Friday, January 15, 2010

eBook thieves: Ninjas of intellectual property

A couple days ago The Association of American Publishers put out a press release called "New Study Documents Epidemic of Online Book Piracy" (which, strangely, now appears to be absent from their site...) It referenced an independent study by internet-monitoring web service Attributor declaring that “nine million illegal downloads of copyright-protected books were documented during the closing months of 2009”. Nine million? Really? In just the end of 2009?

My surprise (and skepticism) comes not because nine million sounds like too many people to me, it sounds like too many people for me not to know any of them. With all the news stories about illegal music downloading, those numbers, crazy as they may be, made a degree of sense because it seems like virtually everyone I have ever known, from kindergarten on up, downloads music illegally. Its ubiquity is a given. But illegally downloading books? I don't think I've ever heard of anyone within six degrees of separation from me downloading books from the Internet. Granted, my sample is skewed by the fact that I work in the book biz and am surrounded by people who really, really like books and almost certainly prefer bound piles of paper to PDFs. But still. Who are these people?

One clue, from the AAP’s release, is that it says Attributor “looked at illegal downloads of 913 popular titles.” 913 popular titles is the key phrase here maybe. So maybe it's just limited to the fanbases of a handful of megauthors? Or just one guy downloading Dan Brown's Lost Symbol 9 million times.

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