Self-published writer John van Stry recently prevailed in a lawsuit against a man named Travis McCrea, who was the founder and leader of the Canadian Pirate Party. He was, and maybe still is, part of the USA branch of the Kopimist Church. McCrea is a pirate and proud of it. He doesn’t have a parrot on his shoulder and go around saying, “Aharr, matey.” (Or maybe he does, I don’t know.) No. He posts and disseminates the works of others without permission or payment to them, and makes a profit from it.
Van Stry will not get much money from the suit, but McCrea is ordered to pay the legal expenses, and van Stry hired an actual legal team, so at least he doesn’t have that cost to contend with.
McCrea ran a site called eBook.bike (which appears to be gone or the name of a different site now). He uploaded ebooks. It seems like he offered some of them for free, but on the other hand he said repeatedly and loudly that he made $300,000/year off the site, so he was charging for something and those books were part of the draw. For many, if not all, of the books on the site, he did not ask the authors if he could post, he didn’t pay them, and he never notified them. Van Stry found out about it when a fan told him.
McCrea’s defense in the lawsuit was that he met the Digital Millenial Copyright Act (DMCA’s) “safe harbor” definition. The “safe harbor” allows archive sites, etc, to store intellectual properties and distribute them at the direction of the copyright owner. To qualify as a “safe harbor,” you have to designate an agent and register with the Office of Copyright. Oh, and you have to actually do the thing in the description. McCrea had done none of those things, a fact the judge commented on almost immediately.
McCrea disregarded several contacts from van Stry and his lawyers, in which they requested he take the pirated work down from the site. These included the specific DMCA complaint form.
He also claimed that doing this was “helping writers.” I think this is his version of the poisonous and ubiquitous, “I’m giving you exposure” argument. He wasn’t helping. He was exploiting. What he did was bad in general; this part offends me the most deeply.
It’s unlikely that McCrea would take the steps to become a “safe harbor” in the first place, because he’s against copyright. First as a member of the Pirate Party and then just as an individual, McCrea says he believes that information should be free. In practice, for him this means a writer somewhere should work really hard, maybe for years, on a work, and then post it, and McCrea should take it and make money off of it. Another common English word for that is “stealing.”
The Kopimist Church, which McCrea has mentioned, is a church formed in Sweden and recognized there as a religious organization, that says that “file-sharing” is a sacred act. It took them three tries to meet the qualifications for being a church, and one hurdle apparently was that churches have some kind of ritual or ceremony. They finally came up with one in which they pass around photocopied information. (I think I’d rather explore the Creative Commons group than hangout with the Kopimist folks, thanks.)
I’m all for ease in genuine file-sharing, and ease and access to the internet and the ability to look at data – data that should be available to me. (Somewhat ironically, McCrea also thinks that online privacy should be protected. I guess he means for him.) However, the active verb in “file-sharing” is “sharing,” with its connotation (or, you know, actual meaning) of consent.
Anyway, I’m glad van Stry had the resources to be able to do this. McCrea’s taunting of the people he was stealing from – “Well, just sue me then!”—was calculated and assumed, correctly, that most of the writers he ripped off couldn’t afford to do that. Van Stry could.
Most of the systems for paying artists and writers suck, and yes, many entities in the writing-to-publication pipeline are predatory. Royalties are ridiculous. An advance never comes close to reflecting the amount of work that’s gone into a project. This is why people are experimenting with other models. Self-publishing is one. Things like Patreon or Curious Fictions, where you “sponsor” a creator whose work you like, are another. And I’m for more open models, where work gets shared easily… as long as that is done with knowledge, consent and participation, and doesn’t rip some parties off so that others can profit. I’ll be the first to admit I have no idea how to do that.
McCrea is not gone, and probably his next scheme will be to steal work from behind the veil of the Kopimist Church. Stay tuned.