How to avoid accidentally stealing a book

This is not a post about piracy.

Pirates exist. People who think it's okay to download an illegal copy of a book instead of just going to the library exist. People trying to make money off other people's hard work exist. No amount of take down notices, public rants or threatened lawsuits are going to stop pirates. For every website authors take down, five new ones pop up.

Trying to stop pirates is not worth my time or energy. People who scour the internet for free books knowing full well they are stealing were never going to pay for my book. They are not lost sales.

To be clear, these people stink. But I've come to accept that their existence is one of the downsides of this whole publishing biz.

But I do have a beef. Used to be these piracy sites were easy to identify. They looked like thrown together websites with clunky buttons and a swarmy feel.

Not anymore. Now these sites operate out in the open with flashy pages filled with high-res photos and slick interfaces. They offer free memberships granting access to thousands of free books. They look like legitimate webpages. And because of this, they suck in unsuspecting readers.

Readers who aren't trying to steal books. Readers who appreciate the value of the written word. Readers who think book pirates stink.

So because I know that all of you are the upstanding sort of folk who would never knowingly steal from an author, allow me to offer some advice as you go scouring the web looking for your next read.

1. Brand new books are almost never free. Sure there are a few exceptions, but as a general rule, a book that has been released within the past few months is not supposed to be free. A brand new free book has almost certainly been pirated.

2. When a book is free, the author will talk about it. If you find a free book you'd like to read and are uncertain if it's legit, go do a quick search for the author's twitter account or facebook page. If they haven't mentioned their book going on a free sale, you can be pretty confident you've found a pirate.

3. Membership services aren't free. There are legitimate services out there that allow you access to tons of books. But they aren't free. You pay a monthly service to get this access and the author receives a portion of that when you read their book. If there's not a fee, you've found someone stealing from authors.

4. Legitimate services are advertised. If you come across a website that looks completely above board, but you haven't heard of them, do your research first. A Google search of the service's name should generate plenty of results that are outside the site in question. They should have mentions from some of the big players in publishing such as Writer's Digest, Publisher's Lunch or another well known pub. If the only results are from the website you're researching, they are probably a pirate site.

5. Retailers claim responsibility. One of the best ways to determine if a site is a legal book resource, is to look at their legal disclaimer. Most pirate sites will make statements such as they don't claim any ownership of the material being shared or something to that nature. You will also see options for authors to request a take down. You won't find that at Amazon and B&N because those sites have a legal right to sell the material and the author/publisher has access to the book's listing. If a site claims they don't host the book on their site or have the legal right to list it, you've got a pirate.

There's a circle of hell for pirates filled with book shelves where every book has the last chapter removed. I'll let karma take care of them. But they are sneaky and I hate to see devoted readers get sucked into their sites on accident. If you ever run across a free book listing and just can't tell if it's legit, you can never go wrong reaching out to the author. A quick email or tweet to ask if a site is legal will always be appreciated and earn you super reader status.

Maybe someday we'll figure out a way to keep these thieves from making money off the hard work of others. Until then, be mindful of where you get your books and keep reading!