One early morning during my undergraduate days, I walked into a Russian History class to find TANSTAAFL written on the board. Our professor stood in one corner of the class, watching as we staggered and lurched to our chairs and prepared for the lecture. As the other students looked at what he’d written on the board, there were murmurs of confusion and a few wondering if the prof was trying to tell us something in Croatian or some other odd language no one in his right mind would bother learning. No one save myself recognized those strange letters for what they were: “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. That day, the prof gave us a lesson a number of people today would do well to learn. What you get for free does cost, whether you pay for it now or later. Plus, other people pay for it as well.
No, this is not a political discussion. I’ll save that for my personal blog. It does apply, yet again, to writing. Not that long ago, I came across a blog post by a writer of m/m novels talking about how she and others had been plagiarized by a person by the name of Addison Scott. It seems Scott took their books, changed the names of the characters but basically that was it. Then Scott put the books up for sale on Amazon, BN, Kobo, etc. I thought I had blogged about it but I’m darned if I can find it in my pre-caffeinated state. If I remember correctly, at that point Scott took f/m books, changed them to m/m and that was about it. In once instance, the book was almost verbatim from the source material with the exception of the last chapter where the male lead had sympathetic labor pains with his now-wife. That wouldn’t work in a m/m, so the chapter was omitted.
Anyway, this morning I was looking through my FB feed and found yet another author, this time Cat Grant, talking about how she, too, has been plagiarized by Scott. In this case, Grant’s book, Once a Marine, is the book in question. It seems Scott has published “Coming Undone” which is, from a quick look, a verbatim copy of Grant’s book — with the expected name changes. Now, it doesn’t surprise me to see Scott has done this. After all, she (he?) is already known as a plagiarist. What does surprise me is that, after being reported more than once to BN, Kobo and other outlets, I find books under that person’s name on BN.com and Kobo. Not surprising, to me at least, is the fact I found nothing on Amazon by Scott.
Here’s the thing. For all the bad mouthing you can find about Amazon online, it does take plagiarism very seriously. It also is very responsive to author concerns, at least it has been in my experience. If it thinks you are publishing something you don’t have the rights to, you get an email telling you that you have a period of days to prove you have those rights or the book will be taken down. If they suspect you of plagiarism, they will take your work down and then it is up to you to prove otherwise. Okay, the latter is more of a guilty until proven innocent but better than than having your work out there, selling and putting money into someone else’s pocket. You pay for that and so do your readers.
But it also shows something else I’ve come across when it comes to Kobo and BN. Both are slow, sometimes glacier slow, to respond to author concerns/requests. This is especially true when a third-party aggregator like Smashwords is involved. That adds one more layer into the communication mix and it gives BN, Kobo and others an out. They are contracted to work with that aggregator so they can and will wait for the aggregator to propagate the take down notice.
And that is if you are lucky.
As writers, we work hard to put out the best story we can. It is more than just writing what we hope is an engaging and entertaining book or shorter work. It is then editing it, formatting, finding the right cover, promoting, and all the other steps necessary to try to be successful in this business. When someone rips off our work, as it appears Scott is doing (look at the samples for Grant’s book and Scott’s and tell me then that there isn’t plagiarism involved), they are stealing from us and laughing at us as they take the money they earn off our work. Worse, they are stealing from our readers.
The response isn’t to add DRM. That is simply waving a red cape in front of the bull and someone will hack it before you can sign your name. The response is to be alert. To listen to your readers when they say they’ve seen something that looks an awful lot like your work. Then the response is to be swift and merciless in how you deal with the plagiarist. Report them to every outlet you find their work in. Show proof with your reports that they have plagiarized your work. Send cease and desist letters to them and, if necessary, file suit. This is your livelihood they are attacking.
It comes down to one simple premise, something a lot of writers tends to forget about. Writing is our work, our job and part of our livelihood. We should treat it just as seriously as we would any other job, any other profession, we might have. That also means letting other authors know if we suspect they have been plagiarized. Reporting to the sales outlet suspected plagiarism and making sure those responsible are dealt with.
Plagiarists are looking for that free lunch. The problem is, they don’t care that it isn’t really free. Someone — in this case, the author and her fans — are paying for it. That means it isn’t free. Perhaps, if the plagiarist is made to take responsibility for their actions, it is a lesson they will finally learn.
One can hope.