Is paranoia over piracy leading publishers to extremes that could turn off their readers? Book reviewer Rebecca Blain was nonplussed to open a review copy of an e-book and discover a copyright warning that spanned several pages and included a threat of $250,000 fines for sharing it. She followed up with a post quoting the copyright notice in full, and comparing it to the copyright notices from printed books and a number of other e-books.

There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding of copyright out there judging by some of the comments Blain got in response to her posts. Some people claimed that the publishers had to put that kind of warning on or else they would be limited in their power to obtain damages. (While I’m not a lawyer, I’m pretty sure they’re misremembering having heard that it’s necessary to include a copyright notice at all to obtain more power over damages.) Others complained that her focus on the copyright notice detracted from the review itself (though it’s worth noting that the author of the book she reviewed popped up to defend her review, even though it wasn’t necessarily complimentary toward his book in other aspects).

In one of her comments, Blain elaborates:

Piracy is something to be concerned about. However, I don’t think these notices are *efficient* methods of piracy control. We’ve seen this demonstrated by the movie industry already. Those intrusive FBI warnings and all of the protections on the media haven’t stopped the problem. There are entire companies dedicated to piracy concerns and stopping it, and the pirates just come up with different ways around it.

I suppose for me, the big issue is a matter of formatting for kindles — 4 pages was a little excessive. One full page, shocker of fines or not, I would have sighed and likely just moved on and kept quiet. However, they’re an internet-based publisher as much as in print from what I understand… and I do think that consideration should be made for the time dedicated readers like me — who DO read the warnings and try to respect the author’s wishes on books — feel trapped and abused by such things.

Others (including other authors) feel that piracy is costing them money, and anything that might possibly cut down on it is worth doing. But Blain points out:

The problem is, as I’ve stated to other commenting individuals, is that we put up with these aggressive notices with the mental expectation that they work — that they somehow mean something.

The truth is, they don’t. People are aware that downloading free files is illegal. After SOPA / PIPA, the news coverage it got on CNN, wikipedia, and other sites, you would have to be living under a rock (or have never used the internet) not to understand that this is the case.

So the notices do not dissuade anyone determined to break the law, any more than those notices you see projected before movies telling you how piracy is illegal, and won’t you please think of the poor set painter or whoever whose way of earning a living is being harmed. They just aggravate readers (such as Blain) and potentially turn them off of the books they’re published on—while the larger publishers stick with a simple paragraph about unauthorized reproduction being illegal.

I suppose it’s an indication of just how panicked the smaller publishers are becoming over piracy that they try this. But the larger publishers seem to know better. Even Baen, who releases everything it publishes entirely free of DRM, is content with:

Copyright 2012 by David Weber

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

While it’s just as illegal to upload a Baen e-book to a pirate site as it is to upload anyone else’s, Baen doesn’t seem to fret over people not being fully aware of it. And Baen’s books tend to be pirated less than anyone else’s (though I expect the correlation there is more due to Baen’s enlightened stance on e-book DRM and the lack thereof). Perhaps the publishers that are apt to throw ominous four-page copyright warnings at their readers could learn from that example.

(Found via TechDirt.)