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. 


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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.