This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

June 20th, 2011 · 14 Comments

Update: It seems to be down. I don’t quite trust this, since the person took it down before. But the additional exposure today, more reviews & votes (an especial thank you to Wil Wheaton for bringing attention to this), may have convinced him/her that it’s a lost cause. I’ll be keeping a close eye out & still pursuing refunds for the buyers.

Also, I have added the real version to the Kindle store, but Amazon would not let me set it as a free book so I had to put it at the minimum price of $0.99 (of which I’d see $0.35). I included a note in the description that it’s still available for free here, but now one can get it with the convenience of Whispernet. (Based on the process, I don’t believe Amazon accepts free books from individuals, only from publishing companies/their own team.)

For the TL;DR crowd, a summary, because this is going to get long:

On March 1, 2011, I released a free eBook of the complete works of Lovecraft in EPUB and MOBI formats. On March 21, 2011, someone uploaded a copy of the MOBI file (with a different cover and missing the intro) started selling it on Amazon. I didn’t discover this until June 18th, 2011, by which time it had achieved a 5-star rating and a good sales rank. I am very disappointed and wish to a) outline proofs to back up my assertion that this is the eBook I created and b) clarify a few points regarding the eBook’s distribution (and c) talk about my feelings on the subject).

That’s the setup. After you’ve read this and seen my supporting evidence, I hope you’ll go over to Amazon and up-vote the negative reviews which people have already left for the book. There are plenty, so we probably don’t need more. I’m taking formal steps to have it taken down, but in the meantime those reviews may help others find the original eBook and keep them from being defrauded. The more up-votes, the better.

My goal in all of this is not to make money off of the eBook and despite my disappointment I will not be taking it down as a free download on my site (because it turns out we can have nice things). My only goal is to stop someone else from making money off of the countless hours I put into creating it. It’s an odd kind of reverse-piracy, like taking a free MP3 album an artist has uploaded to their website and selling it as one’s own.

Supporting Evidence

I wouldn’t make these accusations like this without supporting evidence. I spent an hour before going to Twitter doing some careful research. At first, I was incredulous. I didn’t want to believe that someone could have so little conscience, but I suppose there are already many far worse examples of the conscienceless.

Before the proofs, here’s a screen-grab I took of the listing as it appeared on June 18th, 2011 at 11:32pm EDT. Be warned, it’s an 88MB image file. Various images linked or included below are taken from this screen-grab. A fuller image of the GoodReads entry I reference can be seen here.

Proof 1) The Table of Contents

This is what clued me in. The table of contents looked exactly like mine. I compared the two side-by-side (as illustrated in this PDF, done by direct copy-paste of both sets, which you can double-check using this image of the Amazon listing TOC and my table of contents if you like). They are exactly the same stories in exactly the same order, even within the years. Even the layout is exactly the same, with the year in parentheses after the story’s name. The styling looks slightly different on my site because I use CSS that makes a circle appear next to each entry and Amazon doesn’t. The Amazon TOC actually uses the ‹br› tag which I used in the code of the eBook itself.

Might someone else have come up with that ordering? It’s chronological, after all. And it might even make sense to put in the year in parentheses.

Perhaps, but unlikely. I have a little confession. I left out two stories from this otherwise-complete works. They’re called “Sweet Ermengarde” and “The Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson.” Neither is “weird fiction,” both are spoofs of other genres/styles. I decided that they really didn’t fit and weren’t what people were looking for in a complete works, so I left them out.

Might not the other person have left them out too?

They might’ve, but then it would be very strange for this other person to include “Old Bugs,” which I did. “Old Bugs” is a story about the evils of alcohol. It’s not “weird” by a long shot and I really have no idea why I left it in when I left out the other two. It’s an editorial decision I can’t explain.

An even better proof in the table of contents is the sentence before the table of contents. It didn’t catch my eye until later, but the table of contents on the Amazon listing is introduced by the phrase “The eBook’s table of contents is listed below. It includes the year each story was written.”

The introduction the to pirated copy's table of contents is identical to mine

Now look at the introduction to the table of contents in my post about the eBook. You can probably use Google cache to confirm it’s always been that way. The text was lifted straight from my site. This person was too lazy to write their own two sentences.

Proof 2) The Timing

Amazon didn’t have a timestamp on when the book was put up for sale, but I got some help from @NightWhistler who recognized the book as the cover he’d gotten on GoodReads. As a book on Amazon, it’d been added to GoodReads’s entry for the Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft (in which entry there are actually many different books listed, hence the entry dates the book back to 1997 when the first of these was published). And GoodReads detected when this book was added to Amazon: March 21st, 2011. That’s 3 whole weeks after my publication. Plenty of time for someone to simply rip off the cover, remove the intro, and upload it to Amazon.

The date on GoodReads, March 21, 2011

Proof 3) The Sample Text

I could not bring myself to pay the thief just to see whether the copy matched mine. Fortunately, I could get a sample selection from it. The sample was rather large, perhaps a % based on the size of the book, and therefore even more conclusive. I borrowed my sister’s Kindle and viewed both the sample and the same section of my book on it. Identical.

The chapter headings were identical. The page breaks were identical. Even if two people had compiled this at exactly the same time using exactly the same source material, one could expect some minor variations in layout. Nothing.

In Sum

Identical table of contents (formatting, story choice, story order within years). Very suspicious timing. Identical text for a very large sample. This is not a coincidence, this is a theft. You can check all of these things for yourself.

What I’m Doing

I’m taking my statements from the post about the eBook and making them official by licensing the eBook under a “BY-NC” Creative Commons license. I’ve added it to the eBook files.

This Creative Commons License really doesn’t do anything different than what I’d already asked in my initial post. It tells people to give me credit (attribution) and not to sell it. Otherwise it allows for unlimited distribution. I chose this license because it’s as open as I could get while formally restricting sales without hiring a lawyer to write the licensing. I wish I didn’t have to, but I think I need something formal for my notice to Amazon.

A quick note on copyright—I don’t claim copyright of any of the text in the book. But I do hold the rights to the html and structure of the file. It’s like a copy of Pride and Prejudice. You can buy it very cheaply (or get it for free) because no one holds the copyright, but people who’ve made nice print or digital versions do own the rights to that presentation/html/etc unless they choose to give them up entirely. I say this to clarify what I mean when I talk about my rights concerning the eBook I created. Anyone else can create an eBook with the exact same materials and if they create it from scratch then they own the rights to it. It’ll probably also be slightly different.

(Updated to add) After I submitted the paperwork to Amazon, I submitted the book as a $0.99 book in the Kindle store (I would’ve done free, but they wouldn’t let me). I stated that it was available for free on my site but listed there for convenience. We’ll see if they accept it.

What This Means for You

Probably nothing. If you want to download and read the book, nothing’s changed. It’s still free, it’s still there. Nearly 38,000 people have downloaded it for free and I plan to leave it up. I hope it’s being torrented and e-mailed and shared between friends. Should you like it and decide you want to donate, there’s a link in the sidebar. But no pressure, I created the book to be shared, not bought.

Want to do more than just read and share? Here are my thoughts:

  • Want to upload a copy to your site and let people download it there? Fine. You don’t even have to link to me, but please give me any credit for creation (if you give credit at all).
  • Want to take the EPUB (the MOBI doesn’t edit well) and add/delete stories to make a “best of” collection based on your tastes? Go for it!
  • Want to share your best-of collection with all your friends? Go ahead. I’d appreciate credit for the initial file, but you should have credit for story-selection.
  • Want to add a section with his poems? Great idea! Go for it.
  • Want to make your own cover? Not an issue.

In the end, while attribution is nice, the only thing I really ask of you is that you not sell the eBook. You probably weren’t going to do that, right? Because, like most people out there, you’ve got certain standards and you’re a decent individual. So the Creative Commons licensing really doesn’t mean much to you.

If you’ve read that and you’re still not sure about some idea, write me and ask. I’m a friendly person and if you’ve come up with this amazing “best of” using these text files and you really want to sell it, send me a copy. Odds are good I’ll be on board with your doing it. I won’t steal your remixes or ideas. I’m burning the candle at 3 ends as it is and I know how it feels to have one’s work stolen.

How All of This Has Made Me Feel

All of this happened on Father’s Day weekend, while I was back home. It’s different being back home since my Mom died last July. This week, my Dad adopted a dog who was apparently mistreated by a man and wouldn’t trust men. I was trying to help the dog relax and learn to trust my Dad and I was reminded everywhere that my Mom was gone and never coming back. I also wasn’t crocheting, because I’d hurt my hand earlier that week (all commissions are still on track for the times promised), and was feeling frustrated and in pain. It was a hard weekend.

In the midst of all this, I found out that someone has been using my work to defraud other people. It made me feel sick. At first I just stared at the screen and tried not to throw up. People had paid for this when I had made it so that they could enjoy it for free. Between this and knowing that someone had hurt the sweet dog I was cuddling, it was enough to make me lose my faith in humanity. People are cruel, people are greedy, people cannot be trusted.

A helpful friend who writes eBooks sent me an estimate of this person’s earnings based on the sales rank and commission and….well, it’s over 10x what I’ve been given in donations by appreciative readers (for which I’m quite grateful, since they were given because the reader valued my work and wanted to give, not because they had to). I’m not even going to post it, but the book was at 527th rank in the Kindle store, which is saying something.

But there was a bright spot to it too. Twitter rallied to my support when I posted about it. A few dozen people went over and left negative reviews on the book and even more up-voted those reviews. The ranking dropped from 5 stars (which had made me simultaneously proud that people thought so well of it and sad at the cause) to 1.5 stars by Saturday afternoon and the sales rank has dropped in the last 36 hours. I got sent messages of support and thanks for the eBook and people shared the link to the real, always free, eBook. The community I’ve gotten to know online is phenomenal. I’m so grateful to have all of these people in my life and I felt very loved.

On Sunday morning, things got very bright and the thief temporarily took down the eBook. I thought I was going to have to title this post “Why We Can‘t Have Nice Things.” Alas, around 5pm on Sunday I checked the link and it was back up. So I’m reverting to my original plan to file a claim with Amazon according to their procedures.

What I would like for Amazon to do would be refund everyone’s money but leave the eBook on their Kindles. It doesn’t have any credits for me, but I don’t need credit as much as I need for people not to be charged for it and I don’t want these peoples’ lives to be disrupted because someone else broke the rules. If Amazon does follow its copyright violation policy and remove the eBook from their Kindles, I hope they’ll send out a download link to my free MOBI version. Once I’m done contacting them, I’ll also look into whether it’s possible to put the book up on Amazon for free distribution, just to make it easier for people to find it.

Actually, We Can Have Nice Things

Sometimes one has to take a stand against cynicism and create something good. I will try to resolve this problem with Amazon and I hope that in the meantime the negative reviews and one-star votes will keep people from giving the thief any more money. S/he is definitely aware of this because s/he briefly took down the listing and also took the time to (hilariously) down-vote each of the negative reviews.

But this isn’t about me and this pirate. This project has always been about making a useful resource to let Lovecraft fans take the (nearly) complete works anywhere and to introduce others to Lovecraft without asking them to pay up front. This has been about building the Lovecraft-reading community and is meant to be read in tandem with other amazing free resources like the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast or the Lovecraft E-Zine. One of the fantastic things about the Weird Fiction community is that it’s had so many people create so much to keep it going. I’m proud to be a small part of it.

So download the eBook if you want it, share it with your friends, upload it to your site if you like. And fight back by making the world a better place. Numfar! Do the dance of joy!

Ruth with Rufus

Rufus and me hanging out on Saturday. I’m in a BSG outfit for reasons I can explain…but won’t go into here. :)
(Yes, I know the stand against cynicism isn’t Lovecraftian at all. I’m the cuddliest Lovecraftian you’ll ever meet. Cthulhu will judge his own…and everybody else.)

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14 Responses to “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”

  1. j-monster Says:

    I’m so sorry that you are having to deal with this crap, and I love the title. That’s exactly how this makes me feel. I shall head over to amazon to vote right now! Keep the faith, and maybe we will be able to have nice things someday! <3

  2. Mike Caprio Says:

    I’m still a little confused – I understand that you spent a lot of time and effort formatting the public domain work for digital consumption. There was nothing stopping you, or anyone else, from selling the book on Amazon for a small amount of money; why become upset about it – is it just remorse from not distributing it on Amazon? Yes, your work was profited upon, and you had (in fact, you still have) the opportunity to profit on it yourself and chose not to take it. And you should profit for your work, why not? Publishers have been printing books of public domain works and selling them for a very, very long time. There’s no shame in it, there’s nothing wrong or illegal about publishing public domain works and making money from it. Clearly someone profiting off your work product is extraordinarily lame, but the way to prevent that is for you to make profit yourself on it and make it known that someone else is taking your work – the latter of which you’ve done.

    People feel better when they can pay for things. It seems crazy and counter-intuitive, but if someone doesn’t pay even a trifle for something, they either feel like they’re stealing or that the thing has no value because it’s free. Why not say that your version of the eBook is Creator Endorsed, and then ask people to pay you $0.99 a copy for your effort? Provide a free version as well, of course, but give people the opportunity to make a real transaction for a thing with value, and they will do so. You can do all of this: profit, make your work attributable, and continue to best promote the works of Lovecraft, by making the book CC-BY-SA, allowing people to share and distribute it, and to make profit on it if they make derivations of it, all as long as they attribute to you and don’t prevent others from sharing it too. Look up Sita Sings the Blues and check out QuestionCopyright.org to read more about how this can be done, and done effectively.

  3. Seamus Says:

    :hugs:

    I’m sorry to hear you had a crap weekend, but we’re listening. :)

    34 of 36 of the reviews on Amazon are decrying the thief; you handled the situation pretty well and you look awesome in that outfit.

  4. Seamus Says:

    “I’m still a little confused – I understand that you spent a lot of time and effort formatting the public domain work for digital consumption.”

    @Mike: That’s the entire summary right there. Someone took her work (the formatting and effort that went into the .MOBI file) “filed the serial number off” and sold it without even acknowledging the effort.

    The rest of your post is a verbose way of saying “well, why didn’t YOU sell it?” and it’s trite.

    It’s amusing that you’ve managed to state the point of the issue while completely missing it at the same time.

  5. Jorge X. Rodriguez Says:

    Actually, I don’t see what difference it makes if someone sells it. I have given away software which other people have rewrapped and sold. My only request has been that the software contain or come with a plainly visible note that it is available free as well. I believe this is in one of the CC licenses. If people want to spend their money let them. It’s like the difference between my $10 Casio and their $2000 Rolex, both of which tell the time: some people just like to get rid of money and others are willing to help them. Meanwhile I suggest ‘selling’ the book on Amazon for $0.00 if you have not already done so.

  6. Ralf Says:

    FWIW, I went to the Amazon product page and clicked the “tell us of a lower price” button, then notified them of your site and the available price of $0.00

    That’s in addition to tagging it with “plagerism” and “stolen” and voting up all the 1-star reviews. I wish there was a more direct way to protest an Amazon item directly to management, but I suspect it’s the way it is for a reason.

  7. John G. Hartness Says:

    Looks like a win for the good guys – it’s now listed as unavailable!

  8. Warren Says:

    I, along with Mr. Hartness, am having trouble finding the listing. This would indeed appear to be a victory.

    Wait … you sic’ed the shoggoths on them, didn’t you?

  9. Ruth - Cthulhu Chick Says:

    Definitely looks like it’s taken down. The shoggoths I sacrificed to Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep must’ve done the trick. :)

  10. Spring Says:

    *hugs*

    Hang in there. Sometimes, the good guys do win. You should know–you’ve been watching Buffy. :)

  11. dejah Says:

    Mike C:

    So, theft of someone else’s work is okay with you?

    Next time someone steals from you, will you take the same attitude as you have here?

    DT

  12. Megan Says:

    I found this from Wil Wheaton’s blog and, oh man, I’m so sorry. The person who is selling your book needs to be face punched. And softer face punches for all the people who are saying you shouldn’t care.

    I DL’d your copy of the ebook (thank you v. much!) and I also sent along this link to Consumerist.com. I hope they post something about it – hopefully with enough people complaining, Amazon will listen. Having it taken down is good, but it’s not a win until everyone’s money is returned and that person can no longer sell ebooks on Amazon.

  13. Iris Says:

    I am so glad you took the action you took to expose this thievery! I’ve been looking into publishing a few books on Kindle but I’m appalled at all the duplicate PLR (private label rights) crap that’s up there.

    This was definitely a win for the good guys!

    By the way, your story about Rufus made me cry. I love the picture of you in your BSG outfit comforting Rufus — helping this poor traumatized dog find its way back to trusting men again. Too bad you don’t live with your Dad. Maybe you could get your Dad another great dog (that doesn’t have those trust issues) and take Rufus home with you!

    Wishing you, your Dad and Rufus the best!

    Iris

  14. AKN Says:

    First of all I would like to thank you for the wonderful lovecraft ebook, my paperpack collections were not in a good condition (I was worried by the fact that they are going to falling into pieces) so with this ebook version finally I can give them a little rest…

    Sorry to hear all those bad things happened, hope you can cheer up!

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