I did not plan on writing this blog today, but, sadly, I have no choice but to stop in the middle of my busy day and share this with all of my writer/artist friends.
I often do a Google search on my name: Leslie Tall Manning. I do it for kicks, to see how many pages on which my name lands, and sometimes I do it on days when I feel down about my writing career and need an egotistical boost. So there I was, happy to see I’d made the first seven pages of Google’s search, when something caught my eye. “Free GAGA PDF Download.” I did a double take just before my stomach fell to the floor. Someone was giving away one of my novels for free? Then I found one for my second book: “Free Upside Down in a Laura Ingalls Town PDF.” I don’t have to tell you, my dear writer friend, why I was torn between punching a wall and sobbing like a baby.
No one works harder or more diligently than some writers. I am one of them. For seventeen years I have attacked the computer keys four days a week, four hours a day. For years my agent has been pounding the pavement to get my books (13 count) into the hands of top publishers. For three years of self-publishing I have worn the hundred or so hats that self-pubbers wear, from the editing bonnet to the marketing cap. To suddenly see my books, in PDF no less, being offered illegally for free is something I hope you never have to go through.
So. I went to the site in question. Not really a site exactly, it is owned by Google, and is called a Fusion Table. This is sort of like Google Docs, where people can share information. “Share.” The word of the decade.
I found a copyright infringement form through Google and filled it out (my name, URL in question, etc) only to receive a one-sentence explanation that the URL had either been taken down or was no longer in use. I found this strange, since there it still sat in Google’s search queue.
Still not feeling convinced that the site was defunct, I dug deeper. This digging took place on my tablet instead of my laptop, since tablets cannot support viruses, and I wasn’t sure where the link-clicking would lead me. These days, you never know.
One click led me to a page that offered three buttons: “Sign up Now,” “Download” and “Free Trial.” Or something like that. I clicked on the download button, since I wanted to see if my book came up. That click led me to another page that told me if I filled in the blanks, I could receive a free shopping trip at JC Penney. The ads along the right side of the site were Russian. Hmmmmm…. At the bottom, there was a JC Penney disclaimer that said Penney was not affiliated with the site. I filled in the first blank, asking for my name. This led me to another page, where the blank asked my age. I lied and clicked. The next page asked me how many times I shopped per week. I laughed out loud while clicking on “10 plus times per week.” This led me to another page asking for my email address. I put in an old one that I hardly ever use, and the site told me that was incorrect and would not let me move forward. Well, that’s where I planned to stop anyway. I am pretty sure the following pages would ask about my credit card number, my bank account, my social security number…
Look. I am pretty sure this is not a place that actually gives away free PDF’s of my books. I am pretty sure it is a phishing scam where the final page suddenly informs you your computer has been compromised, or simply takes your personal information for their email lists, or credit cards, or whatever.
Do they actually have PDF files of my books? I cannot answer that question. On the first page they show that GAGA was given over 4,000 5-star reviews. Wow. Really? Well, if that were true, I guess I’d be thrilled that so many people love the book, even if they had received it for free.
If the site is real, and if I’d gone further and discovered that the book was being given away for free, what would I do?
Honestly, I have no idea. The Internet is an entity in and of itself. It is like a machine. It does not have a moral compass.
What did I learn? I have become much more diligent as the gatekeeper of my work. And you should, too. I now get Google alerts every time my name, or my books, or the word Free attached to my books enters the Google stream. These alerts come into my Gmail box, so I will receive them as soon as they occur. IF they occur. And hopefully they won’t.
Before I sign off, I must add this tidbit, not to upset you or make you paranoid, but to remind you that knowledge is power: Recently, I have stumbled across a few articles about authors whose works were not only taken, but were re-titled, re-authored, and uploaded to Amazon. Very very scary. To work so freaking hard, and then have someone steal and reap the benefits of our hard work. It is shameful and disgusting. Don’t even get me started on what I would do to the person who has the gall to absorb another’s work as their own.
Let’s keep an eye on one another. We writers need to stick together. If you see something fishy (or, phishy) tell the author. If you feel your work has been plagiarized or stolen outright, do something about it. Tell Google. Tell Youtube. Tell Amazon. Tell all of your Facebook and Twitter friends. Tell the whole freaking world. Book aggregates can only do so much to protect your work. It is up to you to be the overlord because no one will ever love your work the way you do.
I’d love comments on this one if you have the time…