Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers, industry news, and commentary. Writer Beware is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

February 22, 2018

How the Internet Archive Infringed My Copyrights and Then (Kind Of) Blew Me Off


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Last month, I wrote about the Internet Archive's Open Library project, which has been scanning donated print books, creating PDFs and EPUBs from the scans, and placing the scans and the digitized versions online for public borrowing--all without seeking permission from authors.

Although the IA describes these books as being "mostly from the 20th century" and "largely not available either physically or digitally", numerous books in the Open Library collection are recently published, in-copyright, and commercially available. SFWA is among several writers' groups that considers the Open Library project to be not library lending, but direct infringement of authors' copyrights.

On hearing about Open Library, I of course checked it out to see if any of my books were included. I found four, each in multiple formats: a scan of the print book, a PDF (the photographic scan rendered page by page), an EPUB (an OCR conversion full of errors--weird characters, garbled words, headers included in the text, and the like), and a DAISY (an encrypted format for the visually impaired that requires a special key to de-crypt). All of these books are currently "in print" and available for sale.

Here's how my books appeared on Open Library, with the blue "Borrow" buttons indicating their availability for borrowing.


Passion Blue has a yellow "Join Waitlist" button because I borrowed and downloaded it to Adobe Digital Editions, to see what the digitizations looked like and also to check whether the borrows expired after 14 days, as promised. (They did.)


One of the questions that has concerned SFWA and other writers' groups is how the IA responds to DMCA notices. So on January 1, I sent one for Passion Blue.



No response. On January 9, I sent another.


Still nothing. On January 25, I sent a third DMCA notice.


Crickets.

Well, this was annoying, especially since, in a January 24 post to the Internet Archive blog, IA founder Brewster Kahle promised "prompt action" on DMCA requests. But hey, maybe the IA folks were just swamped with takedown notices and were working through a big backlog. I resolved to be patient.

Then, on January 27, author Virginia Anderson alerted me to her blog post about her experience with Open Library and the IA. Like me, she'd found one of her books available, had sent DMCA notices, and had heard nothing back. Frustrated, she posted a comment on the IA blog, indicating that she'd be seeking legal advice if she didn't get a reply (the IA blog is moderated, and Ms. Anderson's comment never appeared publicly). Within 36 hours, the IA responded in email, and the digitized versions of her book were taken down.

Well, I thought, I can do that. So on January 28, I hopped on over to the IA blog and posted this comment:


I made a screenshot because I was pretty sure it wouldn't be let through, and I was right. However, within 24 hours I got an email identical to the one Virginia Anderson received, ostensibly in response to my third DMCA notice.


On checking Open Library, I found not just that Passion Blue was gone, but the other three books had been taken down as well. (The encrypted DAISY versions are still available, but I have no quarrel with that; many publishing contracts allow publishers to grant rights to non-profit organizations that serve the visually impaired, without compensation to the author).

So why do I feel like I've been blown off? After all, I got what I wanted: withdrawal from public lending of unauthorized scans and digitizations of my books. Shouldn't that be enough?

Well, no. Look, I get that people have different views of copyright. My interest in retaining tight control of my intellectual property conflicts with others' vision of universal libraries and unfettered access to information. I'm fine with that. There are laws that enable me to take action if I feel my rights have been infringed, and I have no problem using them.

What pisses me off is how unprofessionally the IA handled this (and Virginia Anderson's experience makes it clear that I'm not alone). Over the space of nearly a month, I sent three DMCA notices, none of which got a response; but when I left a snippy blog comment, the IA got back to me within 24 hours. Clearly the IA is not too busy to take quick action when it wants to. It also irks me that, when the IA did respond, it didn't acknowledge my DMCA notices (other than the subject line), or any obligation to act on them. Instead, it provided a paragraph of exposition about DAISY, informed me that there's "no other access available" to Passion Blue as if that had been the case all along, and finished with a plug for its philanthropic mission. Basically, "no issue here, move right along"--while tacitly acknowledging that there is an issue by hastily removing public access not just to Passion Blue but to the three books I didn't ask them to take down.

Really, it's almost childish. The IA does important work that's worth supporting. It may not agree with me and others that Open Library is an overreach--but in my opinion, the way it has dealt with me and with Virginia Anderson is not worthy of its mission.

Has anyone had a similar experience? Or gotten a more prompt and professional response? I'd be interested to know.

******************

One question that often comes up when discussing this kind of infringement: Brick-and-mortar libraries lend out books for free. How is Open Library different? A few reasons.

- Brick-and-mortar libraries buy the books they lend, a separate purchase for each format (hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook, etc.). The author gets a royalty on these purchases. The IA seeks donations, and lends those. Authors get nothing.

- Brick-and-mortar libraries lend only the books they purchase. They don't use those books to create new, un-permissioned lending formats. That's exactly what the IA does; moreover, one of its additional lending formats is riddled with OCR errors that make it a chore to read. Apart from permission issues, this is not how I want my books to be represented to the public.

- People who advocate for looser copyright laws often paint copyright defenders as greedy or mercenary, as if defending copyright were only about money. It's worth remembering another important principle of copyright: control. Copyright gives authors not just the right to profit from their intellectual property, but to control its use. That, as much as or even more than money, is the principle the IA is violating with its Open Library project.

February 9, 2018

The New Face of Vanity Anthologies: Z Publishing House and Appelley Publishing


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Like everything else, the schemes and scams that prey on writers have changed over time. Literary agent scams, for example--including fee-charging and kickback referral schemes--used to be the number one danger for authors, but these have become much less common in recent years, thanks to the growth of small presses and self-publishing options.

Another scheme that's largely fallen out of favor is the vanity anthology. It worked like this: writers were recruited via a free contest to submit a poem, essay, or story, with winners promised prizes and finalists and semi-finalists eligible for publication in an anthology of supposedly carefully chosen entries. Publication was presented as a prestigious literary credit, a worthy addition to a writing resume.

It was all B.S., of course. There was no careful choosing; everyone who entered received a publication offer, with no fee or purchase requirement but heavy pressure to buy the anthology and persuade friends and family to do so. A closed loop, in other words: contributors doubling as customers, and the anthologies never seeing the inside of a bookstore or library or even a listing with an online retailer.

Years ago, there were dozens of these anthology schemes. Most are gone now, including the granddaddy of them all, the International Library of Poetry, a.k.a. Poetry.com. But some remain, such as Eber & Wein--which, maybe to get ahead of all the negative reviews at PissedConsumer, not to mention an F rating at the BBB, is now calling itself Poetry Nation (for anyone who remembers the old Poetry.com, this website will look very familiar).

And just recently, I discovered two new ventures that add twists of their own.

APPELLEY PUBLISHING



Appelley Publishing, which started up just last year, offers a free-to-enter Student Poetry Contest (or a National Student Poetry Contest, depending on whether you're looking at its home page or one of its cheesy print-your-own certificates) for students in grades 3 through 12, with "over $4,000 in prizes" plus publication in an anthology of student work. The school with the "highest participation" wins a new computer.

According to the Appelley website, contest winners will be posted on April 6. But there are already multiple announcements of students who've been chosen for publication in the anthology. This is so that parents have plenty of time to come up with money, because, as Appelley's publication authorization form makes clear, ordering at least one copy of the anthology ($34.99 plus $5 shipping and handling, an amazing discount from the supposed "publisher's list" of $69.99) is strongly recommended. And what parent whose child has been honored by inclusion in a national anthology of student poetry wouldn't want to buy?

So far, it's a fairly standard vanity anthology scheme. But here's the twist: teachers can earn cash prizes too!
Participating teachers who submit their students [sic] work are eligible for one of three “Teacher’s Bonus” awards worth $500.00 apiece! Ballots are earned by the number of submissions made, so the chances of winning keeps [sic] going up!
Each "ballot" represents 10 student entries, and teachers can submit up to 19 ballots. How to get lots of kids to enter your vanity anthology contest? Give adults an incentive to steer students your way.

Parents and teachers probably assume that Appelley has some kind of vetting process in place, and that being selected for publication is an indication of merit. But to make money, Appelley needs customers, and since its customers are the young poets and their parents, it needs as many poems as it can get. Which is not a great recipe for selectivity.

Usually people don't discover this until they actually get the anthologies, which typically are cheaply produced books crammed with poor-quality poems in tiny print. This time, though, the internet got an advance peek when a student took to Twitter to describe how she dashed off a joke ditty in praise of Popeyes Chicken as part of a class project to enter Appelley's contest (you can see those teacher-focused incentives working here). Next thing the student knew, she'd been selected for publication. "As much as we would like to," Appelley wrote, "we simply can’t publish every student who writes to us, but in your case, we have decided that we would like to include your poem, ‘Popeyes’ in the Appelley Publishing 2017 Rising Stars Collection."

Boom. Quality.

Z PUBLISHING

Z Publishing (a.k.a. Z Publishing House) publishes a whole range of anthologies, with titles like California's Best Emerging Poets and Wisconsin's Best Emerging Poets and All At Once I Saw My Colors.

The company has submission calls on its website, but its primary mode of recruitment appears to be a heavy program of email solicitation, with writers' names harvested from such sources as school and college literary magazines and personal blogs. There are no submission or publishing fees, and also no payment for contributors, as Z's submission form makes clear. Z has pumped out 33 anthologies in the past year or so, with another six in the pipeline.

This is fairly standard vanity anthology fare: wide recruitment, no-fee submission, and books that probably will only be bought by the authors' friends and family and the authors themselves (and they do have to buy if they want print copies; contributors only get a PDF). Z maximizes whatever profit can be wrung from this business model by using CreateSpace to publish the books for free.

But here's the twist: an affiliate program that transforms authors not just into customers, but salespeople. From Z's publishing agreement:
12. Payment. Artist acknowledges that Company does not itself provide royalty payment. However, if accepted to one or more book, Artist will have the option to join Company's affiliate program, which is administered and run completely through the third-party site Refersion.
According to the Affiliate Program FAQ, affiliates earn "approximately 25% of each sale you make (this includes 25% of the shipping fee as well)." Z suggests posting affiliate links on social media, websites, etc. (you can see a bunch of these pitches on Z's Facebook Community page), but it wants prospective affiliates to know that the best method is spam:


Other initiatives also appear to be fodder for affiliate marketing, such as this Lifetime Membership offer for readers.

Z Publishing's domain is registered to a Zach Zimmerman in Wisconsin, but like the Author Solutions clones I highlighted in my previous post, its work appears to be largely outsourced overseas, with multiple "Author Research" and "Author Communications" staffers based in the Philippines.

Z has some grandiose plans--expanded hiring! A new headquarters! Exponential growth!--but my bet is that a year from now, a lot of the links in this post will have stopped working. As much as vanity anthologizing may seem like a lucrative scheme, with its built-in customer base and all the marketing on the front end, leveraging vanity into sales is not as easy as it appears--as scores of defunct vanity anthologizers and vanity publishers now know.
 
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