Once upon a time, before the Internet, the only pirates authors worried about were the handsome, dashing ones in movies and novels. Fast forward a few decades and not only do we have pirates of the Caribbean and Somalia, but also pirates of our copyrighted works.
By way of open disclosure, I also write fiction, so many of my examples come from that realm. However, I will share examples from the academic arena, too. The first time it happened to me with Kiss of the Silver Wolf, it took my breath away. An experienced college professor, I was used to students and even assistant professors (!) cutting and pasting my work and the works of others into research papers and claiming it as their own. Stunningly, these pirate sites don’t even pretend that it’s their work. They post entire e-books and scanned print books online with the authors’ names to attract more customers.
What exactly is a pirate site? The Romance Writers of America (RWA) defines them as “websites that contain unauthorized downloads or other copies of copyrighted romance novels.” This applies to any works, fiction and non-fiction. Pirate sites infringe on copyright. The US Copyright Office provides instructions on how to respond to copyright infringement, and the FBI calls intellectual property theft a crime.
The issue of Internet piracy is so bad, H.R. 3261, the "Stop Online Piracy Act" (SOPA) was introduced in 2011. Maria A. Pallante, Register of Copyrights gave testimony before the Committee on the Judiciary. The bill did not pass. Why? Because it "infringed on the freedom of the Internet." Talk about a Catch-22!
What’s an author to do? First off make sure your publisher has not given the site permission to post your work. Crawford and Murray (2002) caution authors to take a deep breath and check with their editors before going DEFCON 4. I contacted the Wild Rose Press and no, they had not given permission, so then I moved up to the next step: sending a TAKE DOWN notice.
In the case of textbook authors, there are materials available as sample downloads, all marked not for distribution. I use GIGA Alerts to watch my back online and have found my textbook materials posted in Academia.edu, all stamped with the JBL copyright and "Not for sale or distribution." While it may not be cost-effective for a large publisher to chase down each offender, authors and editors should at least be aware of what is going on in the high seas of the Internet.
Unless your publisher has an official designee or copyright compliance officer to go after copyright infringers, and especially if you have self-published your work, it is your responsibility to approach each website individually, and issue them a TAKE DOWN notice. Per safe harbor laws, the Internet Service Provider is not liable for the content posted on the website. However, in exchange for this “immunity is a requirement that the service provider make it easy for authors to address and eradicate online infringement” (Crawford & Murray, 2002). To send a TAKE DOWN notice to the website, you must first find the link to the website’s Digital Media Cooperation Agreement (DMCA) or their REPORT ABUSE link. Usually you will find these at the bottom of the website. Sometimes, the links to these on pirate sites are “broken.”
Examples of TAKE DOWN notices are provided further down in this post for you to use. You must pay attention to the details stipulated by the law and the websites, otherwise, the website can state you did not comply with the letter of the law. For example, one of the most flagrant pirate sites has a notice in their report abuse form: “We reserve the right to ignore your complaint, if you provide us with insufficient information.” Despite telling me they removed Kiss of the Silver Wolf from their website, I later discovered it was reposted. Some sites may just restrict you from accessing the site, making it impossible for you to see if they complied with the letter. It’s like playing Whack-A-Mole.
Many of these websites are located outside the US (like Korea or the Netherlands) and are not required to adhere to our copyright laws. One of the things I began doing after my fifth take down notice for Kiss of the Silver Wolf was to copy Google.com on my emails. That seemed to make some of the websites pay a bit more attention. Google has the right to remove abusing websites from their search engine, arguably one of the largest in the world. When Google talks, everyone listens. While not the most riveting of reads, here is a link to the Google Policy and notice requirements. And, by the way, they will make your letters or emails public to the world, and are allowed to by law. Again, follow the instructions to the letter or your complaint will go in the SPAM/TRASH folder.
Some have suggested that pirate sites are cottage industries for single mothers, or other marginalized individuals just trying to make a living. And that those who frequent pirate websites wouldn’t purchase our books, anyway. Others have argued that unknown and mid-list authors can benefit by having their work on pirate websites because they can build a fan base with these underground readers. Carolyn Jewel suggests that authors have better things to do with their time than chase down pirates. While I agree that there comes a point where the returns on the time investment can be diminishing, these pirates are thieves, stealing authors' and textbook publishers investments and selling or giving it away it to their members.
Regardless of your position, it behooves every author to at least be informed about Copyright, digital files and your rights as an author. People are not allowed to go to the grocery store and steal steaks. Consider your work a filet mignon. You've worked hard to produce a book and are entitled to the profits of your efforts.
Example of Take Down Notice:
Dear xxxx.com Administrator,
It has come to my attention that my novel(s), KISS OF THE SILVER WOLF (hereinafter referred to as the “Copyrighted Work(s)”), has been made available for download xxxx.com free file sharing posted by “xxxxxxx.” I located the pdf downloadable file of Copyrighted Work at the following URL(s) on DATE.
As owner of the Copyrighted Work, I request that you promptly remove it from your site. Neither I nor any agent of mine gave permission for the Copyrighted Work to be posted on your site, and I have a good faith belief that there is no legal basis for such use. Pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, I affirm under penalty of perjury that, as owner, I am authorized to request that the Copyrighted Work be taken down. I further affirm that the information in this notification is accurate.
I trust that this matter will be dealt with in a timely manner. Contact me using the information listed below once the Copyrighted Work has been removed from xxxx.com
Letter to Google, Inc.
Attn: Google Legal Support, DMCA Complaints
Mountain View, CA 94043
FAX: (XXX) XXX-XXXX, Attn: Google Legal Support, DMCA Complaints
Re: PER YOUR INSTRUCTIONS SECOND Notice of Unauthorized Use of Copyright Protected KISS OF THE SILVER WOLF
Dear Sir or Madam:
I, Sharon Buchbinder, author and copyright owner of KISS OF THE SILVER WOLF hereby swear under penalty of perjury that I have detected infringements of my Copyright interests on URLs as detailed in the below report. I swear, under penalty of perjury consistent with United States Code Title 17, Section 512, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.
I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials described above as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law. The information provided herein is accurate to the best of our knowledge. Therefore, this facsimile is an official notification to effect removal of the detected infringements listed in the below report. The below documentation specifies the exact location of the infringements.
I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials I will submit via email and allege to be infringing are not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.
I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information I submit in each and every notification I will send to Google will be accurate and that I will be at the time of notification the copyright owner or authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.
I hereby request that you immediately remove or block access to the infringing materials, as specified in the copyright laws, and insure the user refrains from using or sharing with others unauthorized copies of my Copyrighted material, KISS OF THE SILVER WOLF.
Evidentiary Information: Found through GOOGLE ALERTS using the search terms Sharon Buchbinder on DATE:
COPY OF GOOGLE ALERT:
2 new results for Sharon Buchbinder
Kiss Of The Silver Wolf - Sharon Buchbinder.pdf - xxxx.com ...
Kiss Of The Silver Wolf - Sharon Buchbinder - download at xxx. Kiss Of The Silver Wolf - Sharon Buchbinder is hosted at free file sharing service ...
Please respond indicating the actions you have taken to resolve this matter. My contact information is below.
Sharon B. Buchbinder, RN, PhD
Author, KISS OF THE SILVER WOLF
Sharon Buchbinder is Professor and Program Coordinator for the MS in Healthcare Management at Stevenson University in the Graduate and Professional School and former chair of the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA). She is also the author of three books from Jones and Bartlett: Introduction to Health Care Management (with Nancy H. Shanks), Career Opportunities in Health Care Management (with Jon Thompson) and Cases in Health Care Management (with Nancy H. Shanks and Dale Buchbinder.) Portions of this post were previously published at http://sharonbuchbinder.com/blog/2011/01/18/ahoy-there-be-pirates-out-there/ and have been reproduced here with permission.
Here are some additional resources if you are interested in this topic.
Crawford, T. & Murray, K. (2002). Fighting infringement online. In The Writer's Legal Guide: An Authors Guild Desk Reference, 3rd Edition, 77-80. New York: Allworth Press and The Authors Guild.
U.S. Copyright Office. http://www.copyright.gov/
The Federal Bureau of Investigation. http://www.fbi.gov