Authors call on Government to tackle online book piracy

7 April 2019

Members of the Council of the Society of Authors have written to the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, urging him to take action against online book piracy. The letter has been signed by SoA President Philip Pullman and a further 32 members of the SoA Council.

In the letter they express concern that websites offering illegal downloads of books are becoming increasingly prevalent. They argue that “online book piracy has the potential to damage the legitimate book market and make it even harder for authors to make a living from their work.”

You can read the full text of the letter and list of signatories here.

Further quotes on book piracy from SoA Council members:

“Online piracy of books, music, and other expressions of the human spirit needs to be properly understood: it’s an offence against moral justice. It’s the very opposite of freedom of speech, because it acts to prevent those who create beauty, knowledge, consolation or delight from earning even a modest living from their efforts. The law of copyright is one of the bastions of civilized living, but the acid rain of online piracy is slowly dissolving something we thought was set in stone. Surely it should be a fundamental duty of any decent government to defend the rights of those who help to create what civilization is.”

                -Philip Pullman, SoA President


“In a world in which most authors earn less than a living wage, book piracy threatens authors' livelihoods, as well as threatening diversity, small publishers and libraries and limiting choice for readers.” 

-Joanne Harris


“This will seriously affect both young authors just starting out and writers whose careers are nearing their end.”

-Gillian Reynolds


“What all these people who are used to having their music or their books for free don’t realise is that there will be an end to creativity if there is no reward to it. There’ll be no new music. No new writing. No new ideas or expressions of ideas. And piracy only helps hasten that dreary day.”

-Joanna Trollope



Letter to Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Dear Mr Clark,

Online Book Piracy

We are writing regarding online book piracy. We are British authors and members of the Council of the Society of Authors.

We are concerned that websites offering illegal downloads of books are becoming increasingly prevalent. Research by the Intellectual Property Office found that a sixth of e-books read online in the UK in 2017 - around four million books - were pirated. We do not want to give any of these sites publicity by naming them here, but they can easily be found.   

Authors are not asked for permission before their work appears on these sites, and they do not receive any remuneration. Authors’ earnings are in decline and many are struggling financially. A survey carried out by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) in 2018 found that the median earnings of a UK author from their writing was just £10,500 per annum.

The growth of online book piracy has the potential to damage the legitimate book market and make it even harder for authors to make a living from their work. This will harm writers and readers alike – if authors can no longer afford to write, the supply of new writing will inevitably dry up. It could also cause further damage to our library service (which does pay authors, both for the purchase of books and, through PLR, every time a book is lent), at a time when libraries are already facing cuts and closures across the country.

The UK’s great literary heritage has always been underpinned by a robust copyright regime. Unfortunately, this regime is not respected by online pirates, who flagrantly infringe copyright law by both copying our books and offering them for download. As Secretary of State whose department has responsibility for copyright and piracy, we are calling on you to take action against the blight of online book piracy.  

We would be happy to meet to discuss further and we look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Philip Pullman (President, Society of Authors)

Antony Beevor

Malorie Blackman

Tracy Chevalier

Wendy Cope

Lindsey Davis

Margaret Drabble

Maureen Duffy

Clare Francis

Antonia Fraser

Maureen Freely

Neil Gaiman

Victoria Glendinning

Philip Gross

Daniel Hahn

Joanne Harris

Tom Holland

William Horwood

Kazuo Ishiguro

Steve Jones

Penelope Lively

Hilary Mantel

Deborah Moggach

Ben Okri

Derek Parker

Ian Rankin

Piers Paul Read

Gillian Reynolds

Anne Sebba

Tom Stoppard

Joanna Trollope

Sarah Waters

Philip Ziegler