The Black Spot

Authors of the world, unite!
Authors of the world, unite!

This post is not the post I was planning to write today. It’s come about as a result of another post by Nick Rossis, about book piracy. Nick’s post, which is well worth a read, is about a new sort of book piracy whereby someone steals your entire book, then publishes it under their own name or with a new ASIN, through Createspace or a similar POD program, collecting royalties from sales.

After reading Nick’s post, I ran a Google search for both my books by title. Fortunately, I didn’t find them published under another name – however, I did find them offered for free on several sites, which was kind of infuriating. One site had even lifted my author bio complete with photo, plus several reviews, making it look semi-legitimate. All of these sites had disclaimers, which were basically nonsense, about how ‘they didn’t support illegal activity, they were only gateways to other sites where you actually downloaded the book, they took no responsibility’ yada yada. When I did click the download links, I was taken to other sites where I had to sign up just to read the ‘About’ page. Hmm, seems really legit.

If I felt my work appeared on any of these sites illegally (which of course it did), I could email them and let them know. Wow, thanks, guys. Thanks so much for offering my book free to your subscribers, and giving me the option to ‘let you know’ if I wasn’t happy with that. Honestly.

I was in good company on these sites – Tolkien, Neil Gaiman and Christopher Paolini also showed up, which I’m sure was just the tip of the iceberg.

And the worst part is that I couldn’t see the point in even emailing them. For starters, they were offering my book for free, which means they weren’t making any direct profits from the downloads – instead, they were making money from subscription fees and advertising. In order to claim any sort of damages, I would have to prove that I’d lost sales or that they’d made money directly from my book, which I imagine would be the most twisted of wormholes to wander down. Of course there is a moral point, where I could demand they take the damn book down and not offer it any more, thank you very much. But it would just pop up somewhere else, on another site just like that one. And so my days would be consumed by chasing and chasing, instead of doing what I love, which is writing.

There are those out there, I’m sure, who would say ‘But isn’t it a good thing? If it leads more readers to your books? It’s exposure, right? Isn’t that why you write, so people read your stories?’

To which I say, ‘Bullshit.’

Of course I write stories for people to read. That’s the reward, when someone leaves a review saying they love your book, when they recommend it to others. It is the service to the Muse, the compulsion to weave stories from thin air, characters talking so you cannot ignore what they have to say and have to write it down.

But I also spend time editing and working to make my story the best it can be. I work with a professional editor and cover designer. I market and network and promote whenever I can, because it is my job. And I can’t think of many other jobs in the world where people would be expected to provide their services for free because ‘it’s good exposure, it gets your name out there, etc etc.’ And yet we seem to be moving towards a culture where people want books and art and music and movies, but are losing sight of the fact that people need to be paid to create these wonderful things, or else they can’t actually afford to do so. I know not all people feel this way, and there are many great supporters of independent artists out there. However, there does seem to be an idea that all this creative output comes from some sort of ‘big business,’ and so it doesn’t matter if you download this for free, or stream that for free.

It does matter. It matters a great deal.

So how about you? I’m sure I’m not alone in this – in fact, I imagine that just about every writer on here is in a similar boat. If you have found your work offered for free, what have you done about it? I’d love to hear.

(PS The Black Spot is a pirate term referring to a piece of paper, black on one side with a warning on the other. When you got The Black Spot, things weren’t looking good)

47 thoughts on “The Black Spot

  1. Happens to me all the time. Take one down and another rises up. Though I’m never 100% certain if the person has my actual book. You see, some of those sites are simply trying to bait people into downloading malware and viruses. The ’email us to get your book removed’ page is a way to catch an author’s personal info. Nearly every time I went to one of those sites, my anti-virus and anti-malware software went nuts the moment I left the main page. It’s probably another reason they put these ‘books’ up for free.

    1. Yes, I’ve heard that too – another reason I thought ‘why bother.’ It’s a shame that we’re in a position where trying to protect our own work can lead to much bigger issues. Thanks for sharing your experience πŸ™‚

      1. You’re welcome. I take some comfort in the fact that the people probably don’t have anything more than the info you get off the Amazon site. Not the actual book, but enough to make the foolish think you have it. Sure some of them do though.

      2. Yes, that is something to take comfort in. I only found one site where I could actually see the text from my book, but it was all blurred – if I wanted to access it I had to sign up for an account. The rest wouldn’t even let me in until I’d signed up, and there was no way I was doing that.

  2. Seems unfair that in 2016 there aren’t more safeguards in place for authors on the Internet. Almost makes me scared to try it. Sounds like it’s worth the frustration of a brick and mortar publishing house. Sorry for your troubles when what you really want to do is write. Hmm. It just sucks.

    1. Thanks Linda. For the most part publishing has been a really positive experience, and Amazon are apparently very pro-active when it comes to protecting their authors. Unfortunately working with a publisher, even the big ones, is no guarantee. I saw plenty of books by big name authors being offered on these sites next to mine. It is an unfortunate reality of the world we live in. So don’t let it get you down – I’m annoyed today, but it won’t stop me writing πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks Chris – that’s great information. I clicked on a couple of download links but as they wanted a registration form I just got out of there. I think that’s really important to know.

    1. OMG I just realised that! πŸ˜€ I was looking for an image that seemed to embody my feelings and my ape statue photo fit the bill. I took it in Australia at a place called The Enchanted Maze – that’s a blog post for another day…

  3. Really interesting. Something similar has happened to an artist friend when he google searched his images after his artist friend found his pictures for sale on another website without his knowledge. I wonder if it’s the same sort of thing.

    1. I think it is. Unfortunately one of the downsides of the internet. It’s tough to police as well. That’s really awful though – at least my books were being offered free, I’d have been a lot angrier if they were making money by selling my work.

  4. I read that post by Nick too. I’m not sure if I want to do a search for my books… I’d be furious, and don’t want to start my weekend like that. I’m really sorry this has happened to you. But… the fact that those big name authors haven’t wasted their time getting their books removed indicates that they’re just a scam and not a real threat to authors.

    1. I was annoyed, Ali – but I also thought the same thing, that if these big authors hadn’t bothered chasing it up, maybe I shouldn’t either. And then Charles commented that a lot of these sites are just trying to scam details from people by getting them to register, so, while it annoys me that they’re using my book to do that, I’m not going to take it any further at the moment. I could only see the actual text on one site and it was blurred – I could access it by signing up.
      I think I’m just going to get on with writing, otherwise I think I could get sucked into a state where I’m constantly policing my work and not doing anything else. Not much else I can do, really πŸ™‚

    1. Yes, Charles said the same thing. It’s a sad part of life on the Internet, I guess. I was taken to one site where I could see the text of my book, but it was blurred – I could access it if I signed up though, apparently.
      And you’re very welcome for the mention – thank you for always sharing your knowledge with everyone and for being a lovely blogging friend πŸ™‚

  5. You’re very wise not to give up your detailsβ€”they wouldn’t care if you complained to them, anyway. If you could find out who was hosting their website, maybe you could complain to them and have the site shutdown …

    I love that having access to music, videos, information, all at our fingertips, but I do realise there is a cost, and it’s the supplier, i.e. the artist, who misses out. Given how global these things are, policing it is nigh impossible. I don’t know where it will all end upβ€”I don’t think anybody does. In the meantime, we keep making our art, and crossing our fingers …

    1. That’s all we can do – if I started getting serious about policing every little thing, my whole day would be taken up. These phishing sites are just the bottom-feeders of the internet, a modern iteration of something that’s always been around. I agree, they wouldn’t care one bit if I complained – one of them even said not to contact their hosting sites, because that could make the complaint process ‘take longer.’ So it’s best to ignore and get on with things, no matter how annoying it is.

  6. Ohhhh gaaaaaad. I hate and love reading stuff like this. It’s a reminder to always be on your guard but it also terrifies me. All these traps and pitfalls. It’s a wonder anyone publishes. And like you say, you can’t bloody win, whether you go trad or not some f*ckers guna try and rob you. UGH. πŸ™„

    1. Yes, all you can really do is get annoyed and then move on, otherwise you’d disappear down a wormhole of constant vigilance. As several commenters have mentioned, most of these sites are phishing sites and don’t really have the books they offer. Now if they were selling my books without permission, that would be another issue! So every so often I’ll be doing a Google search, just to keep an eye on things – I also have Google alerts on which hopefully will catch most things. πŸ™‚

  7. I reckon half the problem is that people are flailing around madly on the Internet trying to think of ways to monetise thin air and prove that lame advertising which sells nothing and does nothing is worth something. Click farms and subscription lists are given monetary value, as are sites that raise revenue per click rather than for anything of actual worth to anyone. If they could clean out all this dross, we’d all be better off (not to mention happier, calmer, and less prone to throttlement).

      1. Sounds like a bargain, really πŸ™‚ Now, if we can only get this author reality show thingy off the ground, we might be partway to making our first billion…

  8. Me too, I’ve done a search and found some of my books on those sites too. Annoying but as long as I’m getting legitimate sales I haven’t the time or energy to expend on them. Goes with the territory I guess. Interesting post and comments, thanks for sharing.

  9. This is totally infuriating. Hasn’t happened to me personally, but it would drive me wild. However, I think you’re doing the right thing – it’s a total waste of time trying to chase every crook out there.

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