A member of my book club asked how she could tell if a web site was offering pirated books. If such an avid reader didn’t know, it’s likely that she’s not alone. So here’s a brief summary of eBook pirate flags. For your safety, steer clear when you see them.
If you find a site that offers eBooks and PDFs of books free, and nothing but free, you have probably found a pirate site. If they offer best sellers and new releases free, you can be sure it’s not legit. If they have only a few of the books in a long series, that’s also a pirate flag. (They have not succeeded in stealing all seven or eight.) A real online bookstore will usually carry the whole series. And if later books in a series are free, not just the first one, that’s almost certainly a sign of piracy.
Pirates steal book files and cover images, or in some cases only excerpts of books. Pirates sometimes don’t really have the books at all. If the grammar and sentence structure on the web page seem a tad off, as if the site’s creator is working in English as a second language, that can be a hint that this site is housed in a country like Russia that tolerates cyber criminals. Think about it. What profit is there is giving away pirated books? There has to be an angle. That angle is exploiting the “customer” through credit card info theft, multiple types of malware, and email harvesting.
Some people share book files, thinking it’s like giving a friend a paperback after you’ve read it, but a paperback can’t reproduce forever, and there’s a risk in participating: malware. Instead of file-sharing, use the lending option on legitimate eBook platforms. I’ve known people who have two e-readers to loan one out so a friend can read what’s on it.
I found my three of my books—including the one that’s free in genuine online stores—on two pirate sites. My McAfee anti-virus program identified the sites as risky, so anyone who goes there may run into cyber trouble. If you’re an author, be careful as you check to see if your work is pirated. Just search, don’t click on links.
Pirates make it very hard to contact them or send a Digital Millennial Copyright Act take-down notice without clicking on a potentially risky link. To get around this, some authors go to the trouble of contacting the web host or asking Google to stop indexing the site in search results. If you do contact the pirate sites by email, keep in mind they may simply be harvesting email addresses to sell to spammers who will then try to sell you dubious products like paid reviews.
If you want to buy books safely, buy from legitimate, reputable outlets such as Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Apple, and Smashwords. If you can’t afford even low-priced $3.99 and $4.99 indie titles, go the free and 99 cent sections on eBook retail sites. I’ve shopped for free Nook books that way on B&N and found a large—and safe—selection. You can also check out an eBook from your library if they have Hoopla or Overdrive or another such system. Authors deserve to get paid. And readers need to avoid risky web sites.