TANSTAAFL – pt. 2

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.

16 Comments

Filed under AMANDA

16 responses to “TANSTAAFL – pt. 2

  1. If the format of the download allows invisible comments, that’s a good place to put something odd to identify the work, as it will often be overlooked by a plagiarist, and stands as proof positive against ’em.

    • Yeah. This particular one isn’t that hard to spot. Scott lifted whole passages and more. If you look at the samples for the two books I named, you can see that the first page (all I admittedly looked at) is basically verbatim from the source material except for changing the character’s name.

  2. Kobo strikes me as more of an “e-tailer to bookstores” than a general purchase e-bookstore, at least in Britain and Canada. I believe it was in 2013 that patrons at Waterstones, a British book-store chain, complained about excessively erotic books, leading to the great cover panic. Kobo yanked adult works, and a large number of non-adult content books, based on cover art, and authors had to prove that they were not slipping erotica in as romance or thrillers or whatever. Kobo seems less concerned about content providers than the ‘Zon, and far less responsive to individual authors as compared to the large publishers.

    Full disclosure: I sold through Kobo from 2012 through the summer of 2015 and only had problems once. That one time was a Kobo-wide problem and not something personal.

    • I used Kobo for a short period. I had them take down one (? — may have been two) books because of their covers. Nothing I did got the books back up for sale. It didn’t matter that there was nothing more “daring” on the covers than a nude female back (from the waist up) nor that there was no sex in the book. It was evil! I quit using them at that point when I couldn’t even get a response back from them.

  3. Christopher M. Chupik

    One early morning during my (high school days), I walked into a (Belgian) History class to find (TANJ) written on the board. Our (teacher) stood in one corner of the class, watching as we (stumbled) and lurched to our chairs and prepared for the (class).

    Hey, this is pretty easy . . .

  4. I can think of nothing more infuriating than finding your intellectual property stolen and mutilated!

    If I were not so exhausted, I would get around to setting up alerts. But the paper version comes first – and I actually get less energy per day when stressed, so it will have to wait.

    But that’s one of the reasons I paid for and filed for a formal copyright document from the Library of Congress: without a registered copyright, you can’t get punitive damages. And if someone ever pulled that particular theft, I would be talking lawyers and damages (talking – I don’t know about the execution).

    Lowest circle of hell for them.

    • Absolutely. What is really infuriating is that some of the sites are apparently dragging their corporate feet when it comes to taking down the offending titles. Folks can bitch and moan all they want about Amazon, but the ‘zon does take action in these cases.

      • I hope so, having just entrusted my one and so far only to Amazon’s mighty powers.

        At least they seem to TRY. Nothing is perfect, and they have to try balancing service to paying customers with expectations of providers (us writers). I think many authors are way too quick to see fault. And they forget that traditional publishers didn’t want them, and when they did, didn’t pay them much.

        The saddest are the writers with contracts which give their rights away for a long time, and who know that if they go indie, their old titles will come to an even more abrupt standstill. My opinion only, of course, not having had the trad world take me on (though they had fun rejecting me back in the previous century).

        I’m hoping to do very well, just to spite them. Assuming they would notice.

        • TRX

          A writer is the only person who can view rejection as a positive event. Far better than the interminable time waiting for a reply that never comes…

  5. Robin Munn

    If you’re getting a free lunch, one of three things is true:

    1) Someone else paid for your lunch, and gave it to you as a gift.

    2) You’re paying for that lunch in non-monetary ways (e.g., when you help your friend move and he buys you pizza — it’s a gift from your friend, but it’s also one that you’re “paying” for by helping him with a job he couldn’t do alone. Of course, in this scenario neither one of you is thinking in economic terms.)

    3) You stole that lunch.

    The plagiarism that Amanda describes fits neatly into category #3.

  6. TRX

    I wrote a nonfiction book back in the 1980s and sold it online via BBSs, there being no internet to speak of at the time. A few years later I got a “cease and desist” letter from a lawyer in Florida, on behalf of his client, who must have had cantaloupe-sized cojones.

    I wrote what I thought was a nice reply back to the lawyer, included a copy of my copyright filing, and a suggestion that he vet his clients more thoroughly…