This is a guest post by John van Stry on his precedent-setting lawsuit against a book pirate. His trail-blazing legal battle was costly, but ultimately won what he wanted: a legal recognition of the harm done by book pirates. From this point forward it will be simpler and less costly for authors to protect their intellectual property.
Over a year ago (March of 2019) I filed a lawsuit against the owner of the website ebook,bike. Some of you may know it as a pirate site, but as he was doing it for money, I hesitate to call it that. I have dealt with pirate sites in the past, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere. I have found that if you are polite to them, they are polite back, and the larger ones will take down your works, after they’ve shared them with their limited membership.
This site however would not take down my works, even when I had a lawyer send him a Cease and Desist, along with a DMCA notice (even though the website did not fall under DMCA protection or the Safe Harbor portions there of – what these people think the law says and means is truly bizarre I’ve discovered). The owner of the site, one Mr. McCrea bragged that what he was doing was legal. He said he ‘welcomed a lawsuit’ because he was right and he would win.
He would laugh at authors trying to stop him, because he knew how expensive a lawsuit is. Typically it’s ten thousand dollars just to walk into court. However he didn’t count on there being a successful indy author out there who felt he owed it to the rest of the writing community to take a stand, and who could afford to do so.
So I did. My IP attorney set me up with an experienced team in Houston, two amazing and wonderful lawyers who I honestly cannot thank enough.
Understand this wasn’t an easy decision. The money I spent had been meant for other things at my home. But I can’t stand a bully, and Mr. McCrea is certainly one. Then once the lawsuit got underway, an appellate court judge, took the case from the judge who it had originally been assigned to.
This increased the cost of the case significantly. Mainly because this judge gave Mr. McCrea the benefit of every doubt, because he was working pro se (representing himself). I like to think that the judge, who has heard many cases dealing with corporations, just wasn’t used to thinking of the costs involved. He saw my lawyers, and Mr. McCrea and thought it was ‘the little guy fighting the corporation’ or something like that.
So I suddenly found a case that I thought would cost thirty thousand dollars, tops, balloon to over seventy thousand as of today, (and that will increase). On the other hand, the judge’s thoroughness, and he was very thorough — I have to give him that — means that any chance of appeal is almost nil. Also, because of this being an appellate judge, you can only appeal to a full panel of the federal appellate court, or the Supreme Court. Yes, this case was heard at that high of a level.
This of course led to a lot of difficulties for me, but in for a penny, in for a pound. I couldn’t give in or drop the case, because then Mr. McCrea would crow about how he won, and it would have emboldened pirates everywhere. Thankfully my attorneys helped me, a lot in dealing with this. After a while I think this became a personal battle for them as well because of Mr. McCrea’s behavior. If you read the ‘order an opinion’ from earlier in this month (April 9) carefully, you might see that it appears (to me at least) that even the judge was starting to have issues with Mr. McCrea‘s behavior.
But now the lawsuit is over, and we won.
There was a lot said about me, and this lawsuit, by people who don’t know the full story, mainly those who think it’s perfectly okay to profit off of the stolen labor of others. I couldn’t address any of that, until now, because of the ongoing lawsuit, but now that it’s over I’d like to address a few things.
First off, I hesitate to label the other party as some kind of ethical or moral pillar, because he’s not. He never was. He wasn’t doing this to fight copyrights or help people; he was doing this for MONEY. Plain and simple. By his own account, he was making in excess of three hundred THOUSAND dollars a year off of his website.
He was stealing my work, and the work of other authors to make money, lots of money, with which he bought two airplanes and lived a pretty good life. He now claims that he’s broke and living out of a conversion van (aren’t those expensive?). I don’t know if that’s true or not, and I don’t care.
The primary goal of this lawsuit was always to get an injunction and stop him from stealing my works and the works of other authors. I didn’t even know his site existed until I was told my works were on it by some fans and other authors. It was funny how many people accused me of having uploaded my stuff to his site so I could sue him. Of how I didn’t make any money as a writer, or sell any books. How I was doing this for attention. At least I only got one death threat, and the site it was on, took it down, once I contacted them.
Oh, and for all of those saying I should have settled out of court? We tried. Three times. The first time? Mr. McCrea sent US the settlement offer. One that was a hell of a lot better than what he was hit with today. He asked us to write it up for him (because of course he didn’t have a lawyer – right). So I paid my attorney’s to write it up exactly like he sent it to us.
And he never signed it.
Twice more we sent it to him, at the judge’s (subtle) urging. He didn’t respond to the first of those and was a bit rude on the last time. Again, it would have left him in a far better position than the ruling that came out today. So when the crocodile tears start to flow, don’t pay them no mind. He was given three chances to get out of this for a lot less money, a LOT less.
But he refused.
My reasons, again, for this lawsuit.
Again, Mr. McCrea survived this long only because lawsuits are expensive. He knew this, hence his challenge ‘just sue me!’ He knew most authors can’t afford it. Well unfortunately for him, I could. I saw authors whom I’m a longtime fan of complaining about the damage, I saw reflected in my own sales damage. I’ve been very successful as an author, I’m very thankful to all my fans, and all of the authors who have gone before me. So, again, I saw this as an opportunity to pay them back, to give something back to the writing community.
Understand that I did NOT want to do this. I knew it would be expensive. I knew it would expose me and my family to threats and possible reprisals. But if not me, then who? If not now, then when? Sometimes, you just have to stand up for what is right. This lawsuit hurt me, considerably, and not just because of the money that came out of my pocket. Rarely did a day go by that I wasn’t thinking about it, and rarely did a week go by when I wasn’t having to deal with my attorneys. And at the end of every month there were the legal bills I had to pay. Sometimes those bills were substantial.
But it wasn’t just about me, it never was.
I’m glad this is over. I’m happy we won, and I’m happy with this ruling. I have posted the ruling documents on my Patreon, if you wish to read them:
I’m sure the usual sites that have been following this will post copies, I’m sure they’ll completely mis-interpret the legalities involved, and I’m sure I’ll once again be harangued and liabled in the comments.
To all of you who contributed, thank you very much! I appreciate your hard-earned dollars, and I appreciate your words of support. I’ll be shutting down my gofundme soon, the final cost of this lawsuit will come out to be somewhere between seventy to eighty thousand dollars. Yes, going to court is not cheap. However a precedent has now been set, so things will be cheaper and easier for those who come after.
Last of all I’d like to thank my attorneys. They were highly professional and are both incredibly experienced and smart. They helped me through the hard times and I would recommend them to anyone who finds themselves in the same or similar position. Their staffs are also very professional and put in some long hours on my behalf. Joshua and Gary, I couldn’t have done it without them, and I thank them both very much.
-John Van Stry