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.

April 30, 2021

#DisneyMustPay: Authors' Groups Join Forces to Advocate for Writers Owed Money by Disney



Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Last November, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) published a letter from author Alan Dean Foster detailing his struggles to get Disney to provide unpaid royalties and missing royalty statements for multiple novels and novelizations that he'd written for several media properties whose rights Disney had acquired.
You continue to ignore requests from my agents. You continue to ignore queries from SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. You continue to ignore my legal representatives. I know this is what gargantuan corporations often do. Ignore requests and inquiries hoping the petitioner will simply go away. Or possibly die. But I’m still here, and I am still entitled to what you owe me. Including not to be ignored, just because I’m only one lone writer. How many other writers and artists out there are you similarly ignoring?

Disney's argument was that they'd purchased the rights of the contracts they'd acquired, but not the obligations (such as paying royalties). After SFWA took the matter public, a resolution was reached, and Mr. Foster's payment issues were resolved. However, SFWA reports that a number of other authors have contacted it about similar issues, also across a wide range of Disney properties, and that Disney has refused to work with the organization.

SFWA has now joined with other writers' groups to form the #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force. Members of the task force include Authors Guild, Horror Writers Association, National Writers Union, Novelists, Inc., Romance Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime, along with individual writers representing each of the organizations, such as Neil Gaiman, Tess Gerritsen, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Chuck Wendig. 

The group has issued a press release urging Disney to address these key areas:

  1. Honor contracts now held by Disney and its subsidiaries.
  2. Provide royalty payments and statements to all affected authors.
  3. Update their licensing page with a FAQ for writers about how to handle missing royalties.
  4. Create a clear, easy-to-find contact person or point for affected authors.
  5. Cooperate with author organizations who are providing support to authors and agents.

According to the press release, when presented with these steps, and offered the opportunity to provide a statement to the task force organizations' members, Disney declined.

The task force is asking for contact from affected writers, who can report their experiences using this form hosted by SFWA (anonymity is guaranteed). How do you know if you may have been affected?


To raise awareness, and to get the word out to writers who may need the task force's help, the task force is urging people to use the #DisneyMustPay hashtag on Twitter (it offers several suggestions for possible tweets) and to discuss the issue on social media generally. It also asks that the public not boycott, as that could penalize Disney writers who are being paid.

I'll update this post as I receive more information.

April 23, 2021

The Case of the Purloined Blog Post: How a Fake DMCA Notice Failed to Silence Writer Beware



Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

I have a gmail account. I hate gmail, so I don't use it for correspondence and rarely check it. But one day a couple of weeks ago, I did, and to my surprise I found a takedown notice for one of my Writer Beware blog posts, alleging that I'd infringed someone's copyright.


The post in question discussed the 2018 implosion of small publisher Fiery Seas Publishing, about which I received a flood of author complaints following owner Misty Williams's abrupt announcement of "re-structuring" due to poor sales. A couple of months after my post, Fiery Seas closed for good.

I checked, and the post had indeed been taken down (though I was able to view it thanks to the Wayback Machine). For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to have infringed. Maybe Misty Williams's announcement email, which I'd reproduced in full? 

After some permissions applications, I was able to work my way to the actual DMCA complaint. 


Say what? Who the hell was Bella Andreas, and why was she claiming that she'd written my blog post? Navigating to the "Original URL" link on what purported to be Bella's blog, I found a large portion of my post reproduced verbatim:


Note the date. I published my post on September 28, 2018. Bella's post is dated September 3, 2018. In other words, she'd stolen the bulk of my post, backdated it to make it look as if she were the original author, and gotten my post taken down with a fake DMCA notice.

I was stumped. Fiery Seas is dead. The authors who were caught up in the publisher's collapse have moved on. So, presumably, has Misty Williams, who, if she objected to what I wrote about her, has had plenty of time to protest. What purpose could this fakery possibly serve? 

Bella's blog struck me as odd in general, even beyond the stolen blog post, with its peculiar name (Comusa: blog you deserve), motto ("Blog about the thuth [sic] Not for everyone. For you."), lack of info about Bella herself, and random-seeming array of other posts over what appeared to be a period of several years--most of them about financial fraud, but also consumer issues and scandals of various kinds. 

Digging into the posts themselves, I discovered something interesting. Every single post had been stolen and backdated, just like mine. For instance, here's Bella, with a purported date of 1/5/2020:


Here's the original article, dated 2/4/2020:





Original article, dated 3/21/19:


I could go on. Every post is like this. Every. Single. One. Moreover, the date fakery isn't limited to backdating. Posts are dated as far back as 2014, yet Bella's domain name didn't exist before October 2016. And regardless of their apparent publication dates, source code indicates that all of the posts were in fact published between early December 2020 and late March 2021.

My stolen post falls right in the middle of that brief time period. Bella published it on January 26, 2021--the same day she filed the DMCA notice. That's additionally confirmed by the date on the image upload:


I filed a counter-claim with Google on April 5, providing all of the information above, and received the usual "we'll get to it when we get to it" response. In fact, they got to it much more quickly than I expected.


The post has been re-instated in its original location.

******

So what the hell was it all about? 

Who is Bella Andreas, and what's her beef with my blog post? Could she be someone I pissed off somehow? A disgruntled author? An outed scammer? But she doesn't show up in any of my email or other Writer Beware records. And websearches on her name and variations of it are inconclusive. She doesn't appear to be a writer (you'll probably have noticed, as I did, the similarity of her name to that of bestselling author Bella Andre). I can't find any indication that she's associated with any part of the publishing industry. Assuming that "Bella Andreas" is a real name at all.

And what's the deal with Bella's blog, with its weird typo-ridden motto and its bizarre collection of plagiarized, backdated posts? Could it have been created solely in order to take down my post? I know that sounds farfetched, but consider. All of Bella's blog posts were created in a short span of time, which her DMCA claim falls exactly in the middle of. Also, apart from the various news articles Bella plagiarized, for which she couldn't plausibly claim infringement, several of her posts have been stolen from blogs like Writer Beware. For instance, this one (here's the original post) and this one (original post) and this one (original post). If fake-DMCA'ing was her game, she could easily have had them taken down based on the same pretext she used for mine. But all are still online. Mine is the only one that was (if only temporarily) removed.

Finally, why that post? Fiery Seas and its collapse are old news. And why now, more than two years after the post was published?

It all seems completely, weirdly random. Except...

At the end of my post is a postscript, in which I mention A Certain Agent who is known for his efforts to get references to himself removed from the web. Last spring, he contacted me to demand the takedown of certain of my tweets, a discussion on the Writer Beware Facebook page...and my Fiery Seas blog post. 

I did not comply. You can't DMCA tweets and Facebook threads, but you can DMCA blog posts. And remember I mentioned that Bella stole most of my post, but not all of it? She omitted the intro, which linked back to Writer Beware. But she also omitted the postscript.

Coincidence? You be the judge.

April 16, 2021

Publisher Storm Warnings: Diversion Books


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Founded in 2010 by Scott Waxman of the Waxman Literary Agency, Diversion Books was one of the earliest of the literary agency-powered publishing ventures that sought to take advantage of the growing digital market, including the opportunity to bring their clients' backlists back into circulation (others include Arthur Klebanoff's RosettaBooks, Andrew Wylie's Odyssey Editions, and Richard Curtis's E-Reads). 

Diversion has since expanded into traditional print, audio, and subsidiary rights representation. It has also, over the past few weeks, become the focus of author complaints.

I first heard about problems at Diversion much earlier than that, though, in 2018, from an author who cited late and missing royalty statements, multiple errors on the statements they did receive (including mis-allocated subsidiary rights income), and failure to register copyright as contractually stipulated. (To this day, this individual is still struggling to obtain a full and correct accounting of their book's sales and income, and believes they have not been paid all the royalties they are owed.)

To me, the seriousness of the problems the author reported, as well as what appeared to be Diversion's difficulty in addressing them, suggested a larger pattern rather than a glitch affecting just one person. I didn't have confirmation of that, though, until last week, when I received an email from a group of Diversion authors who are working to publicize what they describe as long-standing issues with the publisher--issues very similar to those reported by my original complainant three years ago. 

Recently several authors published with Diversion banded together to notify various author groups that we have not received royalty statements and/or payments from Diversion for years. One writer spent over $10,000 in legal fees to get her rights returned. Another author said she was offered her rights back only if she would sign an agreement not to seek past royalty payments from them. The stories are myriad and heartbreaking.

So far, we have sent letters outlining various cases to the Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crimes, American Association of Literary Agents (AALA) and the SFWA. Some of the groups have formal grievance committees who are actively investigating the cases. Others have “preferred publishers” lists, and we are asking that they remove Diversion from those lists.

I also began hearing directly from Diversion authors who described their own experiences, including:
  • Missing royalty statements (in some cases going back several years).
  • Royalty statements with errors, such as erroneous chargebacks, that authors and their agents struggled to get Diversion to correct.
  • No royalty payments, even in cases where there appeared to have been thousands of sales. Diversion has a practice of recouping several hundred dollars in production costs (between $500 and $800 in contracts I saw) from initial sales proceeds, before authors are eligible for royalty payouts (a setup that's reasonable for re-publishing backlist books--Open Road Media, which specializes in backlist titles, offers a similar arrangement--but is not typical practice for first-time publication). This seems to play some part in why royalties have been withheld--but without a full run of royalty statements, authors can't trace the figures back to verify or even understand them.
  • Failure to register copyrights as contractually stipulated.
  • Failure to respond to reversion requests once the four-year contract term expired.
  • In 2019, a unilateral switch from a quarterly royalty reporting/payment schedule to a semi-annual one, despite contract language requiring that no such changes be made "unless in writing and signed by both parties."
  • Promises by Diversion to some authors and their agents to provide missing royalty statements by the end of March 2021--with no statements appearing by that date.
On Monday of this week, I reached out to Scott Waxman for comment. He referred me to Dawn Reshen-Doty of Benay Enterprises, which was hired in 2019 to handle Diversion's royalty accounting and other back office tasks. Dawn gave me the following statement:
We apologize greatly for any delay in the processing of royalty statements and payments. While we can’t speak to the entire history of these issues, when Benay Enterprises Inc. took over as the business management and back office company for Diversion in March 2019, we took on the responsibility of updating the internal systems and making the process smoother for the authors and agents. It has taken some time to take corrective action, especially during the pandemic. We are continually learning and striving to accomplish this with each statement period. We are currently up to date on royalties and all of our backend obligations, and addressing any concerns or questions from the authors and agents. Our goal is to pay authors in a timely way, and of course accurately. 

As of this writing, Benay appears for the most part to have caught up on royalty statements for the most recent reporting period (second half of 2020, courtesy of that unilateral switchover to a semi-annual reporting schedule). Many of the writers who emailed me with complaints last week confirmed that they'd since gotten at least that statement (though none report receiving a check). However, there seems to be some inconsistency. Some writers who are missing multiple statements say they've received just the latest statement, while others have gotten all their missing statements. And one writer told me they got nothing at all. 

I contacted Scott again to ask when authors who are still awaiting royalty statements might expect to receive them. He responded: "As we have an archive of all statements, we will be happy to furnish any missing statements upon request." Which raises the question of why the statements weren't furnished in the first place, not to mention why so many writers and their agents say they haven't been able to get Diversion to respond to earlier requests to provide them. (Interestingly, all the Diversion contracts I saw include this sentence in Clause 6, which covers payment schedules: "The Author or his/her representatives may request information about his/her [royalty] account at any time, and will receive this information within six weeks of this written request.")

It's also worth noting that Benay took over Diversion's royalty accounting more than two years ago, yet it wasn't until the past few weeks that writers who'd been missing statements going back to 2019 and even earlier finally started receiving them. (Part of the impetus may have been International Thriller Writers' decision last week to suspend Diversion for six months pending resolution of author complaints.) It's encouraging that statements are finally going out, but this late and apparently hasty effort just casts the reported problems into sharper relief. 

At any rate, Benay has given me an email address that authors can use: Diversion-Benay@benayei.com . They seem to be responsive; one author who wrote to inquire about missing statements told me that they received them the next day.

In addition to International Thriller Writers, other writers' organizations are investigating complaints from members. I'll keep following the situation, and will post updates as I receive them.

UPDATE 10/8/21: I've now heard from a handful of Diversion writers who say they are receiving royalties and royalty statements on time (though one writer has told me they are still having difficulties with accounting and payment). It's an encouraging sign, though I don't have enough info to judge whether it's the new normal or case by case.

If you're a Diversion author who has had the difficulties described in this post, would you please let me know what your current experience is? Names and any other identifying information will not be shared.

 
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