I've redacted the person's username, under "about the author", because as far as I'm concerned, this isn't about demonizing an individual. It's about a larger issue.

In the open seas of Digital Media and the ability to self-publish, there are dangers–shoals, shallows, and hazards around the low barrier to entry. And then, there are pirates.

What would/do you do when you learn your work has been pirated?

(And yes, I’m actually asking and want to know what you think. This article isn’t a “how to deal with pirates” piece. I don’t know how. I want to hear your thoughts.)

The Background

I suspect most writers/creators out there have similar stories of hard work, scarce time, and writing/editing squeezed in whenever possible, over the long haul–4 years, in my case. This is mine:

I had the idea for Konstantin’s Gifts years ago. It arose from the notion of a man of science (based on the historical figure of Prokudin-Gorskii), traveling in a land of superstition, taking photographs that must have seemed magical in the more rural areas. As part of his entourage, this man travelled with creatures of folklore: a werewolf named Vlad, a vampire named Peter (this was my own, private joke: a werewolf named Peter would conflate the Russian “Peter and the Wolf” into one person, which I thought was funny, but maybe too obvious, so I switched it–the vampire name, Vlad, went to the wolf and Peter became the vampire), and a rusalka (a siren figure from Slavic mythology). The man of science believed that these “conditions” were all derived from viruses–diseases that could be cured. And that was the kernel of an idea that became Konstantin’s Gifts.

In part out of interest, and in part in order to research this novel, I re-enrolled in University and studied Russian History. I planned. And then I started writing. Over the past several years of law school, amid crazy schedules and commitments, I spent any little pocket of time I could find, working and revising this book. And finally, I did a “soft launch” (as I saw it called somewhere) on January 12th, on Amazon.*

Pirates!

January 20-21st, I tried a free promotion and had a few downloads as a result (reports forthcoming). On January 24th, the book apparently was uploaded by someone onto an “upload your original content onto this site” place–though unlike Wattpad, where much of the stuff seems to actually be original content, this site pretty much looks to be a piracy clearinghouse. Certainly the person who uploaded my book and has ~300+ other works up there, makes no pretence of uploading her own stuff that I can tell. All the books under her account (at least at a cursory glance) were by other people.

Including mine. With the cover art that I commissioned from the artist, and paid to license/use–with money I don’t really have (law school debt, babay! And i just got another $3000 invoice today for the bar exams I’ll be writing this summer, cause they like to gouge us on this stuff).

Now, to put this into further context, while I’ve had a few sales (which is just *so* exciting! I mean seriously!!), I haven’t yet made back even the cost of the cover art license, leave alone any of my other expenses on this book (not to mention the investment of years of time and effort). And of course, as a self-publisher, that’s all out of pocket.

My husband was totally outraged when I told him. I mean, seriously furious. He’s seen how hard I’ve worked to get this book finished and to publish it and he was just enraged that someone would do this. As for me–I’m more… ambivalent.

I also feel a bit blindsided. I naively thought people only bothered to pirate famous authors–and I’m not self-deluded enough to imagine that I’m there yet. So–I guess I was wrong. Anyone can be pirated, even if we’re indie authors, full-time students, deep in debt, who’ve paid for it all out of pocket, and most people don’t know us from Adam.

I’ll also say that it rankles to see her username under “about the author” on the account listing (since it’s supposedly an “upload your own stuff” site, any uploads are attributed to the user). I worked so hard on this book, and to see it as being “by” someone else, even just as a non-customizable part of the account setup, really felt like a blow to me. But clearly, this isn’t about trying to pass the book off as her own. She has my cover up there, and that’s got me listed as the author. She also has the author attribution in the description along with the cut and pasted back cover copy for the book from the Amazon site.

So now, I’m faced with the question: what to do?

Now, I think this is an important thing to clarify: as mentioned above, I really don’t want to demonize this person (which is why I haven’t linked to her account). On the one hand, it *is* piracy, but on the other, this is a more complex question than it used to be. It’s not about her as an individual, ultimately. It’s about the larger issue.

See, pirates these days are readers (or music lovers, film lovers, etc.). So, just as I’m not some wealthy and faceless corporation, the typical pirate is not (necessarily) some nasty, evil profiteer and thief. Sure, they obviously get a thrill out of putting the books out there for free and stickin’ it to the man (even if the man in this case happens to actually be me and other writers like me), but this is a free site–so no profits. Plus, it seems pretty clear that many pirates–including this woman–love books.

That’s the new face of piracy, these days: book lovers who either thoughtlessly or intentionally want to spread the joy by distributing the object of their love, despite a legal regime that says they can’t. Some presumably love the reputation they get, either as discerning readers, or just as someone who has lots of awesome free books for their followers, who no doubt are very appreciative.

So basically, she’s reaching my *audience* with her pirated copy of my book. She’s maybe reached some people who’d never have found out that I even existed. Maybe also some people who can’t afford to buy the book. Plus, of course, people who *wouldn’t* buy the book because they only ever download free stuff.

But yes–she has also probably reached a few people who would pay for it, if it weren’t free and so dang easy to get at. And it is easy. After all this hard work, it does kind of break my heart to see how high up on the google search this free copy of my book happens to be.

My take on the two sides of the issue:

Why I should just let it go and not report her:

  • Piracy is here to stay–it’s too easy to digitally copy books and make them available, no matter the DRM (and I don’t use DRM). We need a better system that encourages legitimate use and makes it easier for people to download legitimately and compensate creators. Otherwise, it’s like a multi-headed hydra–chop off one head, and several more grow in its place.
  • Given that piracy is going to happen sooner or later, maybe it’s better to appeal to people’s conscience: insert a note (which I forgot to do when I uploaded to Amazon) at the beginning or end of the book, asking readers to please buy a copy if they liked it and pointing out the amount of work I put in, and that the publication etc. was all out of pocket for me.
  • Do I really want to spend time and energy hunting down pirates when both t&e are scarce commodities in my life? I’d probably be far happier using them in the service of working on other books instead. I love writing. I don’t particularly enjoy hunting pirates, telling them to take stuff down and feeling embittered, pissed off and Grinch-y. So I know the answer to which of those two courses of action would make me happier.
  • I may find a few new readerspeople who might be willing to show their support, if not with this book, then with the next book I write.

Why I should report it:

  • I put a lot of work–and creativity–into this book. Blood, sweat, tears–the whole nine yards. It’s hard not to feel hurt, personally, by such an act–even though I know it’s not even remotely personal.
  • I’d really like to make back the cost of my monetary investment at least–and preferably more than that. A bit of income would really really be welcome right now. Plus, it would be a nice recognition of all the work and thought and craft I’ve put into the book over the years. This is undercutting that. Potentially big time.
  • If I want to give it away for free, shouldn’t the where’s and when’s of it be my choice?
  • Legally, I have copyright in the book. The work is my property–and this distribution of it is infringing on my rights (in violation of the Bern Convention, an international treaty on copyright. The infringer is located in a signatory country).
  • As mentioned above, it rankles to see this other person, who is infringing on my copyright, listed as the creator–anywhere (even if that’s not something she did intentionally).

So. What would you do? Lodge a complaint and issue a takedown, or just let it go? And why?

*I’ve blogged elsewhere about my ambivalence about KDP direct. But, after I uploaded KG to Amazon, my anal self decided I wanted to do one more pass before releasing it on Smashwords and in print. I also realised that with my current workload this would not happen until April. I was curious to experiment with how KDP affected a Fantasy-genre work, in comparison to a Romance work. So, I figured, I’ll enroll KG for one term and experiment with my two different genres, then blog about the results. Experiments still underway, but I will be reporting my results in April (or that’s the plan, at least!).

UPDATE as of Feb. 3, 2012: I posted a note on the wall of her account, explaining my situation (student, debt, self-publishing, NOT rich, etc.), and asking her to please take down the book. By evening of the same day that I posted the note, she took down the file.

Thanks everyone for your support and your comments! I’d still be curious to know what future readers/writers who are stopping by think of the piracy issue and how to deal with it.

Also: if you’re someone who uploads copyrighted content and redistributes it for free, I’d really & genuinely be interested in hearing what your justifications are for it. To clarify: I think I get why people DOWNLOAD the work. But what drives you to break the copyright and UPLOAD it, esp. if the upload is just on a free, filesharing site?

I invite you to comment, or to get in touch with me about doing an interview or a guest blog. I would be willing to publish your comments under a pseudonym, if that is your preference. If you’re interested, feel free to drop me a line, using the email address listed under my contact info.

Basically, I’d be interested in:
1) why you do it, even though you presumably know it’s illegal. What makes it worthwhile to break the law for this, esp. given that you’re distributing, not downloading, so presumably it’s not just simply “free stuff”?

2) whether, beyond what the law says, you think creators, as a result of the hard work, creativity, and craft that they have put into their works, have some “moral right” to be able to decide how their work is to be distributed (i.e. sale, give it away, license it to someone else to sell or not). If you don’t think this gives a creator a certain set of “it’s just the right thing to do” moral rights (so not the legal term of art) over their work, what is your rationale in saying the hard work/creativity etc. doesn’t matter? If you do think this gives the creator that moral right how do you reconcile that with your breaking copyright and enabling the redistribution of their work?

3) are there other ways that you justify it? What makes it okay for you to do this? Or, do you think it’s not okay, but do it anyway–in which case, what does motivate you (acquisition of friends and admirers; cachet, etc.)?

I’m trying to understand what it is that motivates people who upload works.

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