The Book Pirates


Jolly RogerIn my distant boyhood, Stevenson’s Treasure Island and other stories about pirates captivated me and became part of my fantasy world.

I still have a  well-thumbed birthday present from those days, Pringle’s Jolly Roger – an historical account of ‘the Great Age of Piracy’. My own earliest surviving story, written when I was eight and proudly typed by my aunt, involved a suburban boy’s nocturnal skirmish with a gang of swashbuckling sea dogs.

I didn’t expect that I’d eventually encounter any pirates in real life, but that’s what has now happened. Some of my writing has been pirated!

One might think that ebooks are the most common target for rip-off predators in the world of books. A recent post on the goodereader blog estimates that within three years there will be 700 million pirated ebooks. Yet the publishing industry in general is reportedly not much troubled by this. Big publishers regard ebook piracy as a minor nuisance that has little impact on sales. They seem confident that their Digital Rights Management solutions are working well enough.

However, I’ve run into a different problem: international piracy of printed books through unlicensed translations.


My little book The Short Story, published many years ago in Methuen’s ‘Critical Idiom’ series, has sold about 20,000 copies in English and I’ve also received due recompense for authorised translations into Greek, Korean and Bahasa Malay.

I’ve since discovered that, in addition, the book has appeared in two other foreign languages: Mandarin Chinese and Farsi (Persian). The first of these came to my attention because a Chinese literary scholar made contact with me when writing an article about my work. I found out about the Farsi edition through the goodreads website. According to Taylor and Francis (the owner of Methuen titles), neither of those translations was licensed, which is why I’ve never received a cent for them. T&F are still trying to track down the Chinese publisher, but the prospect of obtaining any financial return from the Farsi edition is not hopeful because Britain (where T&F is based) has a total trade ban with Iran. This means that British publishers are unable to sell books to Iran and cannot issue licences or enter into correspondence regarding translations. Only when (if ever) this sanction is lifted can T&F make contact with the Iranian publisher to seek reparation.

Meanwhile it seems my book has undergone a not-so-jolly rogering! Am I singularly unfortunate? Does anyone out there know of other comparable experiences with copyright infringement by book pirates?

4 thoughts on “The Book Pirates

  1. I can’t comment on experiences with the book pirates, but have had a couple of minor skirmishes with the font pirates.

    One of these concerned posting of a commercially licensed font of mine on a ‘free-font’ website. It was removed promptly when I made a complaint, an I can’t say that sales of the font, one of my most popular designs as it happens, seem to have been impacted.

    The second concerned a request for a free copy of one of my fonts, posted in a typography forum. I replied politely, pointing out that the font wasn’t released in the public domain, but could readily be purchased for a quite small sum. I received a reply from the original poster , in tones approximating righteous rage at the thought of being asked to part with money to use a font he required for a design project he was working on! I disdained further debate with this individual…


  2. I guess piratical opportunists are never far away from any intellectual property. Good that you were able to deal directly with the cases you mention, Paul. For me the frustration is that the book pirates are out of reach!

  3. Wow, I had no idea this happens with print books, Ian. I’m sorry you’ve been a victim of this kind of theft.
    Some time ago I was reading an online discussion among authors whose ebooks had been pirated in some way, and I remember feeling astonished when one of them claimed to be flattered! I hoped he was joking.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Amanda. I’m as easily flattered as the next person, but it doesn’t pay any bills!

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