Blasty is an online tool that monitors Google for illegal copies of your content and allows you to remove them with one click. The product is in beta and you can get free access now. I signed for the early beta of the service in 2015 and then promptly forgot about it. Then, a few weeks ago, Blasty’s system alerted me by email that several of my books were being advertised as free downloads at a number of sites.
My first response? Freak out, of course. I dropped everything to open my dashboard at Blasty and followed the links. Sure enough, there they were, my precious books being offered for free in PDF, MOBI, and EPUB format. Not only that, there were comments from people who downloaded them thanking the company for making them available. Spamming scourges of the internet, all! Aaaarg!
(Blasty is in beta with full version planned September 2017)
Removing the Content from Google Search Results
Blasty is trusted by Google so when you click the orange BLAST button next to an infringing site, the listing will disappear, often in a few hours. Removing search results from Google means that people searching for my books won’t see that they’re offered for free.
If I didn’t use Blasty I’d need to contact Google directly to remove each site from their search engine results. As author Somali K. Chakrabarti reports, it’s a cumbersome process.
Here’s how it works. After signing up and registering your books with Blasty, check Google for listings of your books.
Next to the listing will be a button: Forbidden (trusted by Google site), Whitelisted, or Blast. Whitelist the entries you recognize as blogs, excerpts, and interviews for which you’ve given permission by clicking the white flag. For infringing sites, click Blast.
(Sorting through the book listings on Google)
But what about getting the content removed from the pirates’ sites? Well, guess what? My book probably wasn’t actually available for download.
Don’t Be a Phish
In your justified outrage, you may be tempted to sign up for a free account at the infringing site to investigate. Do. Not. Do. This.
Many of these sites are doing something called phishing. They probably don’t really have my files at all.
Phishing is an attempt to collect information like usernames, passwords, social security and credit card numbers, or even to launch malware on your computer. They look like legitimate sites, even going so far as to post comments from fake users. Your book cover and description are used as bait to the phish. That is, people who are looking for free books, music, movies, software and games.
You may have seen phishing in the form of an email like this, but phishing isn’t limited to fake bank sites.
(A phishing email)
Note how legitimate the free eBooks site seems. They’ve grabbed my book cover and description (easy to do) and placed some bogus awards icons at the bottom. The site tempts the potential phish with lots of bait: the available status, read now, and full version buttons. (Yes, they may have grabbed sample pages from Amazon's "Look Inside".) They promise unlimited book downloads; just sign up for a free one-month trial and cancel at any time. Tempting to a lot of unfortunate folks.
(My book on a phishing site)
Then, to my horror, I discovered, via an article on Plagerism Today, that some phishing sites are designed to phish for copyright owners and not for content seekers. That would be me and I must admit that I was tempted. But don’t do this!
The Rules of Copyright and the DMCA
If your book is indeed offered for free, you have recourse. The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) criminalized infringement and provided a way to order your copyrighted content to be taken down. This is done not by contacting the editor or webmaster of the offending site, thank goodness, but by informing their internet service provider (ISP) of their infringement.
(To amend title 17, United States Code, to implement the World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty and Performances and Phonograms Treaty, and for other purposes, as part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.)
But what if you haven’t officially filed copyright? Don’t worry. The law states that copyright exists from the moment the work is created, "without any action taken by the author, the moment it is fixed in a tangible form so that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device."
You don’t have to register your work with the copyright office at all, though many do. However, you must have one if you litigate. I wrote a step-by-step tutorial on how to do this in a post on MediaShift.
Getting Your Pirated Work Taken Down
(Finding information about the infringing site: credit Two Easy Steps for Using the DMCA Takedown Notice to Battle Copyright Infringement Carolyn E. Wright, Esq.)
Then you send the information to the hosting ISP with the domain name and IP address plus your DMCA “Notice to Host.” Find a sample takedown notice here.
Blasty is Making It Easier
Do you wish it were easier? Blasty is working on that. “By September, a Blast will totally remove the infringement from the site itself,” CEO and Cofounder of Blasty Olivier Zetlers told me in an email interview. “And if the website owner doesn't cooperate (which can happen for websites based in non-cooperative countries), the Blast will then remove the infringement from all main search engines (Bing, Yahoo, Duckduckgo, etc.)”
Blasty will alert you to possible infringement of unlimited content for free, forever. Zetlers told me that they’re privately funded now, and they’ll start charging for Blasty in 2017.
I can see the attraction of this service for big-name authors and publishing companies. But, depending on the subscription price, self-publishing authors may not find it worth the time. In my case, every one of the sites my pirated work “appeared” was a phishing site so I figure that getting it off of Google is good enough.
How Concerned Should You Be About Piracy, Anyway?
“For a typical author, obscurity is a far greater threat than piracy.” —Tim O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Media
When I speak at conferences the number one question about writing and publishing is always about copyright infringement and piracy. I think that most authors should be more concerned with marketing their books. When you’re a bestseller, I say, then start worrying about it! But there are a lot of opinions on the topic. Now that my books have been targeted I realize that reality is very different than a hypothetical.
Let’s get a little philosophical now. You’ve probably heard the maxim, “Information wants to be free.” It’s attributed to Stewart Brand, who founded the Whole Earth Catalog in the 1960s and was oft quoted, with a shrug, by a generation of internet users who happily downloaded free music on Napster. That is, until A&R Music sued them in 2000. The outcome of the seven-year case helped to bring about rules about online sharing on the internet for more than just music.
What Brand really said, though, was this:
I believe that all generally useful information should be free. By “free” I am not referring to price, but rather to the freedom to copy the information and to adapt it to one's own uses... When information is generally useful, redistributing it makes humanity wealthier no matter who is distributing and no matter who is receiving.
This is the idea behind fair use. So please know the difference between fair use and infringement before you take action. Don’t go on a rampage like J.K. Rowling’s publishers did! Personally, I love to see my work quoted in other works as educational content and referred to in Wikipedia. It’s free publicity. (Find out more about fair use in the Related section, below.)
In a recent podcast, Tim Ferriss, bestselling author of The Four Hour Work Week mentioned that early in his career as an author he was distraught when he found that PDFs of his book were being shared for free. But then he came to realize that “the people who are going to download the shitty PDF version of this weren’t my customers in the first place, they’re never going to buy the book…and at the same time I’m just getting free marketing dollars and maybe at some point they’ll be converted over…"
What about you?
Were all those sites offering my eBook for free phishing sites? Were they targeting people who wanted free eBooks or were they targeting me? Should I have ignored the whole issue? What are your thoughts? How much energy do you want to expend in chasing these people down? Will you use Blasty? Have you used Blasty? Have you been the victim of internet piracy? What was your experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
- Sample DMCA “Notice to Host”, Plagiarism Today
- Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Executive Summary
- A Step-By-Step Guide to U.S. Copyright Registration for Self-Publishers, Carla King for MediaShift
- The 'Fair Use' Rule: When Use of Copyrighted Material is Acceptable, Nolo
- Napster Trial Ends Seven Years Later, Defining Online Sharing Along the Way, Wired
- Harry Potter Publisher Goes on a Bizarre Anti-Piracy Rampage, TorrentFreak
- A Step-by-Step Guide to Dealing with Content Theft, Helen Sedwick
- Law 101 for Bloggers, Fair Use, Helen Sedwick
- Stock Letters, Plagiarism Today
- Phishing Scam Targets Photographers Protecting Copyright, Plagerism Today
- Phishing, Wikipedia
- Four Hour Work Week Podcast, Tim Ferriss, Wisdom from Matt Mullenweg regarding people who steal intellectual property online. [1:34:13]
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