Genuinely the Stupidest Thing I Have Seen on the Internet in a Very Long Time

Australian bargain site Cudo, apparently co-run by Microsoft and Channel Nine, offers for an e-reader for sale, complete with a CD of 4,000 written works, the purported titles of which are here. If that title listing is correct on that CD, then tons of those books are under copyright, including what looks like hundreds of titles from SFWA members. Who I am pretty sure didn’t sign off on having their works burned onto a CD to be stuffed into an e-reader.

Dear Cudo: Are you fucking kidding me? Are you people genuinely stupid enough to do something like this? I’m guessing that even in Australia there’s such a thing as violation of copyright. The idea that a subsidiary of Microsoft and Australia’s second-ranking television network, two entities that probably get peeved at people violating their copyrights, would blithely sell a CD that is almost certainly packed with unauthorized versions of copyrighted works just simply boggles the mind. You are a big, fat, soft, obvious lawsuit target. And as of this writing, you’ve sold 2,054 units of this thing, which means that you have possibly engaged in up to eight million two hundred sixteen thousand acts of copyright violation. That’s pretty impressive, it is.

Honestly, folks, I’m kind of agog on this. I have to believe that what we’re seeing here is a genuine and colossal mistake, because the other option is that Cudo is treating hundreds of living, working writers and their work with actual contempt. Either way, it’s the sort of 200-proof stupidity you just don’t see that much of anymore. And either way, I want to take whoever it was who approved this item for sale and keelhaul him (or her) across the entire length of the Great Barrier Reef. Whether by ignorance or by contempt, Cudo is very likely screwing a whole bunch of writers. These writers deserve better. And, of course, they deserve to be paid.

(Via Metafilter)

Update, 6:30 am 2/29: Cudo gets a clue.

96 thoughts on “Genuinely the Stupidest Thing I Have Seen on the Internet in a Very Long Time

  1. This is a very common practice in Asia with personal electronics and the content for them. For example, when my boyfriend bought a Nintendo 3DS in Hong Kong, the same store that sold him the device sold him a memory card with a couple of hundred pirated games on it for an extra $15. Same goes for music players and loading thousands of songs on it.

  2. Cudo is a daily deal company. The real company behind this sale is GraBargains a Chinese retailer. What’s interesting is that on GraBargains retail site there is no mention of an ebook CD. They must have added it post-packaging to move an unwanted product. And I’m assuming the booksa are from a torrent.

  3. Eridani:

    I’d like to think an Australian retail outlet co-owned by two corporate giants has slightly better copyright ethics than a random electronics store in Hong Kong.

    Gilmoure:

    I would be delighted to discover that the CD in question is in fact merely packed with public domain goodies.

    Chaevans:

    “The real company behind this sale is GraBargains a Chinese retailer.”

    Cudo is the storefront and they’re the ones taking the cash for it, and presumably they get a cut of the sale, which to my understanding makes them culpable for passing along goods that violate copyright.

  4. I’m thinking much the same as Gilmoure. It’s hard to imagine a company that values its bottom line would knowingly put said bottom line at risk by offering 4000 e-books for free. Assuming they’re not lying, I would think it’s probably 4000 e-books nobody wants to read, versus 4000 e-books of current (or at least recent) literature that would conceivably still be under copyright.

  5. I would have guessed that they were including 4,000 public domain titles – but if that list of books is accurate? Hoo boy, you are sooo right – that’s a massive legal shitstorm in the making. Also, Ellison Wonderland is on that list as well, and I understand that Harlan has had a somewhat dismal view of piracy in the past…

  6. _A Case of Conscience_ by Ken MacLeod?

    Looking at the start of that list, it looks like it’s about the quality level that one would get by connecting to some random Torrent site and downloading the first 100 files one finds that purport to be eboots.

  7. This is bad – though I’m often surprised that people who are (justifyably) upset about something like this give a free pass to search engines such as Google who sell advertising against links to pirated copies of the same work.

    Given how normalized piracy has become, the responses will be interesting (especially for the “civilization should be better off without copyright” crowd)

  8. My works are not among the list, actually. However, I’ll be passing along the information to publishers whose works are on the list; many of those publishers have subsidiaries in Australia.

  9. For what it is worth, I just searched for “torrent ebook” and “torrent scalzi”, and saw no ads on the search results page at Google. Does not mean there are not search terms that produce ads, just that the two obvious searches off the top of my head did not. Since every search engine turns off certain keywords (differing by engine, of course) by policy, this does not completely surprise me.

  10. (To be very clear, my last was a response to Narkor, and I have no information about which terms each search engine chooses not to sell, beyond that which each engine’s public pages describe.)

  11. Sorry, I’m probably being dumb here but… where on that advert/site does it give details of the 4000 books? I mean, where did that list you link to come from?

  12. Oh, scratch that. Didn’t spot the link to the metafilter posting. That the link was removed suggests someone woke up the true stupidity of the advert. Oh dear.

  13. I’m with Ben. The only thing I can find describing the contents of the CD is this:

    “You’d be hard pressed to not find your favourite book already on the e-book reader. From Jane Eyre to The Odyssey, all of the literary greats fit digitally side by side in one slim and stylish contraption! And if it’s not there yet, you can upload any popular e-book format to the e-book reader!”

    That sounds like public domain to me. Though I suppose it could have been changed in the last two hours.

  14. From the metafilter discussion, looks like the link to the books included was taken off, but the deal remains up. So Cudo is aware that there are pirated books included in this deal and are now hiding the fact. They aren’t selling the device themselves, just passing on this news. I don’t believe that would stop them being responsible for continuing to advertise it (or advertising it in the first place).
    Microsoft has hit google with DCMA notices in the past for having torrents in search results for xbox titles, removing links to piratebay etc. I wonder if a Cudo offer for some imported from Hong Kong PC with pirated Windows 7/Office/etc would be acccepted.

  15. The ever watchful eyes of El Presidente strike again!

    John, included in their list is “Plague Year,” which, ahem, is at least recent literature that would conceivably still be under copyright. Your advice as El Presidente? Ping the good folks at Ace?

    Appreciate it.

  16. Ha, Markx I thought the same – sitting in Sydney reading this! Yes, EVEN in Australia this rings alarm bells. I’ve tweeted this as a lot of the local (yes, Australian) publishers are on my follow list, and those that aren’t will hear the ripples. Anyone able to tell me which titles are from which publishers (the big 6?) Or any?

  17. Perhaps the Australian copyright industry have just changed their focus from beating up their readers to beating up their writers. Australian readers are used to paying two and three times as much and waiting 3 to 12 months longer for their titles (if they even appear).

  18. You really undersold this list. J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, J.R.R. Tolkein, Robert Jordan, Robert Ludlum, Orson Scott Card, Frank Herbert, Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, Nicholas Sparks, Ian Flemming, Anne McCaffrey, and I’m only stopping because I’m tired of typing. I only see one public domain work (by Mark Twain) on the entire first page of titles. There’s no way this is accurate; it’s just too insane. There would be nothing left but a smoking crater when the lawyers finished with them.

  19. As a content creator who’s got a serious bone to pick with current copyright law, all I have to say is:

    “Way to prop up ACTA, you stupid sons of bitches.”

  20. ACTA is supposed to be an international trade deal. Canada’s govt. has been involved in the negotiations, much to the dismay of many hereabouts.

    And yeah, this is the sort of corporate behaviour that gives national governments a “fig leaf” cover to “explain” why ACTA should exist.

  21. Two observations:

    1) This looks like a really crappy e-reader to me. I’m not surprised that they need to promise you 4,000 e-books on top of it in order to sell it.

    2) If that list that John linked to is the actual contents of the directory, then those e-books almost certainly come from a torrent or a private collection of previously copied books — which means that in general they are NOT retail quality e-books. Which would kind of annoy me as a paying customer, copyright issues aside (the customer should not have to care about that aspect in this case, to be honest).

  22. Jeff Carlson:

    Yes, I would alert Ace, were I you. Penguin has some mighty fine lawyers, I suspect.

    Terry Frost:

    “You had me until the bullshit ‘even in Australia’ comment.”

    Even in the United States, we employ sarcasm.

  23. They are left with an interesting choice:
    Hey! We screwed up & sold copyrighted material. Boy are our faces read.
    OR
    Hey! We lied through our teeth about what we were selling you & you bought it hook, line & sinker.

    They must be so proud.

  24. They haven’t even bothered cleaning the list up. All other things aside: if I, as a customer, were promised 4,000 books, and there were that many duplicates on the list, I’d complain and insist that they make it up to the promised number. Douglas Adams’ The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul is on there three times, as is Niven’s The Man-Kzin Wars and Asimov’s Foundation. Books on there twicw are too numerous for me to count.

    But, if I get bored today, I might try and figure out how many actual unique books there are on that list.

  25. I have a crappy ebook reader that came with a couple hundred titles. but they really were public domain works. I would have assumed the same for this ad. Are the were badgers licensed to practice in Australia.

  26. C’mon man… It’s a gimmick. You have to download the books, save 66% on a selection of overpriced ebooks. You’d never fit 4000 books on a cd…

  27. i would imagine the drama here is unwarranted and that the CD in question is public domain stuff. Having said that, it is not like all this crap isnt easily available all over the internet already. That someone would profit from the pirating is ballsy to be sure.

  28. John, I can totally understand your ire, but do clam down and read the fine print. ItMAY not be as bad as it looks. The fine print says you can BUY the books for UP TO 66% off. It is possible that they will be buying from a legitimate seller. Perhaps it is the readers who are getting cheated and not the writers.

  29. Angie,
    Click the link john put in to the offer. It says the 66% savings are for buying the reader and encourages you to buy as many offers as you like. It also says the 4000 books are included. Whether it’s all BS or just this company being really stupid and ballsy is another question.

  30. Saith Terry Frost, “You had me until the bullshit ‘even in Australia’ comment.”

    Well, everyone knows that Australia is entirely peopled with criminals.

  31. “Well, everyone knows that Australia is entirely peopled with criminals.”

    But how many are immune to iocane powder?

  32. “Can you imagine the shitstorm if this had been an MP3 player with 4000 stolen songs on it? The RIAA would be eating these guys for dinner.”

    True, but since you point this out it does raise the question as to whether anyone upset by this has any MP3’s that are a violation. The thought that some company would openly violate the law is the “shocker” about this one.

  33. JC Said: “You’d never fit 4000 books on a cd.

    I’m not sure if you were joking or not, here. On the chance you weren’t: a CD holds up to around 700MB of data.To put that in perspective: Kafka’s Metamorphsis, in EPUB format, is 66KB. Frankenstein is 168K. Moby Dick is 550K, roughly (that’s 822 pages, in case you’re wondering). War and Peace is 1.3MB.

    You couldn’t fit 4000 Russian novels on a CD, perhaps. But 4000 books is easily accomplished. Heck, you could fit about 10000 Kafka novels on there.

  34. I like the discussion of how many books you can fit on a CD, versus how many songs, movies, paintings, etc. It is interesting how much digital space artistic media occupies, and how it varies by medium. Books arguably take up the most physical space if you lay out all the pages side by side, but take the least digital space because text compresses massively and losslessly.

    I have no real point to make. Just interesting to think about.

  35. Wow, they’ve got a significant portion of my bibliography.

    A lot of the titles listed are actually short stories, including several of mine. So, they’re lying when they call those 4000 titles “books.” But they do also list my first novel, so there’s that.

    Totally not authorized by me or any of my publishers. The list looks familiar. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it on several file sharing sites.

    Hate.

  36. “Well, everyone knows that Australia is entirely peopled with criminals”
    You mean that Mad Max isn’t a documentary?

  37. The dreadnought Chekov disengages warp drive above planet Earth and enters geosynchronous orbit.

    Captain Scalzi swivels his command chair to the viewscreens and sqeezes a sip of Coke Zero from a zero gravity bottle. The science officer looks up from his scopes.

    “Captain, sensors are picking up massive copyright violations in the southern hemisphere.”

    “Warm up the mallet of loving correction, Mr. Gibbs.”

  38. JC: You’d never fit 4000 books on a cd…

    Oh, I think you could. Books without images are pretty small. It might even be a DVD. Almost all computers have DVD players now and I’ve noticed that people don’t often make the distinction.

    I’m amused to note that not only do they have Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke, they also have Childhood’s End by Clarke Arthur. Alas, no Rarnaby Budge by Charles Dikkens. Probably a good thing; his family is litigious as hell.

  39. 4,000 books on a CD is easily done.
    In general, the biggest thing in an epub file are images and any embedded fonts. O’Reilly epubs, with all of their custom formatting and images, get as large as 20MB in size.
    Looking at my collection of epub novels (retail and custom-made both) I see that most of them are between 300KB and 500KB in size. Short stories top out around 200KB.

  40. i would imagine the drama here is unwarranted and that the CD in question is public domain stuff.

    @Yep: I would imagine the president of the SFWA would be more than usually careful about not going off half-cocked on the difference between works in the public domain and under copyright. To take one example, I’m sure Random House Australia will be delighted to know they no longer have to pay royalties to Terry Pratchett. You might also want to be very careful about presuming that a work in the public domain in the United States must be so in Australia (or vice versa) and/or “the rule of the shorter term” always applies. There’s a reason why you don’t find many lawyers specializing in international copyright law on welfare.

  41. They can’t even claim they didn’t check the content of the CD. In the cached ad, they advertise that Harry Potter and Twilight are on there. Whoa.

  42. Look at the positive side. This is almost an IP lawyer’s dream case. It looks like an obnoxiously obvious case of copyright infringement, and its backed by two big deep pockets: MS and Channel 9. If you can go after those two, this is much better for the authors than the usual Chinese fly-by-night outfit with no address or assets you can go against.

    If the statutory damages in Australia are similar to the US, and if you can bring those two deep pockets into the case; the lawyers are going to have fun with this one.

  43. They can’t even claim they didn’t check the content of the CD. In the cached ad, they advertise that Harry Potter and Twilight are on there. Whoa.

    Also surprised to see James Bond and a lot of Agatha Christie there. My understanding is that the Fleming Estate and the current holders of the Christie copyrights are aggressively litigious when it comes to protecting their intellectual property. Microsoft may think it’s the biggest, swinging dick in any room it chooses to enter, but I don’t know if they really want to buy a fight with some of the biggest publishers on the planet.

  44. James Patterson is on the list too. He ceased to be an author years ago, transforming into a publishing machine. He probably has some very terrifying lawyers.

  45. @Craig Ranapia

    I very much doubt that either Microsoft or a large TV network had any intention of picking any sort of fight over 2000 eBook readers. Microsoft certainly wouldn’t want to shoot itself in the foot on enforcing copyright. It was an enormous blunder. I imagine Cudo has already heard from its owners in no uncertain terms.

    I see no reason to be surprised that Flemming or Christie are there. I doubt anyone wants to tangle with JK Rowling either. I very much doubt that whoever provided the CD for this enterprise made any sort of weighted calculation about which publishing companies they could afford to anger, or which ones might have more difficulty in pressing suit in Australia. It seems more likely that someone grabbed a bunch of torrents based on file size, or as some previous comments suggest, there might have already been a convenient CD sized collection kicking around.

  46. Alas, no Rarnaby Budge by Charles Dikkens. Probably a good thing; his family is litigious as hell.

    Why don’t you try W. H. Smith?

  47. The part that really leaves me flummoxed is the part where not just one but a chain of (presumably) semi-literate people put the CD into production, into the supply chain, and into online marketing venues without anyone having the backbone (or dangly bits) to question whether this might be just a teensy bit illegal. You pretty much have to live under a rock not to know about the ongoing debate regarding copyright – and even giving the Chinese a pass on “copyright issues” (too much fertile ground there to deal with in this comment), I’d think the Aussies had better sense.

  48. “Glory Road – Robert A. Heinlein & Samuel R. Delany”

    I cannot rest until I have read this book! This means we either have to zombie up Bob, or get Chip a time machine – toot sweet!

  49. On a marginally related note, why would anyone want to spend that much money on a second rate e-reader? I’m not sure of the exchange rate presently, but you can buy the cheapest Kindle right now for $79US. Unless it’s not available in Australia. And AFAIK, Project Gutenberg is available in Australia anyrate.

  50. The Glory Road that Heinlein wrote by himself is quite enough of a fun story, lord alone knows what kind of twists Mr Delaney might have added to it. E-readers were always going to be a source of this kind of problem but, like most people, I am astounded at the lack of judgement shown by this advertisement.

  51. I’ve seen these sorts of things for sale on ebay and always assumed that someone had trolled through the interwebz and collected everything they could find to rip onto a CD/DVD. Never expected to see it being promoted as part of a package with a cheapo e-reader. I bought a cheapo ereader which also came with preloaded books, but they were definitely Project Gutenburg type ones.
    PS to the Mad Librarian: The exchange rate is highly in our favour at the moment, but we still get ripped off for pricing of anything like a Kindle. The cheapest one sells here for $130.

  52. If I recall correctly, Heinlein was cremated and then scattered in the Pacific from a Navy ship.

    Zombification may prove rather difficult.

    Maybe we could just have Delaney expand Heinlein’s Glory Road while listening to Pacific whalesong?

    82 messages in and no one has made a joke about books from alternate timelines yet? Shame!

  53. I feel for the authors whose copyrights were violated, but I also feel for naïve people who bought this with the promise of 4000 books and got ripped off. And, assuming the CD shipped, they were ripped off—when I buy a book from a retailer, it’s under the premise that the retailer has the rights to distribute said book. Now, for Internet-savvy folks such as those who frequent this site, you might take one look at the list of books and realize they are illegal copies. However, a less-savvy person might think it’s the result of some special deal. Given that the retailer in question is a joint venture of a large software company and a national TV network, it’s not unreasonable that a person would trust them on this point.

    The only honorable thing for this company to do, assuming the devices haven’t shipped, is to offer their customers a choice between the device without the CD or a full refund.

    TheMadLibrarian @ 4:44 pm: Since this second-rate e-reader has a color screen, a better comparison might be with the Kindle Fire or Nook.

  54. Okay, my guess is that we have another case of standard Australian retailer assumption number one:

    “The consumer is a thoroughgoing idiot.”

    If you don’t believe me, head into any bricks-and-mortar retailer in Australia. They employ such proven sales tactics as making the place thoroughly unwelcoming, employing staff who know absolutely nothing about their product range, employing staff who couldn’t tell you where to find items within the store, visually cluttered storefronts, impossible to navigate store spaces, and pricing information which is either inconsistent, incomplete, or outright illegal.

    They’re also upset with Australians for doing such previously unheard-of things as exhibiting disloyalty by shopping online (gods and demons but you should have heard the fuss over that last year! Anyone would have thought we were personally going and stabbing Gerry Harvey’s mother with each online transaction). This is because we’re not complying with the second great Australian retail assumption:

    “The consumer owes us a living.”

    These two assumptions explain what’s perjoratively called “Aussietax” – the 100 – 300 percent increase in price that a product undergoes simply by being sold in Australia. We wind up paying more for anything (even digital ebooks, or so I’ve heard. This one astounds me, because they can’t use the traditional excuse of “shipping costs” to cover it)

    Now, on to Cudo in specific. From what I can see of the site, they’re very much a provider of advertising space for companies. If we’re looking for a bricks-and-mortar analogue for Cudo, they’re not the retailers, they’re the shopping mall. In this case, the mall is backed by Microsoft, Australian Consolidated Press (i.e. the Packer family corporation), and similar such names. The shops themselves? Well, they’re run by whoever decides to sign up for space.

    Cudo will likely weasel out of things by saying the retailer in question breached their TOS as well, and that if there’s going to be any legal action performed against the retailer in question, they’ll be performing it, thanks.

    The relevant section of their TOS (this is from the end-user version – I haven’t looked at the seller end of things because they’re pretty much asking for a lot of details before you so much as get a glimpse of ‘em):

    8.1 Any information that is published on the Website about particular goods and services is based on material supplied to CUDO by Merchants and other third parties. You agree that CUDO will not be held liable for the publication on the Website of any inaccuracies or errors in information relating to goods and services that it has received from Merchants and other third parties.

    8.2 You agree that you are responsible for:

    (a) making your own reasonable enquiries to verify information that is published on the Website about particular goods and services; and

    (b) assessing the suitability of goods and services prior to you placing an order for a Coupon for a Deal relating to those goods or services.

  55. Since the e-reader was “Brand X’, akin to the knockoff iThingys you see for sale on eBay for 1/10 the price of an iPad, I made a possibly wrong assumption about its quality. Color screen, yes, but not touch (I see buttons), and can it really hold and play a movie adequately? The technology might be proven, but how’s the warranty? Mix that in with the e-piracy, and you are ticking off both your buyers and the publishers.

  56. TheMadLibrarian @ 10:40 pm: Good point about the buttons. By the way, I wasn’t trying to cast doubt on your assessment of the device’s probable quality—I agree with you that it’s probably second-rate. If all you want to do is read books, an e-ink display is probably better than color anyhow.

  57. Am I the only one confused by the fact that there’s no place to stick a CD in that device? Copyright aside, what good is that to me? Silly marketers, trix are for…um, unethical Internet retailers, I guess.

  58. RE: employing sarcasm. Australians are surprisingly oversensitive to perceived insult, probably because they have such a naive view of themselves as easy going (they’re not) and anti-authoritarian (totally not). A good example of this is The Simpsons, which was hilarious right up until the Australia episode — and oh my, the stern letters to the paper that brought on.

  59. You can’t possibly keelhaul them over the Great Barrier Reef! That thing is delicate. There’s a huge conservation effort going on to try to keep more of it from being destroyed.

    I suggest dragging them behind a car through the outback. Much more environmentally sound.

  60. This Cudo sounds like the increasing number of disreputable online ‘deal-of-the-day’ outfits that offer absurd discounts on e-toys which upon closer inspection turn out to be generic photos of electronic devices of very poor/crappy quality and non-existent content . Seriously question whether MSFT with a probable combined stable of 1,000 lawyers on its/its Partners’ payrolls would participate in such a deal.

  61. So, the last few years have been tense between writers, publishers, and often consumers, with everyone feeling their way toward a new balance of power. And then a shout rings out: “LEEROY JENKINS!”

Comments are closed.