e_moon60 (e_moon60) wrote,

Copyright: Theft for Profit

Some people who make illicit copies of work do it for their own convenience or to share with a few friends.  Others intend to profit from their possession and distribution of illegal copies.   Some hope to cut into the author's income stream (they will sell digital files of a writer's work with the clear intent of competing with legitimate outlets that return royalty income to the writer.)   Others don't care about that: they use the author's work as "content" to draw visitors to their website, where ad placement returns income to them for every visit to the site. 

This past year, an ad on e-Bay offered a DVD of "thousands" of authors' works, which the person selling the DVD claimed were out of print and out of copyright.  (Note: out of print does NOT mean out of copyright.  Many books go "out of print" when sold out between printings.  If you can't find a book in your bookstore, it doesn't mean it's really out of copyright.)   The seller lied:  many books currently in print and easily available were on that list (including some of mine.)    The seller had scanned the books and put them on a DVD...but the seller had not corrected the (always flawed) output of the scans, so the books were not only illegally copied and distributed, but full of typical "OCR" errors.    (What errors do scanners and OCR software make?  Well...the first book of mine that I saw come out of an OCR process had the following obvious error:  "soldiers" was misread by the scanner software as "sold hers."   Scanner software is very bad at handling tall letters next to the lower-case "i"...another example in the second part below.)  E-bay and other similar websites does not require those selling such items to prove that they have the correct licenses to avoid infringing copyright; sellers must *say* that they have the right to sell what they're selling, but there's no real check on them. 

Needless to say, when someone buys such a DVD, no money flows to the writers of the works on that DVD.  It can seem like a good deal to the reader, who gets a lot of books for very little money (and, as someone who for years couldn't afford to buy many books, I can sympathize) but if no money ever flows to writers...they can't keep writing (certainly not at the same rate.)   Also, the people who sell such DVDs have demonstrated no desire to do the work of correcting the OCR software-induced errors.  (If they really "loved" the works as some of them say, they'd spend the necessary hours to do that.  But they don't.)   Worse, a few of the people who scan and resell files introduce their own material--often porn--into the text.  Thus the original writer has to deal with the reactions of those who think he/she wrote those introduced portions. 

But the use of writers' work as "content" to attract visitors to a site, in order to generate ad income, is just as bad a problem.   Just this week, I discovered that three of my books (with obvious OCR errors) were presented in full text on a website....the site had hundreds (at least--no full count was available) of English-language genre books (SF, fantasy, mystery, adventure)  in full, in plain text.    Authors' names were not given in most cases, nor was any copyright notice.  Authors' initials were used (in most cases) as an alphabetical guide to their work.   The companies placing the ads on such sites pay the site owner per visit and per click on the ads...but they're using my work (and the work of, among others, Anne McCaffrey, Alistair MacLean, Elizabeth Peters, J.K. Rowling)  to draw visitors to the site.    In two of my books on that site, obvious errors from careless scanning and no correction were visible in the first lines:  the first word of one (originally part of a song on the first page) changed from "Liart's" to "Hart's."   Since there is no "Hart" in the book, it makes nonsense of something that's an important theme indicator.   In another, the frontispiece page, with a teaser paragraph chosen by the publisher and headed with the publisher's ad-line, is presented as the first paragraph of the text...making nonsense, again, of the story, and making me look stupid and incompetent.  (And I can be stupid and incompetent enough on my own, thank you!)

The site itself offered no way to contact the site owner.  A "whois"search revealed that the site is in Hong Kong; China is not a signatory to international copyright treaties.   My only hope was to approach GoogleAds, which handles the ads on that site.  Google is somewhat responsive to claims of copyright infringement, but filling out their required forms took up over 3 hours of my time (since it meant copying down the URL of every individual page on which my work appeared--that was 101 separate pages of the full-text, plus several other index pages.)   Though my initial complaint was by email, Google will accept the completed form only by snail-mail or fax (both of which cost me money and time, more than sending another email.)  And they only say they'll request a takedown from the site, which (not being in the US) may not respond.   They do not  say that they will give writers a cut of the ad income they now send to the site owner (they should, but they don't.)  They do not say they will refuse to place ads on such sites or take any action themselves against such site owners. 

The law is far behind reality on these things.   Writers are expected to survey the internet to find infringements, and then spend hours of their time (which should be spent on writing) to fill out the various forms (not identical) demanded by the various sites before they will even consider removing material they should  never have posted. 

In my view, site owners should be required to have on file permission for any material they post (contracts with each writer, for instance) and failure to have such permission should result in stiff penalties...not only for them, but for ad agencies which place ads on those sites without ensuring that such permissions are in place.  (Fines for ad agencies who place ads is important as it's the only way to influence sites in foreign countries who are not legally bound to pay attention to copyright law.)  As it is now, permission is "assumed"  and it is much harder to get something taken down, than put up.  Infringements are common, as a result, and usually involve multiple works by multiple authors (as this retults in more hits in a search, and thus more ad income.)  Writers are expected to hunt for, and complain about, infringements individually...the cumulative cost in hours lost to their work, the frustration, the monetary cost (of those long-distance phone calls to fax something or postage to snail-mail it) is all laid on writers, not on the guilty parties. 

Tags: copyright infringement, the writing life

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