The Other Anti-Piracy Strategy

Pirate Flag

Here’s a simple rule that every copyright holder needs to understand: There’s no such thing as an effective single-prong strategy for protecting your work online.

Though monitoring your content and sending takedown notices and even litigation can definitely help, if you don’t back up those efforts with other strategies, you can find yourself playing a never-ending game of Wac-A-Mole where you are merely churning infringements and not actually gaining any ground.

For those working to limit the impact of piracy on their product, or even just protect your content against unauthorized use, this can be a very frustrating situation. It can feel as if you’re sinking time and, in some cases, money while not seeing any return.

However, this, in most situations, is avoidable. All one has to do is realize that copyright enforcement alone is not the complete solution and there are other actions necessary to ensure that infringement has the minimum impact possible.

Case Study: The eBook Piracy

Story retold with client permission, identifying details omitted.

Some time ago, I had a client who had released an eBook that was targeted at a small but affluent niche. As such, the book was pricier than many and he was concerned that piracy would be a problem. He wanted me to monitor the first few pages in Google for his book and file takedown notices or otherwise secure removal of pirated copies as they, inevitably, showed up.

Though things were slow at first they did eventually pick up as the price point of the book seemed to encourage people to post pirated copies. I did my best to keep killing the links as they came up and, since most were on one-click download sites, it was fairly easy to do.

However, despite these efforts, the first few pages of Google were still cluttered with, now dead, links to pirate copies of the book. While this was good in that it meant it was nearly impossible to find a working link to download it illegally, it still threw the availability of pirated copies in the face of potential searchers, something my client was unhappy about.

But there was a serious problem with cleaning up the results any more. My client had been restrictive with who he let mention the book and there only existed a few reviews or other inbound links. All totalled, there was just over half a dozen legitimate pages that mentioned the book.

I pointed out to him that, even if we did get all of the current results removed from Google, others would just flood in and replace them. Without legitimate results to fill the first few pages, we either had to leave pages with dead pirate links or risk live ones taking their place.

So, we changed strategies, rather than following with more takedown notices, my client went on a linkbuilding and social media campaign that created a slew of legitimate pages I continued to monitor for new pirate results that broke the top 2 pages.

Within a few weeks, the results were striking. The first page of Google was pretty much entirely legitimate pages and posts about the book, save an outlier at number 9 that showed up some searches, and most of the second page was as well. Piracy was no longer “in the face” of every searcher.

Soon enough, piracy enforcement became less and less of an issue, other than dealing with the occasional “lucky” link the popped up.

Two Ways to Tackle Piracy

Generally, there are two ways to tackle piracy in the marketplace. The first is is to attempt and use the law to eliminate the pirates from it, the second is to crowd them out by flooding the market with legitimate options.

In the age of Google, the second option can be an especially powerful option. With ten results on a page and few people going past the first page, if you can flood the first page or two with legitimate results you prevent a situation where potential customers stumble across pirated versions accidentally and get steered away from buying.

However, filling the marketplace with legitimate links means a lot of things and not necessarily just making it available for sale in as many places as possible, though that can help. Here’s just some of the types of pages one should seek out when trying to flood the market:

  • Places to Buy or Legitimately View
  • Social Networking Pages (Facebook Fan Pages, Twitter accounts, etc.)
  • Social News Pages (Reddit Submissions, etc.)
  • Reviews and Blog Mentions
  • Guest Posts

Some of this is about good SEO but mostly it’s about having a broad legitimate Web presence that goes well beyond your site.

The reason is this. If you have only half a dozen legitimate links for a title or a product, Google still has to fill four results on its first page of results and will use whatever it has. Though you can use copyright law to keep those links dead, as long as Google has pages, any pages, that have the desired search terms they will display them, whether you like it or not.

Limitations of the Method

Of course, this system isn’t going to do much, if anything, to prevent people who directly search for piracy-related keywords such as “bittorrent”, “download”, etc. However, those people decided that they were going to pirate the content before they started their search and probably aren’t interested in the legitimate versions of the content.

As such, those people are not likely to become customers simply because their piracy attempts are thwarted. Though that isn’t universally true, a copyright holder’s effort is usually best spent ensuring that those interested in legitimate products don’t get steered to illegal options. That, in turn, is best achieved by using a combination of legitimate links generation and using traditional copyright enforcement on sites that mange to break through.

Every copyright holder will have to decide if going after sites that only successfully target those who are seeking pirated copies is worthwhile, in some cases it is and in others it isn’t, but keeping your potential customers on legitimate pages is almost always a worthwhile step.

Bottom Line

Without an unlimited budget, drastic changes in laws and other shifts in reality, there is no way you can stop every single misuse of your work. As such, you need to focus your time and energy on what will give you the most benefit while ignoring or at least de-prioritizing cases that are of little impact.

As such, it also makes sense to focus your energies on anything that can improve your piracy situation without dealing with copyright enforcement, including increasing availability, business model changes, price shifts and so forth.

You can actually do a great deal to mitigate or limit the impact of piracy without turning to copyright at all and that, in the long run, can be a major victory for your products and your business.

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