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My Battle with Pirates

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by Rhonda Rees, Publicist

Photo of Rhonda Rees

Rhonda Rees

Late one evening, shortly after I self-published Profit and Prosper with Public Relations®: Insider Secrets to Make You a Success, I decided to run a Google search for it—and there it was, staring me right in the face. My book, along with hundreds of others, was being given away free with the simple click of a button.

By the time I discovered this, one website had already given away roughly 600 copies of my book, and another one, which had the nerve to say that it had my blessing, had given away 1,500 copies.

As you can imagine, I was shocked. And as I know now, you may find yourself in this very same unwanted position. Any book can be pirated online. It’s not just the famous writers and recording artists who are being ripped off. Even the fact that I trademarked and registered my title here in the United States didn’t keep my book safe, since many pirates are located overseas.

So what can be done about this?

First Moves

Faced with the fact that my book was being downloaded free, which seemed to be happening by the minute, I knew that I had to act fast. Right away, I clicked around one of the unscrupulous sites, looking for any information on the culprits. I also showed what I had found to a couple of computer-savvy colleagues, to get their take on things.

They recommended that I run a Whois search to find information, such as who owned the domain names, where and when they were registered, and when the Internet addresses would expire. After I did all that, I sent out a few emails to try to find the companies hosting the site so that I could send them a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notice.

That notice, I discovered, has to be worded just so, and I also discovered a company, DMCA.com, that can help with this task. Searching further, I found a business that offered a free sample DMCA letter posted by Gene Quinn, a patent attorney and the founder of IPwatchdog.com (http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2009/07/06/sample-dmca-take-down-letter/id=4501/). I used his letter, inserting my own information where appropriate, and that did the trick.

Once I sent this carefully worded DMCA takedown notice by e-mail, the web hosting company was obligated to notify its clients (the culprits) within 24-hours and have them remove all my information—pronto. And that’s what happened.

This was a very nice victory, but I knew it could be short-lived. You may catch one of these criminals, but another can get hold of your property, and then you have to start this arduous process all over again.

Airing and Sharing

Photo 1Because I thought other authors and publishers should be alerted to the threat of Internet piracy, I decided to try for media coverage, and I approached KNBC-TV Channel 4 news in Los Angeles. The station sent a camera crew out to interview me.

After the station aired the segment, I contacted Brian Noyes, executive director of strategy and communications at the Global Intellectual Property Center (GIPC), an affiliate of the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC. This group, I learned, has seen cases like mine before, and the people there are working tirelessly to help protect the intellectual property rights of businesses worldwide.

Also, I heard from Craig Crosby, the publisher of The Counterfeit Report (thecounterfeitreport.com), a website designed to help individuals identify counterfeit products. He had seen the KNBC-TV interview and helpfully included a mention of my book in his counterfeit product alert.

Another viewer I heard from was Scott La Counte, the founder of Piracy Trace (piracytrace.com), a service that scans the Internet to find out if a book has been plagiarized. The site’s results page provides sample sentences and links to where a work has been copied, and it gives the examples in context so that you can know where on a website a book is being used. He too gave my book a mention.

La Counte told me that he’s seen two types of piracy—intentional and unintentional. Intentional piracy entails mass illegal distribution, whereas unintentional piracy stems from misunderstandings of copyright law. He said that he sees a lot of unintentional piracy “with teachers who think that because they are educators, they are free to give away anything, just as long as it falls within educational purposes,” and he also said that he has “seen bloggers who think that if someone sends them a book for review, there’s no harm in giving it away to all their readers.”

Pirates’ Payoffs

One question may be nagging at you that I haven’t yet addressed. You’re probably wondering why pirate companies offer free copies of books. What’s in it for them? Well, one simple answer is that these unscrupulous companies want to collect personal data on you, which they get because anyone who downloads a book from these sites may have to provide such details.

Another reason is that once you submit these details, they can give you the “gift” of a computer virus—and can engage in IP spoofing, making you think you are being directed to one website when you are actually being sent somewhere else. And still another is that they can use your book as a teaser, something free only after signing up for their products or services.

Positive Progress

On the plus side, getting the word out about online piracy has never been easier than it is right now, thanks to social media. Through Google News, Facebook, blogs, and Twitter, the publicity generated by that interview I did on KNBC-TV reached across the country and around the world. Many mentions showed up in the United States, as well as in countries such as Mexico, Canada, the UK, Vietnam, China, India, and Germany.

In addition, an online PR industry trade publication, the Bulldog Reporter’s Daily Dog, did a feature story, and it generated some good buzz too.

Taking all of this into account, the best advice I can give you is:

  • Run detailed Google searches regularly for your book or books, and if something looks funny, by all means investigate. You can plug in the title of a book and then add the words “free downloads” to narrow your search.
  • If you find your book or books on one or more pirate sites, use Whois to discover where to send a DMCA takedown notice and be sure you word it exactly the way it has to be worded.
  • You should receive notice from the web hosting company when your information has been removed within 24 hours. Just in case, check to make sure any free download offers have been taken down.
  • Repeat and repeat and repeat.

Rhonda Rees, an award-winning public relations practitioner and author, was recently named Publicist of the Year by the Book Publicists of Southern California. Her book Profit and Prosper with Public Relations®: Insider Secrets to Make You a Success, published by Aseity Press, is legally available at amazon.com/Profit-Proper-Public-Relations-Insider-ebook/dp/B00IEP6DCM. To learn more: RhondaRees@aseitypress.com, RhondaRees.com, aseitypress.com, or partnershippr.com.

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