Pirated copies of books online can be found in a few seconds.
But free ebooks abound in many perfectly legal forms in pdf, epub, Kindle mobi, and rtf.
So why are there now so many “download ebooks for free” sites offering free ebooks in pdf files?
In some cases, it is based on a belief that all books should be free and that authors wanting to get paid are elitist.
An article in the Guardian explains how one large site, OceanofPDF, was closed down.
A quote from the article explains why the site owners believed that it was okay to copy and distribute copyrighted books illegally.
OceanofPDF had stated on its site that it sought to make information “free and accessible to everyone around the globe”, and that it wanted to make books available to people in “many developing countries where … they are literally out of reach to many people”.
Well, one down, but there are plenty more.
If you need to get an idea of how big this free ebook in pdf business really is, take a look at this site.
I hate giving this site a link, but it is necessary to show you that there are over 54 million books available. Yes, 54 million and increasing every minute!
I discovered that the last book I published was pirated in pdf within a week of publication. It was also being offered in the print books on Google Books.
As an author, you might think you are safe from all this piracy because you publish your ebooks with DRM (Digital Rights Management).
It is not true at all. Pirates can strip a Kindle Ebook or Apple iBook of its DRM in seconds with a simple removal tool.
Then the pdf conversion takes less than a minute. DRM gives you no protection whatsoever.
But, there is no such thing as a free lunch for freebie ebook hunters.
The potentially high price you can pay for free pdf books
While some sites like OceanofPDF offer free pdf files in the belief that they are performing some kind of whacky public service, others have a very different aim.
Because a pdf file is an open file format, it is very easy to attach almost any type of malicious file to it to help spread malware.
Malware, or malicious software, is any program or file that is harmful to a computer user. Malware includes computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and spyware.
Many people thought they were getting a great deal by downloading a recent bestseller, Fire & Fury, for free. But it turns out that it was laden with malware according to Security Zap.
The Daily Beast covered the same story with an image of the malware file. The following quote from the article emphasizes how determined hackers are.
“Still, the gambit shows some of the downright bizarre hooks criminals, hackers, or pranksters may use to spread malware—including juicy entries from the nonfiction rack.”
If you add an infected file to your computer drive from a download, you are taking a huge risk. But so many people happily go about downloading all sorts of files because they are free. Yes, it is just so tempting.
But free pdf book hunters could be paying far more than they think.
One free book download by a computer user could allow their personal information to be stolen, credit card numbers copied or their operating system infected by viruses and worms.
Even with anti-malware or antivirus protection, if it is not updated, the computer system is not necessarily safe. Malware attacks can happen on Android devices as well.
The best way of protecting against malware is not to download free pirated files.
Books that are copied and pirated are stolen by pirates, and pirates are criminals, and criminals never do anyone a favor.
Think about it next time you are tempted by thousands of free ebooks.
Is one free book from a pirate worth the price of an infected computer and them gaining access to all your private data?
Can epub files contain viruses
While not as prevalent as viruses in pdf files, an epub file can be used to insert malicious code.
According to Norton, the antivirus software company, .epub .zip, and .exe files can contain malware that could give your computer a virus.
Also, an article on Tendenci seems to confirm that Kindle mobi files could also be used to transport malware. It says that epub and mobi files can contain viruses or malware, just like many other file formats.
It doesn’t seem to matter what the file type. When you download free ebooks from untrusted sources, you take a risk.
Can you stop book piracy and illegal downloading?
Piracy has been with us for thousands of years, so don’t think for a moment that it will ever go away.
If you are an author and worried about book piracy, ignore it and forget about it. It will happen, and there is nothing you can do about it.
Pirates can get a copy of your ebook when it is free on Amazon, or perhaps from Kindle Unlimited, but I am not sure about that one just yet. But it would not surprise me. If your book is reasonably popular, they might even buy a copy.
As I mentioned earlier in the article, one site is offering over 50 million free books in pdf, so it is a fight that you will never win.
Cheapskate readers beware
Some ebook readers think that authors are elitist for wanting to be paid for their work and that their books should be free. Well, the joke could well be on you.
If you don’t want to pay for an ebook, well, so be it.
But a few bucks for an author is a lot less than the cost of removing a computer worm, virus, or any form of malware from your computer or phone. Free ebook hunters are rarely into computer science, so the repair will be expensive.
A couple of dollars is a lot less than having your credit card number stolen and thousands of dollars spent with it by criminals.
A few bucks is the cost of a cup of coffee. Would you accept a coffee for free by paying with your sensitive personal information?
A miserly reader can afford to pay for a new iPhone, Galaxy Note, or laptop, but one malicious file and the shiny new expensive device is a brick.
All for the belief that paying three bucks to an author is too expensive.
Well, okay, go ahead and take the risk when downloading free pdf books. The author might lose a few bucks, and so what?
But you, dear tightfisted reader, could stand to lose a lot more.
Nothing is free.
While there are free trials of products, free and premium services and apps, free ebooks, and, well, free Facebook, there is always a price to pay.
Theft of your data is the most common price you pay, as we all discovered from the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica episode.
As far as books are concerned, though, the easiest, safest, and most cost-effective way to read a book is to go to a library or buy it.
If you want a bargain, go to a secondhand bookstore. Project Gutenberg offers 1,000’s of free and legal ebooks.
But for some, good old-fashioned thieving is always better. But at what price?