Fighting piracy: our 3-point program
I wrote about piracy in my prior post and suggested that I had some ideas. These are those.
Brian Napack will be presenting Macmillan’s Seven Point Program for fighting piracy at Digital Book World. Today I want to expose The Shatzkin Files THREE Point Program for doing the same. I don’t know whether my three points will be covered by Brian’s program, but I do believe these — in concert — would yield beneficial effects (although nothing will “stamp out” digital piracy.)
1. Flood the sources of pirate ebooks with “frustrating” files. Publishers can use all sorts of sophisticated tricks to find pirated ebooks, like searching for particular strings of words in the text. (You’d be shocked at how few words it takes to uniquely identify a file!) But people looking for a file to read will probably search by title and author. So publishers can find the sources of pirated files most likely to be used by searching the same way, the simple way.
But, then, when publishers find those illicit files, instead of take-down notices, which is the antidote du jour, we’d suggest uploading 10 or 20 or 50 files for every one you find, except each of them should be deficient in a way that will be obvious if you try to read them but not if you just take a quick look. Repeat Chapter One four times before you go directly to Chapter Six. Give us a chapter or two with the words in alphabetical order. Just keep the file size the same as the “real” ebook would be.
For peer-to-peer file sharing, the publisher would have to put a computer or five to work, not just “upload” the crap files to a central site. But the effect to be achieved is to make illicit file downloading frustrating for the consumer and a sufficiently widespread effort of this kind should certainly do that.
One digitally sophisticated publisher reacted to this suggestion saying “too much work.” Maybe, but if this became a standardized component of each publisher’s response, the pirate marketplace would sure have a lot of sludge in it. There is also the concern that we’re punishing the end user, the reader. But (while I’m not defending them), far more Draconian remedies, such as suing consumers and denying them Internet use for repeated offenses, have been proposed. Giving them a dose of frustration (and that’s all we’re suggesting here: not malicious code or anything like that) to discourage use of pirated content seems a proportionate response.
2. Form a publisher group or authorize a trusted third party to put a “seal of authenticity” on the web sites that are totally reliable to be hosting only publisher-approved and legitimately-trafficked files. To make this most effective, publishers should “stand behind” the file distribution from authenticated sites, guaranteeing replacements for defective files, for example. We believe that, to date, publishers have been willing to complain loudly and point fingers at sites that distribute illicit files, but they have done nothing to help the honest consumer know what are legitimate distribution points. Of course, some like Amazon and BN.com and Powells.com are obvious (which doesn’t mean they shouldn’t want, and get, the “seal”), but as sources of ebooks proliferate (and they will), publishers will want to help steer consumers to the sources of ebooks that the publishers trust and believe the consumers should trust as well.
3. Promote like crazy to a) point people toward “seal of authenticity” sites and b) both scare and shame people from downloading from sites that do not have the seal. Promotion should be pretty easy: the authenticated sites can help, and so can a strong and forthright message with every ebook downloaded. Ebook readers should be constantly reminded that authors don’t get paid from pirated books, that pirated books can contain viruses or other undesireable code and that there is nobody to complain to if something untoward happens as a result of downloading one.
At the same time that publishers should be doing these things, they should also be trying hard to understand what the actual commercial impact of piracy is. The fact that there is a pirated copy of every book out there doesn’t actually tell us much; nor does the experience of the record business. We need to understand what real heavy book purchasers and readers are doing as the society moves from reading on paper to reading on screens. And, right now, we don’t have a clue.