Business, Indie Publishing, Legal, Publishing

What To Do When Someone Pirates Your Ebook: Part 2

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I had no intention of making a part 2 to my last post but when the Becca Mills story hit the internet, I felt I needed to go further with the series.  For those who don’t know, Becca Mills is an indie author, whose book was removed from Amazon by a false DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) compliant.  As the drama unfolded, many indie authors, including myself, learned several surprising things about the role retailers play in copyright disputes. Because what seemed to be an easy open and shut case turned into weeks of back and forth between the author, Amazon and a con-artist pretending to be the author.  Now here’s the kicker, even though the author had a registered copyright, Amazon would not get involved in a third party dispute.

Long story short, Ms. Mills was finally able to get her book out of KDP purgatory by filing her own counter DMCA and by shooting off an email to Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon. Though the odds of this happening again are astronomical, I still think we indie authors need to know our legal rights in the event someone tries to hijack our work.

*Disclaimer* I am in no way a lawyer, and cannot give you legal advice.  I can only educate you about the resources and institutions that are available to you.

Lesson 1: Don’t Go Looking For Prince Charming To Rescue You

According to Amazon’s own policy once a DMCA compliant has been filed, they must legally take the book down from their site.  I recently emailed KDP and asked about the Becca Mills case and here’s their response:

KDP Response to Becca Mills Story
Click to enlarge

As you can see, it is up to the real copyright owner to fight the con-artist.  In Becca Mills’ case things were resolved but what if one day, an imposter decides to press their luck and comes after your copyright? Would you know how to fight back?

Why File a Counter DMCA?

On most retail sites, once a DMCA complaint is filed, the identity of the person stealing the work along with their contact info is revealed in good faith. This way all the cards are on the table, and once you have this person’s identity, you can give it to the authorities which leads me to my next point…

Filing Criminal Charges

What if a thief ignores you and continues to make your life hell? In Becca Mills’ story, the person went to both Amazon and Smashwords to get her work taken down.  If this continues to happen, you’ll have no option but to file criminal charges against them. In most parts of the world, law enforcement institutions have a fraud and cyber crimes department so it would be wise to start there.

  • In the U.S. you can go to the FBI
  • In Canada the RCMP
  • In the U.K. Gov.uk

But what if you want restitution? In that case, you’ll need to take it to the next level and file a civil suit in court.

You Have A Copyright, Don’t You?

As I stated in part one of this series, you’ll NEED a government copyright. There is no way around this, because according to the U.S. Copyright office: “Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U.S. origins.” You can read the entire PDF file here.

Another reason why it’s smart to get a copyright is because in the U.S., if you file your copyright before publishing, you can get more in damages and even recoup your legal fees. Yes, you can get a copyright after your book has been officially published in the U.S., but you won’t be able to claim the full legal benefits of a copyright owner who registered before they published.

Lesson 2: Authors & Journalists Get Sued All The Time

It’s not uncommon for a mega bestselling author to get sued by someone claiming to be the genuine author of a given work. For example, J.K. Rowling has been sued multiple times over her Harry Potter books.  However, none of the plaintiffs have been successful in proving J.K. Rowling ripped them off.  Nevertheless, there are thousands of copyright infringement cases filed in the U.S. every year.

Most major publishing companies have liability insurance which protects them against libel as well as copyright infringement lawsuits.  Unfortunately, most indie authors cannot afford it because the premiums are often very high.  Luckily though, there are guilds and organization that offer protection or legal advice with membership.

Organizations that offer liability insurance or legal information:

In Closing

The purpose of this article is to inform authors that they don’t have to go it alone when defending their copyright.  Help is out there, all we need to do is reach out and ask.  And hopefully, the Becca Mills story will inspire us to take charge of our publishing businesses whether that means getting liability insurance or registering our copyright with a government office.  We indies need to know what’s available to us and how to proceed in the event of a lawsuit or copyright hijacking, because as you can see, the waters are treacherous in the publishing world.

*Stepping off soapbox*

Update: According to Becca Mills, once an author sends a counter DMCA their policy is not inclined to restore a book.  And she’s right, I reread Amazon’s KDP Terms Of Service and it doesn’t mention counter DMCAs or who to contact in the event a false complaint.  I’m left to assume that they take this on a case by case basis but nonetheless, author beware!

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Business, Legal, Writing Business

What To Do When Someone Pirates Your Ebook

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In the past couple of months, I’ve noticed an uptick in book pirating complaints from indie authors.  Unfortunately, I don’t think this trend is going  to subside anytime soon.  Why, you ask? Because according to Author Earnings, self-published books make up almost 33% of all ebooks sold on Amazon. So if we indies command a piece of the market that large, we also share the attention of book pirates. This is a problem many authors are going to have to face soon or later, so let’s educate ourselves on the various ways our work can be stolen and what to do about it.

Types of Pirating

There are several ways pirates make money from stolen work, some create websites where they sell books directly, and at these sites there can be anywhere from hundreds, to thousands, of stolen books. Oh yeah, and here’s the kicker: some of the more sophisticated sites not only make money with books but also with ads and affiliate links. Welcome to 21st century publishing!

The second type of pirate will upload your book to a retailer like Amazon and pretend to be you. Often they will change the book’s cover and create some fake pseudonym. They’ve even been known to take public domain works and charge for them.

Then there’s the third kind of pirate that does a combination of both, selling direct as well as selling stolen books on sites like Amazon.

So how do we deal with this?

Step 1: Get Your Book Protected

Before you even click the publish button, you need to register your work with your government’s copyright office. The copyright office will assign your book with a number which links you to your work. This number will be important if someone asks you to prove you are the owner of the intellectual property (book) in question. Which leads me to my next point…

Step 2: Start Sending DMCA Take Down Notices

In 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was enacted in the U.S. to protect digital properties from being stolen and distributed. This means if someone takes any material that is copyrighted elsewhere, the owner of that property can take legal action against them.

In compliance with the law, many sites like Amazon, Google and Barnes & Noble all have departments that deal with DMCA complaints. However before you start there, try contacting the pirate site yourself  (if possible) and give them ample time to respond to your complaint. Be professional, and let them know you are the owner of the intellectual property they’re selling and would like it removed from their site.  Some authors have even gone as far as to send invoices to pirate sites, so feel free to charge them whatever you think is reasonable. 🙂  But if they do not respond, you’ll need to move on to step three…

Step 3: Start Reporting Them To Their Web Host

If this is a website that has stolen your work, your best bet would be to find the host of that particular site and report them. You do that by going to Who Is Hosting This and typing in the pirate site’s URL into the search engine.  Most hosting companies like GoDaddy and BlueHost will happily take down the site if they get enough complaints.  It goes without saying, that it would help, if you teamed up with a few authors on this one and barraged them with complaints. But what if that doesn’t help?…

Step 4: Make Them Invisible

You can report a pirate site that has stolen material to most of the popular search engines. Many sites like Google, will either take away their ranking, or remove them completely from their search engines. Below are some links to get you started:

Step 5: Report Them To The Retailers

This step is for the pirate who steals your book and posted it to an online retailer’s site. Most retailers have official channels that need to be used in order to get a timely response, so be careful to follow the instructions about filing a DMCA.

Trolling The Pirates: Social Media Blasts

I’ve seen journalists and freelance writers have success calling out the people who steal their work on the thief’s own social media page. Yes, there are pirate sites with Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts! Again, just one complaint may not be enough, you may have to join forces with others to get attention.  Think about it, internet trolls, often attack in groups, because it’s effective. However unlike them, you can’t start any flaming wars, just call them out and request they take down your book. If it’s a social media site like Facebook or Google, you can post your entire DMCA complaint right there on the page or in the comments section of their post.

Well there you go, just a few examples of what you can do to fight back against a pirate. Though you can’t put everyone out of business, you can do some damage.  It’s well known that most of the major publishing companies don’t bother with pirates unless, they’re making lots of money.  They can afford to do that however, we indies can’t afford to let that kind of money fly out the window. Granted, I don’t believe you should waste your life hunting pirates but when something comes to your attention, you should at least try to deal with it. You might not win, but hey, at least you put up a fight.

*Stepping down from soapbox*