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 ViolationsWords calculated to plunge a cold spike of dread deep into an anxious author's heart! Copyright Protection is, of course, eager to help.
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.
My company specializes in locating and stopping copyright violations. We have a very successful 7 step process to stop the violators.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!").
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.
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?
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.