Copyright Thieves Cash in on Self-Published Works

Self-publishing writers and musicians targeted by copyright crooks: Internet Scambusters #664

Self-publishing of books and music may offer a shortcut to creative success but it also opens the door to copyright thieves.

In this week’s issue we explain how two individuals found their creative efforts had been stolen and what they did to get their work back under their name.

We also have links to a new document that explains the rules about robocalls and how you can exercise your rights to stop them.

As always, we also recommend you check out the most popular articles from our other sites during the past week:

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Funny Animal Myths You Should Know the Truth About: Join along as we check out these myths about animals and separate fact from myth.

Let’s get started…

Copyright Thieves Cash in on Self-Published Works

Self-publishing and self-recording have opened the door to fantastic opportunities for writers and musicians, slashing the cost of reaching audiences so that it’s easier to make a living even from modest creative success.

Unfortunately, the same digital transformation has also opened the door to thieves, frauds, and scammers — on the lookout to cash in on other people’s creativity.

You can hardly believe the ingenuity and barefaced cheek some scammers use in passing off others’ work as their own.

But they don’t care because they’re often hard to track down or out of the reach of law enforcement.

A prime example is the story of an acquaintance of one of our team members who found herself on the receiving end of a copyright thief.

This person, Chris, is a copywriting expert who runs a training program for professional writers all over the U.S.

In very general terms, copywriting involves producing text for things like web pages, ads, brochures, newsletters, and other promotional materials.

It’s a specialist writing area that calls for in-depth inside knowledge and Chris had produced a series of books on how writers should charge correctly for their work.

As she prepared for the launch earlier this year, she felt confident she had a winning series on her hands.

“The evening before the launch I was on Amazon feeding my book addiction when what do I see?” she recalls.

“One of my 4 Copywriters Pricing Bootcamp ebooks is being advertised!

“I didn’t just happen to see it… it was in my face, being heavily promoted!

“There, along the right side of the screen, was the distinct orange and black design I had worked on for so long, oversized, looking back at me.”

At first, she was confused. She had two other ebooks on Amazon but hadn’t planned to sell this new set on the site.

And then she saw it. Her name as the author had been replaced with another name, and the series brand name she had used — “Chris Notes” — had also been swapped out in favor of the new “author.”

“Searching the title of my book brought more alarm. It was being sold at virtually every bookselling outlet on the Web!” she explains.

“Barnes & Noble. Books-a-Million. Abe Books. Every Amazon site in every country that Amazon is in. And at all the smaller booksellers and even listed in the catalog for books, Ingram.

“It was being sold on Kindle. As an ebook everywhere. And as a hard copy (ridiculous as it’s only 47 pages!). My thief also had it on Amazon for a lower price as ‘used’.”

After the initial shock had subsided, Chris launched her own investigation, tracking down the copyright thieves — two names had been used — to Nigeria.

In order to win back what was rightfully hers, she had to:

  • Formally register her copyright of the book. That’s more than just adding a (C) to the book. It actually has to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.
  • Contact the legal department of whoever was selling the book and prove she was the owner of the copyright.

“While it was easy to prove my ownership, the process was tedious and it made me angry that I had to do the process over and over again, one by one, with each online bookseller,” she says.

“Amazon was swift in accepting my claim as true. However, they said it might take some time to take the book down, and indeed it took about two weeks to get them off of the Amazons in all of the countries they’re in.”

Chris doesn’t know for sure how the thieves got hold of her book but thinks they tracked down a downloadable version on a hidden site intended only for her clients.

She has switched to a more secure downloadable system now.

And because she spotted the scam quickly, she doesn’t think the crooks made much money off of it.

“But they’re probably making money off of other poor souls,” she adds.

“They have four or five other books out at the same time as mine (such a coincidence!), and they are almost surely stolen.”

The lesson is clear: Copyright your work; make sure it’s only securely downloadable; and monitor booksellers for any copyright infringement.

Facing the Music

But it’s not only writers who face theft of their creative work.

A short while ago, we came across the story of a New Zealand composer, Rhian Sheehan, said to be one of dozens of international musicians stung by a con artist.

He discovered that one of his compositions had been copied from a music sharing website and offered for sale under another name on iTunes.

It was also being played under this assumed name on several streaming music sites, which pay artists a per-use fee when someone listens to a track.

According to the entertainment section of the New Zealand website, the scammer subsequently issued an apology for his actions, admitting he had taken music produced by several artists and passed it off as his own.

The site quoted the victim saying: “The whole experience has been eye-opening… It’s very easy for any artists to upload their music onto every major digital store…

“As I’ve learnt from this experience, it’s also now very easy to upload other people’s music under their own ‘artist’ name.”

As more people take to the web to promote their music, this is a problem that’s likely to get worse.

If you’re a composer or musician, there may not be a lot you can do for now to stop that happening.

But by monitoring the relevant sites for thefts and infringement, you can take swift action to notify them and get these copies removed — before a con artist makes a lot of money at your self-published expense.

Alert of the week

Do you know your rights and the rules on robocalls — those automated marketing calls that drive us all crazy? And do you know how to take action to prevent them?

If you’re a regular Scambusters reader, you probably have a good idea.

But just to be sure, download the latest guidelines just released by the Federal Communications Commission.

That’s all for today — we’ll see you next week.