Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Stolen Books

It happens all the time. A writer puts up a book, or a series of chapters that constitutes a first draft of a book, on a free site. The writer is seeking encouragement, connection with fans or readers, maybe advice. They don’t stop to consider—fully consider—that their work might be stolen by someone else and published. Most of the time, they never even bother to register copyright on their work. They know copyright is just a legality and think it doesn’t matter. After all, the work is theirs because they created it. Right?

Right. But there’s more at stake than who wrote it when someone else puts their name on it.

I found out this weekend that my book, The Prince of Winds, was stolen when it was up for a while on a free site. Many people enjoyed this story there and offered me encouragement. Fans said I should get it published. But I waited and posted more free material until I could believe in myself. Well, I guess I should have listened to my readers … because someone else took the book and published it before I did. Dreamspinner notified me Sunday morning (actually Saturday night, but I saw the email when I woke up Sunday) that a reader who had bought the book off their site complained that she already owned the book. I was asked to clarify the matter.

Did I write The Prince of Winds?

And so it began. This is how it played out. Saturday night the book was removed from all sales sites until the matter could be resolved. People looking for the book couldn’t find it and wrote to me asking what was going on. What did I tell them? The truth.

The book was published in March 2012 by a publisher called Forever Amber for a writer named Emily Wilcox. Check out this [HERE] to see the scoop on Forever Amber. Both I and my publisher have every reason to believe this publisher was in fact a single person using pseudonyms for the many plagiarized books the company published. My book was published as two books: “The Prince of Desire: Persian Prince Adventure” and “The King of Storms.”  [ETA: I also just learned her book, Mate Hunter, is a my novella "Lioness" with the names altered and the lions changed to panthers.] The thief put the books up on Goodreads, too, [HERE].

This is bad for me in several ways. It’s bad enough some readers out there might think I’m the plagiarist. I never even copied homework. But they don’t know me from a street sign in Toledo, so now I have to rebuild my credibility as an author. I also have to rebuild credibility for this book.

I could just write this story off, but I’m not willing to do that—and neither is my publisher. The Prince of Winds is a fine book and I’m proud to have written it! Dreamspinner believes in it, too, and is keeping the book in print. The book was back on the sales shelf first thing Monday morning.

There’s one reason and one reason only we were able to resolve this issue so quickly: I had registered the book’s copyright in February 2011. That’s right. As soon as I put it online, I paid my $35 and got a certificate that establishes me as author of this book. I did the same for Captive Heart, by the way. So when Dreamspinner asked if I could clarify the matter, I had only to go to my file cabinet and send them the copyright number and information. A quick check and some consulting with their lawyer and we were good.

The Prince of Winds now carries a disclaimer that an unauthorized edition was published. It names the other title but not the author. Because I’m the author of both versions. The copyright notice in the book now carries my copyright registration number to prove I’m the copyright holder. Anyone who bought the book before this weekend won’t have those notices. The blurb now also carries the same disclaimer.

How do I feel about that? I hate having that language attached to my blurb. I hate having that other title even buried in in the copyright notice where most people never look. It’s like having a scar. It will always be there, but I don’t have to like it. Good thing I have enough life experience—and scars—to be able to chalk this one up to a lesson learned.

If you put your work out online for free, for fun, because you like the ego strokes or want to do something nice for your fans—do it. Just realize that someone else could easily publish your work as their own. And if someone does that, it might create problems for you down the line. If you try to publish your work, it could come back to bite you in the ass. My ass this morning is so sore I need one of those hemorrhoid pillows.

As for copyright registration? It didn’t keep someone from stealing my work. I will probably never track down the now vanished publisher (the book itself is also long since off any sales sites) to sue for damages … though I have the legal standing to do so. It may never convince readers who already think I am the one who pilfered someone else’s book. But what it did do was enable me to rescue this book before it was irreparably crippled by a horrible launch. It allows me to ask Goodreads to remove that author and the offending books. Worth every cent of that $35 as far as I’m concerned. Only my Sunday was ruined, not my month.

Here’s my final say: I love my publisher. Dreamspinner was wonderful and supportive and believed in me all the way. I love my husband and friends. They listened to me vent and put up with me at my worst. I love my fans. When I told the ones who wrote to me about what was going on, they rallied like troopers.

And I still love writing. I’m writing the sequel, and I’m pretty damn sure the thief can’t do that.

14 comments:

  1. I'm so sorry this happened to you. Thanks for sharing your experience. I've heard lots or pirating horror stories. Hopefully this will be your last such problem. Take care of that ass!

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    1. Thanks, Michael. :D My ass is in good... hands. In fact, I'm hauling it to the gym soon. Exercise is always good, right?

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  2. I was so sorry to hear that happen to you but as you said it was the best $35 you will probably ever spend. Luckily you were able to quickly resolve so I guess that would be something to someone publishing free stories. To protect yourself and may go the published route one day. Protect yourself for the future, for you never know. Take care and keep the faith and looking forward to the next book :)

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    1. Yes, getting things resolved quickly really helped. :) I'm not sure what else might have been stolen and published. At least one other book that I know of. But yes, at this point I regard copyright registration as a good thing.

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  3. Go, Tali! Glad you caught that cocksucker!

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    1. Yeah, but not before the perp caught some readers who now think I'm the thief. Nothing to be done about that, though. :( Thanks for being one of the friends who helped me out.

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  4. As one of your fans, we can also help out by keeping our eyes open for any works by this Emily Wilcox and directing the book seller/publisher to Dreamspinner. If she plagiarized you, she probably plagiarized every book she "wrote".

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    1. Oh, the record is pretty clear on that. What's scary is she (if Emily is her real name) gets away with it a lot. It's likely that publisher was just one person using multiple pseudonyms to put out lots of stolen titles. None of those writers existed.

      Readers have no way of knowing, really, if a new publisher is legit, or just a front for this kind of plagiarizer. This kind of activity is damaging to everyone. Small publishers are stigmatized also by these thieves. It's very sad. :(

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  5. Well that just sucks. I'm scared of that happening, too. This is why I only buy ebooks from places I've heard of.

    There should be a 7th circle of hell for people who steal books. In it, they'd be forced to be the audience for infomercials for the rest of eternity. Let's just hope for that.

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    1. The readers of those books got ripped off, too. :( I'm a huge believer in karma and I'm convinced what goes around comes around. Maybe not right away, but it comes. Infomercial hell sounds good. :D But make them the really, really bad ones!

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  6. How terrible!! I'm glad you were able to find out about it. Well, there are those of us that read the story on Lit that can vouch for you.
    Hope the rest of this week goes better.

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    1. Thanks! I was ready to call in the militia if needed, but the U.S. Copyright Office did the job. :) But yeah, that is what it would have come to if I didn't have the registered copyright: computer files, Literotica, beta reader emails, and people like you. And that would have taken weeks, if not longer, to prove anything. I'm glad it didn't come to that.

      On the plus side, I now know a LOT more about how much risk a publisher undertakes with every novel like mine. It's not just my ass on the line. I felt worse for Dreamspinner than for myself. They stayed up all night trying to figure out the ramifications. I didn't lose sleep. They did.

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  7. UGH so sorry that happened to you. Thanks for your extremely enlightening and educational post about it though. <3333

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    1. Thanks, Katherine. If my example can help anyone at all, then this post has served a good purpose. :)

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