Reflections on Real, Romantic, and Online Book Pirates

Bonney,_Anne_(1697-1720)     When I was a small girl, my father gave me an orange book of 100 Best Poems for Boys and Girls. One of my favorites was Pirate Don Durk of Dowdee by M.P. Merryman. Don Durk thrilled me with his crimson coat, purple tattoo, a dirk and dagger in his belt–and “a conscience as black as a bat.” 

     I soon became addicted to literary pirates with parrots on their shoulders who would mimic the colorful language I wasn’t allowed to use. I was enamoured of the villanous Cap’n Hook in Peter Pan, whose only fears were the sight of his own blood, and crocodiles–one of which eventually swallowed him whole. Hook was the only person Long  John Silver in Treasure Island ever feared.  I recently wrote an adaptation of the novel for my son’s Very Merry Theatre, along with lyrics for six songs. One of my verses was sung by Silver’s parrot: “a red rebel–who’s seen more mischief than the devil!”                                                                            

     Since more girls than boys tried out for that play, I had to include female pirates, like 18th-century Anne Bonny and Mary Read, who dressed and swaggered like men. Mary Read had earlier joined the British Army and fought in a war. She later married, but on her husband’s death, boarded a ship bound for the West Indies. She was captured by pirate Calico Jack, joined his crew, and ultimately, alas, died in prison. Both females roles were eagerly sought after by my son’s players.  

     Despite their bloody pursuits, I found myself rooting for pirates in books, plays and films. I even laughed at them, particularly the scene in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance in which pirates defeat the zany policemen, and the handsome pirate-apprentice Frederick wins his girl. But I didn’t laugh the day my seven grandkids dressed like pirates, went out in two rowboats to pick up “treasure” they’d left on a nearby island–got caught in a wild wind and rain storm–and had to be rescued by life guards! 

     My romance with pirates really began to fade when Somali pirates hijacked large cargo ships and oil tankers in the Arabian sea and Indian Ocean region, capturing seamen and demanding huge ransoms. And worse, killing their victims when the ship’s owner couldn’t, or wouldn’t, pay the fee. The Somali government did little to stop these villains because pirate leaders had more power than the government! In 2011 four Americans were killed on their own ship by the self-styled “ocean robbers.”

     The horrors of piracy came closest to me a few months ago when Google Alert announced that the ebook of my mystery novel, The Nightmare, was free on a website of lalulock, Jimdo.com. I clicked on  it, and there it was: the kindle edition of the novel’s cover, and below, in large letters: DOWNLOAD NOW. The website boldly offered background on my protagonist Mary Wollstonecraft, and sources for information on her life.

     How did I feel about this act of book piracy? At first there was a flurry of excitement. Should I be honored that they chose my books to download for free? After all, hundreds of writers offer their ebooks for free on Kindle Select–why shouldn’t mine be in that company?  I wanted people to read it, didn’t I? What about those who couldn’t afford to buy the book and who lived far from any library?

     But then I recalled the lamp and oriental runner stolen from a craft shop I once operated in my Vermont barn, and I felt violated. Wasn’t this, too, a blatant act of “shoplifting”? Not gloves or pearls, no, but “intellectual property”? I thought of my publisher, Perseverance Press, who was losing a rightful share of the book’s sales. I e-mailed publisher-publicist Susan Daniel, who , in turn,  contacted her distributors. And none had dealt with or even heard of lalulock, jimdo.com.   “There is nothing we can do,” she responded. I imagined her leaning back in her deskchair, sighing, and thinking: “Now what?”  

     I’ll end with that question. Does anyone out there have an answer?

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16 Responses

  1. Yes, in fact, there is something you can do. Under the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) you can request removal of pirated materials. It’s fairly easy and usually very effective. A primer is available at http://brainz.org/dmca-takedown-101/

    It’s a good idea to do a weekly search for illegal sites by searching for: (your pen name) free books.

    I have a DMCA form letter I can share with anyone who is interested.

    We authors and publishers need to stick together and face down these low-down, scurvy thieves.

    • Wow! thank you for all this information, Nikki!.I figured there must be something out there, but didn’t know exactly what it was. I’ll definitely check on that link, and would be interested to know what your DMCA form letter says.
      You’re absolutely right: we must confront these “low-down, scurvy thieves!” Get out the dirk and dagger!
      And goodness but you were up early this am, Nikki! At 5:40?. I was still doing zzzs at that hour.

    • Nikki, I’d voe a copy. And I read the link but didn’t ollow how one would find the pirate’s server?

  2. Tell you what: I’ll post the letter on my blog, http://www.scrivenersriver.blogspot.com so everyone can see it. I’ll reference your post as well.

    I was up at 5:15–early sunlight, humidity, and the frogs’ morning orgy–but I was not on the computer. Spent some nice quiet time with my cross stitch. It was 8:40 my time when my response went out. Time zones are confusing.

    • Great, Nikki. As soon as I have my morning fuel (coffee), I’ll check out the letter there. Greatly appreciated!

  3. Thanks for the info, Nikki. I’ve had material pirated as well and it is frustrating. I think we do have to google our names regularly to find out. Nancy, I’m surprised at your publisher’s response. After all, they are losing money too.

    • Well, I think it was largely the distributor’s response to my publisher, Jacquie, and luckily this pirating was a first for Perseverance. I do google my name off and on, but only found this piracy out through Google Alerts.The latter is really helpful. I assume most writers here use it?

  4. So sorry this happened to you Nancy, but grateful to Nikki who so kindly shared a great response. Please keep us posted–especially the final result.

    As much as I enjoy a freebie book now and then, I try to always stick to the known sites like Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and Kobo so I can be assured it is a legally obtained copy and the author gets their royalty.

    • Thanks, Linda, for dropping by. And yes, Nikki has now given us ammunition to fight back! I think most writers are happy to do giveaways and free books, and I am, too. But at least it’s all on the “up and up” and we know whom we’re dealing with!
      Nevertheless, I still read Treasure Island with pleasure, and often find myself rooting for some of the pirates (the “good” ones)!

  5. It’s an old, old problem. In antiquity and the Middle Ages there were no copyright laws. Hence the large number of pseudo- authors. Anybody could put any name on a work or put their name on any work. In 2 Thessalonians Paul says someone has written a letter “purporting to be from me.” The Roman poet Martial complains about a man who bought a scroll of Martial’s poems, erased Martial’s name, and wrote in his own name. Martial says the guy reads them so badly he would rather have them circulate under that name. At least we do have recourse today, although it’s time-consuming.

    • Thanks so much, Albert, for a lesson in antiquity! It seems unimaginable that anyone would dare to put his own name on another’s work. although, the poet Martial’s problem was not unlike a 21st-century poet (mentioned in NYTimes) who stole lines and whole poems from another published poet. Such arrogance! I love Martial’s comment about the poet-pirate’s poor reading. Plagiarism is piracy, is it not?

  6. Enjoyed your blog on book piracy, Nancy. A fellow in my writing group had the same thing happen to him. I’ll let him know about the recourse available. Thanks for a valuable discussion on a timely topic!

    • Yes, Susan: time to pass along the news that something can be done. Until the comments appeared on this blog I hadn’t realized how many writers had suffered this sort of violation. Nor had I discovered a way to thwart the devils. Good for all of us to know a solution, thanks to Nikki!

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