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So Wattpad Has the Same Piracy/Plagiarism Problem as eBookstores – What Do We Do About it?

PW reported earlier today that Wattpad has the same piracy problem as the ebookstores, Scribd, and pretty much every other site that allows users to upload content:

A zero-tolerance policy on Wattpad, the social media site that claims 35 million readers and writers worldwide, has not done away with the problem of digital piracy on the site. Earlier this month over 41,000 readers downloaded free copies of a novel by New York Times bestselling author Jasinda Wilder, which had been pirated. The incident, Wilder estimated, cost her roughly $168,000 in royalties.

Even though Wilder pays two companies to search for illegal postings—one found close to 32,000 of them—it’s unlikely that any company could have found Wilder’s pirated work on Wattpad. The plagiarizer gave the book a new name, My Dominant Alpha, along with new cover art. The title was also posted by a different user: Amyleigh153. Because Wattpad pirates are now changing basic, but key, elements of the original work, they have become an even more worrisome issue for authors on the website.

While I don’t want to deny the problems faced by authors or suggest that this behavior is okay, I do want to point out that PW’s report is lacking in context.

As a brief skim of the related tag on Dear Author will tell you, piracy/plagiarism is a known problem, and now that we know that it extends to Wattpad the next question to ask is what authors ( and their fans) should do about this.

Any suggestions?

I’ve thought up a couple ideas that won’t work,but not one that I know will work – or at least will have a positive effect.

What’s your idea?

image by Kris Krug

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William Ockham November 14, 2014 um 8:49 am

What should authors do about it? That’s easy. There is one thing they can do that generally has a positive impact: Do nothing. The other thing that cuts down on piracy is making sure that your fans can actually buy your book. Territorial restrictions are the primary cause of piracy.

Wilder is deluded if she thinks lost $168,000 in royalties. The number of people who downloaded the book and would have bought it is smaller than the number of people who will buy the book as a direct or indirect result of hearing about the NYT article.

On a side note, these anti-piracy companies are utterly incompetent if they aren’t doing textual analysis on files from torrent sites and sites like Wattpad. WTF are they doing for the money they get? Checking titles? Sheesh. Hire some real developers.

@library_anthony November 14, 2014 um 10:24 am

She should maybe hire a PR firm instead to put a positive spin on it to best introduce herself to new readers, as opposed to griping about 'lost' royalties

Greg Strandberg November 14, 2014 um 12:18 pm

I’d personally like to see a $168,000 lawsuit against Wattpad. Let’s see whose side they’re on.

Bill November 22, 2014 um 12:45 am

Forgive the lengthy comment, but since you asked for ideas, I thought I’d chime in.

Although there’s no silver bullet, I’d suggest breaking the problem of what to do into two general categories: Discovery and Legal.

On the Discovery side, perhaps we can make a mild start by looking at and possibly signing the petition at Although the wording of the petition is perhaps a bit simplistic, it is in the right spirit of things. As a programmer, I can attest that content comparison/analysis within a site is pretty easy to do (although not always super-fast) using a few Programming 101 tools, and there’s no reason that a sophisticated tech company like Wattpad can’t do it. It can’t catch all infractions, but it can catch a good portion, I would think. I won’t go into the technical "how-to" aspects, but once a positive correlation/duplication of content between two sources (authors) is made, they would need to follow-up with some methods and policies to determine which is the true owner of the content and how to notify the true owner of a potential intellectual theft. This effort would prevent the necessity of some of the below suggestions, and in the long run it might save Wattpad a lot of future headaches. So that’s suggestion number 1: Encourage Wattpad and others to perform ongoing and robust analysis programming.

It is worth mentioning that, as some stories report, readers are sometimes an important component of discovery, and they should be thanked and encouraged for reporting plagiarism and piracy. That’s suggestion number 2.

On the Legal side, especially when it comes to civil actions, there isn’t much the average writer living on noodles and coffee can really afford to do. But it is important to remember that piracy and copyright violation are real crimes. As such, plagiarists and pirates are criminals. In addition, as in some current cases, there are aspects of identity theft that may also come into play, increasing the consequences of such crimes. But until law enforcement treats plagiarism/piracy as the property-theft crime that it is, and until state laws are revised so that these crimes are not merely hand-slap misdemeanors, I’m afraid there isn’t a whole lot that will be done. Yes, the international nature of all this really complicates things. Yes, "after the fact" criminal actions against pirates may punish the criminal, but might do very little to help the victim. And, yes, prosecutors may be less likely to pursue a "minor purse snatching case" than a high-profile case of designer purses being illegally manufactured and sold as the name-brand ones. So, suggestion number 3: Treat theft as a crime. Number 4: Encourage/ask state lawmakers to boost penalties for plagiarism/piracy beyond a misdemeanor crime.

Whether a criminal or civil case is filed, attorneys should consider naming tech companies either as co-defendants or as material witnesses by issuing subpoenas for them to provide testimony or affidavits as to why they did not apply reasonable measures to prevent, discover, or mitigate copyright violations, plagiarism, piracy, or identity theft, and what, if any, measures were in effect that the criminal had to circumvent. If tech companies eventually got the message that they may be dragged into court every time one of their site users was indicted or sued for piracy/plagiarism, then perhaps they would be motivated to do something a bit more proactive about the problem. If they don’t think their reputation and/or bottom line is being harmed by pirates, or if they are not in the least inconvenienced by pirates, it’s hard to see why they would be motivated to take any action against them. But it doesn’t need to come to that. I would hope that Wattpad and others would be willing and savvy enough to join with writers and law enforcement by helping to prevent all this and by assisting with cases against criminals. For tech companies, this could mean potentially reaping good karma and some positive PR, too, instead of the alternatives. So suggestion number 5 is: Get tech companies involved with plagiarism/piracy cases on the side of the good guys.

Also along the legal lines, another idea is this: If you think your property (intellectual or otherwise) has been stolen, file a police report! If they say they don’t have the means/authority to investigate or to prosecute, file one anyway. Even if you don’t know who the thief is or even if you think the criminal lives in another state or country. It is still a crime. If the thief is ever identified, follow up with your local District Attorney. Chance are nothing will happen, but one never knows. Maybe the D.A. was a victim of plagiarism, too! So suggestion number 6 is: Report theft of property to the authorities!

Finally, and this might be really old school. But while we are not required to include copyright notices on works that we own, publish, or post, we should do it anyway as a shot across the bow of pirates. It won’t stop the determined pirate, but it might slow down the truly ignorant. So that’s suggestion number 7: Help to assert your copyright by posting a notice of it.

So those are my ideas/suggestions. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about these issues as more stories come to light and as current cases move forward.

MumbleMacDumble March 27, 2016 um 12:30 am

Doing nothing isn’t going to help. Wattpad cracking down on plagiarism will help.

Making your work more easily available won’t stop people from stealing it, and Wattpad is the Pastebin of plagiarism: it’s SO easy to steal and share something there, and take all the credit for it. Their current policies don’t patrol for theft at all, and don’t even check the other uploads of a thief when he/she is caught: they remove the story flagged as stolen, and leave the rest of their contraband intact! Sometimes they don’t even ban the perpetrator!

I started a petition for active measures against plagiarism on Wattpad. Sign it here:

It’s directed at the wife of the Wattpad CEO in the hope that she will make him listen. Please sign it and share it everywhere.

MumbleMacDumble March 27, 2016 um 1:05 am

Nevermind the above post and petition link. It’s become apparent that they won’t do anything. Sorry.

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