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Protecting your intellectual property

So you've slaved away over your epic work that may have taken many thousands of hours including the research time. You publish it in the reasonable expectation that it might sell a few copies. You expect it will never provide much of a return on your investment – not   unless you get lucky, or you are one of the few author-superstars – but at least you might get a return of something like 1/30th of the national minimum wage with a fair wind.

The trouble with books is – like music – it seems that no one wants to pay for them. Everyone wants everything for free these days. And there are loads of nasty people out there who will happily bung your work onto the internet as a free e-book – stealing your copyright. Call them what you will – thieves, pirates, toe-rags, scumbags (or more choice Sheffield words come to mind). (Perhaps pirate is the wrong word, there's nothing romantic or "Captain Jack Sparrow" about them.) And what about the readers of these stolen e-books? They are not much better. They know what they're doing, but just don't care. They think their right to free stuff trumps your right of ownership. They are no better than shoplifters. Estimates are that as many as a fifth of e-books read are thieved,

The Law

You own the copyright of your work from the moment you arrange a group of words in a particular order – that it is automatic. You will be able to prove to a legal standard that it is yours – from notes, earlier drafts etc. You don't need to do ridiculous things like posting your manuscript to yourself and keeping the sealed envelope. If your copyright is breached you can go to court through the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court to seek damages. But, of course, with internet piracy, you can't track down the lowlife doing this: where they are or who they are. So it's a non-starter, unfortunately.

There is a thing called a DMCA takedown notice (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). This is a formal notice, including specified information, sent to an internet service provider confirming your copyright and requesting they remove the infringing material. Sounds just the solution? Well yes... but you need to first find everyone out there offering your masterpiece as a free pdf download, then you need to identify the internet service provider for the site, then send each and every one a separate DMCA notice. This could be a more or less full time job. Forget ever writing anything but DMCA notices ever again.

So is there a solution?

We were contacted by Olivier Zetlers from Blasty to introduce their service. (Please note we are not getting any payment for this article – it is in no way sponsored.) Blasty is a subscription service that searches the internet for infringement of your copyright. Then it sends automated DMCA takedown notices on your behalf to Google, Yahoo, Bing etc. without you doing anything. Is that it? Pretty much. It's quite simple once you set it up. There are some alerts it sends to you for checking, where the algorithm used can't be certain that there is an illegal use of your material, but that's about it.

A couple of Sheffield Authors members Sarah Dalton and Steven Kay tried the site out to see how it worked. Sarah Dalton is a very successful author of thrillers, fantasy novels, YA fiction etc. Sarah signed up for the free version for her pen name (Sarah Denzil) and got 118 alerts straight away. The question Sarah has is that the $12.99 per month soon adds up and is debating whether it's worth the monthly payment for them to 

 send automatic DMCA notices. “I haven't got the time to sit and write out a hundred of them to send to dodgy websites, but it might be worth it for my books that are exclusive to Amazon in Kindle Unlimited. In the past I've been targeted by scammers who have stolen my content and uploaded it to I-Tunes, selling it at an exorbitant cost. Last time this happened Amazon almost removed my book from their store because it's a violation of their terms and conditions (even though it was a pirated copy) and Apple were not particularly quick to resolve the issue. Unfortunately, the bigger the e-book world gets, the more scammers are out there and it might be worth something like Blasty to help deal with the fall out when it happens to be you who's targeted.”

Steve tried “Blasty Full Power”: “I was shocked how many sites were taken down by this tool in just a couple of months – so far it has removed over 500 illegal shares of my books. I can count my sales on one hand, so every one of them matters to me. Whether the $12.99 per month subscription is a good investment for me is uncertain (other than to soothe my sense of outrage) but it has certainly shown its potential. There is an alternative subscription at $6.49 a month which requires you to click to remove rather than it being done automatically that might make more sense for an author who doesn’t make much money out of their books.”

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