Here’s an entry in a useful series from The Passive Voice, in this case that “out-of-print” clause that can prevent authors from ever recovering their rights to their own work. The discussion is complicated, but worth storing somewhere when the day arrives that you have this problem. I was able to get my rights back easily, but then, my books had been out of print for a fairly long time. Search this blog for “reversion of rights,” and you’ll find links to several related discussions of the kind of language any contract should contain.
Category Archives: Copyright for writers
If you haven’t been following this issue of interest to writers, you can catch up with posts on the Internet Archive and its practice of scanning and giving away copyrighted books for free, here and here. Claiming the cover of the pandemic, the IA actually expanded its practices by eliminating limits on the amount of time “borrowers” could keep books they download and other provisions. Last week, major publishers sued the Archive, and this headline on the Internet Archive’s response to the lawsuit popped up in my New York Times feed today.
Note that the decision to end the “Emergency Library” supposedly designed to increase access during lockdowns does not affect the IA’s usual practices of buying a book, then scanning it and distributing it for free.
You will need to decide on your own to what extent you want to defend your own copyrights. I was able to get my republished ebooks taken off the IA, but I found that fighting the myriad other book pirates who either have or claim to have my books available for free was a losing effort. Is Neil Gaiman right that we might as well embrace the unauthorized distribution of free books?
One wrinkle I discovered is the existence of an international protocol that does authorize the distribution of free resources to print-disabled readers by appropriately designated sites. Whether IA is one of these appropriate sites is debatable.
The Victoria Strauss posts I link to provide takedown-notice templates and other ongoing discussions of this problem. I’ve linked as well to Chuck Wendig’s statement on the IA’s practices.
Use these resources in any way that works for you. Let me know what you decide.
With so much going on, don’t lose sight of what’s happening to your books. Not everyone agrees that having free books going out *freely* is bad for writers, but you at least need to be able to choose. Victoria Strauss again reports on the Internet Archive and its copyright infringement via its “Emergency Library”—now being challenged in court by major publishers. Her post on Writer Beware lists a number of past posts and resources. Check it out.
Here’s Chuck Wendig’s take on the decision by Internet Archive (as he points out, already on the hook for stealing and distributing copyrighted work) to provide books for free even if they are, indeed, copyrighted because people need books more than ever now. Wendig’s piece provides not only his take, elaborating on a comment that aired in a show on NPR, but also links to a response from the IA, so you can decide what you think. There is also at least one comment that takes a different stance.
I first became aware of IA’s activities through Victoria Strauss’s indispensable Writer Beware. I tracked down one of my books on IA and sent a takedown notice; supposedly they honored my request. I shared my experience on this blog (link below), then subscribed briefly to a service that promised to find all such theft of my work.
Let me tell you, that was a waste of time. The app found instance after instance. In every single case I tried to track, it was impossible to file a takedown notice. There would be no contact information, no claim of ownership, no one to protest to. Possibly, with stronger computer skills and oodles of time, I could have found the culprits. Some of these sites had takedown-notice forms, but when I sent them, they returned error messages. Long story short, I gave up.
However, one notable outcome was an exchange with a poet who is print-disabled (in his case because of vision issues), who told me about the Marrakesh Treaty, which allows “allows authorized non-profit sites to post—without permission—works for “blind and print-disabled” persons.” This was new information for me, as I suspect it will be for others.
This link will take you to the one of the later posts in my sequence about Internet Archive and book piracy, back in early 2018; there’s a link in the post to the Marrakesh Treaty, and you can read the comments from my reader. All the posts are filed under “Copyright for Writers” and can be accessed by searching for “Internet Archive.”
In any case, I also found myself consoled by an argument from Neil Gaiman that book pirates are really just helping you find readers for your work. If that claim raises eyebrows, well, maybe it should. Or not. The post contains links to several back-and-forths on whether we should be up in arms or opening our arms.
This is a fraught issue in this time of the cholera, as Wendig’s discussion shows. I probably will adhere to my non-action process for now.
If only those freebie readers would leave reviews. . . .
Well, maybe that title is just click-bait. Hope it gets some clicks!
More accurately, my title should read, Why I’ve Quit Worrying about Book Pirates.
Here are a few links you can check out if you’ve heard horror stories (I sort of have some), and/or if you’re interested in this debate:
- Neil Gaiman making claims about why having his books pirated is the best thing since adaptive cruise control (love it in my new car).
- D. G. Kaye on why you SHOULD worry about book piracy, and what you can do about it.
- Robert Kroese at The Creative Penn basically saying there’s nothing you can do about book piracy, so stop wasting your time.
- And Katy Guest at The Guardian on the scope of the problem of book piracy and why you probably can’t do much to protect yourself (horror X5).
My quick take—and my reasons for copping out on the anti-book-piracy crusade: Like some of the responders on Kaye’s post, I tried the beta Blasty service. I found myself on sites where I didn’t have the technical knowledge to identify the site owners (Kaye offers some tools to help with this). No address to which to send my own DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notice. Some offered their own DMCA form—but every one I completed returned an error notice.
And after I’d spent a whole morning uselessly following Blasty’s leads, I got yet another massive list of all the places where my books could be downloaded for free.
Blasty offered paid services that would send the notices for me. There are other such services; comments on the various articles I’ve linked to above provide some sources, if you want to pursue this route.
But if you read the Guest piece, you may, like me, come away with a sense of “what for?”
“The legal and tech aspects of book piracy prevention are complex and fast-evolving, but those in the know describe it very simply: it’s whack-a-mole. One of the most persistent ebook pirate sites has been taken down multiple times, only to pop back up again under a .com, a .net and a .org domain name. At least 120,000 take-down notices have been issued against it already, involving web crawlers, lawyers, its domain host and the Metropolitan police. But that website is back regardless, complete with some intimidating legal language of its own, addressed to anyone who plans to complain.”
I have read, in more than one place, that many of the “free” sites don’t even have copies of the books they’re selling; they just want people’s credit card info. A lot easier way of taking people’s money than actually scanning books and repackaging them, I suspect.
Who knows? If the big publishers are really losing a lot of money to piracy, maybe they will finally figure out a way to protect their property. And maybe some enterprising soul will pirate their methods and share them with us (in a user-friendly form). Maybe even Amazon will catch on and act. In the meantime, I have other wasteful uses of my time that are a lot more fun than hunting down all those links and filling out a new version of that form ten times a day.
I’m thinking, in fact, about making more of my work (I really do have WsIP!) available for free. The truism Kroese and others offer makes sense to me:
The biggest challenge facing a new author isn’t piracy; it’s obscurity.
So from one so-far obscure writer to others, I’ve quit worrying about people stealing my books. When you read one you like, just be sure to tell your friends.
Chris shares some frustrating news, but it’s information we should probably all be aware of–if only so that WE don’t end up buying pirated books. Check out Victoria Strauss’s account of her interaction with Internet Archive. But Derek Haines tells us that Amazon is just as guilty—and indifferent (no surprise).
on Just Publishing Advice:
Counterfeit books are still a big issue on Amazon
I can only write about the ongoing problem with books.
But Amazon has taken so little action, there could also be a problem with other counterfeit goods.
You could think that identifying counterfeit books would be easy. If you publish a book on Amazon, surely Amazon could at least check for plagiarism when pirates copy your text.
The problem is not new. I have been writing about pirated ebooks and books for a very long time.
Third party sellers are making a lot of money from pirated, fake and counterfeit books.
More importantly, so is Amazon.
If you don’t follow @victoriastrauss and Writer Beware, you should. Here’s another example: For all of us who sometimes send our work off to writing contests or writing awards competitions, how to tell if we’re falling for a scam. Strauss identifies the components of “awards profiteering” in which the main purpose of the “award” is to make money for the people offering it. Here’s an example of scary language in the writing contest submission guidelines of one contest—what you must agree to if you enter—analyzed in depth, with responses from the contest sponsor.
Writer Beware, indeed.
Absolutely vital information for readers and authors alike. I found this through Chris the Story Reading Ape, to whom I am ever grateful for all the good posts he shares.
A while back, alerted by various sources, I learned that my books were turning up on “free download” sites.* Some of these sites had their own “takedown” screens, but using those led only to cryptic error messages. Takedown notices I sent independently received no response. In most cases, there were no contact options or claims of ownership. No way to actually assign responsibility for the thefts.
Bottom line: I decided I didn’t have time to hunt down all those thieves.
So, for me, as Suzan Tisdale points out, the burden is on readers and purchasers. Now that you know, beware.**
You might also be doing yourself a favor by avoiding these sites. How often do you click on a link to a dishonest service without just the slightest apprehension that you may be inviting an invasion of your own space?
*I did learn that a legitimate site can, in fact, post your books for free if they do so in formats for readers with access issues. See this thread about the Marrakesh Treaty from last year. These posts will also link you to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice disseminated by Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America and shared by Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware. Strauss lays out her own struggles to have pirated books taken down.
**And if you MUST download a free book from a pirate site, at least leave the author a nice review at Goodreads or Amazon!
“How do I know if I’m on a legitimate book site?”
You’d be surprised the number of times I get asked that question. As in at least five times a day. I get asked lots of questions every day as it pertains to books and audiobooks. So, I decided to put together this handy guide for those individuals who are ‘uncertain’ if they’re on a legitimate book site or not.
Q: How can I tell if I’m on a book pirating site?
A: You might be on an illegal ebook downloading site (AKA book pirating site) if all the books are free. That is your first give away. No legitimate book vendor has 100% free books. The only exception is your local library’s website. Other than that, if every book is FREE then you’re not in the right place. You’re in the wrong place. As in ‘you’re on an…
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Are you considering traditional book publishing? Do you have a contract in hand but haven’t signed yet? Did you work with an editor? Then beware.
Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware has another warning for you—and for those of you considering self-publishing your out-of-print books.
Check out the contract language from these publishers claiming that, once your book manuscript has been edited for publication, you can’t claim that version as yours anymore. Not even if you’ve gotten your rights back. Some of these seem to say you can’t republish.
Thanks for about the thousandth time to Victoria Strauss and Writer Beware for keeping abreast of these publishing-contract traps.