Scottish authors unite against 'book pirating' website

Scottish authors have added their voices to a campaign against an ebook website which they say is stealing their work.

Sara Sheridan's books are uploaded to ebook websites without her consent.
Sara Sheridan's books are uploaded to ebook websites without her consent.

The site, run by Vancouver entrepreneur Travis McCrea, who also led the now-defunct Pirate Party of Canada, publishes hundreds of books for readers to download for free in what he describes as a “digital library”.

But authors say that many of the books available on his site have been put up without their consent - and are depriving them of income from their work.

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A sixth of ebooks read online in the UK - around four million books - in 2017 were pirated, according to a survey by the Intellectual Property Office. A recent report found that the average author earns £11,000 a year.

English writer Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, has led the calls to have the website - and those like it - taken down.

Edinburgh author Alison Belsham’s debut novel The Tattoo Thief - which has been a bestseller across Europe and has been translated into 15 languages - has been published on the site, as well as around 50 of Alexander McCall Smith’s bestselling books and six by Sara Sheridan.

Belsham warned that the practice was widespread, with multiple sites across the world regularly publishing books without authors’s consent.

She said: “I would like to think that no one I know downloads pirate ebooks, because it’s nothing less than theft - but having read recently that approximately 17 per cent of ebooks are downloaded without being paid for, it makes me wonder.

“It’s hard enough as it is for the vast majority of writers to make a living from writing - to think that people are stealing something that you’ve worked so hard to create is absolutely heart-breaking.”

Sheridan pointed to the fact that authors get paid a small amount for each book borrowed by a traditional library and warned that the practice of copyright infringement of ebooks was "incumbent in publishing".

She added: “It happens fairly frequently. When someone makes me aware of it, I contact the publisher and ask them to have it taken down. People who download from these sites are not supporting the publishing industry.”

Scottish crime writer Vanessa Robertson said that for self-published authors, such sites posed major problems. Ms Robertson discovered this week that her new novel, Death Will Find Me, had been put up on McCrea’s site within two weeks of its being published. She filed a notice to have it removed and it has since been taken down.

She said: “For independent authors like me, it’s daunting because unlike big publishing houses, we don’t have legal teams. I don’t know what impact these sites have - I don’t think my readers are downloading books there while other genres might lose more sales that way.

“What’s so upsetting though is that my book was there less than a fortnight after publication when I was still enjoying the happy glow of sales and good reviews - it takes the shine off. I’m just so angry that someone has the nerve to steal people’s work like this. I’d just never thought of that as something I’d have to deal with so soon.”

Ms Harris, who has written around 20 books since Chocolat was turned into a hit film in 2000, said: “[McCrea’s] current enterprise claims to be an online library, claims to pay authors, and also claims that authors are donating their books voluntarily. None of this is true, of course. There are many self published authors who are never going to make a living out of writing books and this site is taking away their last validation. This is not helping anybody. It means that mid-list authors who are already struggling for sales may be ditched by their publishers.”

McCrea, who runs the site, called eBook Bike, to told Radio 4’s You and Yours programme yesterday that his site had been created “by authors for authors” to share books and said that he would remove any book reported to him by an author via the site’s online form.

“Mine is a digital library which holds a collection of ebooks. The website is not dedicated to copyright infringe. The website is dedicated to helping authors.”