Grand Theft, Dog Book: A Timely Digression

Grand Theft, Dog Book: A Timely Digression

Today I got together with some friends and vanquished a cyber thief. Just one, and not a major player, but it felt good. And there are morals to this story related to a writing challenge, so I’m going to tell you about about it here.

A Bit of Background: 2010

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring…

Am I Boring My DogExcept my dog, Frankie. And my computer mouse.

Being Jewish, I wasn’t out last-minute shopping, watching “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or doing anything else Yule-related. I was online, browsing and going through email. Suddenly my inbox starting pinging with Google alerts for my most recent book,  Am I Boring My Dog: And 99 Things Every Dog Wishes You Knew (Alpha/Penguin).

At first I was elated, if a little confused. Google alerts usually mean reviews or some kind of mention, but Christmas Eve was an odd time for them to appear. And the book wasn’t new. It had been published a little more than year earlier.

Then it became clear:  These were all notices for free e-book/file sharing sites. Someone had made a bootleg pdf of my book, and now illegal downloads were becoming fruitful and multiplying. I was heartsick. My creation, a book I’d devoted my time and energies into, had been plundered.

Timing Is Everything

The alerts poured in throughout the holidays, dozens a day between Christmas and New Year. The thieves had timed things perfectly. Publishing houses and writers organizations were closed for the week. By the time everyone had returned after the holidays, the internet had been flooded with unauthorized copies.

My publisher was sympathetic, telling me that I just needed to send along the links and that the legal department would “follow up with a ‘cease-and-desist’ letter which usually works, unless the website originates from China or other countries where property infringement is not enforced.”

Big “unless.”

The Authors Guild advised, “Check the websites for their take down information and email them yourself requesting that they remove your Work.  Most of the peer to peer sites/file sharing sites have a DMCA take down section whereby authors like yourself can demand they remove your copyright protected work.”

I wasn’t sure exactly what a DMCA take down section was, but I vowed to find out.

I joined an on-line forum about cyber theft. Members kept referring to bytes, torrents and streams — which sounds like fishing in the rapids, only less fun — and other technical stuff I couldn’t get my head around, especially since I was upset.

I did learn one thing that was easy to understand. Cyber theft is a common phenomenon. Apparently romance novels are particularly popular with book thieves.  My book was most likely targeted because it was a mid-list title on a popular topic, dogs.  It had gotten got good reviews and was therefore desirable, but it didn’t have the sales figures that would unleash the full wrath of a publisher’s legal department. J.K. Rowling I’m not.

The quest to get the sites taken down began to sap my time and energy. I wanted someone else to deal with it. I had other work to do. After a while, just as the thieves banked on, I got discouraged and gave up. The Google alerts eventually petered out, only appearing sporadically. When they turned up, I ignored them.

Why Bring This Up Now?

This morning I got the following notification:

Free ebook Am I Boring My Dog pdf download – Free download pdf …ATTENTION ≈. Any problem with download? Broken download link? Or you did not find your desire books? Let us know.

It was odd for a site to ask for feedback. I’d never encountered that before. And the question “Any problem with download?” set me off.

So I did two things that I thought would be useless but cathartic.

I went to the site and commented:

Here’s a problem with the download: YOU STOLE MY BOOK. It is copyrighted in my name. TAKE IT DOWN or you will hear from my publisher’s lawyers.

My comment was being moderated, the message read.

Then I took my case to Facebook, where I knew I would get a friendly hearing. I outlined the situation and finished,”I can’t expend the energy to cope with this situation — I tried in the past and I’ve moved on.” I also expressed doubt that the moderated comment would ever see the light of day, but said that venting helped.

Social Media Really Is Social

I expected sympathy. I did not expect the immediate response I got.  Friends — many of them writers themselves — went over to the pirate’s Facebook page and Twitter account as well as to the site itself.

One friend followed the link to my book — which I never do, for various rational and irrational reasons, including fear of a virus or just an influx of evil into my computer — and told me it led to a Dropbox account. She sent me a link to another Dropbox page where, as the copyright holder, I could file a complaint and have the link taken down.

And, as I had done, they commented on the pirate site itself,  calling the host bad names, telling him that intellectual property theft was wrong, that it impacted hardworking writers. How do I know? The comments began showing up, including one from the site’s host:

Ok, we remove that link. You should know that is a container of ebooks on the Internet and does not upload or store any files on its server. I must say, You should talk with DROPBOX.COM. I will message you the download link.

I thought that was pretty funny. It was like a jewelry thief blaming the bank’s safety deposit box for holding stolen property. But never mind. I went back to the Dropbox link. Sure enough, my book was no longer there.

One small step against cyber theft.

The Promised Relevant Morals to This Story

I learned several things.

  • It felt good to take action. I’d been passive about my work being stolen for too long.
  • You can’t always do everything on your own. If it hadn’t been for my Facebook community — including many people I’ve never met — I wouldn’t have followed up my venting comment on the pirate’s site. It was wonderful having the support, the righteous indignation on my behalf that I so rarely mustered anymore because….
  • I’d lost sight of the value of my work.

I’m not saying I could or should have done things differently two years ago. I did the best I was capable of doing under the circumstances. But what happened brought home the fact that writing challenges like this one are important, not only for creating the impetus to produce words but for the supportive community they provide. Above all, they’re important for the reminder that those words we’re being spurred to produce are valuable. And no one — not even cyber thieves — can take that away.

This is Day 13 of the Family History Writing Challenge. I will return to the usually scheduled genealogy programming tomorrow.

21 Responses to Grand Theft, Dog Book: A Timely Digression

  1. I never went back to see if my comment ever appeared, but it was pretty snotty … and I’m sorry to say … it felt good.
    Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart recently posted..Tightrope of Gratitude and Grief, Taking Care of Sick DogsMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      There’s no denying the satisfaction to be gotten from fighting back. Your comment did appear, and snottiness was very appropriate.

  2. Pup Fan says:

    Score one for the good guys! From now on, just tell us on Facebook when you get these alerts and we’ll all head over and bombard them. 🙂
    Pup Fan recently posted..His spring is broken…My Profile

  3. Leo says:

    This is a great social media story and how it does gain more and more power used for something good. But most glad I am for you to have picked the fight and won! Makes me feel good too. 🙂

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Much appreciated, Leo. You certainly know the power of social media for good with your puppy mill story. I remember your support when this incident first happened, only I didn’t get any satisfaction then like I did now.

  4. Bravo! You are quite right that those cyber-thieves depend on us to wear out before they do. Once I contacted a site owner to tell him to stop scraping my blog posts and he say, “Which site? I have dozens.” So if I got one down, it would pop up on another. Very discouraging.
    And many of them are in countries that do not recognize U.S. laws. Fortunately they recognize money, and the all-powerful Google will strike back if the site runs Google ads.
    Vera Marie Badertscher recently posted..Forbidden Romance for Medieval QueenMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      I’m beginning to think — hope — the Wild West of the internet is getting a little less unruly as sites seek legitimacy with business models like Google ads, as you say. But we are responsible to act too.

  5. Jenni says:

    I’m so glad it worked out and you struck back!
    You know, I’m all for sharing books. But what these people do is a step or three beyond that. This isn’t loaning a friend a copy of yours it’s mass copyright infringement and ought to be treated as such.
    Yay for you!

  6. LeslieAnn says:

    I will always try to scold a thief on your behalf. Social media can be socially useful, as i discovered during the IndieGoGo campaign. The majority of donations came in response to email newsletters, but the largest funders arrived through facebook alerts! So there you are, fb is for more than complaining or cute cats and dogs, its for finding out who cares about you and your creative work as well!

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Welcome, Leslie — nice to see you here. And maybe we can start a “scold a thief” campaign for creative people — love the name!

  7. Kristine says:

    Good for you! I am so glad at least one thief has been prevented from pirating your work. I am sure so many writers like yourself have been victims of this and feel at a loss at to how to fight back. Without a lawyer or scads of dollars to pay for one to do it for you, so many people no doubt just give up. But it doesn’t matter if you are a big name or not. It’s pretty odious people are taken advantage of in this fashion.
    Kristine recently posted..As My Broken Weave Poles Gently WeepMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thanks, Kristine. It did take quite a push to do more than write a comment because I was so discouraged. Yes, I was amazed at how common this was. I’d had no clue!

  8. So glad to hear that there was a positive ending! I have donated my book to rescue groups and given them permission to share it. What they did not realize was that once they uploaded it onto their website even though they had only shared the link with their volunteers, it was showing up in search engines. Someone I didn’t even know clued me into it. The hosts took it down immediately when asked.

    I have contacted another author to inform her that a link to a free download of her book was circulating. The people sharing the link suspected it wasn’t legit to do, but nonetheless shared it.

    As if we didn’t have enough to do!

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Sadly, there are still dozens of sites where my book is available for download, but maybe if I focus on one at at time….

      I think it really helps to put a face — or at least an email address — on these books. People can’t hide behind the idea of it as an authorless artifact.

      Thanks for coming by.

  9. YAY!! I’m so pleased at your success. I gave up a while ago chasing the bastards who keep posting my photos. Maybe I will go after them now…
    Diane J. Schmidt recently posted..What is the point of something illogical? (Photos)My Profile

  10. Lynn Palermo says:

    Bravo! Now get back to writing your family history story 😉
    Lynn Palermo recently posted..Writing and Publishing Family History with Author Denise LevenickMy Profile

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