Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Copyright Protection Service: Another One You Don't Need

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Ah, the Internet. An endlessly expanding universe of opportunities...and opportunism. Whatever the latest hot-button issue is, there's a schemer or a spammer waiting to cash in.

In the world of authors, the rush to digital is the hottest of hot-button issues right now--and with it (at least for some authors), comes the fear of piracy. Accordingly, if you've published a book, you may have received the following solicitation from an outfit called Copyright Protection Service:
RE: Copyright Violations

Dear [name redacted],

As of today, [date redacted], copies of your books are being sold on UN-Authorized internet sites in pdf and ebook format.

This is NOT an advertisement. Like you, I truly hate receiving email advertisements. There are currently pirated copies of your books being sold on unauthorized sites that I have personally located and have proof of, or you would NOT be receiving this message.
Words calculated to plunge a cold spike of dread deep into an anxious author's heart! Copyright Protection is, of course, eager to help.
My company specializes in locating and stopping copyright violations. We have a very successful 7 step process to stop the violators.

1. Violation located
2. URL immediately saved in our system
3. Request immediately sent to Violator to remove copyrighted material
4. URL revisited/checked every 24 hours
5. If URL is still live in 72 hours - Web Host is notified
6. If URL is still live in 96 hours - Web Host is contacted via telephone and/or certified mail
7. Author receives proof of violation and removal

This process allows an unaware violator to respond accordingly and willingly remove copyrighted material in a timely manner. In the event such response and removal is not forthcoming, Copyright Protection Service will send necessary notifications to Web Hosts and payment processors and make every effort to remove the violation.
Now, you don't get all this for free. But don't worry--the cost is "minimal." Just $25 per month, $75 per quarter, or $275 per year ("pay annually and save $25!").

Okay, so we're Writer Beware, and we're skeptical by nature. But piracy is a growing feature of our  increasingly digital world. Mightn't there be a good reason to pay for a service like this?

No.

First of all, Copyright Protection's website is innocent of any information about the company or the people who work for it. We're assured that they are "Highly Trained Personnel using Professional Tracking Skills," but there's no hint of who these highly trained individuals might be, or exactly what professional tracking skills they possess. (Copyright Protection's URL is registered to a Clint McCord of Dallas, Texas, who, based on a web search, could be a car dealer, a real estate agent, or none of the above.) Since you have no way to verify who works for the company, and thus to check out their resumes, you have no way to know whether they're actually competent to provide the service.

Secondly, copyright infringers and their web hosts don't have to respond to notifications or phone calls or certified mail. Copyright Protection's 7-step process might work for individual infringers who want to avoid trouble, but for companies such as Scribd, or for auction sites, or for torrent sites, it's all but guaranteed to be completely ineffective. There is, however, a very specific process that any infringer  does have to respond to if it's located in the USA, and will often honor even if it's not: a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice. Will Copyright Protection send DMCA notices? Is that what they mean when they say they'll "send necessary notifications to Web Hosts" if the 7-step process fails? Who knows? Bottom line: if a copyright protection service can't or won't send DMCA notices, they aren't worth using, even if they don't charge a penny.

Thirdly, everything Copyright Protection claims to do, you can do yourself (for free), from monitoring the Internet to sending takedown notices.

Keeping an eye out for infringement isn't hard. Just set up Google Alerts for your name and the titles of your books (and any other phrase or subject you want to keep track of online), and you'll receive an email every time they pop up on the Internet. It's also a good idea to periodically do websearches on yourself and your books; you can also search on character names or distinctive phrases or sentences. If your work is cyber-lurking anywhere it shouldn't be, you'll probably find it.

If the infringer is a blog or a personal website, start with a cease and desist letter to the owner. In my experience, this is often all that's needed. But if the owner doesn't respond, or if you can't find contact info, or if it's torrent site or a company like eBay or Scribd, a DMCA notice is the best option. For info on DMCA notices and how to send them, see these three informative posts from Jonathan Bailey of the Plagiarism Today blog: DMCA Takedown 101, Takedown FAQ, and Stock Cease & Desist and Takedown Letters.

As I noted, US-based sites and services are required by law to respond to DMCA notices, and those based in other countries often have a policy of honoring them as well. Still, it's possible your notice will be ignored. In that case, you can send a notice to search engines such as Google, which will then block the site from search results. Another option, for non-self-published authors: enlist your publisher's help. They won't be any happier about pirated books than you are.

A final question to consider: how much does the infringement matter to you? When I find content from Writer Beware, or from this blog, reproduced without permission or attribution, I take immediate action--it's important to control such information, since part of its authority derives from its provenance, plus it quickly becomes out of date. I do the same if I discover that any of my work is illegally being sold in electronic form (I sent a DMCA notice just the other day to a buy-sell website where some jerk was selling PDFs of both my most recent books, whose electronic rights reverted to me in December; it took the website less than an hour to yank the listing). I'd also take action for any online plagiarism of my articles or stories (to date I've never found an incidence of this). But for the most predictable and frequent infringement--torrent sites, where pirated versions of two of my books are available for free download--I don't bother. I don't condone piracy, but torrent sites are hard to deal with--plus the books are out of print, so it's not as if I'm losing any royalty income. With a new release, I might feel differently.

Ultimately, you may not be able to resolve every incident of infringement. Or you may quash one only to discover another. Honestly, though, this is not an issue you should be losing sleep over. The truth is that for the average writer, infringement and piracy aren't nearly as ubiquitous or as damaging as the alarmists and those who would like to profit from alarmism want you to believe. And what incidences do occur aren't hard to track and deal with on your own. There's certainly no reason to pay some anonymous service to do it for you.

12 comments:

Lehcarjt said...

Any email that says "This is NOT an advertisement" and then procedes to tell you about the product they offer clearly has problems.

Frances Grimble said...

Victoria,

I know nothing about this company or whether their services are legitimate. However:

I think piracy is a very serious and growing problem, as witnessed by not only torrent sites, but by the Google scanning project. You may call it alarmist, but I call it a very important threat to the future of paying publishing.

I signed up for the trial/free version of the Google alerts several years ago to get marketing information about who is legitimately selling, reviewing, and blogging about my books--which is another good use for automated notifications. I was not impressed. Google was not finding signficant material that I found myself in manual searches.

Perhaps the Google alerts have improved since. However, do they search the "black web"? That is, database-based websites, forums, e-groups, and tweets? Database-based sites and groups are most often legitimate, copyright-wise. But being inaccessible in a web search means they are also favored by pirates for posting books under cryptic file names on a warez site and then telling other pirates how to download those files on a separate pirate b-board.

I also think that although you can certainly do all the searches by hand, it is considerable work, especially for a prolific author of not only books but other publications such as magazine articles. An author, publisher, or agent might well want software assistance to track down illegal posts and announcements of those posts. As well as legitimate reviews and mentions on blogs, forums, etc.

My husband is an artificial intelligence programmer who designs notification software that his company uses for US Department of Defense projects. The company he works for, even though it's been in business for over 30 years, is small and has a modest website they seldom get around to updating. They do not sell to consumers. So you might well slam them also as a company you never heard of.

Believe me, I've urged my husband to get his company to produce a copyright violation notification program. I would love to have one. However, they do not currently produce commercial software.

I assure you that it is technically possible to search the web in depth and provide automatic notifications. It is possible to distinguish legitimate from illegitmate posts (at least to some extent). People are working on searching the black web (no good solutions found yet), And it is possible to compare the orginal document files with posts to see if text has been posted without attribution.

His comments: A search engine is necessary for the web part and it would be best to partner with a search engine company rather than writing a new search engine. It's a processing-intensive application and would thus be expensive, likely a service for publishers rather than writers.

This company may or may not be a scam, but it is mere prejudice on your part to dismiss copyright violations as inherently trivial and notification services as all scammers.

Frances Grimble said...

Victoria,

If you want to find out who's posting your book under cryptic file names on warez sites, you need to monitor the pirate e-groups and b-boards where they give the title of the book and the file name so everyone else can upload the files. I used to do this manually, till I realized that although many members of my audience will pirate everything that's not nailed down, they do not do it on pirate sites. When they offer other people's work for free, they do it in subject-related e-groups and forums (which I monitor).

What I found on the pirate sites is the most popular books to pirate are textbooks, computer books, speculative fiction, and bestsellers. So SF authors may be interested in monitoring these groups if they have the stomach for it. I was completely nauseated by seeing other authors' works gleefully pirated every day.

I found out the names of the groups from a publishers' e-group--I asked what groups other people were monitoring for piracy of their own work. I do not know where the pirates hang out right now, but authors could try asking around among other authors.

I've also noticed some people happily advocating piracy in a thinly disguised way (as in "I always know all the newest free files to upload!") right on the Asimov's magazine forum and urging forum members to contact them privately for more information. I suspect they would be happy to tell authors what to monitor, if they believed those authors were fellow pirates.

Piracy is a nasty situation but has to be faced, IMO.

Frances Grimble said...

Another idea is, an author's group where authors could take turns monitoring pirate sites and notify all the other authors not currently monitoring, of violations. It's no more work to monitor for violations of a few friends' work along with your own, then they can send their own takedown notices. When I see piracy on subject-related forums, I notify the other authors, and/or publishers, sometimes a distributor--whoever I can find to notify.

Victoria Strauss said...

This company may or may not be a scam, but it is mere prejudice on your part to dismiss copyright violations as inherently trivial and notification services as all scammers.

And it is mere hyperbole on your part to describe my blog post thus.

I make no such dismissals. I simply point out that a) there's no way to determine whether this company is qualified to do what it claims to do (which doesn't just involve notifications, but actual takedowns); b) that there's no reason to pay someone to do what you can do yourself; and c) that while piracy is a growing issue, copyright infringement is not nearly as common as many writers, who tend to be overly paranoid about this sort of thing, think. Opportunistic "service providers" looking to make a buck on the latest trend are a much bigger threat.

I don't mind defending my arguments, but it really bugs me when they are mischaracterized.

Google Alerts doesn't capture everything (which is why I suggest augmenting it with websearches), but it does capture tweets and forum posts.

Joshua Scheer said...

Victoria, I found the post to be very informative and concerning. This is an issue that I haven't thought too much about, but will consider for the future as I get published. Thank you.

Frances Grimble said...

Victoria,

A database-based forum regenerates the web page anew every time it is accessed by someone, which is why such forums are hard to provide notifications for.

In addition, there is the issue of forums with archives protected from non-members. You do not necessarily know in advance about every forum where our work may be mentioned or pirated.

I think writers and other copyright holders have every reason to be concerned about piracy, considering the number of "all information should be free" advocates on the net. And unfortunately, scanning and even selling your e-files without permission is also being done by some big businesses, not just teenagers.

Also, there have been two attempts so far to pass so-called orphan works acts through Congress--acts that would enable anyone to use any work they cannot easily identify without permission or penalty, including commercial uses. If one person pirated and posted your work without attributing it to you, anyone else who found and wanted to use it could claim they could not identify the author.

I find it wearing to chase files versions around the net. Yes, I can do it myself. I also publish my own books, which is another thing authors don't actually have to pay anyone for. I could do my own house-painting work in addition.

However, there is a limit the time any individual has--which is a good reason to hire other people.

I will say that anyone offering a takedown service--as opposed to notifications only--should (a) require the copyright holder to sign a legal form giving permission to issue such notices and (b) have a system to enable the copyright holder to define/list legitimate users of the work, to avoid mistakenly issuing takedown notices to them.

steeleweed said...

In the past 2 days, I've stumbled across 3 instances of illegal copying/selling of protected material. In one case, a free eBook was copied, author's name changed, then sold from a private site. In another case, a pay-eBook was pirated, massaged to conceal authorship and sold.

Anyone putting a book online should:

1) Clearly define terms of use, so thieves can't claim ignorance or confusion over vague terminology.

2) Do not grant Creative Commons License unless you want to give it all away and accept misuse, mis-attribution and damage to your reputation (and maybe your pocketbook).

2) Document and keep handy, the information needed to respond quickly to DMCA violations and copyright violations, including proof of copyright ownership.

3) Stay aware of the state of your online IP. Respond quickly, with as much firepower as possible. A polite request to a careless blogger may work. A genuine rip-off artist will ignore you and figure you will not push hard or he will be gone before you can nail him.

Jonathan Bailey said...

To be honest, I hadn't heard of this particular company but I am seeing outfits like this crop up a great deal lately.

To be clear, I do offer copyright enforcement assistance as a paid consulting service. I have a full-service copyright consulting firm in CopyByte. As such, this site could be considered competition to me and I don't wish to badmouth competitors for many reasons but I do share many of the same concerns.

There are many legitimate copyright enforcement services on the Web, including some I've worked with in the past and present, but they all have the same things in common. They tell you who they are, exactly what they do and how they do it. They also are clear at the risks and dangers of enforcement. I don't see that on this site, just vague promises of quick fixes and that worries me.

Furthermore, the way this company promotes itself has me worried as well.

I also agree that no one needs a copyright enforcement service. On Plagiarism Today, I place pretty much all that you need to know to do it yourself. Still, people kept wanting me to handle situations for them, either due to a lack of time or interest in getting involved.

In many ways it is like going to a mechanic or an oil change shop. Pretty much anyone can do basic repairs or maintenance, but many prefer to pay someone else to do it both to get an expert and to avoid the hassle, such it is in my business. For those who want to do it themselves, I'm happy to help with information, for those who don't, I'm happy to help with my time.

That being said, I think copyright holders should be more self-aware and better able to handle piracy issues themselves. Not only does it save money and time, but it means more copyright holders are actively enforcing their work and that makes life more difficult for pirates and easier for me.

It means I might get to take a vacation... at some point.

Bottom line is I share your concerns and agree with pretty much everything you said, I just wanted to add some of my own thoughts and experiences.

Thank you very much for this post!

jongibbs said...

Another useful post.

Thanks for sharing, Victoria :)

Marian said...

J. A. Konrath is doing an experiment on his blog (using one of his ebooks) to see if piracy negatively impacts sales.

Uma said...

thank you, very helpful post