Ebook Theft: 12 Things You Can Do to Stop Someone from Copying and Selling Your Ebook

I’ve been writing and selling ebooks online since 2002. To date, I’ve written almost 100 (fiction and non-fiction). Since then, self-publishing has become a lot more popular, especially with outlets like Amazon making it so easy. Hence, ebook theft is a constant concern for writers and other content producers (eg, graphic designers, photographers, etc.).

Ebook Theft: The Underbelly of the E-Publishing Industry

Any time an industry matures, the bad apples come out and start lying, stealing and cheating to get their slice of the pie. Here, I’m talking about ebook theft. What prompted this post was an email I received from a fellow ebook writer. He wrote:

I am done writing my first ebook. I was trying to decide whether to keep it as an EBook or a hard copy printed on demand? Is there any way to avoid people duplicating your downloadable book? Thanks.

Unfortunately, the short answer is, no, there’s no 100% fool-proof way to prevent someone from duplicating your downloadable ebook. Ebook piracy, copyright infringement, content theft, etc. is alive and well – and it’s never going to disappear.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Here’s the site’s affiliate disclosure policy for full details.

Ebook Security: How to Stop Someone from Stealing Your Ebook

My overall advice is to just accept that ebook theft is going to happen. Why? Three reasons: (i) some self-publishing experts argue that ebook piracy actually helps sales; (ii) it’s impossible to stop altogether (if someone is hell-bent on stealing your stuff and it’s online, they can); and (iii) you’ll save yourself a whole lot of headaches. Trust me, I know. I’ve been there.

12 Ways to Prevent Ebook Theft

With the above being said, I’m not saying be all hunky dorry happy and complacent about someone stealing your work. To this end, following are some ebook security measures you can take to protect yourself.

1. Contact Payment Provider

Ebook Theft: 12 Ways to Stop It

This hits’em squarely in the pocketbook!

If you found that someone has stolen your ebook and is selling it, you should contact their payment processor.

Many use the biggies like PayPal and AlertPay. When you make contact, explain why you’re requesting that that they stop processing payments for that account holder.

It’s hard to get an account restored once a payment processor shuts it down, especially for stuff like content theft. So this may be one of the first steps you want to take.

2. Name Your File Correctly

This advice is for those who don’t use a digital download provider like e-Junkie.

To prevent those who haven’t purchased your ebook from stealing it, give your file a weird name.

For example, take my ebook, “How to Write an Ebook in 3 Days, Market It & Start Getting Sales within a Week.” I wouldn’t name this file something like www.inkwelleditorial.com/writeebook-in-3-days because that’s just too easy for someone to guess.

If they guessed correctly, they could find the file on my site by doing a simple Google search. So, make the file name hard to guess.

Use the same guidelines you’d use when creating a password for your online banking, for example (make it long, use letters and numbers, use uppercase and lower-case letters, use typographical symbols, etc.). This way, it won’t show up in search results if someone does a simple keyword search; hence, can’t be discovered on your website, which which brings me to my next point.

3. Use a Digital Service Provider

The easiest way to prevent theft from those who don’t want to buy your ebook is to use a digital service provider like e-Junkie.

Not only does it increase ebook sales by offering instant delivery, it cuts down on piracy because it’s hosted in a secure environment.

4. Change Download Link Regularly

Again, this advice is for those who don’t use a service like e-Junkie. If you sell directly from your site, change the download link to your ebook file regularly, just as you would your banking or any other password.

This doesn’t totally prevent theft (nothing does, unfortunately), but it certainly makes it harder. And, as thieves are just lazy slime anyway, most of them will slither on to the next victim.

5. Prevent File Sharing

I don’t advise this because it can hurt ebook sales, but you can prevent file sharing. For example, when you sell ebooks on Amazon, they offer you the option to prevent file sharing. I never select this – as I want users to share my ebooks. Why?

Because I publish a lot of them, so the more readers are introduced to my works, the better in my opinion. That person who read the first one “for free” may double back and buy the next two or three.

6. Use Anti-Theft Ebook Software

There is some ebook encryption software out there. I haven’t used any of it, so can’t recommend a particular one. FYI, in case you don’t know, following is an explanation of what ebook encryption software is:

Ebook encryption is, quite simply, the process of applying an encryption technology to an ebook.  Or in other words encrypting an ebook. … encryption protects information from access by anyone who is not authorized, but allows the authorized to do anything they like with the information. Also, it has … concept of controls that note when an ebook is copied, printed or otherwise used.

FYI, at the end of this article, 5 of the most popular ebook encryption softwares are listed, as well as a link to list of the “Best of” this kind of software by some tech experts.

7. Password Protect Your Ebook Files

This is so easy, and there’s software out there that will that helps you do it. These applications allow you to create a password for your download page. When a customer makes a purchase, you can either email them the password, or set it up so that they receive the password as an automatic part of the download process.

8. Do Periodic Checks

As in, troll the internet once a month or so to see if anyone has stolen and is selling your ebook(s).

I used to do this on a regular basis; I stopped because it sickens me every time I run across an ebook of mine, and it can take hours out of your day tryihng to take action against the thieves — which sometimes works, and sometimes not.

I’ve had an entire ebooks stolen, and stolen portions of my ebooks stolen (scroll down in this post to the heading, “Ebook Theft: How Someone Stole Not Only Portions of My Ebook, but My Professional Credentials as Well”).

The feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize that someone has swiped your hard work is hard to explain. You feel  confusion, pity and rage all at once. This is why stopped doing it. It’s just not worth it.

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9. Sue

The above led me to put an attorney on retainer once to sue anyone I discover stealing my ebooks. See this monster post on copyright infringement, which covers your legal rights as a content producer, as well as the penalties thieves receive if successfully prosecuted.

10. Contact Web Hosting Provider and Domain Name Registration Company

When I had all my troubles with someone accusing me of copyright infringement back in October of 2010, I found out just how easy it is to have a website shut down. Unfortunately, I was on the wrong side that time, but I used the experience and have had several sites shut down for stealing my content since then.

You have to file what’s known as a DMCA notice. This can be very effective for stopping ebook theives from not only stealing your content, but the content of others. Think of it as “online” community service. 🙂

11. Secure Your File

This is a simple measure that can be extremely effective. What I mean by this is, when you turn your Word file – or whatever kind of file you use — into a pdf file (if that’s the format you sell in), before uploading, make a secured version.

I used to use this free pdf software for my ebooks before places like Draft2Digital came along and made it easy to convert your file into various different formats. This software gives you several options when you secure a file.


For example, you can restrict printing, copying, screen readers, modifications, etc. Nowadays, when I secure my pdf files (which are mostly content downloads from this site), I always select Restrict Copying and Restrict Modification, as indicated in the graphic above. This easy form of ebook protection can really stop a lot of theft because most thieves are lazy. They want something they can steal easily. So, don’t make it ultra-easy.

12. Market Your Products

How can this stop ebook theft? It’s explained brilliantly why by internet entrepreneur Milana Leshinsky in the article, What to Do About Ebook Theft. She writes:

1) Promote yourself, other e-books, your services, your newsletter, and your web sites throughout the e-book. If you’re giving examples, try to use your own web sites and your own experiences to illustrate.

2) Always have at least one more product for sale as your back-end product. Mention it throughout your e-book and link to it where needed.

3) Be sure to offer an incentive to your readers (whether they come from you or your thieves) to join your mailing list.  Give away a free report, a free e-book, a free newsletter, a free pen, etc. just to capture their e-mails. You will then be able to send them follow-up messages and special promotions.

4) Create more and more e-books of interest to the same audience. Since they can’t get more from the thief, they will get it from you!

5) Put a lot of personality in your e-book. It will make it harder for somebody else to steal and claim as their own creation.  It will make you develop close relationships with your customers, and will make your e-book more interesting to the reader.

In my own e-book development, I try to combine all of the above factors – prevention, pursuing, and promotion.

This article offers a lot of good info on how to stop ebook theft by the way. Even though it was written years ago, it just goes to show the growth in self-publishing, and how ebook authors have to be vigilant to protect their works.

BONUS TIP: Ask Google Not to Index the Ebook File

This is a bit technical, so if you’re not sure about how to do it when trying to prevent ebook theft, ask your web designer (or hire someone) to do it for you and/or show you how to do it.

Note: Please be careful who you hire to poke around your site. I once hired someone from Fiverr to do some web design / email marketing stuff and got burned really bad. I still use and recommend the giggers there for certain kinds of jobs (eg, ebook cover creation, social media marketing), but I’m super careful when it comes to my website and email list.

Here’s a trusted, reputable web design and security firm I recommend.

Why Isn’t Copyrighting a Book on This List?

If you’re wondering why I didn’t talk about copyrighting your ebook, it’s because once you create the work, you own it; in essence, it is already copyrighted, as explained in the article, How to Copyright Your eBook or Self Published Book, which states:

. .  . you do not have to even register your work with the US copyright office to have copyright protection. The law clearly indicates that as soon as the work is finished, you own the copyright, and therefore, have copyright protection. So as soon as you are done with your self published book or eBook, you automatically have copyright protection.

This article also explains how to copyright an ebook “officially” if you’re interested in doing so. With that being said, there is another school of thought, which is

You Might Want to Copyright Your Work If You Plan On Doing This

According to the very detailed post, Do You Need to Copyright your Manuscript? Will it Prevent Book Piracy? intellectual property attorney Helen Sedwick thinks you SHOULD copyright your work in order to fight ebook pirates if you plan to sue. Sedwick says:

“You cannot file a lawsuit unless the work is registered with the US Copyright Office. If you threaten to sue, and the infringer searches copyright records and doesn’t find your registration, they may call your bluff.”

I also read where another self-published author wrote that it was easy for her to prove to Google that she was indeed the owner of the material when an ebook pirate stole her content; hence, she got it removed quicker. So for her, it was worth it to pay to copyright her work.

For the most part, I still fall down on the side of not paying to have your work copyrighted, UNLESS you plan to sue and/or it just makes you feel better.

FYI, as of this writing, it costs $35 to register a copyright.

5 Encryption Software(s) that Help Prevent Ebook Theft

As I said before, I personally haven’t used any of this kind of software, so can’t recommend any of it. However, when I did a Google search for “software that prevents ebook piracy,” following are a few I came up with.

Top-Rated Ebook Encryption Software

At Top Ten Reviews, comparisons, contrasts and reviews of the best file encryption software for PCs are listed.

Ebook Piracy: The Bottom Line on Protecting Ebooks from Thieves

Even if you only use a few of these tips, you will significantly decrease the chance of your ebook being stolen. As previously stated … the reason is simple – thieves are lazy. Many won’t put any more effort into stealing your content than they have to. For example, most aren’t going to duplicate your ebook by typing it if that’s the only way they can get it. That’s why it’s prudent to do simple things like restrict modification of your ebook files.

I hope this info helps and that you never have your ebook stolen, cuz boy, that just ain’t no fun!

Note: This post was first published on January 27, 2012. It was updated in January 2018.

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P.S.: Take Action If Someone Steals Your Ebook

This ebook explains exactly what a copyright violation notice is and what you can do if this happens to you (here’s hoping that it never does).

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    1. Hi Yuwanda,

      Congratulations for this expert post! Also this wordpress site is protected from downloading and saving it to a local computer.

      Which WordPress plugin do you use or recommend for copy protection?

      I have a membership site and tried several solutions.

      Thank you in advance,

    2. Hi I have just had this happen to me and you are right on the money with how it feels. I thought I was protected from this, but not so. I will use some of the tips you have given here and see what happens. I intend to write more and do not want to see my hardwork benefiting someone who has stolen it

    3. Thankyou so much for this info..I have just found 3 of my books on websites for free, losing thousands of download royalties…

      • Try not to look at it that way Julie. Although hard to account for, think of how many readers you may have gained — if you put links in your books to your other works. IMO, it’s the only way to think about ebook theft. Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself crazy. #KeepWritingandPublishing

        • hey Yuwanda — im happy to find u / ur work. ur site seems to use a web protect SW (i cant copy info from it). and i dont know why more people dont use CopySafe PDF (i settled on this firm after months or research). do you use website-content-protection SW and CopySafe PDF has many anti-theft features (im NOT affiliated with the company in any way).

    4. @Karen:

      Yes, Amazon does have protective measures built in. But absolutely nothing is foolproof. Also, I sell my ebooks from this site as well, which are pdf files, so there again — the opportunity for theft is ripe.

      Truly, if someone wants to steal your ebook, there’s nothing you can do about it, because they can simply have it retyped if they want. But, you can make it harder by implementing the tips found here. Usually, this gets the thieves to moving on b/c they don’t to spend a great amount of time to steal your stuff — after all, that’s why they’re thieves in the first place. They’re in it for easy money for the least amount of work.

      Hope this insight helps.

    5. Hi, Yuwanda! Thanks so much for this. Can I ask, however, if you use Amazon, do you have to deal w/all this stuff? You would think they would have encryption programmed in .
      Thx K


    1. […] Oh my goodness! It is frustrating to discover someone has stolen your ebook and is offering it for a price or even for free. This is copyright infringement. I searched the internet for ways to combat this. I was delighted to discover Yowanda Black’s blog post:  “Ebook Theft: 12 Things You Can Do to Stop Someone from Copying and Selling Your Book.” […]

    2. […] digital products like ebooks. Seeing as how ebooks are just digital products, and there are now a variety of ways to protect yourself from copyright infringement, you can easily create a nice automated sales […]

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