Dear Pirate Site Operator: No, I Did Not Give You Permission

So there has been a lot of hullaboo about the site Ebook Bike and its operator Travis McCrea. In case you haven’t been following the blowout, EBook Bike allows people to upload content to the site, which McCrea does not moderate (as you can see in his statement here):

McCrea seems to be part of the Sharing Community, which believes they have a moral obligation to share digital content. As a matter of fact, in 2016 McCrea was the leader of a minor party called the Pirate Party of Canada.

One might suggest if you didn’t want to be labeled as a pirate, you might choose a different name for your political party.

The only statement I can find on the site itself is a generic one: Ebook Bike is about providing a new life to reading, ensuring every person around the world has the best access to the best books.

Reports that the DMCA page/link isn’t working on the site sent me looking for it–I couldn’t find it at all. I’m also hearing reports that the site collects IP addresses of those who use the DMCA form and then block them from accessing the site, making it difficult to see that no one is complying with takedown notices.

I searched the site and didn’t find any of my own titles, but another site that has people talking, oregano.com, does have some of my books listed without my permission.

EDIT: As of today, I’m told that the Ebook Bike site is down. You can celebrate that as a victory, if you like, but I believe it will re-appear under another name in the not-too-distant future. And it is just one of hundreds of similar sites.

So I think it’s time to repost my thoughts on this: I ask that you check out my posts Dear Broke Reader: Your Sense of Entitlement is Killing Me and Dear Broke Reader and Your Sense of Entitlement (Part 2).

It’s also worth checking out this article by The Guardian, discussing the backlash against authors who fought to get their books removed from the now-defunct OceansofPDF. Um, we’re not the bad guys here. For the most part, we write our books in good faith, paying developmental and copyeditors, formatters, and cover artists along the way. We pay for book tours and advertising. I bring this up because the costs of bringing a digital book to market are not ‘zero’, as some people seem to think. But beyond that. I don’t think it’s wrong for us as creators to expect to be paid for our art.

And I do think it’s wrong for someone to upload our works to sites that allow thousands of downloads without our permission–or any compensation.

Believe me, I’ve heard all the arguments. They are discussed in greater detail in the Broke Reader posts. What it boils down to is that the majority of people who feel entitled to works without paying for them do NOT fall into categories of “but I can only get this particular story in this fashion.” Yes, there are pockets of people here and there without access to affordable books on a large scale, but that’s not representative of the average pirate/torrent user. The average user of these sites wants a particular title RIGHT NOW and doesn’t want to wait for a sale or look for it at the library. That’s what I mean by a sense of entitlement.

But I will say this: if you want to continue to get quality content, then pay the creator their due. Otherwise, instead of a Picasso or Monet, you’ll have to be satisfied with a paint-by-numbers or macaroni art by a kindergartner.

Someone told me in one of the previous posts that if I was any good at writing, I would be able to absorb the costs of piracy. Sweet pea, in order to be able to absorb the costs of piracy, you have to sell books on the scale of Nora Roberts, J.K. Rowling, or Stephen King. And believe me, I’d hazard a guess none of them are happy about piracy and illegal downloads.

I’m not a Nora Roberts, but I’ve been known to tell a story people enjoy reading. I had to write a pitch letter recently, and was surprised to learn I had more street cred than I’d realized. I’ve been publishing M/M romance since 2010. The majority of my titles are through Dreamspinner Press, though I have self-published as well. All told, I have a total of 16 published stories at this time and am a PAN member of the RWA.

I was a finalist in the 2013, 2015, and 2016 Rainbow Awards. The Boys of Summer won Best M/M Romance in the 2013 Paranormal Romance Guild Reviewer’s Choice Awards. The Sixth Sense series was voted 2nd place in the 2014 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards for Best M/M Mystery series, and 3rd place in the 2105 PGR Reviewer’s Choice Awards for Best M/M Paranormal/Urban Fantasy series.

Fool’s Gold was voted best M/M Romance in 2016 by the PGR Reviewer’s Choice Awards. I was also voted one of the top ten M/M romance authors in 2016 by Gay Book Reviews.

I’m not saying this to brag. Lord, if you knew me, you’d know how much I’m squirming listing those achievements (and resisting mightily the urge to claim they are ‘only’ genre recognition and awards). What I’m trying to say is that, given the argument above, I’m not such a shabby writer that I deserve to be pirated to the extent that I can actually lose money on publishing a story.

But you know what? No one does. No author, no artist, no musician, no photographer–hell, not even your kindergartner putting his or her macaroni art up on your fridge.

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 time  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.