The first time I uploaded an ebook for sale, it sold inside a minute. My second title sold a copy within seconds – not long enough for anyone to read the blurb, much less a sample – and the penny dropped. Somewhere out there, before my baby drew breath, its bastard twin was being conceived – quite possibly rewritten to the highest standard of Bangladeshi English. I am the mafia Don Ranjeet and I am going to shoot you with Vishnu's curses and cannolis, another one thing. You dirty ratfink, is that vindaloo in your pants or are you just happy to see me?
Of course I'd heard of e-book piracy. What I couldn't have guessed was just how much piracy business is conducted through supposedly legitimate virtual worker websites like Elance and Odesk.
On any given day, the writing and translation jobs on these sites feature open calls for plagiarism; article spinners to conceal stolen content (often pointing to the websites from which the original content is to be taken) and contracts for blocks of ebooks to be rewritten to pass Copyscape (plagiarism detection software). Then there's the contracts for paid reviews of books, products and services.
There is an obsessive lot of readers who haunt the Amazon forums. They dedicate their lives to trying to 'nail' authors whose books feature obviously fake reviews, and once they smell a rat, they go after it with all the glee of a terrier, hounding Amazon until the fake reviews are removed.
They have a point. Consumers are, after all, being misled. Though it's a long-held tradition; record companies are rumoured to manipulate the record charts by buying up their own product in quantity. Now the great democracy that is the internet allows those without the same resources to achieve the same goal – largely by exploiting the impoverished.
Legally, some of this falls into grey areas. A lot of it doesn't. Recently Elance ran a job ad calling for a contractor to 'scrape' content from three highly successful recipe sites. The ad was very specific, recipes and photos were to be 'scraped', then the recipe titles rebadged to avoid detection. The target sites were even named. All of this was blatantly spelled out.
The respondents to such jobs inevitably seem to be people from the poorest countries; usually
and India , and they are often expected to work for just dollars a day. Bangladesh
While I'm furious at having my work stolen, another part of me can't help but feel compassion for the people doing the rewriting, because we're both being exploited by the same pirates.
Elance, Odesk and their peers are no innocents in all of this. They earn a commission from these contracts and while their terms of service disqualify illegal activity, they continue to run and profit from the very same. That some manual checking of content takes place is demonstrated by the fact that Elance pulls ads which give insufficient detail – and yet, jobs to rework stolen content continue to run.
Internet piracy as an uncontrollable beast is a nonsense. Virtual worker websites could make a huge difference simply by observing their own terms of service. Inroads will never be made until they do.
Meanwhile, in the wee small hours, I'll lie awake wondering how my book looks now, if my Italian mob women are now dhal-swilling call centre workers who instead of whacking their husbands take revenge by putting meat in their vegetarian meals; who perhaps call each other sacred cows when they're pre-menstrual and declare, I've got news for you, Don Apu Mathahododlupon. That itch in your pants isn't chilli-revenge and I was never untouchable.
In my book, a favourite exchange takes place after one of my sassy women, Irish, is surrounded by mobsters who want to take her for the proverbial little ride to meet the Don. She refuses.
Mobster: "When the Don tells you to come, you come."
Irish: "Now there's the poorest excuse for fudging cunnilingus ever I heard."
Sometimes I lay awake at night and wonder how the Indian version sounds.