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Archive for August, 2009

I couldn’t help but respond the other week to a person who left me a comment on my website, a comment assuring me that what they had to say may look like spam but assuring me it wasn’t. All I could do was protest loudly that their site looked like…well, spam. Having disapproved of the comment I sent it off into the protective clutches of my anti-spam programme and then, aggravated beyond reason by what could well be another scam or copyright violation, I posted a response. I copy it for the readers of Britwriters because I believe and hope it clarifies the law with regards to the passing on of books, especially ebooks:

You say you’re not a publisher and yet you’re making money selling free ebooks? This is an oxymoron. If you are selling books they’re not ‘free’. Secondly, you say you’re not a writer so where are you getting these books from? Are you selling other people’s free ebooks? If you’re doing so without their permission you are in violation of copyright law. If you are buying ebooks and selling them on, you are in violation of copyright law. On both counts, I advise you to read the statement that runs in my side bar. If you are doing something else, which I don’t understand, my apologies, but no, I’m not going to download your report file from a site that says very little. For all I know it could be a virus. I’d advise everyone else not to do so either. This isn’t personal. I’m just being sensibly cautious. Sorry.

Look, copyright law on ebooks is simple. You cannot copy, distribute, resell or loan an ebook. Saying that, most of us wouldn’t object if we heard you’ve made yourself a back-up copy purely for your own personal use. We live in a wonderful age of technology but technology fails us from time to time. We hear you’re selling our work and we’ll come down on you like the proverbial ton of bricks. Writers and publishers are getting better at locating piracy sites and law enforcement is finally taking it seriously.

The most common question we hear is “If I can resell or loan a printed book, why can’t I as a reader resell or loan ebooks?” To be honest, even the reselling or lending of some printed books is a grey area. However, it tends to be overlooked because of several reasons.

  1. Most people hate the idea of printed books being destroyed. If you’re finished with them and cannot pass them on in some way they are only good for recycling.
  2. When a printed book is passed on, someone may find an author they like and start buying new books by that author on a regular basis. It’s sort of free-advertising and yes, one could argue this would apply to ebooks but there’s a major difference and reason why this doesn’t work so read on.
  3. Many second-hand books are sold for charity purposes.
  4. You are giving up your physical edition of the book and will no longer own it.

Point 4 is the major one. When you give, sell, or loan a printed book you give away the item you purchased. Even when loaning it, you risk not getting it back. You are not making a ‘physical copy’ of that book to pass it on.

When you pass an ebook on (and some people do this in innocence not piracy but they are still in the wrong) the reader tends to ‘keep’ their version and simply send the file on, thereby making a ‘copy’. I can assure you that this is just as illegal in printed works.

Imagine you took one of Stephen King’s novels, dissected it, scanned it in, printed it up either by POD (good luck — they would spot what you are doing in a flash), or via the printer at home, and tried to give it away, sell it, or hand to a friend. Should SK find out do you think he wouldn’t sue your arse off? Oh yes, he would!

The point is you are not allowed to make a ‘copy’ of any written work be it printed or electronic. You may (usually) print off an electronic book with the purpose of reading it in that form should you not wish to read on screen, but that printed form is subject to the same laws. You may not sell it, or pass it on. If you wish to pass on an ebook the only viable way to do this is buy an extra copy, and what’s so wrong with that? We all have people to buy presents for.

Oh…and to those who think they can file share their ebook library, has nothing I’ve stated sunk in? Besides, you are NOT a library and did you know that even if you were there is such a thing as the ‘public lending right’? This means that an author can, if they wish, claim a small payment every time a library lends one of their books. So next time you choose to file share, don’t be surprised should you receive a letter from the authors asking for an audit of the number of ‘loans’ and demanding payment from you!

You are not a publisher and the author has not signed a contract with you. You do not have the right to sell.

You are not an official state library. You do not have the right to loan (and let’s be honest — loan in electronic format means copy and give away).

You are not friends with thousands of strangers online that you simply ‘must’ lend your books to (and we’ve already established that you are not lending but copying) and authors and publishers will not turn their back on you ‘giving’ their work away.

I’m not speaking to those who are deliberately committing an act of piracy. They know they are breaking the law, damaging authors and the publishing industry, and they just don’t care. The most we can do is assure them that while there will always be crooks there will always be those willing to fight them. I’m speaking mainly to those that do this in innocence, not understanding that they are doing anything wrong. You claim to love us as writers. You claim to love our work. We do work — hard — at this. Most of us have day jobs, families, lives just like you. We have to find time to write on top of all that. We often forsake sleep. Many don’t make as much money as you think and even if we did, haven’t we ‘earned’ it? You love our characters, our worlds, our stories. You claim to love our work and even to love us. Why do something fundamentally harmful to someone or something you love?

Did you know there are pirate copies of the “I Do” anthology out there? A book I took part in for charity. The thought that people can be so low as to steal from charity has made some of us authors want to puke. If you’re doing this in innocence or not, rest assured, we’re very upset with you.

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