Some New Things to Think About re: Electronic Books

Namely, whether they will turn out to be a gold mine for content scammers in the short run, poisoning the well for actual authors of any sort in the long run. Jim Macdonald covers it all, with relevant links, over at Making Light, and rather than duplicate efforts, I’ll just commend that link to you and tell you to follow it.

I will specially highlight one thing Jim calls out there, which is that some assbite has taken an entire novel by author S.K.S. Perry and put it up on Amazon’s Kindle store without his permission, and Perry’s currently wrangling with the store to have the pirated version taken down. He’s in the unfortunate position of being a pioneer in this particular case. He’s unlikely to be the last.

This is where a DMCA take down notice does come in handy; when presented with one, Amazon (and most other legitimate commerce sites) is legally obliged to deal with it, and stuff like this is what a DMCA notice was made for. If you’re an author and you’ve not seen a DMCA notice before and/or need an idea of how to put one together, SFWA just happens to have a sample DMCA notice generator for your informational purposes.

This is where I note that DMCA notices have to come from an author or his/her duly-appointed representatives (agents and publishers), so you shouldn’t be sending them for a pal or as a pre-emptive nerd strike in defense of your favorite authors. You can get in a fair amount of legal trouble for that. But if you are the author (or his/her duly-appointed representatives), then it’s a useful tool.

31 Comments on “Some New Things to Think About re: Electronic Books”

  1. Yeah, I saw it on Making Light, too. Amazon’s going to have to step up on that.

  2. here’s one ‘concern’ I have. Most authors do not have any IP protection for their names, their series or important aspects of their works.

    I could (though it would be a stupid idea) turn out trash (or copy someone else’s) and offer it up as a “new find by the science fiction author John Scalzi”

    No – not the TOR published Scalzi, the other science fiction author Scalzi.

    Of course, you’d have a wide platform for getting the word out, but I’ve not found any legal means for stopping someone putting up legal content under just about any name they choose. I choose to use that name as a penname.

    There are variations on this theme (the easiest being “publishing” new finds by old (deceased) well-known names. Eric F Russell; Ed Hamilton, I. Asimov, A. C. Clarke & etc. (easier because there’s plenty of Gutenberg content by those authors that could be swiped).

    We’re talking diminishment of brand value here. If someone were to assiduously engage in the foregoing, it wouldn’t be too long before everyone would have to question any ebook by any author. Did Scalzi really write something called Bill, the Galactic Hero? Is this the same thing as the Harrison book, or another authorized ‘reboot’ like that Little Fuzzy thing?

    At the very least, authors would have to maintain an ‘authorized’ publications list – and keep up with it, and spend endless hours dealing with bad ‘spillover’ reviews (we all know that some folks in lala land are going to believe whatever they want to, regardless of the facts)

    Plagiarism is one thing – at the very least we have DMCA (as you noted and here I would appeal directly to the President of SFWA and suggest that there are volunteers out here who would gladly spend a few hours a day or a week identifying such illegal works and submitting DMCAs if they had the legal authority to do so: this past month alone I sent FYIs to the Heinlein estate, the Asimov estate, Ellison and several agents for various authors after finding illegal offerings. The commonest response – especially for deceased authors – is thanks, but we really don’t have the time to follow this up. Which I understand. Volunteers, on the other hand, who have a vested interest in preserving their favorite author’s integrity could fairly easily be tapped. And no, I don’t do this on a regular basis, but do note it when I come across it and it is increasing), but totally legal content with a look-a-like name would require a fair amount of legal work and falls mostly into that – not worth spending the money – category.

    I hope I’m wrong, but all of the elements are certainly in place.

  3. You would think that the electronic content providers would have learned from the Ellison v. Robertson, et al., lawsuit!

  4. I’m not a huge fan of the DMCA but this is one case where it can work exactly as designed.

  5. Nice to see that utter disaster of a law has a decent usage once in a while.

  6. John,

    yes, to the tune of $1500 or so, followed by the years-long, several hundred thousand dollar lawsuits that may be necessary to enforce….

  7. Bruce Schneier has some interesting commentary over here.

    Most relevant passage: “All complex ecosystems have parasites.”

  8. Sounds like becoming a member of the SFWA is becoming more relevant in the modern times with this – getting the SFWA to help out with removing things from Amazon is probably worth the membership fee.

  9. Ever book page on Amazon has a place to report stolen content. Scroll to the bottom of the page where it says “feedback” and choose the appropriate report. Amazon does respond.

    The sky ain’t falling but a lot of people are running in circles like very frightened chickens.

  10. People had the exact same concerns about the proliferation of printed books. (Reasonably, as the exact same thing happened with printed books.) What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

  11. Yes, well maybe the sky isn’t falling, but Amazon does have egg on its face. They should already have procedures in place to deal with this by now. At the least, the book should be removed from sale until the dispute is settled. Remember that copyright violation where they had to delete purchased copies of several major works from customers’ Kindles? It was a bad press nightmare. So you would think that they would have overhauled their procedures on copyright issues. Perry probably does not have the wherewithal to sue Amazon, but other, bigger authors and their publishers will. But then that’s the wild west nature of the place we’re still in right now.

  12. Amazon does respond? Really? When? It’s been eight days now and I haven’t heard a peep from them, other than to send me an alert to tell me that my second book–which isn’t under dispute–is under review and they require more info before they can publish it. Meanwhile they’ve allowed both my copy and the stolen copy to be published at the same time, under the same name.

    And you’re right; I don’t have the wherewithal to hire a lawyer, never mind that I’m Canadian, which makes the legal battle and rights issue even more complicated.

  13. How long has it been since you sent in a legally-formatted DMCA notice? That’s the thing they are likely to pay attention to. Also, there’s a weekend in there.

  14. You would think counterfeit goods would be covered under other consumer laws as well as IP.

  15. Crap. I just bought H. Beam Piper’s “Little Fuzzy” for my nook. I noticed there were several versions…could one have been a spammer version? Have I bought an illicit copy and robbed the estate of money? How do you figure it out? :(

  16. The first notification I sent was on the 29 March, with all the information as per the instructions on their site. After a little research, I found a template, reformatted it (but still with all the basic info I sent the first time) and sent another by email and fax. I also filled out the form provided by, and faxed it off to them as well as per their instructions. They, at least responded with an auto-generated response saying they’d received it and passed it along.

  17. Thanks, by the way, for posting this. If it weren’t for the support of the writing community, even for a self-published author as myself, this would probably be going nowhere right now. It’s much appreciated.

  18. I wonder what the legalities of sending false DMCA notices from outside the US are. Presumably the prohibition is based on US law, but if US law does not apply, how could that prohibition?

    It would be a scummy, exploitative thing to do, but it would hardly be the first such use of the DMCA.

  19. As I understand it, when you send a DMCA takedown notice, you are claiming under penalty of perjury to own (or represent the owner of) the work in question. I think perjury is one of those laws that is pretty common throughout the world.

  20. Jardinski:

    So far, I can find only two cases where a DMCA takedown led to punishment for the issuer. Only one of those was due to misrepresentation: Diebold v. EFF in 2004. In Lenz v. UMC the judge ruled that Universal must consider fair use in each case before issuing a DMCA takedown.

    Those seem to be the only examples of court victories. They are by no means the only examples of false or disingenuous DMCA notices – in practice, the law is viciously anti-fair-use.

  21. Tony, here’s another case:

    A few years ago, a man named Michael Crook was issuing false DMCA notices to blogs that had posted a screenshot from his appearance on Fox News. (They were false notices because Fox was the owner of the copyright, not him.) One of the bloggers sued (with the help of the EFF) and it lead to a settlement. One of the terms of the settlement was that Crook had to apologize publicly (on a video posted to the internet) for the false DMCA notices.

  22. It appears that the fake Darkside has been taken down – the Amazon page is currently showing “pricing not available” and not letting anyone buy it.

    Who knows if they’ll actually take any further action, like giving the author the sales proceeds that the scammer attempted to steal. (It’s been less than a month, so the payout may not have happened at all, yet.)

  23. @Jardinsky

    Perjury is certainly a widespread legal concept, but there’s not generally a requirement of truth in legal nastygrams. It is, as I understand it, only the DMCA itself that makes lying in a DMCA notice perjury. Note that those outside the US may make use of the DMCA, but aren’t bound by it themselves.

    I’m not a lawyer, maybe there’s something else that would apply, but I don’t see it. It’s yet another of many issues that weren’t thought through when the DMCA was passed, and probably why the US is trying to force everyone else to pass similar legislation.

  24. If you are interested in reading classical literature, go to the Gutenberg project. It is where I got my first ebooks when there weren’t many to be had commercially.
    It’s legal and in general good quality. I recommend reading ‘1984’ which I downloaded from there, it’s really captivating.

  25. First the good news: I recieved offical notice from Amazon’s Copyright Agent today that they were taking down the stolen version of Darkside.

    Now the bad new: they took all the reviews you nice folks wrote about how that copy was stolen, and applied them to the legitimate copy!

  26. “Now the bad new: they took all the reviews you nice folks wrote about how that copy was stolen, and applied them to the legitimate copy!”

    Arrggghhh!! While I haven’t seen any pictures of you, I wouldn’t be surprised if, after all of this, you end up bald from pulling your hair out in frustration.

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