Defending Copyright on “A Summer Fling”: Part 3

I’ve written and deleted the opening sentence to this post three times now.

summer_fling-200x300I’m not really sure how to proceed at this point. If you missed the beginning of this story, it starts here and is continued here. The short version, if you prefer, is this: someone sent Amazon a takedown notice for A Summer Fling. Amazon demanded proof that I was the copyright holder. I sent them everything they asked for and more. I sent the original file of the story with the date stamp. I sent the link to the story on Goodreads (if you’re a member of the GR M/M Romance Group, you too can read the original version there) and the free anthology created from the Don’t Read in the Closet fest.

I sent them the Smashwords URL showing the date I first uploaded A Summer Fling in its current form. I sent the registration number for the pending copyright registration I’d filed. Yes, filed belatedly. More on that later.

I expected this to be resolved. After all, I am the legal copyright holder. This is a self-published free story of little value. Why was this even up for debate?

Imagine my surprise when I got an email from Amazon saying that due to the third party dispute that had not been resolved, they would not be re-publishing my story. Surprise is putting it mildly. I was shocked and upset. I got on the phone with Author Central and KDP. I sought advice from authors who’d been in similar situations (though none quite like mine). I tried to get more answers from Amazon, but was stymied at every turn. The young man with KDP was very nice but he could not determine why the story was being blocked, despite my having provided so much information. He advised me to send a detailed email, outlining everything I shared with him and he would do the same from his end.

Later that evening, I got an email from KDP stating flatly that they would not release the third party’s name or what the basis of their complaint was. I was also advised to hire a copyright lawyer if I wanted to pursue the matter further.

My initial reaction to this situation was to suspect that the now-defunct All Romance Ebooks was behind this somehow. I’m still not convinced that they’re not. Their abrupt announcement of closure, along with offering authors only 10 cents on the dollar of owed 4th quarter royalties, as well as preventing authors from removing files from the ARe platform is suspect, to say the least.

But I have also discovered that copyright claim-jumping of self-published authors is apparently a thing, and that Amazon puts the burden of proof on the author, not the accuser. Self-published authors may be at greater risk.

It may be the case that it is a coincidence I happened to get targeted by a scammer the same day ARe acrimoniously closed their doors. But unless I hire a lawyer I will never know. The various articles I’ve linked discuss what you can do to protect yourself from these kinds of attacks, and the most common bit of advice is to register your copyright claims, even though technically the copyright is yours once you put your words to paper unless you sign them away. I haven’t signed mine away, and yet Amazon isn’t accepting my documentation. And frankly, if this IS an attempt by ARe to lay claim to titles that were simply hosted on their former website, then registering your copyright may have little effect on Amazon’s resolution to reinstate your book.

Kind of like how it happened here with me.

I will be registering all my stories from now on, however, as well as retroactively registering my existing ones. It’s an extra layer of insurance that may well protect you in the future from your run-of-the-mill scammer. The link for the US copyright office is here.

This morning I received a very nice email from Amazon stating that after a careful review of my documentation, they have decided to uphold their decision to block the sale of A Summer Fling, but that they look forward to publishing my future stories.

That’s very telling. They are no longer disputing the fact I wrote the story. They are saying someone is claiming I don’t have a right to distribute the story. A story that’s been freely available online for years. You can see why the list of suspects in this case is extremely short.

As for A Summer Fling, I have a couple of choices. I can file a counter-claim. I’m looking into that, but one of my concerns is making personal information available to this unknown third party. Another option is to contact Jeff Bezos directly and lay out my story. He probably gets thousands of emails a day, so I doubt it will get though, but it’s worth a shot. I emailed him this morning, forwarding all the information I’d given to KDP regarding my story. I stated in my email I wasn’t asking him to reverse Amazon’s decision not to publish my story, but I was requesting the name of the third party and the basis of their claims against me. We’ll see what happens.

Late last night, in a last-second cliffhanger twist, I was tagged on Facebook by someone involved with publishing the old DRiTC anthologies. She apologized profusely to me and said it was a possibility her statement to Amazon that no one else was allowed to publish the anthologies except her might have triggered this situation. She’s promised to speak to Amazon on my behalf, and for that, I am deeply grateful. However she did not realize I’d changed the title of my story. Unless she sent in a takedown notice for my story by name, then her blanket statement isn’t behind the complaint. That’s why I need to know who IS behind the complaint before I take further action.

Beyond that, I’m looking into my legal options. But honestly, I can’t afford to spend a lot of money on a free story. Perhaps that’s why it was targeted in the first place. In the meantime, it’s available on Smashwords for free, and it is my intention to send it out to other sites as well. Grab it while you can in its various forms, all linked in this post. Consider leaving me a review on Goodreads or Smashwords, as Amazon is no longer an option. It would be greatly appreciated.

Mostly, be aware. Amazon places the burden of proof on the accused and apparently *anyone* can waltz in and file a complaint. How can I address the complaint when I don’t know who made it or what the basis of their claim might be? Only by hiring a lawyer, and I’d be willing to bet most of us aren’t in a position to do that. My accuser could be someone with an axe to grind, a random scammer, or a former retailer looking to take advantage of the fact they are still holding my files. Amazon has blindfolded me and left me in the ring to duke it out against an unseen opponent who merely has to walk away to win this round.

If it is a certain retailer, then I am not the only person with stories at risk. I also have grounds for going to the people forming a class action lawsuit with additional information. But I can’t move forward without knowing the name of the third party.

If you know of anyone, or if you yourself have recently experienced something similar at the hands of Amazon, I would appreciate you letting me know. If this is not an isolated incident, it gives even more credence to my suspicions as to who the guilty party might be.

 

 

 

Defending Copyright on “A Summer Fling”, part 2

summer_fling-200x300A lot of people have asked for the details surrounding my current copyright dilemma with Amazon. Here they are to the best of my recollection:

As you can see from the book cover and the banner at the head of this website, there has been a longtime connection between myself and A Summer Fling. It was originally titled Surf’s Up and is part of the 2011 Don’t Read in the Closet fest with the M/M Romance Group on Goodreads. It was a light frothy story written to a photo prompt and included in the anthology produced by the group.

In 2013, I edited the story and bundled it with a short story I’d written for the Just One Bite contest, using the fictional character Mikhail Frost created by my fictional author, Ryan McFarland. I thought it would be fun to put the two stories together–kind of like Rick Castle writing the Nikki Heat stories. I created a cover based on my website’s banner and submitted the new combination to Smashwords on July 28th, 2013. A short while later (the actual date is unclear–I can’t access it any longer on the websites in question), I submitted the story to Amazon and ARe. The story has largely been a permanent freebie ever since.

Over the weekend, I modified my bio within the story to include a link for my website. When I went to upload the new version on Amazon, I could no longer set the price to zero. I didn’t worry too much about it–I’d pulled it from Smashwords and ARe had folded. It was my intention to place it in KU (though in retrospect, its previous incarnations would prevent that) so I left the price as 99 cents and went on with my day.

That evening I received an email from Amazon. At first, I thought it was just a glitch, a red flag triggered by something I did in the update. But here’s the crucial statement that belies that:

“Prior to your submission, we received a notice and takedown for a book that matches to yours, from a third party claiming that the distribution of the book above was not properly authorized due to copyright infringement.”

So someone out there is ACTIVELY claiming this work belongs to them, not me, and though I provided Amazon with all the information they requested, it’s not good enough. Moreover, this attempt to snag the book took place prior to my making changes, so it isn’t that I did something to trigger a red flag. Someone is trying to steal it, but Amazon is laying the burden of proof on me and refusing to publish something that’s been on their website under my name for years. At least they are no longer threatening to ban me for life. I’ve asked for more information, but I have not heard back from them yet.

Process of elimination and the unethical behavior of All Romance Ebooks makes them the most likely suspect in my mind. Not just because they closed their doors with little warning, offering 10 cents on the dollar in owed royalties, but only if we promise not to take legal action. Not just because of the timing–within 24 hours of ARe’s closure. But because whoever this third party is laying claim to my story, they have a strong enough stance that Amazon is taking them seriously–despite my sending them all the information they requested to prove my copyright.

dont-read-in-the-closetMy proof of copyright is sufficient enough that Amazon is no longer threatening to ban me from publishing on their site for life. But it is not sufficient enough to utterly disprove anyone else’s claim? The logical choice here is that someone with power and prestige–not some low level scammer who preys on indie titles–is behind this contested copyright. And since a takedown notice was given, this is either someone with a personal vendetta against me (not a fun thought) or someone with much bigger fish to fry. Because as I’ve said elsewhere, A Summer Fling is a lightweight FREE story. It was never meant to generate tons of sales. So why would anyone contest copyright on it? The Goodreads Group would not. The story has been freely available online in multiple formats for years. Why go after a free story now?

For me, the logical conclusion is that this is a test case on someone’s part. I only have a couple of self-published stories that would be open to such an attack. And since whoever it is has a strong enough stance that Amazon didn’t immediately dismiss their claim, I can only assume it is an entity with more online presence than your typical scammer. As in, someone who can claim they ‘published’ my story when they merely hosted it on their website. Incidentally, A Summer Fling is the first title that comes up on my self-published listings on ARe’s former site.

So, some words of advice here. If you aren’t in the habit of registering copyrights on your creative work, start doing so now. Factor it in as a cost of doing business. I never worried about A Summer Fling because it was never intended to be a big money maker for me. From now on, however, I will be registering copyright on ALL my works.

From the US copyright office:

1. Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship.
2. Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.
3. Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law.
4. The United States has copyright relations with most countries throughout the world, and as a result of these agreements, we honor each other’s citizens’ copyrights. However, the United States does not have such copyright relationships with every country. For a listing of countries and the nature of their copyright relations with the United States, see Circular 38a, International Copyright Relations of the United States.

Here is the link for the US copyright office. Yes, it is an extra step and there is a fee, but that additional layer of protection just may prevent the kind of headache I’m experiencing right now.

In the meantime, I can’t but assume ARe is behind this grab until I have proof otherwise. In part because of the suspicious timing, and in part because Amazon is taking the claim seriously despite my proof of creation. But also because the wording of Amazon’s email and their current stance to the issue suggests that my creative copyright isn’t being questioned as much as my right to distribute the story. I’ve sent Amazon additional information, including this document provided by ARe when I uploaded my story to their site. Pay special attention to the passages 3c and 4b.

All Romance eBooks Publisher’s Agreement

 

This Agreement is entered into on this date (logged as registration date), between All Romance eBooks, LLC, a Florida limited liability company (hereinafter known as “All Romance”), which provides content and services to www.allromanceebooks.com and omnilit.com (hereinafter known as “site”), located at 303 Main Street #186, Safety Harbor FL 34695 with an email address of info@allromanceebooks.com and a fax number of  1-866-844-5457, and the registrant whose details have been accurately entered and attested to upon acceptance of this Agreement (hereinafter known as “Publisher”);

 

In consideration of the foregoing the parties agree as follows:

 

  1. Governing Law

 

This Agreement is legal and binding in all countries. The laws of the State of Florida USA shall apply to the interpretation and enforcement of this Agreement.

 

  1. Non-exclusivity

 

This Agreement is not exclusive and does not impose any obligation or restrictions on either party with respect to competing business relationships or opportunities.

 

  1. Warranties by Publisher

 

(a) Publisher has the full power, right and authority to enter into this Agreement;

 

(b) Publisher has not previously and will not grant any rights to any third party that are inconsistent with the rights granted herein;

 

(c) Each item provided to All Romance by Publisher and any other material including data and images (in each case, collectively the “Work”) are (i) either owned or licensed by Publisher with full right to publish in accordance with this Agreement, and (ii) do not and will not infringe any copyright, patent, trade secret, or other proprietary right held by any third party;

 

(d) Publisher warrants that product or associated marketing data supplied contains no libelous or unlawful statements and does not infringe upon the rights of others;

 

(e) The Publisher agrees that the regular list price of the Work on the All Romance site will not be higher than the regular listed price of this Work on any other site.

 

(f) The Publisher agrees that all data provided to All Romance, including a Work’s categories, heat rating, summary and sample excerpt will all be chosen to honestly and accurately reflect the Work’s content.

 

(g) All Works uploaded by Publisher to the All Romance site shall be subject to this Agreement and additionally eligible for participation in the All Romance “Buy ten, get one free program.”

 

(h) Publisher hereby grants All Romance the rights to reproduce, display, market, and store digital versions of Publisher’s Works on one or more computer facilities of or under the leased or similar control of All Romance on a worldwide basis, and to resell Publisher’s Works directly to consumers;

 

(i) To promote sales for Publisher’s Works, Publisher grants All Romance the right to distribute any and all content electronically including text, cover art, and metadata associated with Publisher’s Works.

 

  1. Warranties by All Romance

 

(a) All Romance warrants and represents, solely for Publisher’s benefit, that All Romance has the full power, right and authority to enter into this Agreement.

 

(b) Except as otherwise set forth in this Agreement, All Romance acknowledges that all rights, title and interest in and to all intellectual property comprising the Works, including copyrights and trademarks used in connection with the Works, are the property of Publisher or its licensor(s), and in no event, including upon the termination of this Agreement, shall All Romance obtain any rights, title or interest in such intellectual property, copyrights or trademarks.

 

(c) All Romance agrees that no changes, additions, deletions, abridgements, or condensations in the text of the Work or changes of title shall be made by All Romance, its agents, or employees, without the expressed, itemized, and specific written consent of Publisher.

 

  1. Warranty Disclaimers and Limitations of Liability

 

All Romance shall not be liable or obligated to Publisher with respect to any breach of this Agreement or otherwise under any contract, negligence, strict liability or other legal or equitable theory for any amounts in excess in the aggregate of the fees paid to All Romance by Publisher during the one year period prior to any such breach with respect to the applicable material. In no event shall All Romance be liable to Publisher for any incidental or consequential damages including, but not limited to, loss of anticipated profits, or benefits of use or loss of business, even if All Romance is apprised of the likelihood of such damages occurring.

 

All Romance shall not be liable for misuse or unlawful distribution of Works by any customer, consumer or other third party.

 

  1. Termination

 

Either party may terminate this Agreement without cause upon not less than ninety (90) days notice to the other party. Any termination of this Agreement or withdrawal by Publisher of specific Works or other materials will be prospective, with respect to future sales only. It is the responsibility of the withdrawing party to remove or de-activate from sale all Works covered under the terms of this Agreement.

 

  1. Restrictions

 

All Romance reserves the right not to accept any particular Work submitted by Publisher at All Romance’s sole discretion, and may remove any particular Work from sale at any time and for any or no reason. Pornographic and obscene Works are restricted and not allowable for upload on the All Romance site, including without limitation, Works depicting sexual acts involving persons under eighteen years of age (exceptions may be made for certain works of literary fiction involving time periods wherein the age of consent was less than 18 and the purpose of the depiction is not for sexual titillation), Works involving any exploitation of minors, sexual or otherwise, Works which contain incest or pseudo-incest themes for the purpose of titillation, Works that are written for or being marketed to the barely legal market, Works that contain rape  or scenes of non-consensual bondage or non-consensual sado-masochistic practices that are for the purposes of titillation, bestiality with naturally occurring animals, sex with non-animated corpses, snuff or scat play.

 

  1. Security and Buyer’s Terms of Use

 

All Romance does not encrypt the Works that it sells, apply DRM technology, or prevent printing or “Read Aloud” or “Text to Speech” functions. All Romance posts a message on its web site indicating the copyrighted nature of all material and the fact that making illicit copies is in violation of copyright law. The Publisher is encouraged to indicate the copyrighted nature of each Work.

 

  1. Reporting and Payment of Sales Commissions

 

(a) Publisher will have access to a Publisher’s Sales Report that details each of their work’s sales activity during the requested period.

 

(b) All Romance will pay Publisher commissions based upon the Sale Price (List Price or Discounted List Price as paid by the buyer, whichever is less) and as reported by All Romance’s Publisher’s Sales Report. This commission shall be sixty percent (60%) of the Sale Price. Payments for sales are made quarterly in US dollars, within 45 days of the close of each calendar quarter, and are net of bad debt and refunds.

 

(c) Once each calendar year, Publisher or their duly appointed representative shall have the right to examine at their own expense the accounts of All Romance pertaining to sales of Publisher’s Works for the twelve months prior to the date of the request for examination. Requests to assert this right must be made by the Publisher in writing and receipt must be acknowledged in writing by All Romance and such records shall be made available by All Romance to the Publisher within thirty (30) days. In the event that discrepancies are found between commissions paid and those owed in the Publisher’s favor, All Romance shall tender such monies due to Publisher within ten (10) days of acknowledgement by All Romance of the discrepancy. In the event that discrepancies are found between commissions paid and those owed in All Romance’s favor, All Romance shall deduct this difference from the next quarterly payment(s) due.

 

  1. Bankruptcy

 

If a petition in bankruptcy is filed by All Romance or against All Romance (and is not dismissed within 90 days), this Agreement shall terminate automatically without notice, effective as of date of All Romance’s filing of a voluntary petition (or the expiration of the 90 day period, as applicable) and all rights granted in this Agreement shall revert to Publisher.

 

  1. Benefit

 

Agreement shall be binding upon and inure to the benefit of the heirs, executors, administrators and assigns of Publisher, and upon and to the successors and assigns of All Romance.

 

  1. Survival

 

All provisions of this Agreement requiring performance after any termination or the breach of which is not discovered until after termination shall survive and apply to the parties with full force and effect notwithstanding any such termination.

 

  1. Force Majeure

 

All Romance is released from partial or complete non-performance of its obligations under this Agreement should force majeure circumstances occur, which prevent the fulfillment of such obligations, including without limitation, fire, flood, earthquake, strikes, labor disturbances, revolutions, embargoes, insurrection, governmental orders or regulations, electrical or computer failure, act of, delays or failure to act by any internet service provider or carrier or agent All Romance may use, systems, telecommunication companies and other entities of similar purpose, or any other conditions beyond the control of All Romance. The time stipulated for the performance and fulfillment of such obligations shall be extended for a period equal to that during which the circumstances of force majeure last.

 

  1. Entire Agreement; Venue.

 

This Agreement constitutes the entire agreement between All Romance and Publisher with respect to the subject matter hereof and supersedes all prior and contemporaneous communications. This Agreement may not be modified or amended except by an instrument accepted by both parties. All Romance and Publisher are and remain independent entities. This Agreement does not create any partnership, joint venture, agency, franchise, sales representative or employment relationship between All Romance and Publisher. Publisher and All Romance agree that any suit or proceeding in connection with this Agreement shall be brought exclusively in the state and federal courts presiding in Pinellas County, Florida USA and that service of process may be made by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the addresses of record for the parties under this Agreement.

 

  1. Electronic Signature

 

A check in the box below by Publisher shall constitute Publisher’s signature signifying acceptance of this Agreement with the intent that it be valid for all purposes and in compliance with the U.S. Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act of 2000 and the laws of any other applicable jurisdiction.

 

Updated: 03/14/12 12:00 Central U.S.

At the moment, my story is still blocked on Amazon and I have not received a response to my additional inquiries. I’ll let you know what happens.

Part Three Here.

All Romance EBooks Pulls a Fast One: What You Can Do To Fight Back

pirates-bill-davenportI was at work yesterday afternoon when I got the email from All Romance Ebooks announcing they were closing their doors effective 12/31 and offering a paltry ten cents on the dollar in royalty payments to authors in lieu of the expected fourth quarter payment.’

Because I was at work, I quickly scanned the email (not noticing a significant typo of a date that gives the company a loophole with regards to making even the minuscule payments offered) and cursed. I immediately pulled my self-published titles from their website, and hurried to my publisher to see what they intended to do, as all of my Dreamspinner titles were posted on ARe as well.

I then made a post spreading the word:

  1. Readers should no longer buy anything from ARe, as authors were not being paid for their works.
  2. I’ve pulled all my titles for sale on the All Romance website in advance of their 48 hour notice of closure. The good news is that currently you can get all my Dreamspinner titles on sale at their own website until 12/30–which includes my new release, Holiday House Swap. As for my non-Dreamspinner titles, Fool’s Gold and A Summer Fling are still available on Amazon. Fool’s Gold is back on Kindle Unlimited, and A Summer Fling is permanently free. I hope to place A Summer Fling into KU once I make sure it is not available in any other markets besides Amazon.

Dreamspinner made the following announcement on Facebook last evening: In response to All Romance eBooks closure notice: If readers pre-ordered Dreamspinner titles on ARe then you will not be able to download them upon release. If rumors are true, ARe will also not refund pre-orders. Therefore, Dreamspinner offers to fulfill readers’ pre-paid Dreamspinner pre-orders from ARe. You need to forward the ARe receipt to contactATdreamspinnerpressDOTcom and the customer service department will be sure you receive the eBook at no additional cost to you. Thank you.

Kudos to Dreamspinner! This is one of the reasons I love working with this press.

But the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. Though ARe called themselves a publisher, they provided no cover art, no editing, no formatting. They were a retailer only and their entire catalog was digital. Where did the money go? They were paying us out of a percentage of books already sold. How could they not pay us what was owed?

Then too was the shady practice of giving no advance warning of impending closure, of failing to notify anyone until the last day of revenue for the quarter had been wrung out of writers, publishers, and readers alike. Why then, were they offering ad space on their website just the week before–and saying it was almost sold out? You don’t just wake up one morning and decide your business is bust. I almost bought one of those pricey ads and I know other people who have. They aren’t being offered any means to get refunds.

Once the news spread, the website kept crashing as writers rushed to remove their titles and reader to download books already purchased before the ‘cloud’ vanished. People were left with ebucks that didn’t work and gift cards they didn’t know if they should spend or not, while the available titles dwindled sharply.

areMore questions have been raised, particularly in light of the extremely poor and insulting offer made to authors to accept a 10 cents on the dollar payout or NOTHING. Meanwhile, ARe posts a business-as-usual Tweet and nothing is said on their Facebook page, either. Most ironically, the banner on their Facebook page, which I saw when I went to leave a review about their shady practices, advertises “No Doors Closed.”

I can tell you, some of the author responses to this tone-deaf and out-of-place Tweet were priceless, even as the anger and worry came through loud and clear. I didn’t have a lot of independent sales on ARe at this time–I’d only recently moved Fool’s Gold off KU and over to wider distribution. But to be paid a handful of dollars when I’m owed hundreds is jaw-dropping. However ALL my Dreamspinner titles were on ARe as of last evening. Every story I’ve ever written. So I can only sit back and hold my breath to see what happens when DSP’s lawyers battle for what we’re owed. At least I have the power of an ethical and reputable publishing company behind me. I can only imagine how terrible it must be for authors who were counting on the fourth quarter royalties to make the mortgage payment or electric bill.

For the most complete summation of the extent of fraud perpetrated by the management of ARe–and more importantly, what you can do to prevent them from getting away with this scott-free, please check out this valuable post: Publisher All Romance: Closing Hits New Low in Stealing from Authors. The details in this post are jaw-dropping. If these allegations are true, then criminal charges need to be filed.

I’ve seen many readers ask what they can do to help. The first is don’t buy any more books from All Romance. Download the purchases you’ve already made. Seek out those real publishers, like Dreamspinner, who’ve offered via proof of receipt, to honor ARe’s fraudulent sales of pre-ordered books. But most importantly–leave book reviews. I don’t think readers have any idea just how much book reviews matter in visibility and discoverability in an increasingly discouraging and hard market. It doesn’t have to be much–but a short piece as to why you loved the story while you rate it is a big, big help.

Thank you.

Authors: Even if you decide to take no further legal action, please consider filing an internet crime report, copying and pasting your email from ARe and any pertinent information.

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*

Things I wish someone had told me as a newbie author and other musings…

Well, it’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegone—no wait. Not exactly. 🙂

It’s been a bit crazy, to be honest. I wrote a blog post on piracy and file-sharing that struck a chord with a lot of people. I’ve been attempting to respond to the sudden influx of emails, Facebook notifications, Tweets, and comments on the post itself. That’s derailed my week a bit, though in a good way.

Today is the first day of my monthly guest spots on Lou Sylvre‘s Authors Speak at Rainbow Gate blog. I’ll be posting on at Authors Speak on the 12th lof each month for now. For my debut, I decided to dig out and revise an older post, but one I felt was still relevant: Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me as a Newbie Author. My thanks to Lou for inviting me to be a regular part of the blog! I only hope I won’t disappoint–I’m not always eloquent and coherent, you know!

In the meantime, I have one revision on a deadline, another book in final edits, an injured cat, and a disrupted week because of needing minor surgery myself. Which means I’m probably going to be slow to answer comments and emails–I apologize in advance.

And though I’m told it’s dumb to release a cover without a buy link/pre-order link available with it, I don’t care. This cover by Reese Dante for my upcoming story is so lovely, I can’t wait to share it with you! Fool’s Gold is looking at a mid-July release date at the moment–I’ll tell you more when I get closer to the date.

Blurb: Eight years ago, Jake Stanford had it all: a spot on the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team and the love of his life, Rich Evans. A tragic accident wipes out everything in the blink of an eye. Hard work and sacrifice get him another shot at Olympic Gold, but only if he puts his past behind him and agrees to work with Rich again.

Bound by secrets he cannot share, Rich was forced to give up Jake eight years ago. Now he has a second chance to help Jake realize his dreams. But the secrets that drove them apart haven’t changed, and Rich must face them or risk losing Jake forever.

Fool'sGold-400x600

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.

Dear Broke Reader: Your Sense of Entitlement is Killing Me

Alone by Cherie/freeimages.com

Alone by Cherie/freeimages.com

I’m afraid this is going to be a fairly controversial post.

I stayed up FAR too long last night reading the posts and comments generated after someone solicited recommendations for pirate sites on their Facebook page. A few people took her to task for finding ways to steal stories–because yes, that’s what it is–but astonishingly, others came to her defense. The perpetrator herself shut down the censure of others, blocking them, calling them names, and then making fun of the people who dared to call her out for stealing from others. I have no doubt there will also be retaliatory negative reviews on some author’s books because that seems to be the way things work these days.

This resulted in screenshots of her post being shared all over Facebook as a warning to authors. More people came to this woman’s defense and the furor grew, with additional voices weighing in on the subject by sharing the original post. And while I was annoyed and upset that once again, someone feels entitled to a creative work without paying for it, nothing prepared me for the number of people who agreed with her.

Now, I’ve been reading a lot about entitlement lately. Entitlement from fans demanding that showrunners give them certain storylines or fans contacting authors and demanding they receive free stories. Fans putting pressure on creators by bullying them online, by threatening their pets, by wishing dire things would happen to those same people who brought them the thing they love so much. I have some theories about why we are so angry these days. I think in part it’s because we’re all so hungry. We’re emotionally, financially, and in some cases, physically starving. We work our asses off at our jobs to barely make ends meet and at the end of the day, we want our reward, damn it. Be it our favorite television show, or that bottle of wine, or that tub of Rocky Road ice cream, or the latest release from our favorite authors.

I get that. I really do. I live that. Overworked, underpaid, under-appreciated–hey, join the club. It’s part of the reason I write. I tell stories because it helps me put aside the cares and worries of today. I jokingly say it’s cheaper than therapy. I share stories because I want to make someone else’s day a bit brighter.

But I don’t give them away for free. I can’t.

So it was upsetting to see how many people in so many posts defended the pirate-site seeker. There seemed to be three basic arguments:

I’m broke and I can’t afford to pay for my entertainment.

Oh honey. I’m with you there. See, I went to school, worked hard, racked up huge student loans to pay for my extensive education and spent twelve years paying them off. Just when things were starting to turn around for me, the economy went into the dumper, business fell off, and I incurred some major medical expenses. I haven’t had a television in 15 years and only recently could get access to broadband. I had to wait for favorite shows to come out on DVD and then had to save up to buy them. God bless Netflix. I’m now able to catch up on many shows I had to abandon.

But see, the thing is, I recognize that I am still a privileged person. I’m living in tight circumstances, yes, but privileged just the same. I have a roof over my head, food in the fridge, and can mostly pay my bills. I have access to the internet in my own home, own a laptop, a ten year old iPod, and a smartphone. I choose to have certain things. By choosing to have some things, it means I can’t have others. That’s called life, sweetie.

Besides, there’s this marvelous thing called a public library. You can go there and check out books, movies, and music for free! The best part is the library already paid for these things! And because it’s a loan which you will then return, it’s not stealing. Also, the library paid for these things out of a portion of the taxes you give to your community. So not checking out books from your library is like paying for Netflix and never using it.

But you want to read stories in your favorite genres and the library doesn’t carry them. Ask them to. If there is enough demand, the library will look into getting the stories you want. It can’t hurt to ask.

Oh, but you want your reading on your Kindle–and you don’t want to give it back. Well, there are hundreds of places where you can access free reads. Authors post things to Wattpad, there are countless fanfiction stories on multiple archives, and there are stories in public domain sites, such as Project Gutenberg. Tons of free material for your reading pleasure. Let’s not forget Book Bub, which offers short-term deals on all kinds of stories. You can even tailor the notices to your favorite genres. I get a lot of my own reading material that way–even as I recognize the pitfalls of such practices. In my opinion, such services go a long way to helping devalue the price of books in the mind of the average reader… but it is a way of getting deeply discounted or free stories legally. There’s also Kindle Unlimited. I’m not a fan myself, but I’m told for a flat fee–again like Netflix–you have unlimited access to a wide variety of genres and authors.

Oh. You want stories in your favorite genres by your favorite authors and you want them today, without having to pay for them, regardless of their listed price. Yeah, that’s entitlement. And when you download them illegally from a pirate site or torrent, that’s stealing. Let’s just get the terms right, okay?

Come to think of it, the notion that books should be free might be a big factor in why many publishing houses are dropping their lines of cozy mysteries–they simply aren’t profitable enough, despite the existing fan base. Think about that.

Creative works should be free–the purpose of creativity is to tell stories and share them, and there shouldn’t be a monetary component to the process.

I gotta admit, I was gobsmacked by this one. I see. So the very nobility of my purpose means I shouldn’t get paid for it. I should create for the pure joy of making things and release my creative works like doves into the sky, crying, “Go! Fly! Be Free!” as I let them go.

By this argument, all medical care should be free. Because what higher calling can there be than to be a doctor? I think I’ll try that argument with the bill collection services. I’ve been paying off medical bills for the last ten years now. I’m sure if I point out how noble it is to be a doctor and how much money I’ve already spent, they’ll cheerfully waive my remaining fees.

And seriously, guys like Michael Jordan love the game so much, no one should have to pay athletes ridiculous amounts of money for your television entertainment. Oh sure, you’re not paying the superstars yourselves–but the teams are, and the television channels are, and the advertisers are–all to catch your attention for a few moments in the hopes of selling you something. Guess what? It may seem free to you, but it’s not. Someone paid for it and they’re hoping their investment will pay off. It’s not a direct payment on your part–but when you become convinced you can’t live without an iPhone, you only drink Budweiser, and you feel that you must have a new car this year–you are paying for it.

Besides, if there were no financial incentive for playing basketball, the players would be doing something else. They have to earn a living, too. So you wouldn’t be able to watch them play, unless you lived in their neighborhood and could drop by for a pickup game Saturday afternoon after work.

Forget about the effort it takes to write a story. Let’s ignore the author’s contribution to this endeavor and deny them any right to be paid for their creativity. This ‘art should be free’ argument completely discounts the fact someone has to pay the editors, cover artists, formatters, distributors, book promotions teams, buy a dealer’s table and so on. I guess entitled readers expect that investment to come out of my own pocket with no hope of return. And if authors didn’t pay someone for these services, we’d have to do them ourselves, taking time away from writing to do so. Not to mention a shabby editing job or poorly executed cover is one of the first things readers will complain about.

Writers already make enough money.

Dear Lord, this one made me want to cry. Seriously?? Yes, there are some writers who make a ton of money, just like there are some basketball players or actors who make a ton of money. But the vast majority of basketball players make little to no money at all. And the notion of an actor working at a bar or coffee shop to pay the bills is practically a trope.

I call it the Castle syndrome. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the show in the early seasons. The premise was ridiculous but fun. One of the things that made me roll my eyes the most was the unlimited depths to Castle’s wallet. It made for an entertaining series because there was always the money to do outrageous things. But realistic? It was about as realistic as the notion that everyone in NYC can afford to live in huge apartments or that the NYPD would let a crime writer become permanently attached to the homicide squad.

Yes, there are authors like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and E.L. James that have made truckloads of money. Put it this way: you know there are people who win the lottery. It does happen. Chances are you don’t know anyone personally who has won, however, and the odds of it happening to you are slim to none. The stats on author earnings is grim to say the least. In this 2012 article by the Guardian, average earnings were less than ten thousand a year.

Let’s put it into perspective. I couldn’t get the above sentence out of my head last night, so I went to one of the illegal torrents I’ve battled in the past. Yep, four of my stories were there. So, counting only the royalties I would have received, not full price, I calculated how much I lost due to the over 16 K downloads listed. It came to about 13.5 K. That’s thirteen thousand, five hundred dollars and change. From one site. One. I routinely come across dozens of these pirate sites and torrents. I report them to my publisher. I send out DCMA notices. I report them to Google to block their pages in searches. All of this is extremely time-consuming and frustrating. No sooner do I strike down one, four pop up in its place. It’s like battling a Hydra.

Those lost royalties from that one site would have paid outright for the new car I desperately needed and was forced to buy. Or covered the medical bills I’ve been chipping away over time. It would have paid for the new septic system, or here’s a thought, I might actually be able to take more than two to three consecutive days off for  a change. I might not have had to wait five years to save up for extensive dental work that I had to have done, or made do another two years with glasses when my prescription had changed. I’m not looking to be a millionaire, folks. I’d just like to break even. Maybe put a little aside for a future in which I am no longer physically capable of working as hard as I do.

There are people who will argue that these readers, the ones that download my work for free, wouldn’t have bought them anyway. That word of mouth sells more stories than anything else, and if readers love my books, they’ll tell their friends. Yes, but if they acquire them illegally, they will tell their friends how to steal them as well. How exactly does that help me? My response to this argument is I don’t care if they wouldn’t have bought them anyway. Let them read something else.

I give away stories for free. I have a free story permanently listed on Amazon. My publisher routinely holds sales. I sell books at a loss at conventions (I look at it as promotion) because I want people to read and enjoy them–but I sell them to cover the cost of the table, of the travel, of the unpaid leave from work. It’s not free to me. None of it is.

Autumn Path WoodsAnd let me finish here by saying I deeply appreciate every single reader who supports me by purchasing my stories. You guys are the gems that have helped me through some rough times. You’re the people who paid for my dog’s life-saving surgery. You’re the people who’ve made the mortgage payment in lean months and let me take my first real vacation (eight whole days off in a row!) in nearly a decade back in 2012. You’re the reason I keep writing, when it would be smarter for me to put my time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears into something else.

You’re why I don’t do that. You’re why I keep writing.