On Copyright and Kewpie Dolls

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In early May, Damon participated in the roundtable discussions hosted by the U.S. Copyright Office at the Thurgood Marshall Federal Courthouse in Manhattan. The subject: whether or not the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is working, and if so, for whom.

Damon and fellow author Hilary Johnson were tapped by the Authors Guild to represent written content creators. Also in attendance were musicians, photographers, and filmmakers. Why the latter? Because digital piracy involves more than the theft of e-books; it also covers the theft of digitized music, images, and films.

The Authors Guild quoted Damon in their informative summary of the roundtables.

The full article Damon prepared is printed below.

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ON COPYRIGHT AND KEWPIE DOLLS

Damon DiMarco

Friends, we’ve got trouble.

As you probably know, Internet piracy of books and other media has skyrocketed. Raise your hand if you’ve had your copyrighted materials inappropriately monetized? I sure have. In fact, a while back, I programmed Google Alerts to ping me each time a free link to one of my books was posted to the web. Which is why my email account now sounds like a boardwalk arcade game.

PING! Lookee here! A pirated copy of [Insert Title]. PONG! It’s a pirated copy of [Insert Another title]!

At present, Internet pirates post at least forty links to my stolen work per month. What can I do about it? That depends.

If the pirates posted a book I’ve done with, say, Penguin Random House, I’m in luck. Big Publishers can afford to contract Internet security firms. I log into their author portal, submit the offensive link(s), and voilà! The links get removed …usually. They’ll reappear in a couple of days, but hey. Life is a treadmill, right? At least for a few hours, I can rest easy knowing my royalty stream is protected. Sort of.

But what about books that I do with small to mid-size publishers? Since they can’t afford Internet sentinels, the burden falls on me to submit a Digital Millennium Copyright Act notice. Which is sort of like saying, “Oh, you nasty pirates! Pretty please stop selling those books you stole from me!”

Internet piracy of e-books and other media has become a grand example of economic disparity. The current system only protects intellectual property when wielded by those who can afford protection. Please note that the Mafia runs by the same dynamic.

So imagine how excited I was when, recently, I was selected to represent authors at the Section 512 roundtable hearings held by the U.S. Copyright Office. I went to assure representatives of the federal government that, from an author’s perspective, Internet piracy is hurting our industry, destroying the incomes of middle-class authors, and eviscerating the time honored notion that copyright can protect intellectual property.

Now imagine my shock when I found myself seated with representatives from multi-billion dollar conglomerates, some of whom stated that e-book piracy isn’t a problem, and any attempts to stop piracy would infringe on their freedom of speech. I couldn’t make that up if I tried.

I had no idea that certain entities want Internet piracy to continue. Why? Suppose you’re a Internet service provider whose profits are tied to the scale of web traffic. A bigger, richer Internet means you have bigger, richer coffers. Would you care that authors’ books are getting stolen if your profits were soaring? No, you’d hire lobbyists to ensure the status quo.

For these reasons and so many more, the current DMCA policy places authors in an existential game of Whack a Mole. Take one copy of your work down, three more pop up. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Sadly, internet piracy isn’t nearly as fun as the classic boardwalk arcade game, and try as you might, play as well as you can, you’ll never win a Kewpie doll. Meanwhile, our industry’s ecosystem withers from the bottom up. If the powers that be were this lax in enforcing instances of car theft, stock market fraud, and homicide, we’d all be riding bicycles, impoverished, or dead.

Grim new from the trenches, I’m sorry to say. But that’s pretty much all that I took away from my meeting with the Powers That Be.

Now please excuse me. My e-mail just pinged. I have to go plead with more pirates.