On being pirated for the first time: an open letter to someone I’ve never met

Dear Deeply Enthusiastic Chicks Dig Time Lords Fan on Tumblr,

I just returned from spending the weekend at Capricon, and digging out from the email deluge. I’ve discovered this morning that an essay published in Chicks Dig Time Lords has been posted to Tumblr in its entirety. Not the whole book, but a whole essay. (No, I will not link to it).

I’m kind of conflicted about this particular situation.

On the one hand, so far as I can tell, this was an act of enthusiasm, not of malice. Your posting included a link to Amazon with an image of the cover for those who might want to purchase a copy of the book, and an attribution. So, clearly, there is promotion going on there, which is lovely and nice and thank you.

I don’t want to be all HEY YOU STOLE OUR STUFF and HERE IS MY LEGAL DEMAND TO TAKE DOWN WHAT YOU PUT UP at you. You are visibly a fan of the work and enthusiastic and in our TARGET AUDIENCE. I get that you loved our book SO MUCH that you wanted to share it. I do. I truly appreciate your personal SQUEE. Really.


I’m a librarian. I believe in copyright and fair use and people being paid for their work. I know a lot of writers, and I believe firmly that they should be able to afford cat crunchies and food for themselves and that way they write more things that I love. Yes, copyright law is DEEPLY imperfect and out of touch. But that means we need to FIX THE LAW, not just break it to suit ourselves.

The essay that you posted, and is now making the rounds of Tumblr, is made up of words that we paid a writer to write specifically for our book. She owns the copyright to them, and legally and ethically should be able to control where and when the words that she was paid to write are reproduced, particularly in a different format (she was contracted for a paper book, not an electronic version. She holds electronic rights to her work).

We have posted essays to websites ourselves to promote Chicks before, but it was always with the express permission of the writer.

Posting an entire essay is not cool. Quoting a paragraph or two in a context of “LOOK AT TEH AWESOME” is fine (that’s fair use in my view which I am all for). I am also all for transformative works. Really. Fanfic, fanart, all that stuff is totally cool by me. When it’s not for profit. But this is not a transformative work. It is just a direct transcription.

I’m sure that at some point our book probably has been torrented, too. No, I’m not going looking. I don’t want to know. I assume that many of the folks who do that weren’t going to buy the book anyway. There is no legal eBook version of Chicks. There isn’t a plan for one. I get that it’s inconvenient, but since we didn’t contract for anything other than paper versions, it’s not cool for us to put out an ebook version without actually talking to all the contributors (and probably paying them more money) before doing so. So it’s not gonna happen anytime soon, sorry. That doesn’t mean that it’s cool for other people to do it for us, either.

I’m really, truly glad that you thought the essay that you posted was awesome. Truly. But I need to ask you to please, do me a favor and edit the post to quote just the bits that you really liked (which is fine and cool and awesome), but not the whole essay. Please. Because it’s really not fair to the person who wrote it to post the entire thing without her permission. Working with us this way makes it possible for more cool books like Whedonistas and Chicks Dig Comics to exist, too. If you got permission from the writer and just neglected to note that on your post, a note to that effect would make things cool, too.

I value the enthusiasm of our fans, and I don’t want to have to harsh their squee by being all grumpy about this. But posting materials that aren’t yours in their entirety without commentary, critique, transformation, or permission is not cool and harshes my squee.

So, this is me hoping that this open letter gets to the person who needs to read it. Internets, do your thing.

ETA: The original poster was contacted and took it down and apologized, so we’re cool. There are still re-tumbled versions out there, though.

ETA2: Thank you to all of the fellow Tumblrers who took down the full essay. I deeply appreciate your help. Y’all rock.


About Lynne M. Thomas

Lynne M. Thomas is a nine time Hugo Award winning editor and podcaster. In her day job, she is Head of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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2 Responses to On being pirated for the first time: an open letter to someone I’ve never met

  1. CJ says:

    A somewhat similar thing is happening to me, and it does feel like a violation of sorts. I am not quite sure what to do either.

    I have been writing articles for the internal blog of the organization I work for and someone with an association to my work has access to the articles is cutting and pasting and then posting them on an outside site. There is no link to my articles (because they are on an internal blog) and no byline. When I by chance found my articles on this site related to our organization, I approached the group and they said oops my bad . . . and then published a photo of me and my bio from LinkedIn, like I was also news because I worked for a organization they partner with! Again, they did this without asking, and it was quite a shock to see my photo on their site. Eeks. It is like they have no idea.

    So what is one to do? It seems like this group has an idea that sharing the information is a good thing. I think this as well, but I also would like to see sources and credit for the articles written, with permissions sought if appropriate. The other group is not making money off of what I am doing for my organization and IS promoting what I do but it still seems wrong to just put it out there without asking. It is even more puzzling to me that it continues when I’ve directly asked them to be sure to talk to me before putting up my material. Despite this, like you said about your situation, something tells me it is not malice but enthusiasm that leads to this behaviour. They are pirates all the same, though, and I am not sure what kind of communication with them will get across that they can’t just post anything they like. (And it occurs to me that this issue of happy-go-lucky ‘sharing’ could potentially be quite a nasty situation for the whole blog/Tumblr/Facebook world. Hmmmm….)


    • Lynne says:

      I don’t have a problem with sharing so long as it’s limited to fair use. Credit was given in this case (it was made clear where the essay came from, and who wrote it, etc.), but the problem was with the length of the posting in relation to fair use. I’m grateful to the folks on Tumblr who took down the full version of the essay and were cool with it.


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