You call it sharing, but Pagan authors call it stealing

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TWH –An recently discovered case of the sharing copyrighted Pagan books via a Facebook group highlights the seriousness of this problem in the digital age. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Pagan-themed books were discovered to be hosted through The Wiccan Circle.

While the group’s owner is now removing those copies, he is not only unapologetic, but has made it clear that he will find other means to share the books. He believes that it his right, because he purchased them in the first place. In response, many group members are expressing outrage, not over the sharing, but over it been stopped.

The Wiccan Circle group is owned by Lord Thrullas, who also has at least two other Facebook profiles found here and here. When confronted by Elysia Gallo, senior acquisitions editor for Llewellyn Worldwide, Thrullas defended the uploads by comparing it to lending physical books to friends.

The long list of files, which also included spells, were largely uploaded by him personally. He confirmed with The Wild Hunt that his intention was to help the group’s members, and that he did purchase the items himself.

“A complete stranger on Facebook sent me a message about this group, as she was very concerned,” Gallo said when reached for comment. “When I told our copyright infringement person about the group, she said it was on her radar, as other people have reported it as well.”

Gallo joined the group herself, and was quite transparent about her reason by posting: “I am looking for illegal copies of books posted without permission of the publisher so they can all be reported to Facebook.”

There are protocols for getting illegal copies removed from a web site which are laid out in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but the process is cumbersome, particularly on Facebook and other content platforms.

According to Gallo, “You have to submit a report to their DCMA agent, and you have to list each title individually, which can take hours if not days for a group that has well over 2,000 PDFs to scroll through (especially as you can’t do a regular scroll, but a ‘facebook scroll’ – where it only loads, I don’t know, 20-40 titles, and when you get to the bottom you have to hit ‘more’ to continue).”

Thrullas replied to Gallo, “Then stop downloading Copyrighted[sic] information and pics from the internet.”

In something of a victory lap, he removed Gallo from the group and deleted her post, but posted an announcement of what he’d done, and why. The comment thread which ensued was largely supportive.

However, several Pagan authors who had joined for that purpose tried to explain their point of view. They were also removed and the thread deleted, but screen shots document the exchange.

“There are a lot more groups doing it then just mind[sic],” Thrullas said, “so make sure you look at all the groups.”

It is clear that this activity is a widespread problem. “Think of it as a hydra,” Gallo said. “You chop off one head, another one springs up to take its place.”

“Just like illegal downloads of music and movies, it can never be fully eradicated from the internet, although as a society we can hope to get better at it,” Gallo continued. “Some people have no respect for creative work, despite having other free outlets to legally obtain this content,” such as public libraries.

Exactly how much money is denied authors by such activities is less clear because much of it is simply unknown.

Moon Books publicist Nimue Brown used the same simile to explain the problem. “I’ve had plenty of occasions of getting illegal copies taken down,” she wrote, “but it often feels like cutting heads off a hydra, in no small part because the Pagans doing it have some very odd attitudes. I’ve been told we should be glad people are bothering to read us, that they’re doing us a favour – it’s exposure (exposure is something people die of).”

Brown continued on, saying: “I’ve been told they are entitled to share books – some people can’t grasp that there’s a world of difference between passing a book round a few friends, and giving it to thousands of people. It’s really frustrating. Authors who challenge over this can expect abuse, harassment, and a total failure of understanding from the people involved in it.”

In this particular case, the group owner likened it to a lending library or trading books. Gallo addressed that in a blog post from 2012, in which she wrote:

Um, except for the fact that the library bought a copy of the book, or your friend bought a copy of the book. (Even libraries that now do digital lending.) And that they have a finite number of copies (physical or digital) that they are able to lend out at any given time – not a file that can be downloaded over and over again in the blink of an eye by complete strangers all over the world.

Some group members were less than full-throated in their support of illegal copies being available for sharing. One wrote, “I like to hope that people can have their own opinions, and as [Thrullas] said, don’t download if you don’t agree.”

Just as these violations are common online, the mindset that simply not breaking the relevant laws and international treaties is the ethical alternative is regularly used as a defense, together with “it’s all over the internet anyway,” which Gallo also addressing in 2012, saying:

There are tons of free resources on the internet – ones that are given freely by their creators. (Perhaps because they have ad revenue they can rely on. Perhaps they just do it out of the goodness of their heart.) So why do people even feel the need to download whole books in the first place? By wanting to download a book more than you want to read a website or blog . . . you are admitting that it has a certain value that is greater than what you can browse for free. The sum is greater than its parts. So please, pay for it.

Another sentiment expressed by some members of The Wiccan Circle is that if it were illegal, it would not be happening on Facebook.

Gallo said that their DCMA agent requires a link to a valid copy of the book and the illegal one on Facebook, and each file must be reportedly separately, an extremely time-consuming process that can only be undertaken by someone who is already a group member.

Author Kerri Hope chimed in on that point, saying to other members, “Facebook doesn’t enforce copyright law for this kind of stuff. The courts do. I just found this group, but seriously? Isn’t this a Wiccan group? Harm none? I’m floored.”

Hope later said to this reporter, “I don’t know how anyone could do that and call themselves Wiccan. If Pagans are willing to treat other Pagans that badly, well it’s just baffling. Doesn’t give me much hope.”

Thrullas commented during the exchange, saying: “Im[sic] the founder of this group, people can take [it or] leave it as is. I have enough going on from my recent post then[sic] pety stuff.”

This is certainly true. A post he shared to the group indicated that his mother is in her final days of life, and less than a year ago he and his partner lost their home to fire, which killed six cats and injured two dogs.

Despite the impression he makes in these copyright exchanges, Thrullas, who identifies as a Norse Wiccan, is an active volunteer and teacher in his local and online Pagan communities, and did sign the Pagan community environmental statement. His store, the Sage Emporium, does not presently have any books listed for sale on its site.

One group member characterized Thrullas as a “really good person” who “perhaps . . . didn’t know the particulars of the publishers’ and authors’ copyright laws” and might have reacted differently had he been approached privately.

Thrullas stuck to his position that purchasing the books gives him right to distribute them for free.

After the group owner began deleting the illegal copies, he simultaneously made clear that he would find another way to distribute his digital library, to the cheers of many group members.

“I cant[sic] put them back up on FB but Ido have the vast library and more posted somewhere trust me on that.”

To the end, he laid blame on those reporting the files, rather than ignorance of the law. At least one group member appeared ready to lay a curse on those doing the reporting.

Author Lupa published a post titled “When You Steal a Book From an Author,” in response to this particular issue. However, she is also well aware that it’s not at all rare:

They’re saying they are above the law. Sorry, but there is no way to legally justify sharing the entire book without permission. Fair use applies to a few hundred words, that’s it. ‘Educational use’ is only within certain educational establishments, and again is piece and part, not the whole damned thing. Sharing a bunch of PDFs to random strangers on Facebook? Sorry, your educational defense doesn’t work.

Lupa additionally suggested that the copyright notice in all books might have provided a clue, as it reserves the right to reproduce to those who have obtained permission to do so.

In her own blog post on the issue, Brown wrote:

I realise that most people don’t know copyright law, and it is easy to be persuaded that it’s ok to have something you want. There are a lot of people out there spouting all kinds of crap about why giving away other people’s ebooks is ok. It isn’t ok to give other people’s ebooks away, simply. However, anyone can make a mistake. Anyone can pick up a book because it sounded legit. . . . If you’ve made a mistake and taken something you shouldn’t have had, you can fix this by rebalancing things. Buy another book from the same author. Buy a hard copy for yourself. Stick something in their donations pot or Patreon.

One group member, upon learning that the group as a whole had been reported and the files were being removed, suggested it might be the result of anti-Pagan conspiracy.

It was not. It was the result of Pagan publishers and authors such as Gallo and others who reported the group.

“If we want to deal with the issue of Pagan books being pirated,” said Brown, “I think we have to tackle it as a cultural issue, not a practical one. And really, if you believe in any kind of magic, or energy, or power, or underpinning logic to the universe, why would you feel safe and comfortable learning your magic from a stolen book? How can that not have consequences? Whatever path you follow, whatever you believe, there are consequences.”