Ah Those Pirates Again
Protect Yourself; E-Book Rights Same as P-Book Rights
Welcome to the June 1999 edition of Outside: Speculative & Dark Fiction, the SF/F/H magazine of Clocktower Fiction. We are the oldest Web-only SF/F/H magazine on the Internet that pays SFWA rates, is open to submissions, and publishes professional quality genre fiction.
Awards. The 1998 Nebula Award Winners have been announced by SFWA, with Joe Haldeman's Forever Peace winner in the Novel category. Finalists for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the Best Short SF of the Year have been announced and the winner will be announced on July 9details at The SF Site.
A Novel Stolen! Two weeks ago, during a routine search of the Internet to check the linkages of our material, I discovered with popping eyes and a sick stomach that someone in another part of the U.S. had stolen the novel Heartbreaker from Clocktower Books and posted the novel on his site under his name! I quickly captured images of his index page, where he claimed to be the author, and of his bootleg version of the novel. I then contacted various friends, who did the same in order to be witnesses. By the next morning, without any prompting from me, enough people had gone to his website by email and SHOUTED at him that he withdrew my novel. Several attorneys specializing in theft of intellectual properties contacted me, and one volunteered to represent me for free. I sent threatening letters to the thief, to his ISP, and to the writer's organization he claimed to represent. By noon of the same day, it appeared that his ISP had flushed his index page. Within a week, he was formally expelled from his writer's organization. Whether you are a writer or a publisher, it is sickening to see work you have published stolen and posted by someone else. At this time, my ordeal appears to be over. I'm lucky. A more clever, vicious, and determined thief might actually steal your work and fight you for its ownership if you aren't prepared.
What You Can Do To Protect Yourself. There are a number of simple things you can do, and a few you must do. First of all, understand that nobodythat's right, nobodyconfers copyright ownership on you. You own the copyright to your work, under current U.S. law, and by extension world wide under the Berne Convention, from the moment you fix it in tangible formthat means you wrote it in pencil on a grocery bag, or you typed it on your Underwood, or you wrote it in your computer. What you must do then, as soon as possible, is prove that you are the owner, in such a fashion that your proof will hold up in court. The most commonly accepted way to do this is to register your copyright with the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress. If you wait for your work to be stolen, and worse yet, if the thief registers copyright before you do, you will be at a disadvantage unless you can easily prove that the thief's registration of copyright is fraudulent.
Why Pirates Can't Win. Call it Outside's Law of Copyright Piracy: The faster the pirate of intellectual property becomes successful from stealing a work, the faster he or she meets failure. The pirate's conundrum is this: to gain recognition and money for a work, he or she must publicize it. The more they publicize it, the sooner you will discover their crime and unmask them. The pirate in my case was really a fool who has ruined his good name and nearly incurred jail and fines. A case in point was communicated to me just today by a novelist/screenwriter friend: some years ago a writer's coming of age story was published with considerable fanfare by one of New York's premier publishing houses; two years later, author Martin Amis picked up a copy in a bookstore and, browsing through the book, discovered (probably with the same feelings we had when we saw the John Argo piece pirated) that much of the book had been lifted verbatim from his own coming of age book of some years earlier. The publisher recalled all copies with full refunds, apologized to Amis, the readers, and bookstore owners, and the world at large, and the schlepp who started the whole ruckus entered a literary black hole and has not shown his sickening sheepish face since. If you're going to steal something, steal chickensyou can eat them and hide the feathers. Steal Jimmy Hoffa. Steal just about anything other than intellectual property, because you will only ruin your name and possibly end up in prison.
Why The Web Is Safe. My pirating story points up the fact that some popular concerns seem quite overblown. The Internet is a new medium, though we at Clocktower Fiction believe it will become the queen of commerce in the near future. More and more people are willing to release their credit card information to legitimate Web enterprises in exchange for goods and services. This isn't to say there aren't frauds on the Webbeware, it's new territory, and the criminals are busy figuring out how to fleece us decent folk. It's been pointed out that when you eat in a restaurant, and that little tray arrives with the peppermint bonbon, you take the bonbon and your credit card disappears for a good 5 or 10 minutes. You don't sit there choking on your bonbon with worry, do you? Well, it's probably no more likely that some evil-doer will somehow snag your number and charge up all kinds of refrigerators and guns. If they do, under most circumstances you're only liable for the first fifty bucks. My main point here is that the story of my being pirated is another indication that the Web is a healthy medium with some self-correcting features like Outside's Law of Copyright Piracy.
Electronic Rights. I've noted some confusion about the relative values of electronic and print rights. Hello? I'm standing on a chair and would like to make this statement: it makes no difference whether your words appear on a personal web page, or on a magazine web page like Outside:S&DF, or are printed in a $26 hardcover from a big NY publisher, or are engraved on golden tablets. The value of the intellectual property rights is exactly the same in all cases. Let me clarify: the absolute value is that you, the creator, own all the rights until you sell any of them, and the relative value is whatever the market offers (as e-books explode on the scene, that should start being good money for good stories). The ownership of what you have created is a fundamental and sacred right that you acquire during the act of creating the work, not at some point afterwards. If someone lifts a passage from your web page, it's essentially the same as if they stole that passage from a hardcover print book. Electronic rights are not intrinsically worth more or less than print rights, nor are electronic rights any more or any less difficult to establish than print rights (it's actually really easy).
For the full story of how our novel was pirated, visit our writer's resource web pages at SharpWriter.Com (SWC). Read the full horror story, and then visit the new Copyright Piracy resource page at SWC. [Note 2022 Renovation: SWC ceased to exist as an award-winning review and resource page that had been praised in 1999 by Writer's Market as "one of the 101 best resources for writers on the Web." JTC 2022]