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…
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.”
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 Bookmypdf.com 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.