Publishers plan to battle e-book piracy

A decade ago, the battle over music piracy exploded. Thanks to services like Napster, millions of songs were suddenly available at the click of a button, with no money being paid to the artist or record company.

A decade ago, the battle over music piracy exploded. Thanks to services like Napster, millions of songs were suddenly available at the click of a button, with no money being paid to the artist or record company.

What followed was an all-out war between the industry and many fans.

Ten years later, book publishers are wondering whether they are about to be involved in a similar war.

Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s Reader are seeing sales grow, while Apple, Skiff and a host of other companies are introducing their own digital readers. More and more people are buying tablets that they can load with digital books from either official stores or free, illicit websites.

“We really are all trying to predict the future in many ways, and trying to figure out is the publishing industry ripe for the same kind of developments that occurred in the music industry,” said Diana Barry, director of digital services with the Association of Canadian Publishers.

There is already a wide selection of pirated books online. Unauthorized copies of Margaret Atwood’s latest novel, The Year Of The Flood, were up on a few websites weeks before the book was available for download through Sony’s online store. Some websites that specialize in unauthorized music files have added ebooks as well.

Some publishers favour the idea of embedding digital rights management, or DRM, technology to prevent ebooks from being copied and uploaded, Barry said, while others feel that having copies online can actually boost sales.

It’s not clear whether having pirated copies online can boost legitimate sales. U.S.-based O’Reilly Media is one of the few analyst companies to examine the issue.

Using an admittedly small sample size (eight and 21 books in two separate studies), O’Reilly recently found that sales of some books increased after pirated copies showed up online. Other titles saw sales drop, however.