Posted by: Donna Cunningham | January 19, 2009

Pirated Astrology Books and What They Can Cost our Field

piratebook3d-a2c©2009 by Donna Cunningham, MSW

   I’ve never been to Somalia, but for the past year, I’ve been defending myself against pirates. They’re internet pirates who’ve stolen my ebooks and posted them on free ebook websites.

Thousands of copies have been downloaded—more than were sold in the entire time those books have been published. Recently, a pirated copy of An Astrological Guide to Self-Awareness was uploaded to a Torrent hub, and in just one month’s time, 33,800 free copies were downloaded.  I’m beyond disheartened; I’m ready to quit writing books.

Apart from my personal concern, I believe this is an issue for the astrological community. Stolen books can have a long-term impact on the continued development of our field.  These free sites have unauthorized copies of many fine astrologers’ works—significant volumes by much-admired teachers and speakers who labored unselfishly to preserve what they’ve learned so that we can all grow.

Putting heart and soul into creating a book, only to have it stolen, can discourage our heroes from writing books to begin with. Over time, what they know can be lost. Writing a book takes at least a year of hard work and total commitment, an interval in which the author’s income is greatly reduced by focusing on the task at hand. The net result is that we’d probably earn more per hour as a barrista than we do on the books we write.

While original ebooks are a small portion of our literature, most of the offerings on these sites didn’t start out that way. They’re hard copy books that are laboriously scanned, page by page, and turned into PDF files. Generally, neither the authors nor their publishers gave permission for ebook versions to be created and posted.

zodiacoldimagesm-wikim-pubdomainSome free ebooks are legitimate—very old astrology texts that are in the public domain or are out-of-print classics by authors that have passed on. Those ebooks preserve our heritage. In addition, many astrologers write ebooks to use as giveaways on their web pages, and that’s fine, too. However, making an ebook from a commercial work by a living author, especially one that is still in print, can only be considered theft.

What about you, readers?  Have you ever downloaded an unauthorized ebook or had one given to you? So much is free on the internet that lines are often blurred. Many members of these sites and email lists truly did not understand that this was theft. When I explained, they seemed honestly chagrinned, and many removed all free ebooks from their hard drive. What if you bought an ebook from one of your idols and ran off copies on CD to pass out to your astrology group or fellow students? Is that wrong? Let’s just say it’s no way to honor the work your idol put into getting a lifework out there for all of us to learn from.

Private discussions with other members of these groups revealed that they lived in underdeveloped nations with appalling poverty where books of any kind were rare and astrology teachers were unknown. Of course, I wouldn’t deny them copies of my books. I just asked that they write to me privately and explain their situation, and I’d allow them to distribute my books to others in their country as well. But don’t, for heaven’s sake, upload it to the World Wide Web, making it impossible for me to earn a living from my work!

The actual pirates on these free ebook sites are more of a puzzle—Uranians, certainly. They earn no money for doing it, nor do they get any glory, for their names are hidden. Apparently, they consider themselves heroes and justify it by believing that authors and other creative artists are fair game and that it’s okay to steal from them.  Others may consider themselves Robin Hoods–-stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Although it’s a common fantasy that writers are rich, that they enjoy luxuries and a posh life style on the basis of their books, that simply is not the case. That hasn’t happened since the days of Linda Goodman.

For a hardcopy book, authors are lucky to get even 10% of the cover price–-6% is more common. They only succeed in selling thousands of copies if they spend double the time promoting the book that they did in writing it. Publishers do not spend big bucks promoting books in our field. Most writers write because they must, it’s in their blood, and not because they’ll ever grow rich. Those of us in astrology or other spiritual studies write because we want to share what we know and to uplift others.  But we do need to earn a living, unless we’re to take to the streets with begging bowls.

Another fantasy is that we get huge advances on our books and live off those while we write. That was never true—in the “good old days” back in the 1970s and early 1980s when there was an explosion in small presses, an established author with a proven track record might get a couple of thousand dollars’ advance. Once the book was published, a year or two later, we had to pay back the advance through book sales before realizing another cent. Now advances on small press books are non-existent, and other than Sun signs, mainstream publishers aren’t printing astrology books. None of us are appearing on Oprah. Writing a book is no get rich quick scheme.

Piracy is not something blameless. It’s a betrayal of the service your favorite authors and teachers give you. Nor is it without consequence.  If the finest astrological speakers and writers feel that all their hard work to preserve their knowledge will simply be stolen, they won’t feel it’s worth doing a book, and our field will cease to grow in ways it has in the past.

If you find any pirated books, let the authors know, would you?   Your comments and input are welcome below, or write to me privately at .

WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE PIRATED: To my colleagues who’ve made such wonderful contributions through your writing, Google yourself and see what you find. I’ve written a long step-by-step article on ways to combat piracy, which you can download here:  How to Combat Astrology Book Piracy  My generic version, for authors of all types, is a wikiHow at:  Here are a few of the tips:

Follow all the links. Check for pirated versions of out-of-print books as well. If any of your books are out of print for more than a year, you can ask the publisher to revert the rights to you so that you can update and reprint them as self-published works. Don’t allow your book to become what is called an “Orphan Book,” free game for scanning.  See:

If you discover one of your books, check the site for links to an abuse policy and to their Copyright Enforcement Officer.  Most of these sites are legitimate and will take strong steps against piracy when it is reported, removing the book and often banning the offender. However, they’re not set up to monitor whether people who upload the new ebooks actually own the copyright.

Also read the profile of the individual who uploaded the book. I write privately—and civilly—to the ones who list email addresses to explain my concerns and to give them a chance to remove the book. Others, anonymous, have uploaded hundreds of books without permission, so you might find more of yours and of your colleagues as well. Notify your colleagues, and also let the copyright officer know that many of this individual’s uploads are suspect.

Keep watching, because the books are often reloaded elsewhere. On the advice of one of the copyright enforcement officers, I set up a Google alert that says, “Donna Cunningham” =”Free ebook,” and that’s kept me in the loop by email when a new one appears. Dr. J. Lee Lehman has also suggested that we should ask our organizations to address this growing problem, perhaps by including piracy of astrology books and software in their codes of ethics.

ART credits: the pirate comes from, and the antique zodiac print is in the public domain at wikimedia commons.


  1. Donna, So sorry to hear about this. This is a definitely a speech that needs to be made.

    People are way too casual about obtaining the arts and its products for free, with no regard for the artist.

  2. Seconded. Thank you for the warning and reminder.

  3. As an aspiring writer of astrology books, I am supportive of your position in this area. The work itself is a gift and the resources received by the author is small price to pay for the opportunity to share in the gift.

  4. I deleted every book I had on my computer that I wasn’t certain that I could have for free. Thanks for the reminder.

    Your book “Healing Pluto Problems” has been a big help to me. I take it out every few months and read parts of the book again just to stay on top of things. Thanks!

    • Thank you so much for hearing, Tammy. Writing is often very lonely work, and so it means a lot when readers value your contribution. Donna

  5. Thanks for the alert Donna am following up your suggestions.

  6. u should have given ur books free. otherwise people will find the way out

  7. Hi! Thanks for starting a page on wikiHow on this (–I assume that was you! I just nominated it for featuring on the home page, so hopefully more people can learn about this topic. I hope you’ll return to wikiHow periodically and check on the page, and see if anyone wrote to you!



  8. It’s a crying shame that someone who has given as much as you have to the astrological community through your prolific and insightful writing should have to suffer the ignominy of pirating. Unfortunately, the pirating of copywritten work is now pandemic, fueled by an apparently widespread belief that “if it is on the Internet, it ought to be free for the taking,” never mind the hard work, creativity, blood, sweat and tears that someone shed to make it available at all. Nor is the problem limited to ebooks, since Google is now positioning itself to make an end run around copyright law that would allow it to profit from the widespread distribution of the digitized books in its library project, in both ebook and hard copy. Meanwhile other giants are waiting in the wings to do the same, while legions of pirates in China and elsewhere routinely produce bastardized and cheaper versions of books already in print. You can read more about these issues, and about my alternative to the parasitic book trade – a one-man movement I call Fair Trade Publishing – on my blog at

    • Thanks for your kind words about my work, Joe. I knew that about Google, and it really pissed me off–no author is really safe. Quite a few of my books are out of print, and though I haven’t made ebooks from them yet, Google could just come in and grab them. I’m up to my ears in work just now, but will come and visit your site when I can. Donna

  9. You call this piracy? In the situations where no money is being made from your book. Say my friend owns a copy of your published book and I borrow it from them and read it, but do not buy it. Am I a pirate, a theif. I think it is important to remember that even though one may take something because it is free doesn’t mean they would have purchased it if it was not for free. If you write because you must and not to get rich, then why not feel pride and happiness. In fact, studies have shown that those that gather e-book torrents often end up buying a physical copy of the books they like as well and/or treat the torrents as an electronic lending library. How about that as a thought? Does going to the library to read a book make one a pirate? If the media industry would really think on the matter, that is the audiance that subscribes to the torrent files. The ones that would never purchase the materials anyway.

    As one who wishes to self publish and has friends that do so, I feel honored when such is the case for my works. Many authors of this new age are aware that if you place an address with a nice message of “if you like this…send money to…” people will in fact send it. It is a trick software developers have used since the earliest days of the net. Like you have said, you will not get rich in any case, so use this tool, don’t shun it.

    Now anyone making money from your product and not giving you anything, I say attack away! That is piracy, that is theft.

  10. I agree with Ariana. It is important to remember that even though one may take something because it is free doesn’t mean they would have purchased it if it was not for free.

  11. […] – Original source, shared with permission. […]

    • What the WikiHow site doesn’t mention is that I was the original author of that piece on ebook piracy. At the time I wrote and posted it, Wikihow did not allow people to list themselves as author. It subsequently changed its policy and several people claimed authorship, so it wound up that my article on piracy was itself pirated. I don’t mind, since it is important information for authors, but it is ironic. Donna Cunningham

  12. Years ago, I wrote an article for ISAR about used books: When you purchase a used book (usually at a lower price than the original one) and find it valuable, consider sending a dollar or two to the author with a note telling them that you bought it used, and found it worthwhile. A note like this will make their day!

  13. In response to Ariana,

    Borrowing a book from a library, or reading it there, is quite different from downloading a copy from a torrent site.

    The book at the library has been paid for. Yes, multiple people can read it, but not at the same time; and no-one has the right to duplicate it. What’s more, authors receive Public Lending Rights for every copy of their books in lending libraries that is borrowed from those lending libraries.

    When you download a copy from a torrent site you are duplicating the author’s work in that very action. This is illegal and rightly so. The author is getting no compensation for your creation of a new copy of the work.

    That you would not have paid for the work at all otherwise is immaterial to the rights and wrongs of what you have done.

    If you had borrowed the book from a friend or read it in a library you would at least have been using a copy that has been paid for, a copy that only one person is physically able to read at one time, not creating a new one.

    Your lending library analogy simply doesn’t hold water on analysis. Torrent sites are not lending – they are freely copying and distributing.

    I totally agree with Donna here. And it isn’t only murky Torrent sites but also pseudo-respectable companies like Scribd, which is guilty of encouraging people to upload copies of books to its website, and hosts numerous copyrighted works by living authors that should not be there, then makes the procedure for copyright complaints to have them taken down again about as difficult as possible, ostensibly to discourage such complaints and continue to profit from the illegal uploads on its site for as long as possible. If that isn’t piracy, I don’t know what is.

    • Thank you, Phillip. I was so disheartened by having my ebooks stolen that I vowed never to write another book. Recently, I did publish an ebook on stelliums, but that was because I felt there was an urgent need for it.

      As for the free ebook sites, people need to beware of what they actually are doing to people who use them. I did download one of my pirated books recently, as it was an ebook version of one of my books that was only available in hard copy. I thought, “If they’re going to steal my book, I might as well get some benefit from it.” The site insisted I download some software, and then it launched into putting a lot of stuff on my computer, some kind of malware that has created problems on my machine ever since. After all that, I tried to download the book and couldn’t get it to download. So the site is really some kind of hacking site. Donna

  14. Hi, Donna! I felt I had to say something because people all too easily delude themselves into thinking they are doing nothing wrong when they download copyrighted books from torrent sites or Scribd, and Ariana’s comments (which I note you graciously accepted as part of a free discussion, though as moderator of your own page you had the right to refuse them) unfortunately for me exemplified that process of self-delusion.

    I’ve actually seen some (male) astrologers (not authors, notably) on Facebook defend The Pirate Bay. It seems to be regarded as somehow ‘cool’ for subverting the corporate establishment. But as you point out, it isn’t corporations making mega-bucks that are the real victims here, but hard-working front-line authors like you. It seems to me that a generation has grown up lacking respect for the work that goes into creativity and writing, believing instead that all printed information out there should be free to view for everyone. They just want to consume, to take, without having to give anything back. Of course, the result of that attitude, if it became dominant, would be that people just stopped writing because no-one is willing to pay for it any more.

    Personally I’d love to see you not let these kinds of attitudes, and those who harbour them, win. I’d love to see you write the remaining books you have wanted to write, and publish them, conventionally or through print-on-demand, defying the thieves. I have no doubt they would still find a market with the many who appreciate your vast body of thoughtful and insightful work on astrology.

    I’d love to see you put out print-on-demand versions of all your more writings that have hitherto only been released as e-books too. In the long run, I fear e-books will die with the hard drives and other storage media on which they appear, whose life-span is inherently limited. But hard copy books will persist for centuries as a legacy of the work of their authors.

    Best wishes and much respect for all you do,


    • Phillip, I could not agree with you more on your thoughts. Alas, there IS that feeling of entitlement, that everything an author writes should be free. I devoted two full years of my life to my latest, The Stellium Handbook, and it took over my life and exhausted me on all levels, but I felt it was my responsibility to share my knowledge and experience of stelliums, in part for the generation of young people with Capricorn stelliums.

      As for ebooks, however, I am totally committed to them. In the 20 years I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve watched the appalling clear cutting of our forests with sorrow. Whatever I can contribute to saving our forests, I will do. The Stellium Handbook is 250 pages of 8 1/2 x 11′ paper, so half a ream would go into each copy sold. Beyond that, there are certain features that the book has in PDF format that would not be possible in a print version: **

      **1) *You’ll be guided, step by step, in creating stellium worksheets to help you understand the pieces of your stellium*so you can make the best use of them and avoid the pitfalls. You’ll work with self-tests that list the positive and the difficult potentials of the stellium’s sign, house, and the planets in the combination. If you’re a professional astrologer, you can do the same for clients or students. (You’ll learn how to create these worksheets in Chapter 9–a sample for Prince William is attached.)

      2) *With the PDF format, you can print out sections that pertain specifically to you* or your loved ones, creating a permanent reference tool. Another PDF perk is a series of printable summary tables about the qualities associated with the signs, house, and planets.

      3) *The PDF format also allows for clickable links* to blog articles and internet sites, a resource often used in this book to provide more in-depth information than we have space for here.


  15. I am sorry that you are disheartened by this piracy. I am also sad because I read a fair number of free ebooks although I promise not to read any of yours that are unauthorized. But I don’t have a budget for books or entertainment. I have read all the astrology books at my local library. Someday I will hopefully be in a position to spend money on non essentials… it seems like so many interesting things are not for me. It is probably entitled of me to be frustrated by that. But for now I only read free things.

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