A few weeks ago I was on Facebook and I noticed a company had put an advert up on the Facebook page called Maun Bulletin Board. The person said that they had lots of ebooks from many international writers (they listed some) and that if people wanted some of the titles, he would copy the books onto a memory stick for them.
I assumed money would exchange hands, but if it did or not doesn’t matter. No one, until I saw it, seemed to have any problem with the post, it even had a few likes. But I had a problem and I made it known. Theft is theft and this was theft. The person who posted that advert is a criminal. There’s no ambiguity here: those writers earn royalties on each and every one of their books sold, both print books and ebooks. But this person was taking copyrighted material and selling it as if he’d been licenced to do so. That’s illegal. It’s irrelevant if the person was selling the pirated ebooks or not, they were copying copyrighted material and that is illegal.
We really need to change our mentality in this country around copyright or the arts will never thrive. We need stricter laws and enforcement. In the USA for example, the law provides for penalties from $2 to $150,000, including all legal fees, the infringer also has to pay the actual dollar amount earned on the infringement, and the infringer can serve jail time.
You are financially liable for using copyrighted material (this includes photos) even if you did it by accident or you thought it was copyright free and also even if you use something and link it back to the original place where you found it on the internet. This is very common for photos and short stories. I’ve had entire stories posted on other people’s sites, and when I complained, they said I had no case because they left a link back to the spot where they found my story. They were wrong, I did have a case.
In the UK, copyright infringement includes:
copying the work in any way
issuing copies of the work to the public
renting or lending copies of the work to the public
performing, showing or playing the work in public
broadcasting the work or other communication to the public by electronic transmission
making an adaptation of the work.
If you are found to be in violation you can face a fine of up to £50,000 and a prison term of up to six months.
Writers must also be fully aware of copyright law. They can run afoul of it too. I’ve heard writers say: “She stole my idea!” Nope. Keep in mind ideas cannot be copyrighted, neither can titles. Writers sometimes like to quote excerpts of songs or poems or other books in their own work. There’s the idea that using 10% of the original work, even if copyrighted, is okay because it falls under ‘fair use’. But this may not be true; much will depend on the way the copyrighted material is used. It’s best to get permission. I know in my book, Signed, Hopelessly in Love, I used an excerpt of a Lebo Mashile poem and we needed to ask her permission even though it was only a few lines.
Many people believe that copyright is difficult to enforce but actually cases are often successful since they’re prosecuted under civil law as compared to criminal law. In a civil court the plaintiff only needs to show that their copyright was violated and that they are the holder of the copyright. The burden of proof is much less than in a criminal trial. Nowadays, there are lawyers who work on behalf of photographers, for example, who search the internet for infringement of their clients’ copyrights and then issue letters of demand to the thieves. So think carefully about that photo or story or article you’re about to use, you might end up owing someone a lot of money.