I made the Law Books! (Sort of)

Law booksI’m not sure I want every post here to be a “I did this! I did that!” kind of post, but cool things do happen to each of us occasionally and you want to shout it out to the world.

So, last year I was exercising the usual diligence and scanning the Internet for unauthorized copies of Parma Endorion: Essays on Middle-earth, 3rd Edition (technically, I look for all editions but the eBook is pirated the most). Why should I be concerned about who copies a free eBook?

Well, the chief reason is that the eBook (which has enjoyed over 1,000,000 authorized downloads through various distribution sites) adds value to certain Web sites. Those sites asked for my permission to distribute the book (and http://www.free-ebooks.net, the first authorized distributor, made it possible to give the eBook away in the first place — we didn’t have the server resources to launch the project). So, I do my best to reward the people who work within the law and respect the intellectual property rights of the people who produced that eBook (me, Matt Tinaglia, Anke Eissmann, and Rich Sullivan).

But another important reason is that I chose not to monetize the book. Therefore, I’m not about to let anyone else make money from it. When I find eBay listings for Parma Endorion, I have them removed. eBay likes to give people a lot of crap. They want you to fill out a ridiculous 4-page form. I refuse to do it. I’ve nonetheless had several eBay listings removed despite their protests that they are complying with the DMCA. (In my opinion, eBay is making it as difficult as possible for people to police the auctions because they don’t want to deal with what they might deem to be trivial complaints — however, when you have to police millions of potential unauthorized distribution points, filling out 4-page forms for every stuck-up site is NOT an option).

Google recently caught my attention. I found a copy of Parma Endorion on the Blogger service a few months ago. Did I just whine about eBay? You have no idea of what it takes to get Google to acknowledge you even have a complaint, much less what you have to do to get them to take action. And Google has an entire department devoted to handling these complaints. (Google bought Blogger.com a while back, in case you don’t know.)

The amazing thing is, I have no idea of how they expected the general public to find out how to file a proper complaint. Because, in September 2005, Google had not published DMCA complaint instructions on their Web site (they have now provided instructions at http://www.google.com/dmca.html — and they still don’t tell you that this is where you file blogger.com complaints).

And if you think you can just call up Google and say, “I need to make a DMCA complaint”, forget it. The receptionist is polite and sweet, but she’s been clearly and firmly educated in how not to disclose information on the telephone (well, she did reveal one thing that made it possible for me to get through). You have to know a name in order to get past the front desk.

I don’t feel that is in compliance with the spirit of the law, but now that Google has published specific directions on how to file a DMCA complaint on their Web site, it’s probably a moot point. To be honest, and generous, I would guess that Google has gone through so much growth and so many public relations fire storms that they just cannot get to every detail in as timely a fashion as officious twits like me would prefer.

But being stone-walled by a girl who answers telephones is not a problem for me. Okay, I do market research all day long. I know how to find people on the Internet. I can probably get to most people’s home addresses and telephone numbers within a matter of hours (you should be concerned about how easy it is to find you, actually).

It took me at most about 30 minutes to come up with the names of several people who were able to respond to my complaint. I picked the person I deemed to be the most appropirate and most likely to help and called Google again. I asked for that person. Yes, I think the girl recognized me (I had left my name before — and for all I know, half the people at Google have heard of me because of my pontificating in the SEO world, though perhaps I speak too highly of myself once again).

So, I got through to voice mail and left a polite message. No matter how angry and upset you are about something, whenever you are about to make another person’s life difficult by complaining to a third party who has power over them, be polite. Only once did I ever run into a brick wall through politeness, and on that occasion money was doing all the talking. But let me not digress this one time.

So, Google replied to me with an email (okay, I also called the person’s cell phone and left a message there, too). The email explained that I had to send them a fax. The email explained what should be in the fax.

Once I got through to the right people, to their credit, Google took swift and appropriate action. They removed the blog with the eBook text (and the guy didn’t even break up the chapters into separate posts — it was all one long post). So, chalk up another one for intellectual property rights owners, and the free-wheeling, wild west style of the Internet is reined in just one more complaint’s worth.

So, how did all this make the “law books”? Okay, it’s not exactly a law book, but http://www.chillingeffects.org/ documents the enforcement of intellectual property rights on the Internet. As a copyright owner (and defender) who has had to file many infringement complaints through the years, I at first was a little shocked and disappointed to find my Google complaint archived on their Web site. But after browsing the site and seeing its purpose, I concluded that what they are doing is really kind of cool. It is in the public’s best interests to show how these kinds of complaints are handled. The site doesn’t tell the whole story, of course. Their concern is whether the DMCA (which I consider to be a particularly stupid law) is being abused, more than anything else. So they are documenting the “chill” that is settling in over the Internet as people like me (and people not like me) seek to enforce their rights.

One of the chilling aspects of this site is that I was not advised by Google that what I felt was a private correspondence (they sure weren’t making information public on their side) was being disclosed to a third party. Well, okay, I need to reread the DMCA again to see if they have the right or the obligation to disclose DMCA complaints and actions taken (disclosure is usually a good thing — it makes everyone accountable). Yes, the DMCA complaint page says they will forward the complaints, but remember that Google hadn’t made that clear with respect to blogger. They still don’t. Try searching for DMCA complaint guidelines on blogger.com and blogspot.com (http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&q=site%3Awww.blogger.com+dmca, http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&q=site%3Ablogspot.com+dmca).

So, I’m not about to start filing complaints over the release of a couple of faxes that may, in fact, help people learn how to file a DMCA complaint with Google. I can tell you that the very specific wording in the second fax was provided to me by Google. They told me in no uncertain terms they would do nothing if I did not make that statement under penalty of perjury. If you file a complaint, be absolutely sure you follow their guidelines to the letter, because they’ll nit-pick you.

So, to read my complaint, go here:http://www.chillingeffects.org/dmca512/notice.cgi?NoticeID=2340

If you scan down to the bottom of the page, you’ll see a question from their FAQ: “Why does a web host or blogging service provider get DMCA takedown notices?”

What people need to understand is that the real chill is not the enforcement of rights that I and others have to pursue with the Internet. The real chill is that there is so much infringement out there we have no hope of stopping it. We can only hope to make a dent in it. The law is too unfair to intellectual property rights owners because it puts the burden of proof on us as well as the burden of enforcement.

That means I will have to spend the rest of my life arguing with the eBays and Googles of the world, and if my heirs care as much about my creative works as I do, they will have to devote at least another 75 years to doing the same thing.

We need a better system.