Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Plagiarized books

Guest post by Tali Spencer:

It happens all the time. A writer puts up a book, or a series of chapters that constitutes a first draft of a book, on a free site. The writer is seeking encouragement, connection with fans or readers, maybe advice. They don’t stop to consider—fully consider—that their work might be stolen by someone else and published. Most of the time, they never even bother to register copyright on their work. They know copyright is just a legality and think it doesn’t matter. After all, the work is theirs because they created it. Right?

Right. But there’s more at stake than who wrote it when someone else puts their name on it.

I found out this weekend that my book, The Prince of Winds, was stolen when it was up for a while on a free site. Many people enjoyed this story there and offered me encouragement. Fans said I should get it published. But I waited and posted more free material until I could believe in myself. Well, I guess I should have listened to my readers … because someone else took the book and published it before I did. Dreamspinner notified me Sunday morning (actually Saturday night, but I saw the email when I woke up Sunday) that a reader who had bought the book off their site complained that she already owned the book. I was asked to clarify the matter.

Did I write The Prince of Winds?

And so it began. This is how it played out. Saturday night the book was removed from all sales sites until the matter could be resolved. People looking for the book couldn’t find it and wrote to me asking what was going on. What did I tell them? The truth.

The book was published in March 2012 by a publisher called Forever Amber for a writer named Emily Wilcox. Check out this [HERE] to see the scoop on Forever Amber. Both I and my publisher have every reason to believe this publisher was in fact a single person using pseudonyms for the many plagiarized books the company published. My book was published as two books: “The Prince of Desire: Persian Prince Adventure” and “The King of Storms.”  The thief put the books up on Goodreads, too, [HERE].

This is bad for me in several ways. It’s bad enough some readers out there might think I’m the plagiarist. I never even copied homework. But they don’t know me from a street sign in Toledo, so now I have to rebuild my credibility as an author. I also have to rebuild credibility for this book. I could just write it off, but I’m not willing to do that—and neither is my publisher. The Prince of Winds is a fine book and I’m proud to have written it! Dreamspinner believes in it, too, and is keeping the book in print.

The book is already back on the sales shelf. There’s one reason and one reason only we were able to resolve this issue so quickly: I had registered the book’s copyright in February 2011. That’s right. As soon as I put it online, I paid my $35 and got a certificate that establishes me as author of this book. I did the same for Captive Heart, by the way. So when Dreamspinner asked if I could clarify the matter, I had only to go to my file cabinet and send them the copyright number and information. A quick check and some consulting with their lawyer and we were good.

The Prince of Winds now carries a disclaimer that an unauthorized edition was published. It names the other title but not the author. Because I’m the author of both versions. The copyright notice in the book now carries my copyright registration number to prove I’m the copyright holder. Anyone who bought the book on its original release won’t have those notices. The blurb now also carries the same disclaimer.

How do I feel about that? I hate having that language attached to my blurb. I hate having that other title even buried in in the copyright notice where most people never look. It’s like having a scar. It will always be there, but I don’t have to like it. Good thing I have enough life experience—and scars—to be able to chalk this one up to a lesson learned.

If you put your work out online for free, for fun, because you like the ego strokes or want to do something nice for your fans—do it. Just realize that someone else could easily publish your work as their own. And if someone does that, it might create problems for you down the line. If you try to publish your work, it could come back to bite you in the ass. My ass this morning is so sore I need one of those hemorrhoid pillows.

As for copyright registration? It didn’t keep someone from stealing my work. I will probably never track down the now vanished publisher (the book itself is also long since off any sales sites) to sue for damages … though I have the legal standing to do so. It may never convince readers who already think I am the one who pilfered someone else’s book. But what it did do was enable me to rescue this book before it was irreparably crippled by a horrible launch. It allows me to ask Goodreads to remove that author and the offending books. Worth every cent of that $35 as far as I’m concerned. Only my Sunday was ruined, not my month.

Here’s my final say: I love my publisher. Dreamspinner was wonderful and supportive and believed in me all the way. I love my husband and friends. They listened to me vent and put up with me at my worst. I love my fans. When I told the ones who wrote to me about what was going on, they rallied like troopers.

And I still love writing. I’m writing the sequel, and I’m pretty damn sure the thief can’t do that. 


 * * * *

This post also is running on Tali’s blog and several others. I posted it here because I felt this needed to be seen by as many people as possible. I know several of y’all are thinking about publishing or about to be published... and this is something an author should be aware of. This scared the hell out of me, frankly. Enough so that I also copyrighted the material I had up at the same free site. 
I don’t want to debate the issue of 'should you/shouldn’t you’ post free stuff… that isn’t what this is about. What this *is* about is the risk of posting for free anything, anywhere before you send your MS to a publisher. As I’ve said before, many publishers won’t even take material posted beforehand because first rights have used. That includes material on blogs. What happened to Tali shows why.
This also isn't about whether you should or shouldn't copyright. But, because Tali could prove she held the copyright, she was able to have the situation resolved in little over twenty-four hours. What could have taken a great deal of time to resolve ended up being nothing more than roughly a day. Keep in mind Prince of Winds had *just* been released, also. What turned out to be nothing more than a little hiccup in her launch could have ended up being a disastrous turn of events. As it was, that hiccup ruined her weekend.
Like I said, scary as hell and hits much too close to home.


  1. Hello, firstly let me say that I love your stories and Tali's as well. I did not have time to read "The Prince of Winds" when it was posted on Literotica, I bookmarked it for when I have the time, unfortunately she took it down when I did find the time. So glad I caught "The Harvest" before you took it down as well. Anyway, I love reading and I was elated when I discovered Literotica, a place where I could read wonderful stories for free. This plagiarism thing is going to make people think twice about publishing stories for free and that is going to hurt me, I read a lot more than what I can afford to buy. Anyway, please tell Tali that I'm glad she's got the issue settled and that it has not discouraged her from publishing. Keep up the good work, both of you. God bless...

  2. What happened to Tali is terrible, and she isn't the first. It was one of the reasons for the big stampede off Literotica last spring when it was discovered several authors had been plagiarized. Lit has been a ghost town for the past several months, at least in the m/m section, compared to this same time last year.
    It's made me think twice and considering whether to pull my stories down. Not that I'm going to publish, but if I ever do, I want to be able to without fighting to prove I wrote a story and deserve the credit.
    You would think someone would be really ashamed of themselves.

  3. GRRRRR. This makes me so angry. I have heard over and over again how this is happening. There are actually two parties that should feel shame in this case. Both the person( I refuse to call them an author or publisher, they are a thief!) that stole the book AND Literotica. they seem to have done nothing to protect their writers. That hurts me because it feels so good when one of you guys get published. It makes me proud in that I knew you when feeling. :o) The sad part is there are still a few good authors over there that I love to read. I would hate it if anything like this happened to them or anyone else for that matter. Anyways. That is my 2 cents. I am glad this came out well in the end but I am so sorry that Tali had to go through it.

  4. I totally agree with Carrie, this makes me really angry! Stealing someone else's hard work and intellectual property and possibly causing the destruction of their credibility is despicable. I'm so sorry this happened to Tali, thank goodness she was able to prove copyright.

    I'm lucky enough to have had the opportunity to enjoy some of your work, and Tali, Night_Tempest, LM Somerton etc on Literotica in the past. Why should any of you take the risk of posting your work on there when there is so much risk of it being stolen though :(

    Mo x

  5. I've seen this happen to several authors, since I admin on Gay Authors and I'm friends with many people who are moving into e-publishing. I guess, for me, the sticking point is that anything I send to a publisher won't be put on a free site anymore. That means my readers don't get everything I write immediately, but I'm still mostly writing just for the fun of it so they get quite a bit of free content.

    That's simply my way of getting away from the fear of having my work stolen so I can't profit from it. I know they can still steal it and use it to publish themselves, which is horrible but unfortunately impossible to completely prevent.

    I'm so glad you were ableto find out the problem quickly, Tali, and get it resolved. And thanks M for featuring this, because it is something all online authors should be aware of.

  6. I feel so bad for all the writers who got their work stolen from them. It's their creativeness that made these stories happen. STOP STEALING THEIR WORK!!! I hate the fact that there are no protection against free stories that authors, especially newcomers, have posted up. Newcomers are worried about what people might think the story they wrote are horrible but when they actually have readers who love their stories, they feel encourage to write more stories. That is a good thing. When they finally realize they have the confidence to publish their story(ies) and it is going to be published, only to realize someone ELSE stole their story, their first idea, their first confidence to go be a writer, it destroys them. Knowing that their work have been stolen from them, knowing that someone out there took great pleasures into publishing a work that is not theirs to publish, it just sucks! I hope all the people, who are writers or who wants to write, take caution when posting a story up. Get your story copyrighted!

  7. I can't think of anything to say that hasn't already been said. So, ditto. xD Shame on plagiarists everywhere. I can't really say the same about the free sites that allow you to post, though. I mean, is it even possible for a free story site to protect the rights of the writers/authors posting the stories?

    This does make me think twice about finishing my own story and posting the rest of it on Gay Authors like I had planned, but then, I don't think I'll ever get it published.

    Thank you M for showcasing this on your blog. People should be aware of the dangers of posting their work online for free.

    Tali, I doubt you'll read this, so I'll probably have to re-type it onto your own blog or something, but I'm sorry this happened to you. You are a great writer, and don't deserve to have your work stolen from you.

    However --- If it were me, I'd try ti take it as a compliment that they liked the story enough to steal it. :/

    "Try" being the important word there.

  8. Please, please, please publish The Harvest. I love that book! I want to buy it!!!!

  9. I wanted to thank y'all for the support and comments on this subject. And it's true, without Lit I probaly wouldn't be where I'm at today. That's the sad part of this too. Feedback is so important to someone thinking about breaking into publishing. Without that, then how do you *know* what you've got is intertesting, you know?

    So yes, when stuff like this happens it affects all of us. *laugh* I'm a reader just like you guys lol. :) I've got my eye on stories also and wait for update. Then frantically hop to the blog to read lol!


  10. I'd like to thank everyone who commented, also. Though I feel a bit beat up, it's great to know I'm not alone and M is a great friend. I read her blog just like the rest of her fans, and wait for updates (even when I've beta read some of those), and am in every way a reader of her work also. We met on Lit and still learn from each other every day as we figure out how to deal with the various things life and publishing throw our way. This was a tough one. I just hope other writers, and our readers, too, can take away something useful from it.