Monday, 30 June 2014

How to Send a Short Fiction DMCA Takedown Notice

Over my last couple of posts I've being discussing my own experience of trying to get my copyrighted work, in this case a short story, removed from an infringing site ...which were a whole lot of time-consuming and messy to say the least.  It would be remiss, though, not to share how I actually went about sending a DMCA Takedown Notice, because I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one in this industry who could do with that knowledge.

Lest I do something awfully similar to what I've just spent two posts grumbling about, I should state clearly that I got all of this information from attorney Carolyn E. Wright's excellent and thorough post on the topic here.  But Carolyn talks specifically about photography, and I figure the following will save fellow writers the slight effort of adapting her form letter to cover written fiction.

First up, then, you should work out who hosts the website in question; you can find this through a service such as Domain Tools or  Once you know who to contact you then need to send them some legalese letting them know that copyright law is being broken on their watch and that you expect them to do something about it.  Below is the e-mail I sent; just change the parts in bold and you're away.  This assumes you've already contacted the website's owner and gone through the process of asking them to remove your work ... for why this absolutely the right thing to do go read the two posts I linked to at the top there.

Good luck!

To: [E-mail Address of ISP Host]

Re: Copyright Claim

To the ISP Hosting Company: 

I am the copyright owner of the work of short fiction being infringed at: [].
This work is being used without my permission and in breach of copyright.  I have asked
the website's owner to remove my work from their website and they have failed to do so.  

This letter is official notification under the provisions of Section 512(c) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) to effect removal of the above-reported infringements. I request that you immediately issue a cancellation message as specified in RFC 1036 for the specified postings and prevent the infringer, who is identified by its Web address, from posting the infringing work to your servers in the future. Please be advised that law requires you, as a service provider, to “expeditiously remove or disable access to” the infringing work upon receiving this notice. Noncompliance may result in a loss of immunity for liability under the DMCA.

I have a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of here is not authorized by myself as the copyright holder, or the law. The information provided here is accurate to the best of my knowledge. I swear under penalty of perjury that I am the copyright holder.

Please can you contact me at [] with a prompt response indicating the actions you have taken to resolve this matter.



Sunday, 29 June 2014

Adventures in Copyright Infringement, Part 2

[For the first part of this post, see here.]

One of my resolutions when I quit my day job at the end of last year was to start fighting my corner a little harder.

In part one of this post, for those too busy piloting jumbo jets or wrestling tigers to go back and read it, I talked about how I'd stumbled upon one of my stories on a web magazine I'd never sent it to, had asked the editor in question to take it down and, when they tried but failed miserably to do so and didn't reply to my e-mail explaining that this was what had happened, decided to give up on the whole sorry business and just live my goddamn life.

Six months later I realised that this wasn't fighting my corner.

To put that arbitrary-seeming decision in perspective, I found myself in a position where the copyright of that particular story was suddenly significant again, and - I'm being honest here - where I was itching to see if there was anything I could actually do about someone ripping off my work.  And, being now a full time writer, I had both the time and the motivation to see the thing through to its bitter, bloody end.

All of that put together made me think that rather than get in touch with the editor yet again, (this would, after all, be my fifth e-mail), I'd go down the more dramatic route of a DMCA Takedown Notice.  After all, it was pretty clear that they didn't entirely understand either copyright or how to take pages off their own website.  But - and still being really honest, and maybe just a little bit like a five year old with an atom bomb - I also really wanted to see what would happen if I sent a DMCA Takedown Notice.

What I'm saying is, I possibly didn't think through all the ramifications of what I was doing.

At any rate, things got off to a disappointing start.  The company I'd pegged as being  the web host in question wrote back to say it wasn't them at all and pointed me elsewhere.  The company they'd identified didn't have a dedicated e-mail address for such things like the first one had so I had to contact their sales team instead, and was already feeling disillusioned with the whole endeavor.  But they did get back to me too, albeit not so quickly, and promised to look into the matter.

After that nothing happened for a few days, and the matter slipped my mind, mostly because by then I'd gone away on holiday.  It was perhaps a week from when I'd last heard anything that I got a somewhat panicked and accusatory e-mail from the editor, asking why on earth I'd raised a DMCA Takedown Notice against him and told his hosting company he'd failed to respond to multiple requests to take my work down when the matter had been settled months ago?  Now the hosting company had taken not only the website in question offline but all of his other websites too.  My behaviour, he suggested, was akin to opening a door with a hand grenade.

At this point I felt horribly guilty.  In so much as I'd considered it, I'd assumed the hosting company would just delete the offending content (I'd given them the precise URL) and maybe do a bit of minor wrist slapping.  What had actually happened was far beyond anything I'd intended.

On the other hand, I quickly reasoned, I had asked four times for my story to be taken down.  I wrote back explaining this, copying the hosting company in, and said that so for as I was concerned there'd been no malicious intent and that as long as my content vanished from the site that was the matter settled.  The editor wrote again, still grumbling, and then almost immediately after sent a somewhat more apologetic e-mail in which he admitted that the story had indeed been left up and that he'd finally checked and confirmed I wasn't the one who'd sent it to him in the first place.  He contacted the web designer who managed his site, managed to get the change made within the twenty-four hour slot his host allowed him, and that - thankfully! - was the end of the matter.

But it could have gone a lot worse.  And if I had it all to do again I'd certainly have done things differently.  That said, then, my conclusions are a) that DMCA Takedown Notices do indeed seem to work, and are taken very seriously indeed, at least by legitimate web hosting providers, and that b) this means that, like any other potentially dangerous thing that can wreak havoc in someone's life, they should be used with care.

Put it this way ... if I ever go down that route again it will be because I think someone's maliciously abusing my copyright, and not because it's a wet Tuesday and I can't be bothered to write another e-mail.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Adventures in Copyright Infringement, Part 1

There aren't many careers these days where people can rob you so casually, so effortlessly or so unapologetically as fiction writing.

To put that in perspective, the first pirated e-book copy of my first novel Giant Thief went live on the evening of the day it was released.  (I know this because I got an e-mail from the the Google alert I'd set up while I was drinking celebratory champers with Lee and Marco from Angry Robot.  Cheers, pirates.)  Now I'm not going to get into the piracy debate here, partly because it's not what I want to talk about and partly because if you happen to be pro-piracy and ever find yourself in a position where your livelihood depends on people having the decency to not steal your work then I'm confident you'll come round to my way of thinking pretty quickly.  No, this post and it's sequel - because, be warned, this is a long story I'm about to tell here! - is about one particular incident, and I'm telling it for educational purposes only.

The lesson is: writers are not powerless to defend their work.  And also, if you're a writer then yes you have powers but use those powers carefully, and for good rather than evil, lest the whole thing explode in your face.

Late last year I stumbled across one of my stories on the internet.  It was one I'd sold to a good market a few years before - actually, I don't know why I'm being coy here, it was The Desert Cold in Flash Fiction Online - and the place I'd found it was certainly not the one I'd sold it to.  Oddly, it was accompanied by the bio I'd used back then, which was some years out of date, and more worryingly the webpage attributed copyright to the site rather than me and had buttons encouraging readers to share my story through a variety of online routes.

I wrote a polite e-mail to the publisher asking that they either take the story down or pay me appropriate for using it.  The publisher wrote back and said that it was okay because another page on their site gave the contradictory information that copyright remained with the author and that when I'd submitted my story I'd chosen to waive the option of payment.

I wrote back and explained that I hadn't submitted my story and explained how and where it had originally been published, explained too that the bio was desperately out of date, explained that the copyright notices were at best contradictory and stated that (having checked their pay rates and found them to be a princely sum of $3 a story) I'd rather have my copyright not being infringed than be paid.

When I week and a half later I hadn't had an answer, I wrote again.  The publisher wrote back apologizing and said that they'd removed my story.  I checked and all they'd done was take the link off their home page, leaving the page with my work on untouched.  I wrote back explaining this.

This time I didn't get an answer, and just couldn't be bothered at the time to press any further.  I'd written four e-mails, I  dislike writing e-mails at the best of times, and writing e-mails to people who are pirating my work and claiming my copyright and don't understand piracy, copyright or how to take things off their own website is just a whole lot of a slog when you have better things to do.

I mention this only as partial justification for what I did next ... which we'll cover in part 2, when the kid gloves come off, doors are opened with hand grenades and lessons are learned, not all of them for the better.

Monday, 16 June 2014

No Rest For the Death God's Chosen

No one warns you of this, but sometimes there's a staggering amount of patience involved in selling short fiction.  I say this from bitter experience - and also, I guess, lots of not-bitter experience, because that patience does tend to get rewarded if you're only patient enough.

But I'm talking patience epochs here.

Case in point: No Rest For the WickedNo Rest was the result of two decisions that subsequently turned out to be pretty lousy: writing a sequel to a story I hadn't yet sold and then, when I couldn't sell either separately, combining them into one really long story.  Don't get me wrong, I liked the results, but the results also happened to come to 9000+ words, and a rather crazy, episodic 9000+ words at that.

So I was immensely pleased when I finally managed to sell it way back in 2009, less so when the editor failed to publish it or pay me or answer my e-mails asking when he might do either of those things ... the moral apparently being to never trust anyone calling themselves Santa.

Then ... well, time passed.  Rejections piled up.  Years passed.  Four of them.  See what I mean about patience?

So with all that you can imagine how pleased I was when James Tallett's Deepwood Publishing put out a call for stories about necromancers - here I'm assuming you know that No Rest For the Wicked is a story about a necromancer, which you didn't because I forgot to mention it but you do now -  and how much more pleased I was when it got accepted.  And how much more pleased than that when it actually came out, and had that lovely cover up there.

I haven't have a chance to more than flick through Death God's Chosen yet, but it looks like plenty of fun, with a nice old-school Sword and Sorcery vibe to it.  No Rest For the Wicked definitely falls into that category, though it's particularly light-hearted, more Leiber than Howard.  It's perhaps a bit of a prototype for Giant Thief, in fact, and also the single longest thing I've had published outside of novels.  If any of that sounds up your alley then you can pick up an e-book copy from Barnes and Noble, Kobo or Amazon.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

To End All Wars: The End of the Beginning

There was something strangely anticlimactic about finishing To End All Wars.

A week (and a wonderfully relaxing week off in the Cotswolds) on, I'm still not sure whether that should have been the case.  It's hard to say that finishing your fifth full novel*, or for that matter your first science fiction novel, or even your first heavily researched historical novel, should be anything other than climatic.  You might even expect it to be one of the most climatic things you could hope to do.

But research aside, it took me five mostly quite pleasant months to write, and when you're used to novel writing being a more traumatic, gut-wrenching experience, that's just very hard to get your head around.  To put it in perspective, the first draft of Giant Thief took me over two years, and while the first drafts of Crown Thief and Prince Thief took a mere six months each, they were six months of pain and borderline terror and thinking I'd never, ever make my deadline - whereas TEAW, by comparison, was pretty much a breeze.  Except for a slight hiccup with the final chapter, which necessitated a last minute wave of extra research, (and let's face it, final chapters aren't supposed to come easily), I never strayed far from the timescale I set down at the start of the year, and even ended up finishing a day early.

It also might just be the best novel I've written.  I'm pretty sure it is.  There are some issues, there are always issues, but I'm pleased with it, and given that To End All Wars was a whole order of magnitude more ambitious than anything I've tried before, that's more than I had any right to expect.  I'm hopeful that, a couple of drafts down the road, it will be something exciting, and also something unique.  When your influences range from The Prisoner to Rogue Male to Regeneration, surely the end result has to be a little unique?

So anticlimactic, it turns out, may not be such a bad thing after all.  If anticlimactic means minimal stress, no last-minute panicking and things working out about how you'd hoped they would then, hey, I'm happy if everything I do from hereon is this much of an anticlimax.

And now I realise, belatedly, that I've done yet another To End All Wars post without talking even slightly about what it's actually about.  Well, maybe next time, when I finish the second draft come November time.  And maybe that time I'll finally break out the champagne too.

* Or possibly fourth, depending where you place War For Funland, currently being radically overhauled as The Novel Formerly Known as War For Funland.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Analysing The Lord of Feathers

Recently I updated the freebie story on my website.  It's traditionally been a slight source of woe, in that I obviously wanted something there that didn't make me look rubbish, but it seemed like cheating to use a story already available somewhere else and I didn't want to put anything up that might potentially make me money either because, hey, I need money.  As a compromise I've finally settled on a story called The Lord of Feathers, which though old, was one of the first pieces where I really felt like I'd got things more right than wrong.  It originally appeared in the now-defunct Reflection's Edge, although the version I've put up has been heavily edited (and hopefully improved) from that one.  

What I couldn't edit, however, was the heart of the thing - and coming back to it, I couldn't but wonder what had been going on in my head as I wrote it all those many years ago.*  Now traditionally I don't talk too much here about what my work is about, perhaps because traditionally I've never been entirely sure myself.  But this being a special occasion, and a story I'm so divorced from in time that I probably don't understand it much better than anyone else, I thought I might bend that rule a little.  In fact, what I thought we could do, in a radical departure from usual Writing on the Moon service, is that you go away and read The Lord of Feathers and then come back here and I'll try and make some sense out of it for you.  

Wild, huh?  It's like interactive blogging or something.  In fact, to make it that bit more creepy, why not pretend I'm hiding in your closet while we do this?  Hell yeah!  Okay, here goes...

 Well my first thought - and I'm not sure I should be admitting this - was that, holy crap, that's a bit misogynistic.  Female protagonist acts like an idiot for five thousand words and then gets killed for it.  That's just harsh.

But let's not jump to conclusions here, especially not ones that make me look really bad.  Because the second thing that strikes me is that this is very clearly a love story - as in a story about love, rather than the more traditional story in which two people meet and fall head over heels for each other, because clearly, that doesn't happen at all.**  And thinking back to the time when I wrote it, The Lord of Feathers strikes me as a particularly bitter, angsty take on love: you give up everything for someone, try your best to please them and what happens?  You end up with your heart ripped out in the snow.

So does that make it not sexist?  I'm not entirely sure.  I do find myself wondering, though - and this is a test I often set myself these days - what would happen if the gender roles were reversed.  Could it still function?  My own feeling is that it could, and I have some evidence for this: I actually wrote something a lot like that story.  Like I said, The Lord of Feathers was one of the first things I wrote that seemed somewhat successful, and for a while I thought about spinning it off into a book of connecting tales.  One of those, which I actually finished, featured the Lord of Seven Hills - briefly alluded to at the beginning of The Lord of Feathers - and ran in parallel, telling a similar (and equally cynical!) tale.

The thing is, Isabella's behaviour is stupid, there's no getting around that, but I think that it's at least stupid in a way that's in keeping with her character and background.  She starts out, after all, as a spoiled teenager, and her first act is to run away from home.  And digging a little deeper, it occurs to me that The Lord of Feathers is also - maybe even more so - about the trauma of stepping out of childhood into adulthood: about going away and finding a job and making your own decisions and paying the consequences, however terrible they may be.  (By this view, Isabella's parents curious willingness to let her go seems fractionally more reasonable.)

One last thought, and this is something I do vaguely remember thinking about when I wrote The Lord of Feathers: it's also very much a story about subjectivity.  Isabella's great failing is not so much that she behaves like a dumb, overprivileged teenager but that she assumes everyone else sees the world the way she does.  The Lord of Feathers must love her because she loves him; and why wouldn't Madeleine want to stay and live in crushing poverty just because Isabella thinks it's a good idea?  In this sense, the Isabella we end with is perhaps more sympathetic than the one we began with.  She's learned that love has to cut both ways, what it means to be an adult and that other people see the world in vastly different ways to herself.

If it's a shame that the price of all that knowledge is a horrible death then all I can say is, it took me a long time to realise that there are ways to end your story that aren't killing the protagonist.


So hey, that's my take.  But if anyone has another then I'd be intrigued to hear it; it's perfectly possible you understood The Lord of Feathers a whole lot better than I did.  Comments particularly welcome on this one...

* I feel like I'm making myself seem old now.  Look, it wasn't that long ago.  Put it this way, we still had mobile phones, and not those crazy eighties brick things either.

** Though there's a part of me that thinks that by the end, in his crazy psycho werewolf way, the Lord of Feathers is at least trying.