Somebody is illegally advertising non-existent pirate copies of my books

I discovered a web page last month alleging that my book Guns and Utu (Penguin 2011) was available for free PDF download from a company named Playster.

See that print copy? That's the only edition of 'Guns and Utu'. The end.
See that print copy? Apart from a brief sortie into Nook, that’s the only edition of ‘Guns and Utu’. The end.

According to the page I found, some 2048 copies had reportedly been downloaded in the last month. This was odd: I hold the copyrights and publishing license. Neither Penguin Random House, nor I, have ever licensed it to a free download service.

What’s more, the book was briefly issued by Penguin in DRM-protected Kobo format – now withdrawn – but has otherwise only been available as the original Penguin print edition. There has never been a ‘PDF’ edition, and the book has never been free, anywhere.

The next word is ‘piracy’, although the only way anybody could pirate Guns and Utu as PDF would be to scan the hard copy.

A search led me to bulletin boards wondering whether Playster was legitimate, including complaints from people who had signed up on promise of Book X or Y, only to find it wasn’t there: http://www.kboards.com/index.php?topic=219428.0 – and this: https://www.reddit.com/r/ebooks/comments/3l0lz5/what_is_playster_and_how_legit_is_it_seems_when_i/

I contacted Playster, advised them that any PDF they had of Guns and Utu was pirated, and requested a take-down. I also asked them to desist from advertising it. Their communications manager personally got back to me within 10 hours despite the time-difference between New Zealand and the United States. Excellent response. He confirmed that they didn’t have my book, said that third-party sites outside their control occasionally misrepresent their content, that Playster has strict criteria for use of its advertisements, and that they’d approached the offending page-owner with a take-down request.

The page disappeared within 24 hours. That’s good – apart from anything else, advertising non-existent products is an offence under New Zealand law. And I suppose elsewhere too. I have to thank Playster for being so prompt and professional when approached.

The experience got me wondering who else might be falsely claiming my books are available. I’ve since found a site listing virtually all my books (plus others by other Matthew Wrights,  mixed up), claiming I ‘released’ them to be ‘corverted’ [sic] for availability on ‘Donnaplay’. This is a lie. They do not have any of my intellectual property and the claim on that page is fraudulent. Here is a page commenting on them: http://www.complaintsboard.com/complaints/donnaplay-false-advertisement-c758540.html

When I clicked on these listings, I was sent to this page (here’s a screen shot). The ‘sign up’ bar takes you to a site called ‘Lilplay’.

Screenshot taken 28 February 2016, 5.59 pm NZST.
Screenshot taken 28 February 2016, 5.59 pm NZST.

Here is a report about Lilplay: https://www.onlinethreatalerts.com/article/2015/7/22/is-the-website-www-lilplay-com-a-scam-or-is-it-legitimate/

There’s also: http://books.jottos.com/view/14757035/1guns-and-utu-a-short-history-of-the-musket-wars-14757035.html – in which my name is mis-spelt and where, again, they are lying about availability.

I am well aware of the ways people exploit pay-for-click advertising, in which traffic gets driven by any means and they collect the click-pay, all without the authority or control of those named in the advertising. I expect trying to shut down every fraudulent web page alleging non-existent pirate versions of my stuff will be a game of Whack-A-Rat.

Bottom line? My books are NOT available on Playster, Donnaplay or Lilplay, or anywhere else rogue web pages point to claiming my books are routinely ‘free’. I am not associated with any of these organisations, and none of my material is licensed to them.

This book of mine was pretty hard to structure - took a lot of re-working via the 'shuffle the pages' technique - to get a lot of social linear concepts into a single readable thread.
Guns and Utu – cover of the ONLY version, commissioned by Penguin from The Gas Project, http://gasproject.co.nz/2011/07/24/guns-and-utu/

The only distribution channel where any of my books are legitimately promoted free at any time is on Amazon, and only briefly – by discussion between me and my publishers. That’s because both I and my publishers want to sell you my books – genuinely through proper channels. We do that because we know you’ll enjoy them and that genuine readers are happy to pay fair sums to genuine authors and publishers in recognition of the hard work and expense that goes into creating a reading experience. Everybody wins.

Want to buy any of my books? Talk to me, check with your favourite bookstore, or look online at Amazon.Right now, my book Fantastic Pasts is up there, available for pre-order until 2 April – after which it’ll be released.

And if you want Guns and Utu, I have the last few print copies in captivity. Brand new. Autographed. You won’t get that by following internet scam-scrape adverts. Call me.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016


20 thoughts on “Somebody is illegally advertising non-existent pirate copies of my books

    1. It would be good if there was. Alas, we can’t do a lot about miscreants who decide to exploit authors’ property (actually or, it seems, implicitly) and the good name of any genuine book-sellers that they invoke, for their own profit.

  1. Good on you for finding out and getting them to take it down, disturbing it happens. Going through the trouble of scanning a hard copy is something that really surprises me and shows they must be very keen on including your work😉. Go get ‘m!

    1. I don’t think they have – the alleged PDF won’t exist! But it’s still irritating to have it happen because it means my name and book title are being used to facilitate their dishonesty – which to me is just as unethical as if they had stolen the book and were selling it for their own profit.

  2. Sounds as though you had more success than I did. I have a ‘Google Alert’ for one of my books and it reported a free PDF dowlnoad of Hold the Faith. I followed the link and went directly to Lilplay – where in order to access your free download you have to supply credit card details… in case you ever want to buy something from them.
    I wrote to them – but since it was not Playster, did not receive a reply. I wrote a blog post about it because it seemed like a scam to me. It would be cheaper to buy the book – ebook or print – than risk being ‘fleeced’ by compromising one’s credit card!
    Interesting thing is that they had the latest cover. For the print copy the publishers changed one of the colours – that’s the one that was shown.

    1. I haven’t tried to follow up Lilplay. Seems little point. What they’re apparently advertising doesn’t exist – and while it’s irritating to have my work and name used as a device for a scam, there doesn’t seem to be much I can do about it. I suspect the scammers scrape a lot of their material from Amazon – it might even be automated down to generating a web page.

  3. Wow; I’m amazed. .. Well, given that I find the occasional copy of obscure 60s science fiction novels listed on web sites that DuckDuckGo wants me to know look a little skeevy I suppose I’m not that amazed. But it’s still wild.

    1. Anything humans invent, like the internet, seems to get twisted by the dishonest to their ends. I could make some hypothesis about it being a consequence of being hard-wired by evolution to support groups of about 150 and oppose everyone outside it in various ways, but that doesn’t stop web scammers from still being sucky.

  4. I got sucked in by one of these sites a few months ago. I’d forgotten about it until I read this. (I never buy pirated stuff on-line, but I thought this site was genuine.) I paid for a book in pdf that was no longer available anywhere else, but it just wasn’t there. I chalked it up to experience after being seriously upset and pissed off for several days.

    1. What saddens me is that these scam sites are yet another example of the human condition – something within us that leads those without scruples to to exploit anything we can find, irrespective of the ethics. Like most things about humanity I suppose these behaviours generated some kind of evolutionary advantage, way back when (I suppose that makes me look a bit too deterministic, but hey…) – the issue being that a lot of that seems to be well past its use by date these days.

  5. The majority of these sites are a bigger problem to readers than to authors. They’re aimed at harvesting credit card details and/or email addresses. Whilst there is a moral issue over the criminality of these sites I find myself having little sympathy for anyone caught out by them.

    There’s no excuse for being ignorant of the risks involved online, particularly buying stuff online. Anyone who gives their credit card details to a site they’ve never heard of and haven’t checked out beforehand, in order to get something free, is asking for trouble.

  6. That really sucks. Sorry to hear about that. I do see a silver lining though. At least Playster responded promptly. The other thing is you’re now officially famous now that folks are pirating your work. When you’re satirized or “piratized” that’s quite a compliment! It seems others wish to “corvert” your fame into money. It’s bad, but it’s also good.😉

  7. Along the same lines and as disturbing, I wrote an autobiography a few years ago. Although I did not use any last names, people knew who it was I was talking about and they disagreed with “my story” – my memories. I retired the book from the shelves of self publisher, Lulu Press. A couple weeks later I checked on Amazon and it was still there. I wrote Amazon and asked that they stop selling it and they said they were unable to do that, that customers had a right to sell books they no longer wanted. It was listed as both new and used. I ordered a copy and it showed up in my basket as – “It will take a while to find a copy and I will be notified when they can ship.” Months went by and still no book. It is still in my shopping cart.
    I went back to Amazon recently and saw the book listed for $354! I recognized the seller – a used book shop in my city, whose owner sells my other books. I stopped in to see him and he said I could have his last copy back or if he sells it, he would give me $100. It won’t sell for that, so no worries.
    But he did tell me that he has a computer program that scours Lulu and Amazon to see what books were listed but only sold one or two copies a few years ago. This program apparently will relist that person’s books on his ‘book-seller’s site’ on Amazon, unbeknownst to the author, who more than likely wrote it for family of friends or as a one-shot deal. It is shipped to his store first, where he re-packages and then ships it off. He said he does about $40k a year in sales from this!

    1. I have trad published books – mostly Penguin – that get advertised that way on Amazon. Many are long out of print and there is no question in my mind that they are from second hand dealers. I don’t see a cent from their returns as I was paid royalty on the original sale.

  8. It is truly sad that some people are so lazy and pitiful that they must use the hard work of others to gain some self worth and money. I am always concerned when I buy online whether or not the seller is reputable.

    1. It’s always an unknown. Some of the scams seem obvious but others not so much and it’s these that are the more insidious. It’s a sad indictment of human nature. What gets me is that being honest and decent to each other is so much easier and rewarding – and in so many ways.

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