The Washington Post

Online piracy hasn’t gone away

On Amazon, a book titled “Horror Stories” offers some tantalizing reads: “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Purloined Letter,” “The Monkey’s Paw.” For any fright fan, the stories are beloved spine-tinglers of the best sort and, judging by the front cover, the work of one Maria Cruz.

The book went on sale in November, but it is already out of print. It’s hard to imagine that anyone associated with the actual authors — Edgar Allan Poe and W.W. Jacobs — pocketed any profits.

The self-published book was just one of hundreds of plagiarized books that New York University journalism professor Adam L. Penenberg discovered on the site after an author tipped him off two weeks ago to the rampant practice.

Penenberg traced one of the books to an online forum where Internet scammers sell marketing plans solely for this purpose. “Want to create Kindle books in 15 minutes or less? . . . I don’t write a thing. I just create the covers and upload. Then I move on to the next book,” one ad reads.

Penenberg, a technology author, has found his own books being shared illegally online. “They copy and paste the material and send it out. It’s pure profit. Money rolls in whether you’re doing anything or not,” he said in a phone interview from his New York home.

Earlier this month, a battle between Internet companies and Hollywood studios ground to a halt when Congress effectively tabled anti-piracy legislation. The detractors called the laws overreaching and vague. Proponents, many of whom hold copyrights, called the laws necessary to battling the piracy problem. Although the debate is on hold, as the “Horror Stories” example shows, a workable solution remains elusive.

A recent study released by Envisional, an online security firm, reports that almost a quarter of all the bandwidth used in the world is carrying unauthorized material. The United States is the most law-abiding country in the world when it comes to Internet piracy, the study found. Material moving legally from Netflix accounts for 29 percent of American Internet usage.

About the same percentage of European users use BitTorrent, which can be used for illegal sharing of copyrighted material. Part of the problem is that content that is available legally in one country may not be in another.

Those divisions, says Julie Samuels, an Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney, contribute to piracy. “It’s really troubling how we see silos across the world of content . . . instead of a truly international community of content.”

For example, when Megaupload, a file-sharing site accused of copyright infringement, was shut down last week, a friend in Belgium wondered on Facebook how he would keep up with “30 Rock” now. “If they offered me a way to buy it, I would,” he wrote.

Samuels echoes my friend’s frustration. She says corporations do not recognize that “consumers will pay for content when they can get it how they want it.”

The solution needs to be a combination of smart legislation and more forward-thinking corporate initiatives. “You’re not going to be able to train six-to-seven billion people around the world to respect copyright,” Penenberg said.



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