Suing copyright violators had had such terrific results for the music, movie, and newspaper industries that it’s only natural publishers would step up to take a shot. John Wiley & Sons has filed suit against 27 BitTorrent sharers of its “For Dummies” books.

Wiley argues that through the massive piracy that occurs on BitTorrent, their company is suffering severe losses that might cost several authors their jobs.

“Defendants are contributing to a problem that threatens the profitability of Wiley. Although Wiley cannot determine at this time the precise amount of revenue that it has lost as a result of peer-to-peer file sharing of its copyrighted works though BitTorrent software, the amount of revenue that is lost is enormous,” Wiley’s attorney writes.

So, naturally, Wiley rushes out to spend more money on lawsuits that history has shown will probably not make back the cost of litigating them. Oh, sure, there will probably also be a deterrent effect as people in the USA stop sharing Wiley books—but it’s not clear how effective it will be, since the titles will still be available from sharers in foreign countries, including non-Berne signatories, where Wiley’s suits won’t reach as easily.

Not that it’s really a surprise. Wiley has been one of the more outspoken companies against piracy. In 2009 it started using the Attributor content-tracking service to identify unauthorized postings of its content on the web, and also mentioned that it employed a full-time staff of three to fight piracy. I suppose if any publisher were to start suing over BitTorrent, it would be Wiley.

Wiley might consider taking a leaf from the notebook of fellow tech publisher Tim O’Reilly, who offers all his books DRM-free and doesn’t get too bothered over piracy because most pirates wouldn’t have bought the books anyway.

Perhaps after this is over, we’ll see Wiley publish “File-Sharing Litigation for Dummies”.


  1. Piracy is a problem. Maybe most pirates wouldn’t buy the book, but can we be sure none would? Sure, suing individual consumers didn’t work well for the studios, but that isn’t what Wiley is doing. 72 thousand downloads of a single title isn’t exactly small change. Even if only 10% of those would actually have bought the book, that’s a significant loss. And the days when we could argue that eBooks are really just a sales gimmic for selling paper books (if we ever could really make this argument) are long gone.

    I don’t like lawsuits any more than the next guy. I hate DRM because it means I can’t get my legally obtained copy of Embassytown from Adobe to my legally obtained Nook (don’t know why–it just won’t let me). That doesn’t mean that I can close my eyes and pretend that piracy doesn’t exist or that it isn’t a serious problem that threatens the survival of high-quality publishing.

    • Sure, piracy is bad, but I can’t see what Wiley is hoping to get out of this lawsuit. They’re not likely to get as much money out of the people they sued as they’re spending to sue them. They’re not likely to reduce piracy any, since the Internet is global. They’re just paying for bad publicity.

      Whereas companies like Valve are able to turn a profit even in Russia, renowned as the land of piracy, simply by offering a better level of service than the pirates. Perhaps Wiley should try that.

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