A Tale of Intellectual Thievery and the Self-Published Author:
When I used to hear about artists having their work stolen, my first reaction would usually be an eye roll. Why? Because most of the complaints came from celebrities, like Taylor Swift, who have more money in the bank than I could ever dream of. So, I would scoff at her frustration with these annoying pirates that want to make her work free to the public. I mean what’s a few free downloads really going to do, stop her from buying a new, ten thousand dollar pair of sling-backs?
Now, I feel like I have to apologize to Ms. Swift for being so hasty in my reaction to her dilemma (although I never made my views public before and I’m sure she would not be aware of them or they would be nothing she hadn’t heard before). The reason for the apology is brought on by my sudden, startling, revelation that, I, too, had fallen victim to having my intellectual property stolen.
On April, 6 2016 I went looking for my author/blog page to show my mother my wonderful website. That is the same day that I found that a site called Inicio, which I had never heard of before, was giving my first novel, On Being a First Mistress, to its subscribers, for free. What made my stomach lurch was that I had only sold three copies of my book, making a profit of $6.12 from the first three months on Amazon. Now, I found that I would be competing for attention given to my book on Kindle – selling the book for $2.99, Barnes and Noble’s Nook and Kobo for $4.99 – retailers who I had given the right to sell my book – and Inicio, who was offering it for free. And I know that consumers love bargains, so why not go with the free copy? Right?
According to Inicio, they are adding new titles to their sites every day and I wonder how many of the authors even know that their work is on this site because I never would have known if I had not been looking for my website. And the larger question is: why should we, the authors of various texts: books, music, film, etc., be expected to vigilantly look through the internet for our works that have been published without our consent or knowledge? We shouldn’t and we can’t. It is impossible to be able to find them every time someone violates our copyrights because the internet simply has too much information.
I am quite familiar at this stage in my life with having my thoughts stolen. During my years as a college student, both undergrad and graduate, I had my fellow students, intentionally or unintentionally use my ideas in the classroom or in message board chats, not giving me credit for said ideas. When I began to publish on the FanFiction site, I, again, fell victim to theft when others took my story, Caroline, the Vampire Slayer (inspired by Joss Wendon’s Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and published in the Vampire Diaries cue found under the penname LitLover 101), and published it on other fanfiction sites, without my permission, penname or knowledge. I do understand that writers of fanfiction are not protected due to the characters not being our property, nor the source material, etc. Whether or not the writing of fanfiction is legal is still a hotly debated topic. However, when a person sits down and works to create a story you should show them the due respect of asking them to use their work.
This brings me back to what can, we, the authors of original works, do to protect our work. Does placing a DRM on copyrighted material that is registered with the copyright office do us any good? No! It does not! Why? Because the DRM can be removed and there are plenty of sites and videos that will show you just exactly how to do it. And what happens when you ask the copyright office for help? You receive an e-mail informing you that you can contact a lawyer. That’s awesome! And for anyone who is not making $6.12, that might even work.
What does anyone do when they can’t afford a lawyer? You damn well get on the internet and start telling as many people that will listen that Inicio is participating in copyright infringement and that anyone who downloads a copy is also in violation. And maybe people don’t care. Maybe the world is the kind of place in which people don’t care about each other and whether or not an author does not get paid for the work that she or he produced. Maybe that is fine with people. But I like to think that there are a lot of people who do not feel that way and will not participate. I would like to live in that world where Taylor Swift and I can go breathe a deep sigh of relief because our work is no longer being given away, unless it is our choice to do so.
Thank you for taking the time to read and I would like to hear your thoughts on the subject. This will be part of an on-going series of articles as I fight to have my work removed from any site that does not have my permission to use my work.
-J. I. Hatfield