names, with all of the previous links replicated. So when 60,000 infringement links go down, another 60,000 or even 120,000 take their place, and the entire process begins over.
But the Library Genesis sites are hardly the extent of the problem. In the last year we’ve seen significant shifts in content and site behavior. You may be surprised to learn that many of the books we detect today are actually scanned copies of physical books. In fact, just two years ago scans made up the majority of the ‘digital’ book content on these sites. With that said, there has been a significant rise in cracked e-books over the last year. Some sites even offer several formats, allowing a user to choose between an epub, mobi, PDF or even HTML version. The prevalence of the latter format is another alarming trend of 2014, fuelling the growth of what we refer to as ‘online reading’ sites.
These sites do not necessarily have copies of pirated works to download; instead they post each page of a work on a different URL in HTML format. Users click through each page using their browser or site-navigation buttons. This format has long been popular among sites dedicated to pirating Japanese manga content, but in the last six months we’ve seen a huge rise in the number of online-reading sites pirating English-language trade content too. While the reading experience offered by this model clearly wouldn’t satisfy all users, it is becoming more relevant at a time when more people are using their mobile devices to read books. And because there is no need to download, it suits markets where connection speeds preclude the downloading or uploading associated with normal modes of filesharing, such as in developing nations.
So what on earth can we do to combat this massive problem? While takedown notices are still industry standard (and legal protocol in most developed nations), some sites obviously present a threat that necessitates far more than a legal demand letter. I’m happy to say that far more is being done, and that creative industries are coming together to disrupt piracy in increasingly aggressive and innovative ways.
One stellar example of protection is no doubt already familiar to many IPG members; that is, the City of London Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit, or PIPCU
. This relatively new programme has had some incredible early successes in bringing down filesharing sites through a five-phase enforcement scheme. All of their actions are informed by stakeholders within the creative industries, including book publishers, as well as national and international law-enforcement bodies. Their programme begins with the industry standard—a letter to site operators—and progresses through five increasingly aggressive phases, culminating in physical apprehension. If site operators are found to be working within the jurisdiction of PIPCU, they can be arrested and charged with intellectual property violations and other crimes.
Digimarc Guardian’s own enforcement service mirrors PIPCU’s ‘death by a thousand cuts’ methodology, starting with DMCA
takedown notices and the forwarding of all filesharing site links to Google and Yahoo / Bing for removal from their search engine result pages (SERP). The latter technique is perhaps the most powerful in deterring the most visible piracy, also known as ‘casual piracy’—that is, when users Google the name of the work they wish to pirate and find active download links within the top search pages. Our system subsequently escalates enforcement against non-compliant sites to hosting-service providers, DNS providers, advertising entities and payment-service providers.
At every phase of enforcement, PIPCU, our company and other rights holders have had successes—bringing down a site altogether or otherwise garnering compliance. And the more all rights holders work together, the quicker we can realize more success. Our team recently had the opportunity to attend the annual Anti-Piracy and Content Protection Summit
in Los Angeles, and here we learned of some new and innovative techniques for disrupting the cycle of piracy. Among these are the idea of flooding pirate sites with spam or ‘spoof’ links, with the goal of frustrating a prospective pirate and driving them to legitimate sales channels. Monitoring forums and social networks for discussion of piracy is another way to disrupt the cycle, and one that our company has employed with modest success. It will no doubt grow in significance as these networks proliferate.
Perhaps the most significant advance of all is the fact that all creative industries are coming together frequently and systematically to better understand and address this issue. The IPG and members have a built-in advantage, insofar as your network affords you the opportunity to continue the dialogue and advance the front in the battle against piracy. The most important step we can take right now is to educate ourselves about the threat; this is the only way we can build a collective strategy to win the war.
Devon Weston is senior manager, business development at Digimarc.