Congratulations To This Publisher Who Came Up With the Worst Possible Way To Address Piracy Concerns

Piracy is becoming a bigger and bigger concern among authors, and with good reason. It’s never been easier to find PDFs of copyrighted books online, whether you’re buying a $2.99 copy on Etsy or simply asking a friend to send it to you. Writers have resorted to begging their readers to buy books from actual retailers instead of shady third parties.

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Of course, that all applies to e-books and other digital media. One area in which piracy is decidedly not a widespread concern is with traditional print books—which is why this copyright page that one Twitter user unearthed is so baffling.

The copyright page, which is from a book called Zodiac Academy #1: The Awakening by Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti, reads, “This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it wasn’t purchased for your use only, then please return to your favourite book retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.”

It’s the type of language that’s commonly found in e-books, since it’s impossible to send someone an e-book without making an unauthorized copy of it (more on that below). However, it’s bizarre to find a notice like this in a print book—and the recommendation to return the book to a retailer makes it clear that whoever crafted it knew they weren’t dealing with digital media.

Why is the warning so strange? Because it seems to bar readers from lending books to their friends, or giving them away after they’ve read them. It also seems to forbid used bookstores from selling the book, or libraries from adding it to their collections. However, all of these activities aren’t just common—they’re explicitly protected under copyright law.

Shortly after the tweet went viral, the authors responded on Facebook, stating that the formatter for their publishing company, Dark Ink Publishing, had inserted the language into their books without their knowledge.

“[The copyright statement] was not checked or approved by us and is not an accurate statement or reflection of our principles, or our view on libraries,” Peckham writes. “We are in full support of libraries and loaning books between friends, and it is truly upsetting to us that this piece of text has allowed such misinformation to spread when it was intended to refer to piracy.

“We take full accountability for not checking the copyright page of our books prior to publication,” the statement continues, “and have learned from this experience.”

The authors have since taken measures to remove the language from their books, and a preview on shows more traditional (and sensible) language on The Awakening‘s copyright page.

Here’s why you’re allowed to lend books to your friends

Copying books has always been prohibited under copyright law. Piracy is a problem when it comes to digital books, because distributing files necessitates making new copies of them. When you send a PDF of a book to a friend, or sell it on your Etsy page, you’re not sending the original file—your computer creates a new copy of it, meaning that both you and the recipient end up with your own copies. That’s why digital piracy is illegal: because it relies on the unlimited production of unauthorized copies.

With print books, though, lending or reselling a book doesn’t involve making a copy. If you give your copy away, you don’t have it anymore. That’s why that activity is protected under the first sale doctrine.

The first sale doctrine means that once you’ve paid for a print edition of a book (or other physical items), you can do whatever the hell you want with it, as long as you don’t copy more than small portions of it. You can resell it. You can loan it out. You can give it away. You can even cut it up and post the pages along a walkway to create a story walk, if you want. You bought it, so it’s yours!

In short, you can thumb your nose at stern messages forbidding you from sharing your print books, because it’s perfectly legal.

But please, please stop buying or downloading those pirated PDFs off of sketchy third party websites. That behavior is really crappy, and if you’re sending those pirated files along to the next reader, then you could find yourself in legal hot water.

(featured image: Sladic / Getty Images)

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Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at <a href=""></a>