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.

December 13, 2021

Online Copyright Registration Services: Writer Beware




In 2014, I wrote a post about Copyright Registration Online, one of many faux and exploitative copyright registration "services" that cater to writers' anxiety about theft and plagiarism, particularly of unpublished work, by promising to register US copyright or to provide some sort of copyright verification service.

Naturally, there are fees for these services. At the time I wrote the post, Copyright Registration Online was charging $135--which was a ripoff, on two fronts. You can register copyright yourself online at the US Copyright Office for only $45. Just as important: there's absolutely no need to register copyright for unpublished work

Some registration services are basically pass-throughs: they do submit registration applications to the US Copyright Office, just at a seriously inflated cost. Others provide their own "registration" documentation or certificates, often based on some sort of timestamp. These are completely worthless, not just because they could easily be faked and are therefore unlikely to stand up in court, but because there is no legal substitute for registration with the US Copyright Office (in the United States, you must previously have registered your copyright in order to file an infringement action). Just like so-called poor man's copyright, any "registration" received from a source other than the Copyright Office has zero legal validity. 

So why am I dredging up old blog posts? Because Copyright Registration Online is still around, and it has seriously upped the disinformation factor.

Now also calling itself Copyright Registry or Copyright Registry Online, it's got a spiffy new web domain, website, and eagle-and-flag logo. Services are basically the same; prices are a little higher, but not much: "registration" for a single author with a single work will set you back $144. 

Copyright Registration Online has also moved beyond the comment spam that brought it to my attention the first time. If you Google "register copyright", its ad comes up ahead of the link to the US Copyright Office:


This no doubt drives a lot of traffic Copyright Registration Online's way, with many writers probably never realizing they aren't dealing with an official branch of the US government, or realizing too late, despite this easily-missable small print on the home page: 


Complaints at the BBB--which currently gives the company an F rating--further illustrate this point.

It's pretty clear that Copyright Registration Online has had plenty of experience with dissatisfied customers--so much so that there's an entire clause in its Terms and Conditions devoted to credit card chargebacks, with (probably unenforceable) financial penalties threatened against anyone who dares to initiate one:

Note also the final sentence, which ups the scare factor: "Until these fees are paid in full, Copyright Registry Online will have complete ownership and control of users [sic] copyright registration." It's unclear what that means, since only a copyright owner can own a registration made in their name. Is the company referring to the registration application? Is it threatening to hold up the registration process or to withhold the eventual certificate from the Copyright Office? Again, not clear, and it's unlikely it could actually do anything at all. But scary language, especially to an inexperienced author.

How many people read Terms and Conditions, though? So the company includes an even more outlandish threat in its email footers:


Bad author, no can haz chargeback, all your copyright belong to us! 

Of course, this is a complete, brazen lie. First of all, this supposed loss of ownership is not so stated in the Terms and Conditions, which refer only (however nonsensically) to the registration

Second and more important, this is not the way copyright works. You can't lose ownership of your work unless you explicitly agree to surrender your copyright, and there is nothing in Copyright Registration Online's application process, or its Terms and Conditions, to effectuate that. 

Pure and simple, this is a scare tactic designed to discourage writers from filing disputes with their credit card companies once they realize they've been rooked. Not only is it a testament to the sleaziness of Copyright Registration Online--you wouldn't need to work so hard to head off chargebacks if you didn't get a ton of them--it may well be illegal.

There are many similar services out there. I haven't encountered any others that employ such egregiously dishonest tactics. Even so, there are excellent reasons for avoiding ANY service that claims to do or to expedite what the US Copyright Office does--whether because they'll charge you much more than you need to pay, or will furnish you with documents that have no legal value. 

Also, don't forget: no matter what you may have heard, if your work is unpublished and you're still at the query stage, there's no need to register at all. By law, you own copyright from the moment you write down the words. Registration is an extra step that gives you the right to pursue an infringement claim in US court (other countries have no such requirement for filing a claim). But theft and plagiarism are vanishingly unlikely at the query stage. Reputable agents and editors won't risk their reputations by stealing; disreputable ones aren't interested in your work, only in your money. Infringement only becomes a danger when your work is exposed to a wide audience: in other words, published. 

There's comprehensive information on copyright--including the many myths associated with it--on the Copyright page of the Writer Beware website.

December 3, 2021

A Pay to Play Bookstore Scheme: The Reading Glass Books




I've recently gotten several reports of phone solicitations from a New Jersey-based bookstore called The Reading Glass Books.

Why would a bookstore be calling authors out of the blue? Well in this case, to sell shelf space: $350 for six months. Authors can direct the store to sell the books at whatever price they like, and will get "100% of the royalties" (which of course makes no sense, since direct sales proceeds are not royalties). And if you're thinking that the store will order the books...no, no, no, don't be silly. Authors must provide their own copies.

Paid shelf space for self-published authors isn't a new idea. Here's one entrepreneur who set up a bookstore entirely on that model (the store closed in 2019). And a few years ago there was some media coverage of independent bookstores that were renting shelf space to self-pubbed and small press writers--in some cases for a good deal more than $350.

Whatever you may think of paying for shelf space, these were all real brick-and-mortar stores in the business of selling books to the public--not exploitative schemes aimed primarily at extracting money from writers. Based on its solicitation phone calls, sketchy website, and array of other paid services, my guess was that The Reading Glass Books fell into the latter category. I wanted to be sure, though, so I did some research. 

Reading Glass claims a physical address--7 Wrightstown Cookstown Road (aka County Road 616) in Cookstown, New Jersey. To my surprise, there actually is a storefront. It's located in a small strip mall on a relatively empty stretch of road. Here's an image,, courtesy of Google (note the prime location, between Air Transport International and Domino's Pizza): 


You can just see that books are displayed in the window. 

The mall's roadside location is not exactly conducive to the foot traffic that real bookstores count on--though I guess it's possible that Reading Glass gets some walk-ins from next-door Domino's, or from the tattoo and barber shops that are also in this mall. However, those well-shaved and freshly inked book lovers won't find the store's inside much more prepossessing than its outside. Interior photos (a number of which are present on Reading Glass's Facebook page and Google listing) show a small space with sparsely populated shelves. Here we are in December 2020:


And here's a view from November 2021--inventory is still pretty puny, but it does look like the phone solicitations are having an impact:


So okay, there really is a store. It's not in a great location, it doesn't look like it has a lot of stock, and there are no customers in any of the shots. I'm guessing that authors are lucky if they realize sales in the single digits. Even so, there's enough of a there there to suggest that Reading Glass isn't merely a $350 figment. Could it be that it isn't just a take-money-from-writers scheme? Could it be some entrepreneurial individual's misguided notion of how to "help" indie authors?

Nope.

See the Book of the Month banner? See the company name at the top?


That's Writers' Branding, a self-described "full-service self-publishing company" that sells a large range of costly Author Solutions-style publishing packages and marketing services. Most of the marketing is junk (video trailers, press releases, social media and print advertising, paid book reviews, vanity radio and TV, etc.), and there are some huge markups: for instance, fee-charging review outfit Pacific Book Reviews offers a discounted rate of $225 for its standard review service to Writers' Branding authors, but Writers' Branding re-sells the same service on its own website, with some negligible add-ons, for $1,599. 

There's also a companion of sorts to the bookstore: The Reading Glass magazine, one of those faux publications that is never circulated to the public and consists primarily of author advertising and paid interviews interspersed with badly-written articles. Authors can spend anywhere from $399 for a quarter page ad to $3,999 for the whole front cover.

In other words, The Reading Glass Books is just another junk marketing offering by a "self-publishing" company firmly in the Author Solutions mold. Interestingly, the shelf space deal that's being pitched to authors in phone calls for $350 costs $549 if bought from the Writers' Branding website. And if you want to be the Book of the Month advertised on the banner in the photo above? It'll set you back $1,649

Also worth noting: according to reports I've received, as well as others online, the phone solicitors for The Reading Glass Books don't mention Writers' Branding at all. Which makes sense, if the calls are an attempt by Writers' Branding to expand its bookstore "service" beyond its own authors.

Writers' Branding is of relatively recent origin, with a web domain registered in December 2019. It's got a business registration in New Jersey, but like so many companies of this type, it's also registered in the Philippines

Writer Beware has gotten a number of reports of phone and email solicitations by Writers' Branding, and there are more reports and complaints online: PissedConsumer.com has a few (including phone harassment), there are a couple at the BBB (both closed, and the details aren't shown). Bizapedia, not normally known for garnering consumer reviews, shows three complaints, all involving Reading Glass Books solicitations. 
 
Design by The Blog Decorator