Book Publisher Sues ‘Dummies’ Downloaders

Publishing house John Wiley has joined the anti-piracy fray by filing a lawsuit against people who downloaded illicit copies of its popular “For Dummies” series. Most of the tiles in question are computer related, but there are a few surprises on the list.

The lawsuit filed last week in Manhattan federal court included a list of anonymous users and the titles they downloaded. The most popular title was Photoshop for Dummies, but other defendants opted for how-to books on calculus, home repair and day-trading. The downloads threaten the Dummies franchise which has sold more than 200 million copies since it was launched in 1991.

The case suggests that unauthorized file-sharing, which has long plagued the music and movie industries, is now taking a bite out of traditional book publishers as well. John Wiley claims that its Photoshop book, which retails for around $20, has been downloaded more than 74,000 times since summer of last year and that lost revenue from filed-sharing may harm its ability to publish and pay authors. The publishing industry has not been as litigious as other content sectors but that may now be changing.

“The problem affects book publishers as it affects all content owners, and with the growing popularity of e-books, various strategies to address illegal file-sharing, including litigation, will necessarily grow as well,” said Susan Kohlmann, a copyright expert at Jenner & Block in New York.

In this case, John Wiley sued 27 “John Doe” defendants residing in New York on the basis of their IP address — a number that identifies a given computer or router. The publisher is likely to replace the John Does on the lawsuit with the names of real people after it learns their identities from the downloaders’ Internet provider. Or it may simply go directly to the accused downloaders and ask for a settlement.

Content owners regard these type of lawsuits as a deterrent, but the tactic is a controversial one. Some argue the lawsuits are disproportionate to the alleged offense, while others note that an IP address does not establish who did the downloading.

On the other hand, John Wiley may feel it has no choice. The company’s reference book niche is already under threat from a growing number of web-based “e-how” resources, and the file-sharing trend could mushroom. Book files are easier to swap because they are much smaller than music or movie files, and new technologies have made it easier to scan and upload a book.

The John Does in the case traded the books on a Montenegro Ukraine-based site, called The site shows a variety of copyrighted material still available for download, including ‘dummies’ titles such as “Business Ethics for Dummies” and “Sex for Dummies.”

The series began in 1991 with the publication of “DOS for Dummies.” John Wiley has since published more than 1,800 other titles in 30 languages.