Friday, August 10, 2012

Patriots or Pirates? Part 3

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Case of

This is the third part of my little series on e-book piracy, in what started out as a plan for a single post.  But, things keep coming up that I feel compelled to write about, because there just seems to be so much information, and misinformation, flying around in various circles.

This all started for me when a site called “The Ultimate E-Book Library”,, was brought to my attention.  As I dug into this site, it became clear that it and many like it were engaging in copyright infringement.  I certainly was not the first writer to dive into this issue, nor will I be the last.  As I read the exchanges in forums and Facebook pages and groups between authors and users of these types of sites, there were some common themes that were used in defense of these sites.  These were the themes I talked about in the first post in this series (which I originally thought would be the only one).  There were eight specific points that I tried to address in that blog, which you can read here …

Time passed, and there was one comment to that original blog post that got me thinking.  A commenter stated that piracy, as we called it, is not harming the industry, but rather that there was evidence that it was actually helping the industry.  I addressed that specific argument in more detail yesterday.

So today, I want to talk about something else that has occurred over the past couple of weeks.  But in order to do that, I need to set the stage a little bit.


(Note: As of this writing, is no longer online, so I can’t provide any direct quotes from their site.) advertises itself as a free e-book lending site.  You can search their site and find books to borrow for free.  There are typically several entries for the more popular books.  I should note that LendInk is not the only site that advertises itself as such.


When this site was first brought to my attention, the context was “oh look, we found another one!”  In other words, here’s another pirate site offering free e-books in violation of copyright protection.  On the surface, it certainly could appear that way.  But, it was definitely something that I wanted to take a hard look at.

In their FAQ section, they explain how LendInk works.  LendInk does not actually house copies of the books, or handle the process by which they are lent.  The best way I can think of to describe it, is that it works sort of like a dating site.  Potential lenders post the books that they have available to lend, and potential borrowers look for books that they would like to borrow.

Here’s the key to the whole thing – the actual lending has to take place through Amazon’s or Barnes and Noble’s own lending system.  No actual books are lent through the LendInk site.  All they do is provide a service, for free, so that lenders and borrowers can find each other.


Well, one issue was that potential lenders could list any book of which they had possession.  However, some of these books were not eligible to be lent.  In fact, this was one of LendInk users’ primary complaints in reviews of the site.  Borrowers would find a book they wanted, but only after contacting the lender did both parties discover the book was not lendable.  But why did this become a bigger issue?  Because writers would find their books on the site, which they had not authorized to be lendable, and assume that lending was taking place outside of what they or their publisher had agreed to.  This led to instant animosity towards the site.

Another issue, that was discussed in my circles, was that their site did not make it clear enough on their home page how they worked.  I can certainly see this as I had to go into the FAQ page and read it all to discover the mechanics of the site.  Their page made it seem as if they were handling the lending.

Then there was the simple fact that independent authors (and some publishers) are very sensitive to the issue of piracy, and given the two issues above, a quick review of the site could easily have been interpreted that piracy was exactly what this and other legitimate lending service sites were engaged in.  Blood was in the water, and honestly, some authors were in total attack mode.  It did not help that in one statement of the FAQs, they stated that they did not even house cover images on their site, but every book listed had a picture of the cover with it (at least as far as I saw).  Whether the image was actually housed there or not, it gave the impression that they were violating their own stated policy, which hurt the credibility of the site.

This is not to necessarily lay blame at the feet of the site owners, or the authors.  This is just to show the environment that led to what happened next.


What did happen next was that a social network campaign started against LendInk.  Once these things start, they are hard to stop.  I’m not sure exactly what transpired, what organizations or companies were contacted, but what I do know was that LendInk was rather suddenly shut down.  Some of us were upset about it, because we knew what this would do to efforts to shut down true pirate sites.  It hurts the credibility of that effort, honestly.

LendInk and similar sites are simply offering users another way to take advantage of existing book lending programs which were negotiated between publishers and distributors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  This is completely different then file share sites, where multiple copies of books are made and distributed permanently for free.

To complete the picture, Amazon’s lending program works like this:  If a publisher (including self-publisher) allows lending, the book can be lent for a period of 14 days.  The book is not available to the lender while it is lent out.  In effect, no copy is created.  It’s just like me handing the book to my next-door neighbor.  I also believe most if not all Amazon books can only be lent once by the purchaser.  B&N's is a similar system.

Now, myself, I wouldn’t want to use my one lend-out on a complete stranger, but there is nothing preventing someone from deciding to do that and using a site like LendInk to find someone who wants to borrow it.

This is a pretty decent model for the beginnings of an evolution of e-book distribution, perhaps even a precursor to a subscription type of service.  And it’s not a bad way to increase readership and demand for a book.  If I borrow a book, but can’t finish it in 14 days for whatever reason, and like it, I might go buy the book so I can finish it.  Even if I get it finished in time, that one lend could turn into a recommendation to friends.

It’s even more restrictive than libraries, since typically only one lend is allowed per copy.


This part is as much directed to authors and site owners as to fans and readers.

First, authors, before we get up in arms about a particular site, please take the time to understand how the site works.  In my opinion, this is a black eye to authors.  Going after sites that turn out to be above-board and legitimate marginalizes our efforts in curtailing actual piracy.

Second, there are other sites like LendInk out there, let’s leave them alone.  As long as all the lending takes place within agreed-upon systems and guidelines, then there should be no issue.  If the site is actually housing content and allowing multiple downloaded copies, that crosses the line and deserves to be addressed.

Third, I hope that the owners of these sites can do some things to make it clearer on their opening pages how the sites work.  And explore ways to keep unlendable books from even showing up on their site.  I know this is not an easy thing.


I actually am hoping that LendInk finds its way back online and is able to maintain their model.  As long as they work within the guidelines that publishers and distributors agree to, I see no reason to vilify them.

I do, still, find myself with more to say, so Part 4, probably the last one (although I’ve said that before) will be coming.  In it, I’ll turn attention back towards and other similar sites.


I'm very pleased to announce that is back up and running.  That's great news!  The bad news is that they're already receiving DMCA requests.  Which means there are still quite a few people out there that are NOT understanding how LendInk works.  It only takes a few minutes of investigating to understand it, and if writers and publishers have a problem with lending, they need to take it up with their distributors (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.).  LendInk houses NO content.  It's that simple.  I throw my moral support behind LendInk and sites like it because they provide a completely legitimate service, and I hope you will too.


  1. Bravo, Aaron. You know my position on this one, from the beginning. I say that authors should be authors and leave the nuts and bolts of pirate hunting to those with a track record of success. Sure, pitch in, but follow a set pattern that already works. Not everyone, for example, fully understands the legal ramifications of a lack of due diligence, or the process involved with constructing a careful plan, or creating valid documents. While a "loud crowd" phase is necessary, it is only part of the overall strategy. If it is not implemented precisely and carefully, it generates the wrong sort of attention. There are many more nuances involved with battling legitimate "pirates," and if not conducted with decorum and sensibility, it will fall apart and create a mess. When this happens to the good guys, it sets back the developments created by legitimate battles, as you stated. Again, like always, a great post. I have been waiting for this one. Thanks, Aaron!

  2. I had actually borrowed a book from Amazon with my free Prime offer that came with my new Kindle. I didn't finish it in the alloted time - and liked it enough that I bought it. So that premise is certainly true! (I didn't continue the Prime since Dad has it.) Love you - Mom

  3. If I understand right books that could not be borrowed had an amazon buy button where you could buy the book. That is the funny part of the whole thing. Authors wanting to cut off a site that might sell one of their books.

    1. From what I have read you are correct. Unfortunately I never had a chance to test that.

  4. Thanks for another brilliant and educational post, Aaron.

  5. Overall, great post. As to how lendink got cover images, are you aware of the Amazon Product API?

    Toward the bottom you'll see: Advertise a product: Do you already know which Amazon product to advertise? Use ItemLookup requests to get product titles, links back to Amazon, image urls and prices for new, used and collectible listings on Amazon, Customer Reviews, Accessories, Similar Products and more.

    My understanding of how the site worked, is it would let lenders and borrowers input titles, and an ItemLookup script that would populate the listing. I really can't be sure, but I looked through the webcache, and all the image url's I saw were from Amazon servers.

    For example, here is another site using the Amazon API:
    This particular cover image is: and you if google search it, you can actually find lots of sites that are pulling the image.

    The problem of un-lendable books being listed may be just a short-coming of such sites. One of his blog posts mentioned trying to remove such titles, but it didn't appear to be very successful.

    The site wasn't in the best of shape, and the neglect was quite obvious in some areas. Some of the authors were neglectful to in their lack of due diligence to pursue the site. Some readers were as well. Mistakes were made on all sides, and unfortunately continue to be made. Thankfully some are breaking from the trend.

    1. Thanks for filling us in on how the images were actually pulled. That was one argument I actually heard, was "Look they are hosting book cover images when they said they wouldn't!" I had the feeling that they were actually "linking" to them somehow, but I don't know enough about IT to figure it out by looking. But I do know what an "ItemLookup" is and that makes a lot of sense. Thanks for visiting and reading!

  6. I'll be honest and say that I hadn't heard of lendink until now, but I agree with what you wrote here. What they were doing is completely within the boundaries set by publishers. These types of incidents often happen when you have an issue that is both polarising and very emotional for one side or the other (or both). Crowd justice can be a positive force, but it can also lead to mob justice.

    Aaron: This discussion hinges on DRM, so I was wondering your thoughts on it. Do you feel it is an effective measure to stop or prevent piracy? I'm asking because TOR recently removed all DRM from some of their books and as far as I can tell, it hasn't resulted in a piracy spike of those particular books.

    1. I'm honestly not sure DRM by itself will work. I find way too much information is just out there on how to strip it. Every time someone comes up with some new protection scheme, there are immediately a ton of people trying to break it. Remember way back when, I think it was Sony, spent a ton of money coming up with some method of preventing a CD from being copied by putting some coding at the beginning of the CD? In less than one day, someone had figured out that if you took a 50-cent black marker and covered up the innermost ring of the CD, it covered up the copy protection, and posted it all over the net. All that money went for naught.

      However, I will say, again, I think the Rhapsody music model, which includes DRM, will work because quite frankly it is affordable. I was running some numbers on my own account today, just to see. I have about 1000 songs though my Rhapsody To Go subscription. I can have those songs on any of my family's 5 MP3 players, because they are all authorized under my account. If I had bought all those songs with something like iTunes, it would have cost me at least 99-cents times 1000, or about $990. Given the fact that I have added and removed songs over time, I might have spent more than that.

      At $15/month, it would take me about 5-1/2 years to spend $990 on my subscription. I haven't had it that long. So it works for me, gives me the freedom to have the music I want, to be flexible, and have it be affordable. This model might work for e-books, but it would require DRM to identify the authorized devices with the account.

      So DRM has its place, but do I think it's really a deterrent? I'm thinking to true pirates, no, they'll figure out how to break it. In fact, I recently heard a particular e-book pirate site may be breaking the DRM on Kindle books as we speak.

  7. Well here's something we agree on. This: "gives me the freedom to have the music I want, to be flexible, and have it be affordable" is exactly what I think of Steam (if you replace music with games). It's DRM that allows me to get access to my purchased content from any computer I'm at, which is an improvement on store bought copies (plus it's cheaper).

    Most DRM is simply designed to retrict how purchased content can be used, without offering any benefit. This is universally negative because it essentially punishes the consumer. It will never prevent piracy because you only need one copy to be cracked and put online, for the entire system to fail. At that point, it's having no effect on piracy, but it's still limiting the use of purchased copies (essentially making a pirated version better). My experience with ebook DRM has always followed this route and not the superior one discussed above.