Book piracy is likely a thing of the past

Most writers are still getting used to the idea that almost anybody can get a copy of almost anything on the internet, including the book that took the writer months or years of effort to create. Understandably, many writers get very angry about this, while others think constructively about how copying can help writers and creators build new business models.

Books are actually much less affected by piracy / file sharing / copying than other media. Reading audiences are smaller in size and generally more loyal. The general wisdom today is that copying brings more upsides than downsides, and that even if it doesn’t, there is nothing that can be done to prevent it. But even as authors are adapting to the 15 year old reality of file-sharing, technology is disrupting the digital paradigm in what might be exactly the opposite direction.

You’ve probably heard of Bitcoin as a new kind of money that fluctuates wildly in value, leading to multiple suicides and suspicious deaths. It’s a cryptocurrency, each “bitcoin” the outcome of a complex calculation. Bitcoin in turn is built on a technology called Blockchain. And it’s highly likely that Blockchain, or a technology similar to it, are about to effectively end digital file sharing.

All you need to know to understand why is that Blockchain allows people to track online transactions with a very high degree of accuracy. The how isn’t profoundly complicated, you can read about that elsewhere. Imagine that every time a digital music film, film or book was copied, the creator could see the exact details of that transaction. That’s the promise of Blockchain.

A number of startups are currently attempting to lever Blockchain type technologies as a way to limit, control or stop file sharing. Currently these are music centric, but there’s every reason to think this will be applied across all digital media types. It’s early days, but here are a few Blockchain based models you can easily imagine emerging.

Limited Editions – writers might choose to limit the number of copies of a book to create artificial scarcity. This is impossible with ebooks currently, but an ebook integrated into a block chain can be tracked to limit its distribution.

Trust Systems – writers give readers access to a book, perhaps for a set fee, but if it’s then discovered that user has made or passed on copies they are knocked out of the trust system and don’t get future access.

Collectables – the Blockchain system could make all kinds of digital assets collectable, in the same way they were in the print era. Signed editions, first editions, variant cover and all kinds of merchandising, all become possible for artists to make income from.

The implications of Blockchain for creators are staggering. To get a deeper insight pick up a copy of Blockchain : Blueprint for a New Economy by Melanie Swann.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

6 thoughts on “Book piracy is likely a thing of the past

  1. Digital copyright prevention schemes typically get in the way of legitimate consumer behavior and deter legitimate buyers rather than prevent piracy. As both an author and composer/musician, I am against it. What I have discovered is that people who typically pirate digital content would not have purchased it if given the chance, while the mechanisms of digital piracy prevention become overly burdensome to legitimate consumers who ARE willing to pay for your content (e.g. books or music). So why cause headaches for those legitimate customers who are already willing and able to purchase your content in order to deter those who would not? Both Amazon and Apple iTunes got rid of encryption of digital content several years ago (well Amazon still offers it as an option for eBooks, but I always opt out). This is because it causes more harm to legitimate consumers who are WILLING and ABLE to purchase your content than it does to deter those who would not be willing or able to purchase your content. Block chain technology is just another form of digital piracy prevention and will ultimately inhibit those who might normally be willing to pay for your content legitimately.


  2. Not quite sure how I feel about all of this… The old me, of course, views people grabbing your stuff as theft, but the new digitized version of me can’t help be think that maybe I should leave those old conventions of intellectual ownership behind. Besides, history is rife with examples of legitimate artists and creators not ending up owning their own hard work for a variety of reasons, most often because of the unfair power dynamic between creatives and entertainment mega-corporations….


  3. Overall, all content is political in nature, therfore propoganda. People should not pay for that as it is what it is. If it is pure natural art. People and venues will have funded it in natural state.



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