Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Digital Gold Rush and Plagiarism

In light of the recent kerfluffle at over plagiarized erotica (thanks to the good posters at Kindle Boards for bringing this to my attention), I've been doing some thinking.

Dangerous, that thinking thing.

A number of author's were angered--incensed--that stories were stolen from free-to-read websites and sold for profit on Amazon. Yes, it stinks. But it won't go away. Not ever.

Plagiarism has a long and healthy history in the world of content creation. In Shakespeare's time, an actor was only given his lines on tiny slips of paper which contained his lines and cues for fear the plays would be stolen. Modern technology has only made the process easier.

It's a digital gold rush.

Thank goodness Wikipedia is back today, because I'm quoting directly:

"A gold rush is a period of feverish migration of workers to an area that has had a dramatic discovery of gold."

I'm speaking of content gold, here. Follow my logic:
  1. Many authors post on Kindle Boards about how lucritive erotica can be. 
  2. Plagiarizer goes to the web and trawls for free stories (and there are a ridiculous number of them out there--in any genre).
  3. Ctrl+C then Ctrl+V and a few formatting moments and voila, a book. 
If you are going to point hombres to gold, you better be ready for the rush. And every gold rush in the history of the U.S. has brought a shit-storm of criminal activity.

Some of the sites (Literotica in particular) don't appear to be publications in the traditional sense (meaning they don't reject most of their submissions and just about anyone can post). Countless similar sites exist in other genres, from fan fiction to poetry. While this isn't a case of people stealing stories from Newsweek or Fantasy and Science Fiction, it is still theft.

I'm not a fan of plagiarism and piracy; no author should be. (I've been a target of plagiarism in the past, remember?) But I'm not stupid, either. You put your content out there in today's wide-open wild west, and poachers are probably going to strip the juiciest bits like digital vultures on a rotting digital 'possum. Are we ever going to stop them? No. Not ever.

What can an author do?

Know the risks of posting online and take those you feel comfortable with. Most of all, get paid for your writing. If the Literotica scandal has shown these erotica writers anything, it's that there's a market for their words.

Publish them yourself and get paid. It's not a dirty thing to accept compensation for your work. If you don't, somebody else might.


Ben Godby said...

That's really interesting. I always wondered if/where this kind of thing was going on; usually I get worried when I submit to pretty obviously dud markets (one of them out there at the moment is "Buzzy Mag"), although my suspicions have been reversed before when a fledgling magazine becomes actualized in a real publication (as happened with "Fae Publishing"). It's simply so easy to make those eBooks; I don't even see a way around someone just ripping things out of paid-for, low-visibility markets and re-selling it.

Oh, well! Good post and advice, Aaron.

Doug Murano said...

Guess I'd better get myself a pen name and write a good old-fashioned bodice ripper. I'm only half-joking.

Aaron Polson said...

Ben - It's wide open, this interweb thingy.

Doug - I've considered it, but I'm afraid it would end poorly (well, I'm not really afraid--I like that sort of thing, but the reading public...)

K.C. Shaw said...

I don't understand (well, okay, I do, but only kinda) why a writer would publish their books for free. Stories, sure, even longer ones. But books? Oh well, it worked for John Scalzi--but he was already a professional writer. You're definitely right that authors deserve compensation for their hard work.

Aaron Polson said...

K.C. - I know the "free" model has worked for some (e.g., David Moody with Hater), and "free" on Kindle (for a temporary time as a promo) has worked for me. But just post it out there for the world to plunder?

No. Not anymore. Not when the "self-publishing" option is readily available and relatively lucrative.

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

It's a very worrying situation but, along with piracy of all kinds, a difficult thing to stamp out. I think authors should be far more careful than they are and even if they think giving their stuff away is woth it to them they shoud stop and think about the knock-on effect it might have for others.

Anthony Rapino said...

Wow, I really need to keep my ears closer to the ground; this is the first I heard of this.

Your last point is a good one; these authors should really consider getting paid.