Thursday 1 August 2019

Q&A Pagans Against Plagiarism

Boudica Foster is a co-founder and member of Pagans Against Plagiarism. She is co-owner of The Wiccan/Pagan Times, has written articles for Llewellyn’s almanacs and has six published non-fiction books on spells and reiki topics, one published fiction novel and is working on the second book in the series. Boudica identifies as a witch and has been Pagan in some form or other since the late 1970s.  She has been an active member of the pagan online community since the early 1990s.

How did Pagans Against Plagiarism come about?
About twelve years ago, a friend of mine put me in touch with a publisher with an unusual story.  Seems they had a book that had failed the 'Plagiarism Test'. Publishers had software they could run a percentage of the book through, and the software would search the web and compare the content.  It would then report the amount of material that they found in the book that was also found on the web. Twenty-five percent plagiarized is considered unacceptable by the publisher. This book went higher.

The author had been so pissed off they had gone onto the internet and were badmouthing the publisher. The author then took the book to another publisher and published it there. The first publisher asked if I would mind reviewing the book and maybe doing some research.

One of our other friends had already taken sections of the book and found the exact websites where the material was originally published. The instances of theft were mind-boggling. There was a blog the individual owned where the instances were eventually all laid out. 
The author’s book was pulled by the second publisher. The author then self-published. I did publish a review, as I was a regular reviewer on Amazon at that time. Amazon eventually pulled the book. 

The research we did, the information we had gathered and the experience we had gave us a background and was the reason we went into what came next.
When did you realise there was a need for it?
We know many authors and artists in the Pagan community. I was reviewing Pagan books on Amazon at the time and was a top reviewer. I had many contacts with publishers and authors here in the States. Many of my friends involved in this endeavor are from the UK. They also had contacts with artists and authors.

While plagiarism was what brought us into this, it was copyright violations that became the focus of our group. We noticed Facebook groups offering free copies of books that had been published recently. This really annoyed us. Here we are, some of us authors or artists, with books by people we know being given away for free. This shortchanges authors, who lose sales because someone is giving away their books. Why pay for what you can get free?

This started us down the road of, "What is our recourse if our work is being stolen?"
We started sharing what we learned over the course of a couple of years with people who knew us and had similar issues. We finally started a Facebook group as a place where we could gather and exchange information.

Can you explain what plagiarism is?
Plagiarism, as defined by the dictionary, is the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing it off as one’s own. 
So, I wrote an article for an online ezine, and a few months later it appeared on another site, word for word, with a different author's name. What was so funny was that I put Boudica at the end of all the articles I was writing at that time. The person who had copied my article had included my name. Never proofread it, just copied and posted it on their website, with a different author byline.

This has happened not just to me, but to a few of the other members of our group. Either their art or their written work has been taken from their blogs or their websites and attributed to a different artist or author.

It is the common denominator for most of the founding members of Pagans Against Plagiarism, and it's what gave us our name. But what we eventually became known for was the more common issue that so many authors and artists have in common – copyright violations.

What is copyright?
The best definition I have found is from Tech Terms Computer Dictionary

Copyright is a legal means of protecting an author's work. It is a type of intellectual property that provides exclusive publication, distribution, and usage rights for the author.
Copyright is a legal instrument. Not just here in the United States.  The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, referenced as DMCA, is an international treaty between countries who have elected to uphold the copyright standards set out in that document.
Can you explain what copyright infringement is?
Authors, writers, artists and musicians - hereafter referenced as creators - are covered by copyright laws. These laws dictate when a work is copyrighted, what rights creators have over their work, what is a violation of their rights, and gives them the legal tools needed to enforce those rights. These laws are based on the country of origin, or come under the DMCA.

Copyright infringement is when someone violates the rights of a creator. Country laws give the creator legal standing within their own country, but the DMCA gives the creator legal standing internationally, and specifically on the internet.

The DMCA enacts processes where the creator can claim their property, and, with proper identification, request the removal of their property from any place where it appears illegally.
So, an author finds their book being given away without their permission. The book is copyrighted. As a matter of fact, the book is copyrighted as soon as it is in tangible form, which means even the manuscript is copyrighted. So, the author has legal standing at this point. The take-down notice that the author files with the individual, website or social media platform is called a DMCA. It is a form that the author or their agent files to have the violation of their work removed.

All social media sites have an online form that can be filled out.  They have it written into their terms of service that violations of copyright will be removed by them, without notice in most cases. In severe cases, the social media site will remove the group or individuals responsible at their discretion, without notice.

Most website hosting services also have online DMCAs and include the same kind of verbiage in their terms of service. As do Dropbox, web storage sites, online shopping sites and more. 
The only exceptions are services that are in countries that have not signed the DMCA, which include Russia, China and some small countries in-between.

The reason I have spelled this all out is because this information becomes the tool we can use to educate and to enforce the rights of creators in the Pagan community.

How widespread is the problem? 
At the start, about ten years ago, and two years after the first plagiarism issues we encountered, we started seeing PDF versions of copyrighted books appearing on the web. First they were on websites, then, as social media started to expand, the illegal copies of these books started appearing in the file areas of various groups.

We would notice one book here, one book there. Websites were the biggest offenders, as some of them were distribution sites for many illegal copies. Creators were losing money. For authors, it was illegal PDF copies of their books. For artists, it was downloadable copies of their art. They were either stealing the material from the artists' websites or making print copies and selling them. The artists were hit worse because people were actually selling their art on sites like eBay and Etsy.

Watermarking was the original way for artists to prevent the theft of their work. But, as people became savvier with Photoshop and were able to remove the watermarks, it became harder and harder for artists to make a living off their work. Who was going to purchase nice prints of their work when they could get them cheaper on eBay and Etsy, or free by right-clicking and saving? 

Artists started disappearing from the web. Whatever art was out there, there was no way to control it anymore. Some artists spent days filing DMCAs with various websites and social media platforms to get their work removed. How can an artist create when they have to spend days at a time protecting their work? And, of course, there was always a copy that escaped notice and would get passed around again, the cycle repeating itself.

With authors, it started with illegal copies of their books in PDF format. Some industrious souls would copy entire books and issue the finished product in PDF format. Later, with the advent of e-books, we started seeing other formats, which were obviously pirated from e-readers. No matter what technology we create to safeguard our work, there are those who think it is their job to breach it, and they do.

It became obvious that this was getting worse when copies of authors' books surfaced before they were even published. Thousands of copies were either sold or given away for free before the publishers could release the book. This resulted in loss of sales for both the publisher and, more importantly, the author. Pirating of books reached an all-time high.

The results were pretty much the same as with artists. Authors removed themselves from the web and discontinued writing. If you can’t make a living doing what you love, then you have to turn to something else to provide for your family. And the Pagan community lost some very bright and well-loved artists and authors because of this.

Know two things:  

  1. There are very few artists and authors who make lots of money off their works. These people are household names. Stephen King, David Hockney. Pagan authors and artists make about $1.57 per book, on average. That will depend on how popular the author is and how many books they have circulating at any time. That means they have to sell over 15,000 books per year to make a salary of $25,000 per year.
  2. Pagan artists will sell a work here and there, but mostly make a living off selling prints of their works. Our Pagan artists have lost much. So much that you don’t see many Pagan artists unless you are at a festival. Only one artist was at a festival I went to last weekend. I remember several dozen back in the day. If they cannot feed their families on their work, they have to go elsewhere to make a living.

What does PAP do to help combat this? 

In the beginning, there wasn’t much we knew we could do. We would request the material be removed. That usually ended in a shouting match and getting us banned from many groups. No one likes to be told what to do with their group. They like it even less when you suggest they are stealing money from creators. And when you tell them, 'OK, we are going to report you to the creator or his agent,' the conversation deteriorates to name calling. 

We had to learn the laws. What are the options that creators have? Finding the DMCA process was key. We educated ourselves in that, and then passed information along to the creators. We provide links to copyright violation forms. We keep extensive files of sites that provide legal information and online resources for creators.

See, the key to the process is that only the creator, or their agent, can file a DMCA. It must be the creator or their legal agent who files. So, we found ourselves being the education point for all the creative members of the Pagan community.

We also offer education via our Facebook page and group. We offer information to Facebook admins, so that they understand what they are doing when they offer free artwork or books to their members. We offer information. We do not mob a group and demand removal.  

When the group was young, someone would stumble across a stash of illegal PDFs, request that they be removed, and get booted immediately. That angered many of the members. Some of them would join the group and try to talk to the admins. This resulted in more shouting matches, and we were accused of trying to mob groups to get them shut down.

Actually, we have nothing to do with groups being shut down. We can’t do that. We can report it to the creator or their agents, but the actual filing is done by them. What happens is directly associated with the people who own the rights.

Some social media sites have a very low threshold for copyright violations. You see that with YouTube and Facebook. They do not want to deal with it. A single violation, the item will be removed.  But if they have to hunt thru tons of violations, they would rather just shut the site. They have no desire to get involved in legal suits.

We have restricted ourselves to Facebook and a few side sites on an individual basis. A group that stores their copyright violations on Dropbox or sells the material on Etsy, we will report those to the creators and leave it up to them to follow up.  But most of what we deal with is Facebook.  

Having seen the extent of copyright violations, we are not nearly large enough to involve ourselves with it all. We have lives, we have jobs, and believe me when I say that it can be a full-time job if we decided to expand beyond Facebook. Some weeks it seems that it is a full-time job.

Have you had any successes in the past?

We have requested the removal of material that violates an author’s copyrights, and Facebook's terms of service. 

Occasionally, someone will be, 'Oh, sorry, didn’t know that,'  and the material is removed quickly. We have tried various ways. Via comments. Via private messages to group admins. 

Most times, we get booted for our effort. Sometimes it is preceded with verbal abuse, or you get a private message after you are booted, again streaming with verbal abuse. Many of us have gotten used to it. But to be honest, we would rather not deal with that.

The first thing we need is proof. That is required by the DMCA.  Besides the link to the material, we also provide visual proof of the violation. Usually a PDF copy of their file area with all the books listed. This also makes it easier to identify the books, and the publisher can pick all the titles and report them. Most books are handled by the publishers, who are the legal agents for the authors.

What happens next is between the publisher and the website. Facebook has dedicated staff handling DMCAs. There also appears to be more than just the pagan community filing DMCAs as it can take one or two weeks for them to respond to the publishers, sometimes a bit longer if additional information is requested. 

It is totally up to Facebook as to what happens. They decide how much work they are going to put into the response. Most responses are canned.

Hi, Thanks for bringing this matter to our attention. We removed or disabled access to the content you reported for violating the Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. We understand this action to resolve your intellectual property issue.

Almost all responses are like that.

We have seen them remove books, remove groups and remove individuals who are consistent offenders. We feel we have had a measure of success. 

Two of the largest successes are groups that were strictly up for book exchange. One group had over 900 books, the other had over 400. 

Copyright violations are more numerous than plagiarism. We have had one or two more instances of blatant plagiarism in books.  

Someone published one of Gerina Dunwich’s books with a new cover and author byline. It was offered as an e-book for free as a promo.  

From my days reviewing books, I have learned various authors' voices. Ms. Dunwich has a unique voice, and reading the first couple of pages, I went to my own library and pulled down a book, and sure enough it was the same book, the same graphics, the same font. All he did was change the cover and left off the title pages.  Amazon did pull the book when they were notified.

We just report what we find. The rest is up to the creators and their agents. If they report the violations, whether plagiarism or copyright violations, Facebook will take action.

What should someone do if they think their work has been plagiarised?

For plagiarism or copyright violations, they have to file a DMCA.  As I said, most sites have online DMCAs. You will need to provide the location of the violation, where the file is located, and you have to provide proof of ownership. Most times, all you need is where your book is on your publisher’s website, or where your art is presented, with a date. 

Sometimes they may ask for more proof. A screen capture of where the violation is located, with some identifying evidence of the website, and your work. That works for the publishers most often.  It is a simple process. Depending on the website or service, it may take a couple of weeks. Remember, they are dealing with hundreds of notices each day. 

If you need assistance, Pagans Against Plagiarism is here to help.

How can people get involved? Where can they find out more?

Being part of the solution is the way to go. We accept members who want to learn more, as well as those who want to help. We will always answer questions. You can join our group here.

Additional information and resources:

US Government website on copyright laws

UK Government website on copyright laws

Australian Government website on copyright laws

Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 PDF

Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998

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