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Piracy is not a victimless crime: Protecting your work

There are some common myths about digital piracy. Stop me if you’ve heard any of these. Piracy is a victimless crime. Piracy doesn’t cannibalize legitimate sales. Fighting piracy is whack-a-mole. The pirates are always a step ahead. Sound familiar? The good news is they are myths. The bad news, however, is textbook piracy is real, and it’s a problem.  

During their 2019 Textbook & Academic Authoring Conference presentation, “Prevention, Detection, and Enforcement Against Digital Piracy of Copyrighted Scholarly and Pedagogical Works”, Henrik Strandberg and Maureen Garry with Pearson Education’s Intellectual Property Protection Program shared details on the nature and efficacy of detection, prevention and enforcement efforts authors have as protection against digital piracy, both individually, and as an industry.

According to Strandberg and Garry, over half of U.S. college students admit to textbook piracy and a quarter said they received “a free textbook” from their instructor. Why? The number one reason – textbooks are “too expensive” – although this is not supported by data.  

In this dynamic landscape where the majority are admitting involvement and instructors appear to be advancing the problem, how can authors and publishers protect themselves? Strandberg and Garry suggest three categories of solution: prevention, detection, and enforcement.  

Prevention of digital piracy

The best cure is a prevention, right? Prevention of digital piracy starts, according to Strandberg and Garry, with effective business and product models, strong partnerships, and technological innovation.  

Business models adopted by publishers to prevent piracy include inclusive access, bundled eText, and rental options for students. Products are moving to more custom models, shifting from offline to online formats, and using native digital formats to reduce replication and improve digital rights management efforts. These changes create a sense of awareness while also addressing, in many cases, the number one reason for the problem – textbook costs.  

As awareness increases, internal policies and processes as well as external policies and advocacy efforts support the preventative measures. Building strong partnerships with schools, search engines, commerce platforms, and marketplaces allow others to identify and address piracy and to implement prevention efforts.  

Detection of pirated materials

Technological innovation serves both as a preventative strategy with features such as watermarking, blockchain, and biometric elements, but also as a detection tool for search & enforcement through machine learning. Strandberg and Garry noted the use of tools for automated search and enforcement in piracy-fighting initiatives. These tools:

  1. Search the internet “like a consumer”,
  2. Filter out suspected infringements,
  3. Automatically send a DMCA notification, and
  4. Report findings through a dashboard.


Piracy Tool Dashboard

Enforcement of policies

When piracy is detected, the enforcement processes from internal and external policies begin to eliminate the threat to the market. Through established relationships with the search engines, search results linking to the pirated sources can be removed quickly. Automation of the DMCA notice can be paired with ISP notification, a cease & desist letter, temporary restraining order, domain seizure, and/or litigation processes to ensure enforcement.  

The Educational Publishers Enforcement Group (EPEG) is comprised of major publishers – Cengage, Elsevier, Macmillan Learning, McGraw-Hill Education, and Pearson – who endorse Anti-Counterfeit Best Practices in an effort to Stop Counterfeit Textbooks. Their aligned enforcement strategy, establishment of best practices with channel partners, and coordinated enforcement efforts are also protecting your scholarly work as an author.  

You can play a key role in your own protection by advocating against piracy and sharing these truths when faced with the myths discussed earlier.

  1. Piracy puts you at risk – personal data, credit card details, malware, etc.
  2. Piracy hurts everyone – downstream implications are difficult to predict
  3. Piracy is illegal 

The entire session recording can be found in TAA’s Presentations on Demand library.

Eric Schmieder

Eric Schmieder is the Membership Marketing Manager for TAA. He has taught computer technology concepts to curriculum, continuing education, and corporate training students since 2001. A lifelong learner, teacher, and textbook author, Eric seeks to use technology in ways that improve results in his daily processes and in the lives of those he serves. His latest textbook, Web, Database, and Programming: A foundational approach to data-driven application development using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, MySQL, and PHP, First Edition, is available now through Sentia Publishing.