Guest Blogger Tali Spencer Discusses Book Theft

There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when a book you’ve poured your heart and soul into is finally published.  I don’t think it matters how many books you’ve published, to me, each one is a piece of my heart that I send out into the big world and hope will fare well.  So I can’t even imagine the heartbreak of a writer who, just days after publication of a book, discovers that someone out there has stolen her work and is selling it and passing it off as her own.  That’s what happened to friend and fellow Dreamspinner Press author, Tali Spencer.

Just as I did when I was first testing the waters, trying to decide if I had it in me to publish my original fiction, Tali posted her book on a free fiction website.  These websites are wonderful, both for writers and readers.  Readers can discover new writers, and writers can get feedback on their works.  They are, apparently, also a haven for thieves who take the stories published there and pass them off as their own.   And, let’s face it:  this IS theft.  Just as downloading “free” copies of published books on pirate websites is theft, pure and simple.

Prince of Winds” is an amazing book.  I have no doubt why the thief thought it was worth stealing.  You can read my review here.  I didn’t need to know Tali held the copyright to know it was hers; her voice is unique and poetic, and I’d have recognized it in a heartbeat.  I’d tell you all to buy the book just to support her and help her fight back against the thief, but I don’t really need to–it’s an amazing book you don’t need an additional reason to buy.  -Shira

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Stolen Books, by Tali Spencer

It happens all the time. A writer puts up a book, or a series of chapters that constitutes a first draft of a book, on a free site. The writer is seeking encouragement, connection with fans or readers, maybe advice. They don’t stop to consider—fully consider—that their work might be stolen by someone else and published. Most of the time, they never even bother to register copyright on their work. They know copyright is just a legality and think it doesn’t matter. After all, the work is theirs because they created it. Right?

Right. But there’s more at stake than who wrote it when someone else puts their name on it.

I found out this weekend that my book, The Prince of Winds, was stolen when it was up for a while on a free site. Many people enjoyed this story there and offered me encouragement. Fans said I should get it published. But I waited and posted more free material until I could believe in myself. Well, I guess I should have listened to my readers … because someone else took the book and published it before I did. Dreamspinner notified me Sunday morning (actually Saturday night, but I saw the email when I woke up Sunday) that a reader who had bought the book off their site complained that she already owned the book. I was asked to clarify the matter.

Did I write The Prince of Winds?

And so it began. This is how it played out. Saturday night the book was removed from all sales sites until the matter could be resolved. People looking for the book couldn’t find it and wrote to me asking what was going on. What did I tell them? The truth.

The book was published in March 2012 by a publisher called Forever Amber for a writer named Emily Wilcox. Check out this [HERE] to see the scoop on Forever Amber. Both I and my publisher have every reason to believe this publisher was in fact a single person using pseudonyms for the many plagiarized books the company published. My book was published as two books: “The Prince of Desire: Persian Prince Adventure” and “The King of Storms.”  The thief put the books up on Goodreads, too, [HERE].

This is bad for me in several ways. It’s bad enough some readers out there might think I’m the plagiarist. I never even copied homework. But they don’t know me from a street sign in Toledo, so now I have to rebuild my credibility as an author. I also have to rebuild credibility for this book. I could just write it off, but I’m not willing to do that—and neither is my publisher. The Prince of Winds is a fine book and I’m proud to have written it! Dreamspinner believes in it, too, and is keeping the book in print.

The book is already back on the sales shelf. There’s one reason and one reason only we were able to resolve this issue so quickly: I had registered the book’s copyright in February 2011. That’s right. As soon as I put it online, I paid my $35 and got a certificate that establishes me as author of this book. I did the same for Captive Heart, by the way. So when Dreamspinner asked if I could clarify the matter, I had only to go to my file cabinet and send them the copyright number and information. A quick check and some consulting with their lawyer and we were good.

The Prince of Winds now carries a disclaimer that an unauthorized edition was published. It names the other title but not the author. Because I’m the author of both versions. The copyright notice in the book now carries my copyright registration number to prove I’m the copyright holder. Anyone who bought the book on its original release won’t have those notices. The blurb now also carries the same disclaimer.

How do I feel about that? I hate having that language attached to my blurb. I hate having that other title even buried in in the copyright notice where most people never look. It’s like having a scar. It will always be there, but I don’t have to like it. Good thing I have enough life experience—and scars—to be able to chalk this one up to a lesson learned.

If you put your work out online for free, for fun, because you like the ego strokes or want to do something nice for your fans—do it. Just realize that someone else could easily publish your work as their own. And if someone does that, it might create problems for you down the line. If you try to publish your work, it could come back to bite you in the ass. My ass this morning is so sore I need one of those hemorrhoid pillows.

As for copyright registration? It didn’t keep someone from stealing my work. I will probably never track down the now vanished publisher (the book itself is also long since off any sales sites) to sue for damages … though I have the legal standing to do so. It may never convince readers who already think I am the one who pilfered someone else’s book. But what it did do was enable me to rescue this book before it was irreparably crippled by a horrible launch. It allows me to ask Goodreads to remove that author and the offending books. Worth every cent of that $35 as far as I’m concerned. Only my Sunday was ruined, not my month.

Here’s my final say: I love my publisher. Dreamspinner was wonderful and supportive and believed in me all the way. I love my husband and friends. They listened to me vent and put up with me at my worst. I love my fans. When I told the ones who wrote to me about what was going on, they rallied like troopers.

And I still love writing. I’m writing the sequel, and I’m pretty damn sure the thief can’t do that.

 

Links.

Forever Amber link: http://www.eroticromancepublishers.com/2012/04/forever-amber.html

Goodreads link: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3316671.Emily_Wilcox

 

 

 

24 comments

  1. Juliana - Reply

    That is just terrible! I really think posting stories on free sites or your blog can give good information to an unsure author and it is sad it has been taken advantage of. It can give you confidence and a few extra beta readers while introducing us to a new author. I’m sad that I’m not surprised someone would just take your book and sell it as there own. Thanks for the post, glad you and Dreamspinnerpress were able to find settle this, sort of.

    • Tali Spencer - Reply

      Hi Juliana. 🙂 That’s why I posted my work on a free site… I’m shy and unsure, and I wanted to just test the waters a little. Could I write? Would people like it? It was wonderfully reaffirming and I don’t bear any ill feelings to the site, not at all. I still visit and read there and plan to keep doing that. I read other writers’ free reads, too, and offer feedback where they ask for it. 😀 Readers on my blog have been wonderful in giving feedback on my WIPs, so I’m thinking hard about how I might continue. Dreamspinner was great… beyond great! But it’s not something I want to go through again!

  2. Shira - Reply

    I agree, Juliana! It definitely makes all of us nervous to see this, and the extent of the theft is unbelievable. Dozens of books, it looks like. I’d hate to see people stop posting free stories, but it certainly may make people think twice about it. -Shira

  3. Thea - Reply

    Oh, Tali!! D:
    I’m just heartbroken to hear about this. While it’s true that “mimicry is the highest form of flattery,” to out-and-out steal your book and make a profit from it is just SO WRONG!!
    I need to seriously consider taking down my books from a free website, too…

    BUT!
    You can thumb your nose at that nefarious scoundrel because you’re right — PLAGIARISTS CAN’T WRITE SEQUELS!!!
    And I’m doing a little happy dance knowing that another one of your books is in the works! 😀
    Sending you hugs and puppies and chocolate chip cookies!! XD
    Thea

    • Tali Spencer - Reply

      Thanks, Thea. 😀 I will not only write a sequel, I will write many sequels!!! Mwahahaha! Two anyway. And more books. Thieves can only steal. If they could create their own darn books, they would be too busy to steal other people’s. Thanks for the cookies! Now to hide them from my voracious husband… and the poodle.

  4. Kate - Reply

    A question about copyright: it is my understanding that in order to copyright anything, you need to put down that little “c” in a circle, the year, and your name. I was not aware that a formal registration process even exists. Does it vary from state to state, or is that something the USPTO would handle along with trademarks registrations?

    And, thank you for the wakeup call. As it happens, I pulled all of my potentially publishable “fun writes” off free websites quite recently.

    • Shira - Reply

      Yes, that’s correct, Kate. I’m not even sure you need the little © anymore (I think that requirement was changed, although it’s helpful, even if it’s not required). That said, if Tali had not gone the extra step of registering her copyright, it might have taken months to sort this mess out. That formal registration process (go to http://www.copyright.gov/ for more info) meant she had immediate proof that she held the copyright before the thief published the story. Added insurance, and it meant that her book is still being sold rather than being at the center of a legal dispute. Reassurance for a publisher.

      Copyright law is strictly federal, which makes it a lot easier since you don’t have to deal with state to state differences. It’s certainly no guarantee that your work won’t be stolen, but most publishers’ contracts require copyright registration now (for good reason). -Shira

  5. Venona Keyes - Reply

    Yes, all, this is the age of the fast and furious. And I am not talking about cars either. Opportunists are out there–the ones with the bad intentions are the plagiarists. Original works are our blood, sweat, and up all night writing. We should get the credit, not some quick buck thief.
    It happens in every industry–especially fashion. Remember that when you get a great deal on a too-good-to-be-true Coach, Gucci, etc. handbag.

    When I started writing with Shira, she said we needed to copy write our joint stories, just for this reason. I am glad she did. Thanks, counsellor!

    Tali, I am g;ad you did the same. The day got brighter when you pulled that copy write form. Good for you! Glad to know I am amongst the smartest of writers!

    • Tali Spencer - Reply

      It is all about instant gratification. Instant bucks. Instant pats on the back. Those of us who approach writing as craft know it takes time and hard work. I remember something I heard once and it stuck with me: Most people who tell you they want to be writers are lying; what they really want is to have written. Not everyone is willing to do the work. Emily Wilcox, whoever he or she is, didn’t do the work and went straight to “have written”.

      It actually makes me unhappy that those readers got ripped off, also. They wouldn’t have given their money to a thief if they knew that was what they were doing, but they had no way of knowing.

    • Tali Spencer - Reply

      Thanks, Aisling. Fear not, karma will get this thief. It always does. 🙂 I may not get the pleasure of seeing it happen, but what goes around comes around. I can always write more books. That person has nothing in the tank. People who sink that low are truly running on fumes.

  6. Racey - Reply

    Hi, Tali!

    I’m sorry to hear that you had to go through such an ordeal, but I’m excited that you were able to prove your innocence, as well as the injustice committed against you and your writing. I have a question about copyrighting, though. Can a publishing company fabricate a copyright date? Say you’ve never seen proof of the actual copyright, but have only seen it written down that it was copyrighted – does that mean it was truly copyrighted? I’m also an author on a free writing site, and I think I may have had one of my stories stolen and published, but I can’t really be sure since the company is claiming a copyright date of 2004. Meanwhile, the book wasn’t published until 2011, I believe. My situation is a bit different from yours, only because you had your wonderful work outright plagiarized. Mine was switched around a little because it was fan fiction, but the title and concept remained the same. The published story even had a few minor details that were the same. The similarities are too disturbing to pass off as mere coincidence. I’d love some feedback and your thoughts on this if you have the time! Thank you!

    Racey~

    • Tali Spencer - Reply

      I wish I could answer your question, Racey. I’m not an expert by any means, just a beat up author. 😀 But I think a copyright date as seen in a book is just letters on a page, so to speak. Someone put them there and if they intend to mislead, then they could put a false date. What can’t be falsified is a legitimate copyright registration number. You can take the number now on the copyright notice of my book, for example, go to the Copyright Office online database, type it in, and get to the actual info used to create the registration. That’s really hard to falsify and that’s the reason Dreamspinner put it in my book to nail the copyright. So if all you see on the copyright page is the little symbol, a date and a name… it’s possible the date can be deliberately misleading. If there’s also a number, though, you can check it out. Hope that helps. 🙁 I’m so sorry to hear you’re going through the same thing. It’s still your work even if the thief changed some things! *hugs*

  7. Benjamin Knight - Reply

    I happened to check my Twitter timeline today and found a link to this article retweeted by Brandon Shire. Thank you so much for making this information available as I am preparing to release several of my own books. I will register the copyright before I publish!

    Thank you.

    • Tali Spencer - Reply

      Go Benjamin. 🙂 Glad to hear you’re putting your books out there. I wish I’d had confidence to do it sooner.

  8. Sarah_Madison - Reply

    Well, now you have me thinking about fanfic that I’ve posted online. I don’t post any of my original work in advance (I’m too insecure to do that 🙂 but there are fanfic stories I’m proud of that I have no intention of ever turning into original stories–and yet that wouldn’t stop someone else from doing that.

    Definite food for thought–but with over 70 fanfic stories out there, I’d really have to choose the main ones, I think! 🙂

    • Tali Spencer - Reply

      Hi Sarah. Love your books! People are really looking more at fanfic these days and, yeah, those get stolen, too. Copyright registration doesn’t prevent people from stealing them, though. 🙁 It only helps establish you’re the real mother so you can grab the rights back from a thief.

  9. H.B. Pattskyn - Reply

    What a nightmare! So glad it was resolved with relative ease, but what a “scar” to have to live with (and what a way to find out about it). Definitely gives the rest of us something to think about. (I’m even wondering if I should register the quick little free-read I have on my site; I never intend to publish it, but I don’t want somebody else putting their name on it!) Thank you for sharing and again sorry it had to happen at all.

    Helen

  10. Racey - Reply

    Thank you, Tali! And to my knowledge, I’ve only seen the little symbol and the date. When I sent a message to the company, they tried to accuse me of the theft, and that really bothered me since I had never even heard of this author until a friend alerted me of the same story title. Then I read it and noticed the similarities. But again, thank you for the tip! *hugs back*

  11. yuuka - Reply

    Guest commenter here, but i just couldn’t help commenting 🙁

    Omg…Tali, i am so sorry to hear this 🙁

    i was one of the unfortunate souls to buy the books in forever amber, and my second try at buying ebooks online! i found it weird that the book had to be split into 2 parts when it seems like it’s one continuous story. and when i checked out the “author”‘s website because I thoroughly enjoyed the work to look for more, i was a little disappointed to find that all her “other works” (in quotes because now i’m seeing some posts saying they were also stolen) were m/f romance. no wonder ~_~

    that was around five months ago? i was surprised to find a veeery familiar story summary with a different title and character names in dreamspinner press, (just a while ago) and having searched your name and finding this linked in google…now it figures.

    i don’t see “forever amber publishing” online anymore, and i’m glad it’s down already. your prince of winds work was one of my first forages into the world of published original gay lit (soft or hard copy). so finding out about this gives me a sick feeling that i’ve just given additional bucks to a book thief’s pocket 🙁 i can just imagine how much worse it is for an author whose work got stolen.

    in any case, i’m glad it’s all resolved on your end. and at least now you’ve got a new fan (lol). i’ll definitely be waiting for your sequel, and this time, buying it from the right publisher. and now that i found the original author of prince of winds, i’ll definitely be stalking your other works too! 🙂 so do keep up the great work!

    • Shira - Reply

      Yuuka-

      I know Tali will be SO happy to hear this! And she deserves the fans (I’m a huge fan, too!). I guess it’s not surprising the thief thought her work was worth stealing. Makes me hopping mad, though.

      Thanks for stopping by and letting her know about your experience.

      Shira

    • Tali Spencer - Reply

      Gosh, Yuuka, thank you! Thank you for letting me know this. The thing that makes me happiest, of course, is that you enjoyed the book and wanted to find more. It’s beautiful of you to reach out and tell me how you came to read it. Don’t feel bad about anything you did. You just wanted something to read. 🙂 I would like to give you a free copy of the edited and expanded Prince of Winds, if you’d be interested. My email is on my author page at Dreamspinner. Just let me know if you have an account there or, if you don’t, an email address so I can send it to you.

      What makes me sickest is knowing some readers will think I’m the plagiarist, and that’s happened, actually. 🙁 They may never give me another chance. But you made my day by posting this, and I’m hoping that as I continue to put out more books, more readers will follow.

      Thanks again!

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