It strikes me that I haven't crapped tediously on about copyright theft for a while, which must be a disappointment to all of you. Luckily a trigger has dropped into my lap in the shape of a friend letting me know that yet another site had all my books up on it.
The site was ebookr.com. Go check it out. It's a nice-looking, cheery, friendly little website. Their tagline declares "We love ebooks". Maybe they do. They also evidently love charging people to download, but don't so much love bothering about the fact they're trading in things that don't belong to them.
What happens when you discover some new bunch of pirate gobknobs has stolen your booty? There's no email address on the site (which might seem odd, surely, in such a fresh-faced and approachable place), but there is a form. So I used it, and asked them to take my work down. Five days later I hadn't heard back. Surprise surprise. I knew what would happen if they did eventually reply, because in this game of whack-a-mole it's the same story every time. They'll refer you to their DMCA page. In case you're wondering, here are the kind of hoops you have to jump through:
What information do we need in a DMCA Notice? A properly formatted DMCA Notice will adhere to the guidelines and principals established by the DMCA itself. The necessary elements of a properly formed DMCA Notice are: 1. Clear identification of the person or entity submitting the DMCA Notice. 2. Clearly stated relationship to the copyright holder (self or authorized agent). 3. A specific listing of all content the DMCA Notice is requesting eBookr take down. Please keep in mind some content is posted multiple times and each instance will need to be specifically referenced. 4. Clear statement, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that you are copyright holder, or authorized to act on behalf of the copyright holder. 5. A "physical or electronic signature" of an authorized person to act on behalf of the owner. This is fulfilled by a name and a physical address that the authorized individual can be contacted should someone wish to contest your notification. 6. While not legally required by the DMCA, including "copyright violation" in the subject line of your email will flag your DMCA Notice and bypass spam categorization. 7. Submit the Notice to dmca (at) ebookr.com.
Yep. Not only do you have to prove you're the author, but you're required to reference every occasion on which some 'sharing' tossfrot has uploaded your book - despite the fact that someone must have written the bloody things, so it's pretty obvious that someone's copyright has been infringed, no? Notice the brazen assumption of the moral high ground, too - meanwhile huffily warning you not to commit the crime of perjury. Nice.
In the end I notified the publisher of the novels in question, and they set their legal department on them. My books were taken down. But you don't have to look hard to find them on other sites...
Partially in response to my rather inflamatory post on SOPA, the very excellent Megan Lindholm proposed that instead of excessive measures like the bill, people should hound sites like these in a kind of grass roots protest, shaming them into behaving differently. It's a lovely idea, but my suspicion is it simply wouldn't happen. And note again how there's no email address on the ebookr site: this is a deliberate policy, because it makes it just hard enough that most people won't bother (and it also makes the site impossible to mailbomb).
So. What do you think? What can or should be done about this? Would you be willing to try to take a site like this down, or at least shake it gently by the throat until it stopped this kind of behaviour? Do you actually care? I wouldn't blame you if you don't, to be honest — it's not your stuff. And that's the reason sites like this do, and will always, exist... and they'll get smarter, too, and use chirpy graphic design to portray themselves as hip and friendly and got-t0-be-legit, to the point where some people may not even realise they're trading in stolen goods. With a place called 'The Pirate Bay', it's pretty obvious. With these guys — and others, like Scribd — it's down to you to remember that we're still labouring under a capitalist model where people kinda want to get paid for what they own.
In the end...
And this is the reason I keep banging on about this stuff. It's not just about grouchy authors trying to make sure they get the pennies that are owed. It's about the fact that we're still taking early steps into a truly new type of environment, and need to keep an eye on the changes we're blithely accepting in our world. Are we okay with Google and Facebook having total and lasting access to everything we say and do and click? Are we comfortable with the way in which the Internet often makes it so easy to forget that we're dealing with real — albeit distant — others, making people so rude or assumptive the whole damned time? With a little search savvy I can find out what you paid for your house, who your friends are, where your kids go to school, where your sister likes to hang out (she Foursquared and Instagrammed twice from 57 Bottles on Main twice this week, and the second time she was kind of drunk, I should know, I made sure to sit near to her) — are you fine with that? You are? That's fine. Just checking. I'm not saying the Internet is evil. I'm just saying let's keep our eyes open and not simply say 'yes' to everything just because it's convenient; because it's nicely-designed; because it's (apparently) free.
This latest episode has at least helped me to ratify a personal position on copyright theft, which is to try to stop caring about it. If you want, you can do a search and find my books on similar "social sharing" sites, or stealeasys (not a real word, I've just made it up) like FileSonic, and have the lot for free. It's up to you, in the end. It's always up to all of us. I choose to believe the majority out there are honest - because I know that's true. So, you know, I'm, like, totally chilled about it.
Though if you feel like retweeting to the effect that ebookr.com are assholes... then, well, I'm not going to stop you.
And in the meantime, here's a probably naive thought toward another grass roots accommodation to our new world. It's up to you whether you download my books for free (or someone else's music, or TV show, or software). Your call. But if you do, maybe you could at least give a couple of bucks to a charity for something you do care about, or overtip your next underpaid waitress, or drop a coin in the broken-down busker's hat even if he's really not any good. Though I guess if FREE is so important to you, you're going to be tight-fisted with cash across the board. So maybe let someone else take the last seat on the bus instead, or give an extra stroke to the next cat you encounter...
... but do something, yes? If you can't tell the difference between right and wrong, I can't help you with that. But it'd be nice if you gave something back.