Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An Exchange With A Pirate

The following three emails were exchanged yesterday between me and a pseudonymous person who has posted my story "Computer Virus" on a website called VX Heavens. I offer them here without additional comment -- but with a request for other viewpoints.

Dear VX Heavens--
You have posted my story "Computer Virus," in its entirety, without my permission. Please remove it from your site immediately.
Nancy Kress

Dear Nancy Kress,
First of all I wish to say that I am heartily sorry that I (unintentionally)offended you. But as much as I dislike it I would still see no reasons why should I fulfill your requirement. It seems that as an author you prefer that people do not take your work without asking for permission, or that you have the natural right to control how to distribute your work, or to protect your copyright, and all that sounds great in the real world, but not for the geek like me hiding in the net behind pseudonym. I don't think that I am an important person, but it is ridiculous to try to force the virus writers (it is unlawful in many jurisdictions) to respect the copyright and recognize the law or the authority. Privately, I think that the freely available full text will serve you well as an advertisement at no cost. But I am afraid that I am overtaxing your patience. Just one question. Does the dissemination of the full text of your story affects you personally? Why? If so I will take that page down.

Dear herm1t.vx,
It's difficult to answer you because you have already listed my arguments and then unilaterally devalued them. Yes, I do think I have a right to control the distribution of my work. Yes, I do prefer people not appropriate my efforts without my permission. And yes, posting my story on your site is illegal.
You ask: "Does the dissemination of the full text of your story affects you personally? Why?" It affects me in two ways. First, I am a full-time free-lance writer. Writing and selling my work is how I make my living. When you -- not I -- make the decision to give away my work for free, you deprive me of income (however small) from selling that story to, say, Fictionwise or Kindle. But more important to me, you affect me by devaluing my efforts. You say that my work belongs to you, and you have a right to it without any compensation to me, and whether I like it or not. The term for that use of another's efforts is slavery.
What I think should consider is how your posting of my story affects YOU. It turns you into both exploiter and thief. Is that how you wish to think of yourself?
I could pursue this legally, but you are counting on the fact that I won't. You are probably correct. It would cost me time and trouble, both of which I'd rather expend on my own writing (although I may alert the Science Fiction Writers of America to the situation). My story is a good one. I don't think your degree of respect for it matches the quality of what you are stealing. Nor, in my opinion, does your character.
Nancy Kress


Helen said...


You've got to be kidding me. I'm appalled at the blatant brazenness. I have to admit, I'd no idea.

Gives me pause as an aspiring writer to post "free" stories (I'm well aware of the controversy there/sfwa and otherwise).

Is there some collective punitive community (writers, fans, publishing) action we can do to this person, similar to a denial of service attack, without going rogue ourselves?! I'd love to follow how this turns out.

(Do you do regular google pirate patrol? And how many of us should?)

Good luck on this Nancy!

Jonathan Sherwood said...

That's just pathetic. There are plenty of arguments to suggest that this is the way the distribution of media is heading, but to act like such a jerk when you receive a personal plea from the author is just... well, pathetic.

cd said...

I bet he doesn't even have an eye patch.

Frank Böhmert said...

Wow, your patience is gigantic.

My second email would have been: Take. It. Down.

TheOFloinn said...

Reminds me of some of the defenses of scribd when they were posting texts without permission -- and then managed to put the authors' organization on the defensive with high-flown rhetoric about information wanting to be free and that some authors actually had given their permission.

dean said...

As infuriating as it is, I think it best to just grin and bear it. The guy knows that you have no recourse, no way to enforce the law.

In a way, it's like fanfic: if you're popular enough and good enough to be fanficced or pirated, it's a good thing. It means you're doing something right.

If that isn't enough to ease the pain of piracy, perhaps Cory Doctorow's belief that free books = more sales will help.

I can only hope that one day I'm big enough to be pirated.

Phy said...

Nancy, I own some of your books (both fiction and non-fiction) and am proud that I contributed to your livlihood and continuing craft. You handled the exchange very well.

Mike, the Scribd that you slam has moved on and did work with SFWA to improve their policies and their system. You might consider moving on as well.

Andrew said...


If you really want to make headway with this guy, I'd suggest trying his terms (since you have little choice).

Tactically, your invocation of slavery was a mistake. It's hyperbolic and frankly untrue. It makes it easier to devalue by association the good points you have.

Calling a virus writer a thief and an exploiter probably isn't effective either. Those guys labor for the technical challenge, and for the cred they receive. Maybe rephrasing your points in a similarly solipsistic viewpoint would gain sympathy? He seems more reasonable than the average pirate...

Mary Robinette Kowal said...

There are a couple of things you can do. 1) Send a formal DMCA notice.

2) Notify his provider, which you can find via http://whois.domaintools.com/ Many providers will remove the infringing post for you. You might also need to send them a DMCA.

If you need help, drop me an email.

Ken Schneyer said...

MRK is right about the DMCA notice. You find the ISP who sponsors the VX Heavens site and send roughly the following notice, including an electronic or personal signature, "I am Nancy Kress, owner of the copyright of the story 'Computer Virus.' That story, without my permission, has appeared at the following URL. Per the Digitial Millennium Copyright Act, I hereby demand that you remove this content, or block access to it, immediately."

That's the gist, but you can get specific wording from lots of form books. If the ISP does not comply quickly to the request, it loses its safe harbor and becomes liable as a contributory infringer -- and then it becomes financially worthwhile for you to pursue the matter; there are statutory damages.

Truthfully, if I had my way, copyright would be a more limited right than it is. But given that it's there, this fellow really is asking for it.

Robert Gus Gissing said...

wow...he could have asked first if he could have posted your story...and then with your permission done something creative but instead just puts up your work. As if you need extra publicity and that this person could provide it. shish!!

See you at Eriecon!

Nancy Kress said...

Tom Dean, who first alerted me to this problem but who is for some reason having trouble getting onto Blogger, asked me to post this note (below). Meanwhile, thank you all for your advice; I will send out DMCA notices today. The pirate has not responded to the last email I sent directly to him.

Dear Nancy,
Oh, I have opened up a can of worms here, haven't I? When I informed you of this situation, I didn't think to tell you this:
this website has additional stories posted, dare I say without permission, including whole novels by William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, John Brunner, Gregory Benford, etc. My advice would be to contact both Gibson and Stephenson, get their agents and publishers involved, and see how long this widdle boy's courage holds up...
Best Regards,
Tom Dean