A website claims they are giving away a free PDF download of my book! What’s going on?

We’ve received several calls lately regarding websites that are offering a free eBook PDF download of some Inkwater titles. All of the Inkwater eBooks(Kindle and ePub) are encrypted, and we never release PDF versions of the book, because there is no way to encrypt them. After checking out multiple websites, and consulting with other publishers, it seems that this a common scam to get people to either either download a virus or barrage people with advertisements.

We found multiple forums discussing this shady practice, including the one below from CreateSpace forum blogger Lighthouse 24:

A website may claim to offer all kinds of things.  If it actually allows a visitor to download your title as a free ebook (and your title has a registered copyright), then that’s illegal.

 

I’m sure that happens sometimes, but far more often it’s something else.  For instance, there are hundreds of MLM (multi-level marketing) schemes out there that involve ebooks and that have tens of thousands of downline participants (who are attracted by an ad that says something like, “Start you own business.  Work one hour a week and earn $250,000 a year promoting ebooks!”).  The prospective entrepreneur pays a sign-up fee and receives a pre-built and automatically-serviced website — which really exists to make money from affiliate marketing and Google ads, not the sale of ebooks.

 

When a visitor (someone searching for a book) happens across the site, the hope is that he/she will click on one of the revenue-generating ads.  If the visitor is searching for a book that’s in public domain, then he/she may actually be able to download it for free (giving the site a feel of legitimacy).  If the visitor is searching for one of the listed best-sellers that is supposedly available, then he/she will likely be navigated to a cloned version of the stuff Amazon puts up on the book’s page (with the site’s own revenue-generating links to other places where books can be purchased).  If the visitor persists in downloading the free ebook version, the file sent will contain a harmless but detectable virus (which is intended to cause the visitor to halt the download).  If the visitor doesn’t have virus protection software, the download will finish — but it will be a corrupted file (and Adobe reader will be unable to open it when the visitor attempts to view it).

 

Either way, the visitor didn’t pay anything and wasn’t really hurt, so he/she usually just forgets it and moves on.  No copyrighted ebook was pirated or downloaded, so no law was broken.  All that really happened was that the MLM scheme used a book title to lure interested visitors in, and received revenue from advertisers who wanted their products or services exposed to those visitors.  There are thousands of sites that use this practice, so we’d drive ourselves crazy worrying if they are actually giving our books away.  It’s possible, but not likely if you’ve used ordinary care in protecting your intellectual property.  Hope that helps.

*This is courtesy of Lighthouse 24 on the Create Space forum