Piracy

The One Where An Author Steals Text From My Book To Sell Pirated Software

13 January 2016

From David Gaughran:

In today’s episode we are going to out a two-bit huckster who tried to put one over on yours truly, take a quick detour through the verdant fields of copyright law (and the slightly plainer meadows of moral rights), and then end with an example of how to handle a scammer.

Sound fun? Strap yourselves in!

A helpful reader – who will remain nameless for reasons that will become obvious – emailed me yesterday morning. I was just about to start work but the subject line caught my attention: Did You Give Permission For This?

Uh oh. I started reading the message he had forwarded.

It had originated from a domain called IndieWriterSupport.com (you can cut-and-paste that address or Google it, but I’m not linking directly and giving them an SEO boost). And it appeared to be a straight cog from my book Let’s Get Visible.

What was going on here? I kept reading.

At the end of this considerable (2,411 word!) chunk from Let’s Get Visible some text had been added promoting a product called KDSPY – which is the new name for what was previously known as Kindle Spy.

There was then a bit.ly link to purchase KDSPY, which suspiciously went direct to a PayPal purchase page rather than the site of KDSPY, followed by another call-to-action asking people to visit IndieWriterSupport.com – the same domain as the one which had sent the email.

To be clear: I have never used Kindle Spy, let alone endorsed it, and I certainly didn’t write about it in Let’s Get Visible – I think the product wasn’t even launched until a year after I published that book – and I hadn’t written about it anywhere else for that matter. I’d also never heard of the website sending the email, nor given them permission to use my work.

. . . .

What I do have is a layman’s familiarity with legal concepts pertaining to my profession and knew straight away that this guy was breaching my copyright, and probably my moral rights as an author too. The first should be obvious, although there is an interesting wrinkle worth pointing out in case you find yourself in a similar situation.

When I released Let’s Get Visible, I did a few guest posts to promote the launch. One of those was on the blog of ALLi – the Alliance of Independent Authors. The post was essentially an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Let’s Get Visible, the one dealing with Amazon’s category system and explaining how to optimize your category metadata.

ALLi had permission to run that excerpt, but that doesn’t stop that work (and those words in particular) being protected under copyright, and doesn’t give carte blanche for anyone else to use it either.

And, while the definition of “Fair Use” is regularly debated, and defined differently by different jurisdictions and, it seems, different judges, it’s quite clear that this doesn’t fall under any definition or interpretation of Fair Use, especially given that they excerpted the entire chapter and were using it for clear commercial purposes.

. . . .

This “publisher” appears to have been operating since 2013. I found a complaints online dating from then, slamming it for being a crappy vanity press which charges reading fees.

. . . .

The Kindle Spy team were great. I emailed them via their contact page and got a response right away. They were extremely helpful and in a position to confirm two surprising things. First, this guy wasn’t a Kindle Spy affiliate. Second, they reckoned this was the same guy they were already chasing – someone had pirated their software and was selling unauthorized copies of same.

. . . .

[M]y personal favorite where he actually trots out the E word:

Request granted!

Link to the rest at David Gaughran

David also points out a discussion of this organization on Absolute Write.

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books. If you appreciate his work in pointing out scams targeting authors, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

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Scammers Are Using Createspace to Spam Amazon With Pirated Textbooks

12 September 2015

From The Digital Reader:

A reader has tipped me to the news that Amazon’s own website is a great source of pirated books.

Scot Schad discovered that pirates had been ripping off freely available and open source digital textbooks, and then using Amazon’s POD service to sell print versions on Amazon.

Here’s how it works.

The scammers identify a popular textbook, copy the name, and then start selling the paper copy of a pirated book under that name.

They’re hoping to sell the pirated book to an unwary buyer who might mistake the knockoff for the legit textbook, and it must be working because they keep doing it.

. . . .

Three pirated textbooks might not sound like much, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Schad identified a half-dozen other pirated POD textbooks on Amazon, and I found at least dozen other titles sold by the same “authors” of the pirated books.

For example, there’s a copy of Linear Algebra and Its Applications by the aforementioned Ben Ward. This book was pirated from a Linear Algebra textbook published by Bookboon.

I also found dozens of books from those “authors” which were no longer available but also showed every sign of having been pulled because they were pirated.

. . . .

It is difficult to say how long this operation has been going on (months? years?), but I would say that we are looking at industrial scale pirates second only to the ones that used to infest Google Play Books (it looks like Google has fixed the problem).

The only real difference is that these scammers are targeting POD textbooks, rather than ebooks, and that the POD scammers are going after even the most arcane title.

. . . .

This isn’t just a problem with pirated books on Amazon. What you see here are signs of a fundamental problem with one of Amazon’s platforms.

All of the textbooks mentioned above, as well as all the other textbooks published by these scammers, were distributed through Createspace.

And that is a huge problem for everyone because Createspace doesn’t just distribute to Amazon’s website.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader and thanks to Stephen for the tip.

Rousting the Book Pirates From Google

30 August 2015

From The New York Times:

The Haggler will now don his professorial tweeds because he starts this episode in teacher mode. All of the action below revolves around the Google Play store.

. . . .

In Forbes recently, Erik Kain called Google Play “an ugly, poorly organized store filled with myriad knockoffs, dubious ‘games’ and other apps.” That sounds a bit harsh to the Haggler, a Google Play regular who has had mostly positive experiences.

That said, the site has problems.

Q. Book piracy has taken a new form. Someone scanned my entire e-book, “Graphic Design Solutions,” created a new cover and is selling it on Google Play. It is the same e-book, verbatim, and inside are the same images, same layout and the same interviews. The only difference is the name of the author. A person named Jazmin Bonilla gets the credit.

My royalties have plummeted, which affects my ability to donate to scholarships for my university students. Both my publisher and I have notified Google, but no action has been taken. Maybe the company will listen to you.

ROBIN LANDA, NEW YORK

. . . .

[The Haggler’s] first thought was that if e-book piracy were a serious issue on Google Play, there would be other examples. There are many. A quick search led the Haggler to a site called The Digital Reader. There, the writer Nate Hoffelder detailed “rampant” e-book piracy, as he put it in a May post, in Google Play. He found that one shop was selling more than 100 pirated versions of best sellers by authors like Malcolm Gladwell, Sidney Sheldon and Ellery Queen.

They cost $2.11 each. But even these oddly priced bargains were kind of a rip-off. Mr. Hoffelder downloaded a few and found they “were clearly inferior copies with missing formatting, generic or outdated covers, and other problems,” he wrote.

. . . .

Mr. Hoffelder said that Google was aware of the problem but responded slowly to complaints from authors and publishers and sometimes did not respond at all. As bad, when the company acted, he stated, it would often remove pirated e-books but allow e-book pirates to remain on the site.

. . . .

So the Haggler contacted Google. He included a link to both the authentic “Graphic Design Solutions” in Google Play as well as the fake. A guy named Matt McLernon immediately got in touch. Like many members of Google’s public relations staff, Mr. McLernon was exceptionally pleasant — and hamstrung. Google is forever worried that the details of its inner workings will be used to game its algorithms and filters and secret sauces by an assortment of miscreants. So its P.R. team is filled with really bright, really friendly people who dearly wish they could be more helpful.

That said, we have enough light to see what happened. About 18 months ago, Google Play started selling self-published e-books. Any author could post and sell his or her work on the site. But in February — and why this started then is a mystery that Mr. McLernon did not explain — a wave of piracy was spotted by book publishers.

“It was mostly e-books in the science fiction genre,” said Chantal Restivo-Alessi, chief digital officer at HarperCollins. “So we had a number of calls with Google.”

It emerged that the pirated books were being uploaded by people using Google Play through its self-publishing channel. People were opening accounts, ostensibly to publish their own work, and then selling digital copies of popular, and not so popular, e-books that they had not written.

“I don’t know if it is my immense power,” Ms. Restivo-Alessi said, “or if they were having similar conversations with other publishers at the time, but they listened to me, and they shut down the point of entry for these pirates.”

Mr. McLernon confirmed this. In May, Google stopped enrolling any new self-publishing authors. At the same time, a team of employees went through all of the complaints filed by publishers. Pirate accounts were deleted. (The company eventually plans to restart the program.)

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Stephen for the tip.

E-book pirate party ends in UK as Australia mulls own site-blocking legislation

4 June 2015

From The Sydney Morning Herald:

Australia’s Copyright Agency has welcomed a decision by the British High Court requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to websites hosting millions of pirated e-book titles.

The decision comes as a Senate Committee is due to submit its final report next week on site-blocking legislation in Australia, which would allow copyright holders to force Australian ISPs via the courts to block copyright infringing websites such as these.

The decision means Britain’s  five major ISPs – BT, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk and EE – will be asked to block seven offshore-hosted websites within 10 working days.

The sites – AvaxHome, Bookfi, Bookre, Ebookee, Freebookspot, Freshwap and LibGen – are currently accessible in Australia and host download links to full copies of e-books, including from best-selling Australian authors such as Tim Winton and Fiona McIntosh.

If passed, the federal government’s Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015, currently before the House of Representatives, would allow Australian publishers to apply through the courts to block “online locations” which facilitate piracy of content such as films, TV series, e-books and news articles.

. . . .

Other parties, such as consumer rights group CHOICE, have called site-blocking “demonstrably ineffective”, arguing that determined pirates can circumvent blocked sites with the aid of tools such as virtual private networks (VPNs). They also argue the costs of administering site-blocking will ultimately be passed on to consumers.

. . . .

The British High Court case marks the first time e-book publishers have sought an order forcing ISPs to block access to infringing sites.

The British Publishers Association said about 80 per cent of the 10 million or so titles hosted on the websites named in the case – and in some cases as much as 90 per cent – were found to be infringing copyright.

Publishers had already issued 1 million take-down notices relating to infringing material on the sites, the association said.

Link to the rest at Sydney Morning Herald

Pirate Bay Taken Offline, Raided By Police

10 December 2014

From Consumerist:

The Pirate Bay, perhaps the most popular — certainly the best known — destination for anyone looking to score pirated movies, music, books, games, and other digital content, was taken offline earlier today after a raid by police in Stockholm.

TorrentFreak reports that the site, which connects users for peer-to-peer file sharing via BitTorrent, went offline earlier today without notice. Shortly after came news that authorities in the Bay’s home country of Sweden had seized servers and computers from an unspecified location.

“There has been a crackdown on a server room in Greater Stockholm. This is in connection with violations of copyright law,” reads a statement from the police national coordinator for IP enforcement in Sweden.

Link to the rest at Consumerist and thanks to Tymber for the tip.

Amazon has a serious ebook theft problem

8 December 2014

From Geek:

It would appear as though Amazon has a problem with author accounts being used to steal books and resell them under another name, as Kindle Direct Publishing users discover a single author with 37 titles under their belt. The one thing they all seem to have in common is that the author labeled as the creator of the ebook had absolutely nothing to do with its creation.

. . . .

There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to the books that have been published under the name Jay Cute, with titles ranging from the obscure that are available for free on Amazon to the first in Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series. The prices range the spectrum that Amazon allows for Kindle Direct Publishing accounts, and in some cases the publisher hasn’t even bothered to change the cover of the book when publishing under this new name. The books that do have different cover art seem to have either a random image or a cover from another book entirely.

For whatever reason, Amazon has yet to respond to the dozen angry authors and the 310 One Star reviews calling out these books as being published illegally.

Link to the rest at Geek and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Wattpad Pirates Get Craftier

14 November 2014

From Publishers Weekly:

A zero-tolerance policy on Wattpad, the social media site that claims 35 million readers and writers worldwide, has not done away with the problem of digital piracy on the site. Earlier this month over 41,000 readers downloaded free copies of a novel by New York Times bestselling author Jasinda Wilder, which had been pirated. The incident, Wilder estimated, cost her roughly $168,000 in royalties.

“Most of us indie authors know plagiarism is out there,” says Wilder, whose novel Alpha was posted by a Wattpadder earlier this month, under a different author and title. “Some of us ignore it, and others hire companies to do take down.”

Even though Wilder pays two companies to search for illegal postings—one found close to 32,000 of them—it’s unlikely that any company could have found Wilder’s pirated work on Wattpad. The plagiarizer gave the book a new name, My Dominant Alpha, along with new cover art. The title was also posted by a different user: Amyleigh153. Because Wattpad pirates are now changing basic, but key, elements of the original work, they have become an even more worrisome issue for authors on the website.

It was a reader who ultimately brought Amyleigh153’s work to Wilder’s attention. It took another 18 hours, from when Wilder initially contacted Wattpad, for the site to remove the work.

. . . .

 Plagiarizers on sites like Wattpad often commit their crimes to develop a following, so that they can rely on an established audience to purchase their own paid work.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to J.A. for the tip.

Netflix Has A Surprising Relationship With Piracy Sites

18 September 2013

From Business Insider:

It’s easy to imagine that Netflix despises pirating websites that allow people to download movies and TV shows for free. After all, it only takes some Internet digging and a lax moral code to find the gratis versions of the same content you would pay $7.99 a month for on Netflix.

Instead, though, file-sharing sites like BitTorrent help Netflix improve its business by making it obvious what shows people want to watch.

Speaking ahead of the company’s launch in the Netherlands, Netflix’s Vice President of Content Acquisition Kelly Merryman said that the company actually checks out piracy websites for ideas about what Netflix should offer. If something is crazy-popular on file-sharing websites, Netflix is more likely to purchase it.

Link to the rest at Business Insider

Illegal downloading is moral squalor

16 September 2013

From The Guardian:

Illegal downloading is a kind of “moral squalor” and theft as much as reaching in to someone’s pocket and stealing their wallet is theft, the author Philip Pullman will say this week.

In an article for Index on Censorship, Pullman, who is president of the Society of Authors, makes a robust defence of copyright laws. He is withering about internet users who think it is OK to download music or books without paying for them.

“The technical brilliance is so dazzling that people can’t see the moral squalor of what they’re doing,” he writes. “It is outrageous that anyone can steal an artist’s work and get away with it. It is theft, as surely as reaching into someone’s pocket and taking their wallet is theft.”

. . . .

Pullman, writer of the His Dark Materials trilogy, says authors and musicians work in poverty and obscurity for years to bring their work to the level “that gives delight to their audiences, and as soon as they achieve that, the possibility of making a living from it is taken away from them”.

He concludes: “The principle is simple, and unaltered by technology, science or magic: if we want to enjoy the work that someone does, we should pay for it.”

. . . .

Casserly argues that there is much wrong with copyright, which was created “in an analogue age”. She writes: “By default, copyright closes the door on countless ways that people can share, build upon, and remix each other’s work, possibilities that were unimaginable when those laws were established.”

She says artists need to think creatively about how they distribute and monetise their work, quoting the science fiction writer Cory Doctorow who said: “My problem is not piracy, it’s obscurity.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Nick for the tip.

HBO: We Know You’re Pirating ‘Game Of Thrones’ And That’s Fine

9 August 2013

Since ebook piracy is a continuing topic of discussion.

From Business Insider:

Yesterday Time Warner Inc. — the owner of HBO — released its quarterly earnings.

During the earnings call, Tuna Amobi of S&P U.S. Equity Research Services asked CEO Jeff Bewkes what he thought of “Game of Thrones” being the most pirated show on television.

. . . .

Essentially, Bewkes goes so far as to say that internet piracy is downright awesome for HBO.

HBO grows by gaining subscribers, and it gains subscribers mostly by word of mouth. In the old days, that word of mouth included neighbors inviting neighbors over to enjoy their HBO subscription, or even cases of people stealing cable just to score HBO.

. . . .

Tuna Amobi: Game of Thrones has obviously had a phenomenal performance, but one other issue that has come up with regards to that title is the online piracy. I think by all accounts one of the highest pirated shows and I’m not aware what you guys have done to kind of address that. It seems that you have viewed it as kind of a compliment in terms of looking the other way so much. Is that the right way of thinking? Kind of a paradigm shift with the piracy and its impact on shows going forward that what you’ve done. 

[…]

Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes: To end on Game of Thrones on HBO, I have to confess I think you’re right. I have to admit, our first reaction to how much people want to watch it — now first of all it’s got ratings of 14, 15 million — a lot of it is VOD  on your TV system, an increasing amount of it is VOD on your [HBO]Go Service.

It’s just really strengthening not just the image, but the engagement of our subs [subscribers] with HBO programming, it’s also getting them familiar and more involved with using the video on demand capabilities of HBO and don’t forget, the television part. The part where you go to your house and you turn on that big screen TV watching it over the video plan, also the HBO Go service where Game of Thrones is the leading introduction manual for how to use HBO Go which more and more people are doing.

Then go to people watching it who aren’t subs, it’s a tremendous word of mouth thing, the issue would be if they were doing it and because they could get it not subscribing, we don’t see much of that.

Basically, we’ve been dealing with this issue for years with HBO, literally 20, 30 years, where people have always been running wires down on the back of apartment buildings and sharing with their neighbors.

Our experience is, it all leads to more penetration, more paying subs, more health for HBO, less reliance on having to do paid advertising — we don’t do a whole lot of paid advertising on HBO, we let the programming and the views talk for us — it seems to be working.

If you go around the world, I think you’re right, Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world. Well, you know, that’s better than an Emmy.

Link to the rest at Business Insider

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