By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Guild Authors, Amazon, and Penguin Random HouseTwelve of the Authors Guild’s biggest names are serving as marquee plaintiffs on a new court action filed Tuesday (July 7) along with Amazon Publishing and Penguin Random House in Seattle at the US District Court for the Western District of Washington. The complaint names Kiss Library as a “book piracy entity” and asks that “its operators be enjoined from illegally copying, distributing, and selling works written or published by the plaintiffs.”
Plaintiffs from the Authors Guild include its president, Doug Preston, and members and board members Lee Child, Sylvia Day, John Grisham, CJ Lyons, Jim Rasenberger, TJ Stiles, RL Stine, Monique Truong, Scott Turow, Nicholas Weinstock, and Stuart Woods.
The problem this legal action is meant to address is easy to find. On Reddit, a user writes, “I found a site called ‘Kiss Library’ selling one of my ebooks that I had uploaded to Amazon. However, they are selling it for more than Amazon, and they are selling it in EPUB and PDF. Is this site somehow partnering with Amazon, or is this book piracy? Has anyone heard of this site?”
As that message from a year ago indicates, many authors have heard of the site and have been struggling to deal with what is widely seen by writers as a relentless piracy mill.
In its media messaging today, the Guild writes that Kiss Library—doing business as Kissly.net, Libly.net, Cheap-Library.com and other domain names—”is a pirate online bookstore based in Ukraine.”
The outfit, according to the Guild’s staff, illegally sells pirated ebooks at discounted prices to unsuspecting American consumers. “The defendants dress their sites up to make them look like sophisticated, legitimate sites,” the Guild reports, “intentionally deceiving consumers who are unaware that authors, publishers and legitimate booksellers are being denied their legal share of the sales price.”
Clearly, one of the most interesting elements of this effort at litigation is that Amazon Publishing is working in concert with the United States’ premiere author-advocacy organization, the Guild, and the largest of the Big Five publishers, Penguin Random House. While the retail powerhouse is not always spoken of by many in publishing with fondness, this is a moment in which a common enemy, piracy, has brought together authors, big book business, and the biggest of sales points.
In a statement issued by an Amazon spokesperson to Publishing Perspectives, we read, “Combating piracy requires collaboration across the industry and Amazon Publishing is glad to join together with Penguin Random House and members of the Authors Guild in this suit against book piracy entity Kiss Library. We are committed to holding bad actors accountable.”
And Carolyn Foley, Penguin Random House vice president, associate general counsel, tells Publishing Perspectives, “Pirate sites like Kiss Library harm authors and publishers and threaten the quality and vitality of the authorship so fundamental to free and healthy democracy; we are proud to stand with our authors, the Authors Guild and Amazon against the scourge of piracy.”
Doug Preston: ‘Robbing Authors and Publishers’
Author Doug Preston, Guild president and one of the named plaintiffs, writes, “In the last decade, and especially the last couple of years, the number of piracy complaints handled by the Authors Guild has skyrocketed, which is why we no longer could sit by and allow book piracy entities like Kiss Library to continue to rob authors and publishers of their ability to earn a living.
“We are filing this suit not only on behalf of ourselves but for the thousands of authors who labor years to write a book, putting their hearts and souls into every sentence, only to see their income lost to book piracy.”
The Guild cites the 2017 Inside the Mind of a Book Pirate (PDF) study by Nielsen and Digimarc, results of which indicated that illegal ebook downloads in the United States amounted to approximately US$315 million in lost ebook sales per year.
“While the main culprits are the Kiss Library sites and operators, it doesn’t help that sites devoted to ebook piracy are readily available through US search engines.”Douglas Preston
As written in a 2016 article by Imke Reimers of Northwestern University—Can Private Copyright Protection Be Effective? Evidence From Book Publishing—in The Journal of Law and Economics, “I find a protection-related increase in sales of electronic books—the closest substitute for online piracy—of more than 14 percent, with effectiveness depending on popularity, genre, and search frequency.”
Preston is further quoted in the lawsuit’s announcement, saying, “While the main culprits are the Kiss Library sites and operators, it doesn’t help that sites devoted to ebook piracy are readily available through US search engines.”
And, as the Guild points out, American authors and publishing companies have no recourse against such international operations, other than through expensive federal litigation.
Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Guild, says, “We are very grateful to Amazon Publishing and Penguin Random House for joining us in this lawsuit, as few authors possess the financial resources to file suit in federal court, particularly against a foreign adversary as cagey as Kiss Library.
“Over the last several years, we have worked through various channels to curtail the proliferation of ebook piracy sites, but Kiss Library has been a challenge since it’s a particularly egregious criminal enterprise.
“It sells highly commercial books and passes itself off as a legitimate site. Unlike authorized sites that pay for the books they sell, Kiss Library keeps all the proceeds that it illegally obtains from American readers. Not a single penny goes to the authors or publishers that produce the books.”
“This filing joins together bestselling and emerging authors with industry leaders in a united fight against piracy. Every purchase from an illegal piracy site represents a theft of earned income from the author and publisher, causing massive losses to the industry that, over time, will diminish the industry’s ability to publish a wide diversity of voices. This outright theft must stop.”
In its filing, the complaint says that the Seattle court has jurisdiction over all the defendants—though they are alleged to be Ukrainian—”because they transacted business and committed tortious acts within and directed at the State of Washington.”
The Kiss Library sites are said to be guised as operating out of a range of locations. Court papers, for example, say that Libly.net is “purportedly operating out of Montreal” but “no entities are registered in Québec, Canada under any variant of the defendant Kiss Library’s various names, no one answers the purported contact telephone number provided by libly.net despite multiple attempts during normal business hours, and no commercial or retail spaces exist at libly.net’s listed address.”
More from Publishing Perspectives on authors is here, on piracy is here, more on the Authors Guild is here, on Amazon is here, and on Penguin Random House is here.
More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.