Blasty: Fighting Pirates and Illegal Downloads with a Single Click

pirates-bill-davenportBack in June, I posted an open letter in response to the ‘broke reader’ on Facebook who’d asked for weblinks so she could download stories from her favorite authors without paying for them.

The post, Dear Broke Reader: Your Sense of Entitlement is Killing Me, went viral. It’s been shared on Facebook over 10 K times and I got over 100 K hits on the website over a period of a few days–nearly 25 K hits in one day alone. Obviously, this post resonated with a lot of people! I wrote a follow up post as well, you can find it here.

By far and large, the comments were supportive. Many were from fellow authors, also sick and tired of battling illegal file-sharing of their works. There was a lively discussion of semantics, with some comments stating that nothing more than copyright violation was at stake here, and that copyright laws were stupid, therefore, they need not comply with them. There were some who defended their right to continue procure stories in this fashion. Several believed that because there was no ‘real cost’ to producing an ebook, they should all be free anyway. When I pointed out the financial investment it took to produce a finished product–cover art, professional editing, formatting, etc–one person suggested that once these financial outlays had been met, the price of the book should automatically drop to zero. I respectfully suggest they try that argument on their plumber the next timeĀ  they have a leak. I’m sure if he has paid off all his tools, he’ll be happy to work for free.

Alone by Cherie/freeimages.com

Alone by Cherie/freeimages.com

I even had one person tell me I must suck as a writer because if I was ‘good enough’ I would be making a living from my writing despite the widespread suctioning off of potential buyers through such illegal downloads. And yes, I heard ALL the arguments about how these readers would never buy my books anyway, so they don’t truly represent lost sales. In fact, I was told I should be happy people were illegally downloading my stories in the sheer volume they were doing because this could potentially introduce me to readers who would then go out and buy all my stories. Hard to see why they would need to do so when someone keeps uploading bundles of four or five of my stories at a time to torrents, but then, I digress.

This post isn’t meant to be a rehash of the reasons I wrote the original posts in the first place. I eventually had to stop responding to the comments on the previous posts–I was spending more time commenting than working on writing projects. But I would like to share with you what I’m doing about it.

I used to use Google Alerts to notify me of anything to do with one of my stories–including reviews as well as pirate sites or uploads to torrents. Sadly, Google Alerts missed a LOT of things, so I stopped relying on them to watch the Internet for me and took it upon myself to do a title search every couple of months or so. I would turn over links to pirate sites to my publisher, but dealing with torrents was much more difficult. They didn’t respond to DCMA notices, and when I contacted them directly, they basically shrugged and smiled.

Then someone showed me this handy little link: Google DCMA Removal Request Form. I began using this, though it was very cumbersome and time-consuming. I’d select a title, hunt down a number of illegal links, and then spend several hours copying and pasting information into the form, jumping through all the necessary hoops to get Google to block the page in a search of my story title. It’s not a perfect system by far: the site is still up and running, and if you already know the site, you can probably find the stories within it, but at least someone googling “Unspeakable Words” won’t immediately come up with 20 sites where they can get this story without paying for it. Because it was such a hassle to do, I confess, I would only do it every few months when I had a big block of time. Haha, you know how rare that is, and I’d rather use it to write the next story, thank you very much.

Even more frustrating was the fact Google frequently questioned my request to remove the links to works in copyright violation, demanding I prove I was the copyright holder. Funny, no one asked the illegal file-sharing site to prove they held the copyright to my work before they uploaded it! The irony here was deliciously bitter.

More recently, I was introduced to Blasty, a service that searches out weblinks associated with your titles, allows you to review them for legitimacy, and then file the DCMA removal request with a single click of a button. It’s still in beta, but when it goes live, you can bet I’ll be on board. Yes, I will happily pay a fee to have this tool at my disposal. I have to tell you, I still spend hours searching for illegal downloads of my stories, but removing the links from web searches is immensely easier now. And while I am disheartened by the numbers of illegal files out there (and I have to grind my teeth at the sites that offer a ‘pro’ download system to their users so they can avoid detection and lawsuits–their words, not mine), at least my battle has gotten easier. Now I can check titles once a week and hopefully spend less time keeping up. Sure, I’m constantly bailing out a leaking boat, but it’s MY leaking boat to bail.

Put in other terms: yes, I know that people are going to continue to illegally share files. Yes, I know I’m fighting a losing battle. But darn it, I don’t have to make it easy for them to obtain my creative works without paying for them. When the average story runs between $4-6 dollars and my publisher runs sales all the time, it doesn’t feel like too much to ask. Try not only getting that cup of Starbucks coffee for free, but then taking it home and sharing it with over 16 K of your BFFs online.

People often ask me where I get this ‘magic number of 16 K’. That was the recorded number of illegal downloads for one of my stories from a single site. Last night, I ‘blasted’ over thirty sites. You do the math, and then tell me that it can’t possibly be affecting my bottom line.

EDIT: Since this post went live this morning, I’ve received 523 alerts from Blasty to verify. FIVE HUNDRED AND TWENTY THREE. *sigh*

Dear Broke Reader and your sense of entitlement (Part 2)

book by Ricardo Vasquez/freeimages.com

book by Ricardo Vasquez/freeimages.com

So, a funny thing happened earlier this week. Someone on Facebook wrote a post asking for links to pirate sites–and then defended her actions by claiming to be poor. While many berated her for illegally downloading books, thus defrauding authors of their royalties, many defended her actions (and theirs) as well.

On Monday, I wrote a post with my reaction to this sense of entitlement on the part of readers who illegally download and share files. It was just a typical Monday for me, in which I jotted down some thinky-thoughts on a subject that had been preying on my mind for a while now.

Apparently, I struck a chord with fellow authors and readers who legitimately purchase stories.

That’s putting it mildly. I’ve had over 50 K hits on the website since Monday. To date, the post has been shared on Facebook over 10 K times, and has over 300 comments. At first I tried to respond to every comment. Hey, that’s the only polite thing to do, right? But I’d never written a post which triggered such a response before. The traffic was so heavy the site crashed repeatedly. My inbox exploded with Facebook, Twitter, and comment notifications. I am working my way through them, but realize it’s probably not possible to address them all and still make my writing deadlines. I confess, I wish I’d timed this post with my upcoming release, but I had no idea it would attract so much attention!

I’ve learned a couple of things since Monday’s post. First, there are a LOT of people who feel the way I do. Who believe that getting stories free through pirate sites or uploading an stories to torrents for thousands to download without paying for them is theft of that property and denies the creator of the payment due to them. However, I’ve also learned that technically this isn’t theft as it is legally defined. It’s not theft because no one has removed the original work from my hands. At best, it can only be considered a copyright violation, and besides, none of these people would have purchased your story anyway. Consider it free advertising. Once I release something into the wilds of the internet, it’s no longer mine and I have no right to be compensated for it. Copyright laws are full of crap anyway, and have no purpose in today’s digital world. Authors shouldn’t be paid forever for sales of digital books–it is unfair.

I call bullshit on that mindset. That is exactly what I mean by ‘sense of entitlement’. The irony is your sense of entitlement is depriving me of what I’m actually entitled to receive.

Frozen HeelsWhile some of the defenders of illegally sharing and downloading files might be technically correct in the fact that these acts aren’t thefts per se, they are still robbing me of income. Let’s take the example I was given after I compared buying books to buying shoes. One person responded to this by saying I have no say in what someone does with a pair of shoes after they buy them. I agree. I can buy a pair of shoes, take them home and decide I don’t like them or don’t want them anymore. I can give them to my BFF, or donate them to Goodwill, or throw them in the dumpster. Someone else can get them for next to nothing or even without paying a dime. (I wouldn’t do that, though because I *love* shoes)

What I can’t do is upload the shoes to the internet, where thousands of people can grab a pair for free. I can’t do it because it is physically impossible. I don’t do it because it is morally wrong. It’s wrong because if thousands of pairs of these particular shoes are available online for free, then the chances are good the sheer availability of ‘free’ shoes will cut into the market of legitimate shoe sales. So you can tell me that illegal downloaders would never buy my stories in the first place, but even if ten percent of those people were forced to make a purchase because they couldn’t obtain the story in any other way, that would make a huge difference in my bottom line. On one torrent alone, a bundle of four of my books has been downloaded over 16 K times. I keep bringing up that number because, yeah, sixteen thousand illegal downloads. From one site. And there are hundreds of sites. So don’t tell me *none* of these people would have purchased these stories legally if there were no ‘free’ downloads available.

As I said in the previous post, I get ‘broke’. Honey, I’ve collected aluminum to buy a tank of gas and sold plasma to help pay the rent. But not only are there many options for legal free reads, I honestly believe the truly poor represent a very small number of these downloaders, much as I believe the people in foreign countries with no access to libraries don’t represent a large number either. I think the vast majority of the I’m broke, therefore I have to get my books illegally camp are really saying, “I have spent my discretionary income on things I can’t download without paying for them.”

Fellow author Suzan Tisdale has put together a poll for authors in order to get a feel for how pervasive battling piracy is. The information is confidential, so if you’re a writer who is frustrated by the ongoing battle to keep your works available only through legitimate channels, consider dropping in and answering some questions.

In the meantime, I have one book in edits and another on a deadline. I plan to continue answering comments on the original post–it’s just going to take me a while to go through them all, and more are coming in every day. I just want to say how much I appreciate everyone spreading the word and entering into the discussion, even if we don’t see eye to eye on everything.