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Authors fear pirate threat with ebooks

ILLEGAL copying of books for computer downloads is threatening to put authors out of business because it is costing the publishing industry millions of pounds, it has been claimed.

Ian Rankin, creator of Rebus, is among those writers to voice their concern about the trend.

The theft of books before they reach the shops in download form threatens to send publishing the same way as the music industry, which was almost killed off by bootlegging.

Internet counterfeiters have begun to pirate the works of bestselling authors such as Jeffrey Archer and Wilbur Smith prior to their official release.

The Publishers’ Association has already sent out 32,000 warnings to those infringing copyright this year alone, and the problem is likely to increase as ebooks begin to form a larger part of publishers’ revenue.

At the moment only 5% of book sales in the UK come from ebooks but the figure is much higher, at 13%, in the US – and it is likely that Britain will follow suit.

“It is going to become more of a problem in the future as the UK becomes more attuned to ebooks,” Rankin admitted.

“Musicians have other ways of making money; they can play live. When authors play live, by going into a bookshop to give a reading, we are not paid.

“The only money we make is from our writing and if people start stealing our writing, we are losing out.”

Forthcoming books by best-selling authors such as James Patterson and Archer are already being offered as downloads before their official release, while Dan Brown’s novel The Lost Symbol, his follow-up to The Da Vinci Code, was to be found on 1000 illegal websites a week after its release.

Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, said: “Pirates are probably putting authors out of business, which is awfully sad.

“Some people think it is a victimless crime, but that is based on a lack of knowledge of what it takes to make an ebook.

“People frequently come up and ask me in all innocence how they can download my books for free.”

Amanda Craig, author of both A Vicious Circle and Hearts and Minds, said: “Some people may think some authors are so successful it doesn’t matter, but authors often are not earning vast sums and it will eventually make a real impact.”

The scale of the problem can be seen in the fact that London publisher Random House now employs 10 anti-piracy monitors searching the internet for e-theft. “Three years ago we didn’t spend anything on anti-piracy. Now we’re spending many tens of thousands of pounds on it,” said Ian Hudson, deputy chief executive of Random House.

The publishing industry’s latest concerns about electronic piracy have emerged just as Amazon announced plans to launch a new cut-price Kindle e-reader next month.

The new device, available only in the US initially and likely to cost £15 less than the current model, will display adverts for products, including beauty creams, cars and credit cards. Adverts will replace the screen-saver page, which currently displays images of authors.

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