With World Intellectual Property Day around the corner (26th of April), MUSO had a chance to sit down and talk to Rhonda Rees, current Publicist of the Year from the Bulldog Reporter and Gold First Place honour for her PR awareness campaign on online book piracy. To celebrate World Intellectual Property Day, she has started the “Check Your Books” Campaign encouraging authors to find their books online in order to become aware of the damage of online piracy. This cause is personal to her after she found her book, ‘Profit and Prosper with Public Relations: Insider Secrets to Make You a Success,’ readily and illegally available online. She wants to change this and is ready to spread the word – authors check your books.
Why did you start the “Check your books” Campaign? What inspired you to do so?
I have been a crusader for online book piracy awareness for close to two years now and realized that something more was needed in regards to helping authors and publishers understand this massive problem, and become extra knowledgeable about it. During the course of my public relations campaign to get the word out, the idea of having people “check their books” came in a flash of inspiration. I then undertook further research and realized that World Book and Copyright Day, sponsored by UNESCO on April 23 and World Intellectual Property Day on the 26th, was the perfect tie-in.
You wrote a book (“Profit and Prosper with Public Relations”) so I can imagine online piracy is an important and personal issue for you. Could you elaborate further? What has been your experience with online piracy?
I had produced my PR book, Profit and Prosper with Public Relations®: Insider Secrets to Make You a Success, and it was copyrighted, trademarked and registered in the US. It had won some industry honours, and I was in the midst of promoting it, when I decided to run Google searches to see how sales were doing online. To my shock, surprise and horror – my book along with hundreds of others was being offered for free without my knowledge or permission. One website mentioned that it had close to 600 downloads, with another one stating 1,500. There were still more to come.
You are involved with several publishing associations (IBPA, SPAWN, IBPPG and BPSC). How do these associations help independent authors?
As a public relations specialist, and self-published author I have been involved with a number of organizations such as IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association), SPAWN (Small Publishers Artists and Writers Network), BPSC (Book Publicists of Southern California) and IBPPG (Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group). They are very pro-active in helping independent authors. Some of them hold industry meetings, publish magazines, newsletters, blogs, and also offer resources, networking, mentoring, and awards program opportunities.
Piracy is a major problem for the publishing industry – an estimated $80-$100 million dollars worth of U.S book publishing revenue is lost to online theft each year. What are your thoughts on this problem?
Yes, I definitely feel that online book piracy is a major problem for the publishing industry. Through the course of my PR awareness crusade, I’ve discovered that this situation is far more prevalent than most people realize. According to the Association of American Publishers, the publishing industry as a whole has lost $80 to $100 million dollars to online piracy annually. From 2009 to 2013, the number of e-book Internet piracy alerts that the Authors Guild of America received from their membership had increased by 300%. In 2014, that number doubled. During 2016, these numbers are expected to go even higher.
A 2015 survey conducted by the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO), states that book piracy is half the rate of copyright theft in the film and music industries, but this still means that authors and publishers have to work extra hard to make sure that this type of illegal activity doesn’t take away from their legitimate sales. Copyright infringement is having an impact on the average person in a very big way. It’s not just the famous recording artists or celebrities that are being ripped off anymore.
Why do you think authors aren’t aware of the damages of online piracy? What more could be done to make people aware of these damages? How would you go about it?
In terms of damages, yes, most authors are not aware, but this isn’t necessarily their fault. I find that most people don’t have the time or the inclination to run regular Google or Bing searches on their own books. But if they do, they can plug in the name of their book or books, the authors’ name and the words ‘free downloads’ to see what pops up. I’m sure that many of them will be very surprised. Another problem is that teachers or bloggers may assume that they are free to give away copies of books for educational purposes. One question that may be on people’s minds is why do the pirate sites offer books for free? What’s in it for them?
The simple answer is that frequently, one of these unscrupulous websites will want to collect data from you, so when you go to download the book, you will have to provide your personal details. Sometimes you have to give them your credit card information since after a free trial, for example, there might be a monthly fee. You may be asked to look at ads, take a survey, or download something.
Another reason is that once you do so – they may give you the “gift” of malware, or a computer virus, and can engage in IP spoofing, making you believe that you are being directed to one website when you are actually being sent somewhere else. Lastly, they may use your book or others as a teaser, so that you will pay them to get their products – and then receive your free books.
As someone with such a strong PR background, do you think more could be done to get the PR industry involved with piracy?
Well, actually I had entered some PR contests to help spread awareness about online book piracy, and I’m happy to say that I won the Publicist of the Year Gold Award from the Bulldog Reporter publication in their Stars of PR competition. Also, I was an IRWIN (Industry Recognition of Writers in the News) award-winner Publicist of the Year from the Book Publicists of Southern California organization. These recognitions have certainly been very important in helping me to raise awareness.
Also, I’ve continued to send out press releases to the media, even tying in the Sony Pictures hacking scandal to help make authors, publishers and the public more aware. My recent “Check your Books” PR campaign coinciding with World Book and Copyright Day on April 23, is another example. In addition, I have also lent my voice by making speeches, writing feature articles, and by appearing on TV and radio podcasts, YouTube videos and on blogs.
In your opinion, what would be the best way to stop online piracy?
This is a tough question and one that doesn’t have any easy answers. My ultimate goal is to open up a dialogue between authors and publishers, law enforcement, policymakers, organizations and the public. As an example, after I ran a Whois Search on each unscrupulous website offering my book for free, I was also able to locate the web hosting Company and send them a DMCA takedown notice. Unfortunately, they were not required to let me know who their client was. As both the author and publisher of my book, the laws seem to protect web hosting companies from divulging this information, which is very frustrating. This is truly a crime that doesn’t leave any fingerprints. Thankfully, I have been in touch with companies and organizations that are very pro-active in wanting to put a stop to online piracy.
Some examples include The Global IP Center, a division of the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC., IP Watchdog.com., The Counterfeit Report Company, The Piracy Trace business, The Authors Guild of America, MUSO and the Copyright Alliance. It is my hope that in putting our heads together, something important can be done. I have also formed a grassroots movement of authors to see about taking our concerns all the way to Congress if need be. Should any of your readers be interested, they can contact me through my website.
To find out more about MUSO’s suite of piracy solutions, please visit Products.