Monday, 6 April 2009


Whether published or not (yet!), all writers need to be aware of our rights and the threats to them. Like the basic copyright in your own written words and the enshrined right to earn from your talent and hard work.

There are way too many people out there who think that if they can get it for free, they should, and that they should be proud of having done so. Well, they shouldn't, because it's theft. And it's not trivial; it's dangerous and important, and has the potential materially to affect the future of literature in all its forms by disabling an author from being able to survive as an author.

Every time someone downloads or copies in any way the work of someone who has not given permission, that act of theft hinders the writer's ability to earn anything even remotely approaching a reasonable fee. And don't use the "but what about JK Rowling?" argument on me - this is a matter of principle and the vast majority of writers earn stupendously less. If you care about books at all, if you care about the future of writing and indeed reading, you have to care about the ability of talented authors to earn a living from that talent. And if as a writer you don't care enough, how can you expect readers to?

So, we all need to know what is going on with Scribd. There have been reports in many big newspapers in the last few days but one of the best ways to undertsand the issue is to watch this Sky news item. Peter Cox at Litopia has vehemently taken up the cudgels on our behalf.

I have a Facebook Group called "Fair Reading" - Fair Reading is a phrase I came up with to campaign amongst authors and readers for greater awareness of exactly what it means to deprive an author of rightful royalties. If you're on Facegroup, do go and join it, and contribute with your views. (If you're not on Facegroup, I think you won't be able to see it.)

What else can you do?
  • don't download or copy anything that you are not sure is there with the copyright-holder's permission
  • check that none of your own books is on Scribd without your / your publisher's permission
  • ask your publishers if they are checking for illegal use - Scribd will remove anything if you can show it's not meant to be there
  • spread the word about the need for total respect for copyright and royalties
If we don't act now, at a time when ebooks and digital downloads are gaining momentum and while no one has properly dealt with the digital possibilities of abuse, we will lose any chance of dealing with the pernicious "the written word should be free" mentality. This has the potential to destroy everything that makes books powerful, extraordinary and essential. (And by books, I don't just mean the ones printed on paper, that we curl up with - I include ebooks, because I've got nothing against any form of book as long as the author gets properly paid for it.)

But if we allow the "written word should be free" thing to win, then it won't matter whether you write well or not: frankly, you might as well give your dog a computer.

Don't let anyone steal your work. You can give it away if you want to and if you have good reason - after all, blogging is free - but it has to be your choice. Not the choice of some website owner who thinks that rampaging through other people's work and pillaging it is any kind of road to glory or progress.

I've said my piece. Well, I probably haven't finished yet but it's a start. Now, I'm off to do some writing - and keep your hands off, please.


morphine-moniza said...

I could never understand the appeal of pirated books. They can't be anywhere near as nice to read as an actual book. I joined the group!

Helena Halme said...

A travel agency quoted my blog on their site without even TELLING me. I feel a bit silly but don't know what to do. I'll join the facebook group now.

Nicola Morgan said...

Hi Helena - there are contexts within which anyone can quote from your work, and other contexts in which they should get permission. I don't know the situation in your case, and also it's slightly different between eg the US and UK, but it would be a good idea to put a message on your blog (as Jane Smith does on How Publishing really Works). I am nearly always happy for people to quote me at length as long as they credit me properly (so I gain too) and as long as they're not using my content to make money for themselves, in which case I ask for a modest fee (and have always got it!). If you are unhappy with the use being made of your work, contact the travel agency and explain. On the other hand, you might be quite happy about the publicity - it's entirely up to you. And that's the point really - that the author should be in control. In fact "Authors in Control" has been the theme of the Society of Authors in Scotland while I've been chair!

Nicola Morgan said...

I am afraid I had to remove someone's comment because it included a derogatory remark about someone else, which is not in the spirit of this blog. I tried to contact the writer to explain but the email address didn't work.

Jane Smith said...

Nicola, I hate it when I get nasty comments on my blog: eugh. And they're usually so very badly written, too.

Helena, if you're in the USA then do ask what to do on Absolute Write--you'll be given instructions on how to file a takedown notice on the whole website if your work isn't taken down.

And Nicola, it's a good job I've had nothing to do with your reign over the Scottish SoA, as then the slogan would have to have been "authors out of control". Pah.

Nicola Morgan said...

Oh, and I've had to enable comment moderation, which is a total pain, because I don't have time or desire to moderate you when almost all of you are so unfailingly decent and sensible, so please don't be surprised when your comment doesn't appear immediately. This blog, as you all know, is about increasing understanding and developing informed writers. My being a crabbit old bat is totally irrelevant and only a front. I am an softy, really. Except when it comes to people stealing my work, or your work, or being ignorant.

Helena Halme said...

Thank you Nicola and Jane for your advice. I'm in the UK and am quite happy about being quoted, even though they are using my words in a mareking context and therefore will make money in the long run. However, this is small beer, it was just a surprise to find my name being used! I guess I should be flattered. And I guess I am. It was the general principle of who owns 'blogged words' that I was interested in. So many thanks again.

Nicola Morgan said...

Hi again Helena - you, the blogger, own your own blogged words. Thing is, you can only charge someone for using them if the person thinks they're worth paying for. You own them but they only have a market value if the market values them. The other thing is, though, that the nature of blogging is expression, and in this case when we say "free expression" we usually mean it in both senses of the word "free"! Yes, you should be flattered, and yes being quoted is likely to do you more good than anything, but always remember that it is your choice as to who is allowed to use your written words.

BuffySquirrel said...

Helena, if they're making money off your work, you should get paid. Simple as that :).

J. David Simons said...

Another piece of advice in this arena - if you are a published writer, it's also worth registering with the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), which is the collecting rights management society for writers. I'm not sure I understand exactly how it works but it collects royalty payments worldwide from people paying to copy/photocopy works thereby creating a common pool from which it distributes to members. I've already received £60 from them (less a one-off membership fee of around £25) and I'm still not sure why as I only registered a couple of months ago and my novel isn't exactly a best seller. They pay out twice a year so why look a gift horse in the mouth. J. David Simons

Nicola Morgan said...

David - I'm really glad you mentioned that. ALCS is fantastic and is responsible for boosting my annual income enormously because of some home learning workbooks which I did on a fee-only basis some years ago. I am eternally grateful to the schools and other organisations which pay their photocopying license fee.

Like you, David, I am mystified as to how it works but it certainly does. I am sorry but i don't know the US or other quivalent - if anyone does, please add a comment.

If you are a member of the Society of Authors, you are automatically a member of ALCS, so do NOT have to pay an extra fee. HOWEVER, you DO have to register your contact and bank details AND (importantly) register each of your books (and magazine articles) in order for them to direct payment to you. It is hugely worth spending some time on.

Go to to find out more.

Jane Smith said...

Nicola, I agree with everything you've written here. Your anonymous commenter has either not actually thought about this at all, or has a hidden agenda here. And neither of those options allow her to come out of this well, I'm afraid.

Jesse Owen said...

I didn't even know websites like Scribd existed, personally I'd rather have a paperback / hardback version of a book in my hand to read and flip through.

I have joined the Facebook group.