Not in my name

Someone sent me a link to a site that uncovers pirates by identifying information about pirates that they have posted on forums: IP addresses, home addresses, what they do for a living, and so forth.

I understand that piracy is a problem, but this site is not a solution.

First, this site has no safeguards in place to determine the truth of any charges. IP addresses can be masked or changed. Identifying information can be made up–or borrowed from someone else. Someone could be identified by name on that site when they haven’t done anything wrong, except to have a high school friend who thinks they are a nerd, who appropriated their name–and this could prevent that innocent person from getting a job, or from getting into college.

People pirate my books–but I don’t approve of defamation as a way to stop it.

Second, the behavior on the site borders on cyberstalking, and in some instances, crosses over the line. This is illegal in many states. The defense the author of the site provides is that first, the person she is cyberstalking has violated the law. This is not a defense. If someone assaults you in real life, you don’t get to cyberstalk them in return–you have to go to the police and file a report. If someone steals your computer in real life, you don’t get to shoot their dog. You go to the police and file a report.

Criminals have rights, too. They don’t lose the protection of the law simply because they have engaged in one criminal act. This is triply true when the person has never been convicted of a crime.

Second, she points out that the information is public–that is, she got it off public websites. This may be true, but you can stalk someone simply by standing on public sidewalks, too. The question is not “did you steal into their house and get something private” but “is this a form of harassment?”

This is vigilantism, plain and simple. And that’s illegal.

Third, the person running the site claims that she is not an author. If this claim is true, and to be frank, I doubt it, that means that she’s taking self-help measures in a case when it’s not even herself she’s helping.

I’m sorry, but copyright law gives a remedy to infringement to me, to the attorney general, and to those people who I have authorized to act on my behalf. My publisher and I have the authority to decide how we are going to deal with piracy of my work. That remedy, exclusive to me, is as much a part of the copyright statute as the right of distribution.

I haven’t authorized her–and I would never do so, particularly since her “method” of outing pirates is to include links to works they have pirated, even when the original link has expired, which seems to me to be a particularly odd way to contribute to the demise of piracy. For her to arrogate to herself the right to act in these cases without permission from the author is itself a form of theft.

I don’t particularly approve of piracy (although you’ll notice that I flinch less than many at the prospect). But I do believe in the rule of law. I believe in using the remedies given to you, and not enlarging upon them. And I believe that people who do things that are wrong are entitled to the protections that government affords us all.

This site is not a proper way to counteract copyright infringement.

Courtney Milan writes historical romances, which might lead people to think that she could be cool. In reality, she's about four different kinds of geeky. At present, this blog is where Courtney applies semi-dormant geek skills to publishing.

17 thoughts on “Not in my name

  1. Hi Courtney!

    Great post. Piracy sucks, but we are talking about intellectual property theft, not rape and murder. Your even-handed approach seems the best way to go. Thanks for the post.

    Your NLA Cousin,
    Tiffany Reisz

  2. Thanks, Tiffany.

    For the record, I also believe that rapists and murderers, while extremely bad people, are still entitled to a trial by jury of their peers which comports with the law.

  3. Thank you for this. Really. I’m appalled by that site and wish people would stop sending me links as if I’m going to be thrilled. I’m not.

  4. I think it’d be amusing if 4chan got a hold of that blog. They don’t know what sort of beast they’re poking.

  5. This person has failed to take into account the complexities of “international” law and the internet itself. This person obviously believes the U.S. law applies to the rest of the world. It doesn’t. Furthermore, the internet is not, essentially, restricted to ‘countries’ (which is why the concept of geographic restrictions on digital books and other products fails).
    In some countries, while it’s illegal to upload copyright-protected materials, it’s not illegal to download them (this used to be the case in Japan until last January). There is a lot more at risk for uploaders in those countries, including heavy fines and prison sentences (five years in most cases), so there aren’t many uploaders. Downloaders turn to oversea sites instead.
    There is a U.S. group that uploads Japanese films and TV shows without permission and my employer in Japan would love to close them down because it’s interfering with the value of many aspects of subsidiary rights. Legally, they can’t because Japan law doesn’t extend to the U.S. (there is no recognition of the Fair Use policy under Japan law, for instance, so they can’t file complaints against those who copy excerpts from books and like so) and U.S. copyright law largely doesn’t cover ‘foreign’ media (it mostly protects a U.S. copyright holder’s foreign works only). Japan and U.S. are currently working to resolve this (in spite of the fact U.S. completely ignored Japan’s requests for nearly twenty years against illegal U.S. distribution and sales of anime on VHS. Heh!).
    And yeah, vigilantism and cyberstalking – regardless whatever an investigator’s intentions may be – are serious crimes in some countries, too. Unfortunately, not illegal in Japan, though. That’s probably why 2chan (the original site that inspired 4chan) gets away with it almost all the time.

    In spite of all this, I agree with you that there ARE other – and perfectly legal – ways to resolve it. That person’s method is definitely not one of those ways.

  6. Just wondering if you really want to drive more traffic to the site by linking to it?

    Hate hate hate hate hate this kind of vigilante “justice.” Hate.

  7. Wait, she provides links? So, she has created a one-stop shop for pirated books? Seems counter-productive.

    Of course you are completely right about the legal aspect here. And I completely agree from a moral perspective as well. This is just all kinds of wrong.

  8. Maili,

    Yes, there’s a big difference in foreign copyright. Back in the US’s infancy, we pirated stuff right and left–Dickens has a screed about how everyone in the US was just taking stuff without paying him.

    And there are definitely different regimes for enforcement than the US, particularly with regards to the DMCA.

    Robin, I actually don’t have a problem with driving traffic to the site. I think that it’s a debate that should be had, and I want people to be able to make up their minds about what I’ve said with the ability to look at the site and see if it’s okay.

  9. “IP addresses can be masked or changed.”

    How many people who read this don’t keep their anti-virus and firewall software up to date? Hackers can use your computer to do things. Your IP address could end up on the “pirate” site.

  10. Courtney,

    Agree with you wholeheartedly on the need for the debate. And I’m not criticizing your choice here. I’m just always a little squeamish about further exposing the information that is itself the subject of the critique.

    Yeah, I know it’s been publicly stated in numerous places (assuming that’s the case from your post, at least), and yeah, they’re pirates . . . it’s just an uncomfortable dilemma for me along the lines of, for example, it is okay to link to a site that “outs” people as gay in the course of talking about why it’s wrong to do that? Good arguments on both sides, I know, and I don’t know that I wouldn’t have done the same thing you did here (now there’s a double negative to express ambivalence!). Just something for me to think more about.

  11. Courtney, you know better than most how I feel about book piracy 😀 BUT I totally agree that this site isn’t the answer. I would feel so violated if someone posted that information about me.

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