My father was very wise and one of his sayings was ‘there’s no such thing as something for nothing’. We all like ‘free’ things and in the internet age there seems to be even more of a clamour for giveaways. Since the age of the download ‘free’ music and pirate sites have popped up and songs from favourite bands could be searched for and downloaded. Rightly the musicians became angry that their hard work was being ‘given away’ and any royalties non-existent. Authors now also come under attack from such sites.

Authors have had their work ‘given away’ for many decades through public libraries, but eventually the introduction of Public Lending Right in 1979 ensured that a ‘royalty’ was paid for each loan. However, with the advent of e-books and a worldwide boom in internet usage, our books are now subject to piracy similar to that which abuses musicians.

There are, of course, genuine ‘free’ copies of both music and books available through legitimate sites such as Spotify and Amazon. Google’s Project Gutenberg, where volunteers scan out-of-copyright books and offer them free of charge are a boon. I’ve downloaded some of these myself, including scans of 18th-century cookery books, accounts of trials, road maps and the like. These have been invaluable for research. Similarly, classic authors such as Rudyard Kipling, Jane Austen and Robert Louis Stevenson have all had their novels made available free on Kindle. Additionally publishers will  offer free e-books as part of marketing and promotion, particularly where a new title is being published.

So, there are lots of free e-books available for legitimate download. The biggest issue is with the many ‘pirate’ sites which offer pdf versions of copyrighted books, my own included. I will come to these later. But why do they – and the people who take advantage of them, feel they can help themselves to people’s products? That’s what books and music are, no different to a new coat or a glass vase; would they walk into a shop and help themselves of those things – steal?

There’s a myth that authors earn a fortune. Yes there are those multi-million-copy selling authors whose books are made into films and who do earn – deservedly – a small fortune from their hard work. However, the majority of writers earn very little. The average author’s income is a paltry £4,000 per annum. There’s no minimum wage for authors, let alone a living wage. I don’t earn anything from my books, any profit is used to fund future books. Yet some people think it all right to just help themselves to copies.

I’ve made many a demand to pirate sites that my books are removed. But I would warn those who happily download illegitimate copies of books to think twice, all may not be as it seems. Taking advantage of this yearning for free books are the crooks. The latest ruse is to request credit card details to sign onto their sites for access to ‘unlimited free books’. People are ‘hooked in’ by the promise of top titles; in fact any book, Smugglers’ Town Mysteries included at no charge. These are merely ‘phishing’ sites; the books do not exist. Victims of these scams will soon find out that ‘there’s no such thing as something for nothing.’