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Pagan Perspectives


In recent weeks, a round of discoveries were made concerning the uploading and sharing of digital versions of occult books. The collection, in this case, resided in a closed Facebook group named “Free Occult Books.” Since the group was discovered and reported by members of the watchdog collective Pagans Against Plagiarism (PAP), the group’s administrators appear to have made the group secret; it is no longer easily accessible, and the corresponding Dropbox account is either now private or removed.

The reported 900+ books, however, which are listed in a PDF file posted in PAP, are still allegedly being shared in violation of copyright laws.

Screenshot of group’s Facebook banner, featuring art stolen from the computer game Guild Wars 2 [H. Greene, original art copyright Arenanet.]

The “Free Occult Books” Facebook group is not the first site to illegally offer digital books, nor will it be the last. Over the years, TWH has reported on other similar cases. In August 2017, we reported on a now-removed Facebook group called The Wiccan Circle (not related to the current group of the same name), which contained over 6000 digital book titles. When interviewed by journalist Terence P. Ward, group founder and administrator Rick Hannas, also known as Lord Thallus, was unapologetic, stating that other people were doing the same thing. Why not him?

Suppressing all urge to wax on about friends, bridges, and lemmings, I must admit that Thallus is correct in his statement. Other people are doing the same thing. But does that make it right? As the old saying goes, two wrongs, or in this case, 6000 or more, don’t make a right.

As of publication, the administrators of the newly discovered Free Occult Books group have not responded directly to interview questions. One of its members, who is listed as an admin, said she was not actually an administrator and was “not human.” She said this after stating several times that PAP members were harassing her about book uploads in her group and that they had made a “terrible mistake.”

I’m still unclear on who – or what – runs the group, and why.

Regardless, this type of sharing copyrighted material is fraud. Reasoning doesn’t matter. And, unfortunately, it is just one of the many forms of intellectual property theft that happens in our digital media world.

Plagiarism

Just yesterday, I discovered two cases in which aggregate web sites wholesale copied TWH articles without permission. This is a common occurrence. In these two separate cases, the copied articles did not offer any link-backs, credits, or notes stating that they were produced by someone else. The TWH writer, who spent hours interviewing people, thinking about, planning, and then writing the piece, got no credit. TWH, which paid for production of the articles through reader donations, got nothing. I will not share the sites.

Taking articles off of TWH without our blessing is against policy, disrespectful to our writers, and steals from our very small coffers by allowing our work to be accessible without our ability to ask for donations to support its continuation. That is the reality, and it is not okay.

While it is acceptable to quote a source without permission, there are rules on how much of the writer’s language one can copy before becoming a plagiarist. In many cases, crediting an artist or writer is not enough to make copying legal; permission must be granted. What that limit is depends on the publisher and the editor. A definite boundary is not written in law.

In fact, there are many gray areas when it comes to plagiarizing. The Cornell University Law School website defines plagiarizing as “deliberately passing off somebody else’s original expression or creative ideas as one’s own.” The entry goes on to explain the gray area:

Plagiarism can be a violation of law if copyrighted expression is taken. Often, however, plagiarism does not violate any law but marks the plagiarist as an unethical person in the political, academic, or scientific community where the plagiarism occurs.

As noted, plagiarism only crosses into the legal realm when it violates copyright laws. Even when it doesn’t rise to that level, however, any act of plagiarizing can, according to various reports, be challenged in a court of law. This means that any act of plagiarism is a legal concern. Offenses range from wholesale copying of entire books, ideas, or art, to the use of excessive quoting from a single source, even when credited.

Copying and pasting is like a butcher knife – a tool used for the common good, until it is not.

In 2017, an author with the name Magic Wiccan published several books that were entirely made up of sourced material, including rituals, songs, spells and articles. While the content was credited, it was used entirely without permission. Some of the original creators have reportedly complained to Amazon, but these books have not been removed from the site yet.

In essence, if one claims that another’s intellectual property, whether its words or visual art, is one’s own, or if said said work is used without clearly designated permission, one commits theft, fraud, or both. This is the stealing of something that an artist has labored over for hours, weeks, and years – something that they have birthed into this world. The plagiarist claims a right to someone else’s brain-baby. Their actions are wrong, both ethically and legally.

Illegal Sharing of Books, Music

Another form of copyright infringement is the illegal sharing of produced material, and this is a constant battle for creators and producers. (Remember Napster?)

This problem has only ballooned over the decades as digital media has become more consumer-controlled and social media has made it easier to share the files.

Since the inception of the internet, there have been newly-created laws that govern copyright infringement – specifically, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which was put into place in 1998.

According to Cornell Law School, long-established U.S. copyright laws cover most concerns; however, they did not “address technological measures to help stop copyright infringement or other copyright management systems.” The DMCA was put into place to do just that: it addresses technology’s role in the violating copyright.

Unfortunately, neither the new nor the old laws are stopping the problem. In 2012, Llewellyn’s senior acquisitions editor Elysio Gallo wrote an article on this very same topic. That was six years ago. Just as it was back then, if an author finds a fraudulent copy of their book posted online, they can file a DCMA takedown notice. The system is in place, but it doesn’t stop the behavior.

In a 2017 interview with TWH, Gallo called the problem a hydra: “You chop off one head, another one springs up to take its place.”

Author Dorothy Morrison described the predicatment the best. In a message to me, she said, “Since we can’t fight this at the root, the best we can do is try to clip the branches when they sprout. And that’s really aggravating.”

Morrison was one of the authors recently alerted when PAP members discovered the Free Occult Books group. She spoke out publicly on Facebook about the issue. In an ironic turn of events, one of the person’s who allegedly is a group administrator has since threatened to use Morrison’s own “Bitch Be Gone” products to bind her.

But why?

In conversation about the recent discovery, PAP co-founder and administrator Boudica Foster told me, “It’s sad – people who claim to ‘do no harm’ as Pagans will steal from their favorite author or artist.”

While the Free Occult Books administrators’ motives are not clear, it appears from some group posts that they may not see it that way. In several comments, the listed administrators accused Pagan authors of stealing traditions for their own gain. This may be their justification for violating copyright laws.

This suggests that they view themselves as modern-day Robin Hoods.

[pixabay]

Another justification for illegal sharing in general is that these sites offer access to books that some people wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. They act like libraries, in that sense.

When asked about his reasons in 2017, Thullas said that his sharing was no different than a library’s sharing. According to that argument, the buyer owns the book or music file and can do whatever they wish with it.

These arguments are, however, without any credible base.

Sharing a digital file is not an act of bravery against a villainous, greedy foe. It is theft of someone’s intellectual property, no matter how wealthy or poor the creator may be. In fact, most writers and artists are not wealthy robber barons living off the taxes of the poor.

Those creators that do steal ideas or words are committing fraud; see the section above on plagiarism.

As for Utopian ideal that creative works should be shared and not sold, that is horsepucky. Even if we abandoned our capitalist system, there will always be the need for some form of exchange. Eggs for bread, butter for probing psychological therapy. Whatever the situation and no matter the economic system of exchange, artists will always need to eat, drink, and procure supplies.

Kisses and kumbayas do not pay the bills.

As for books being unaffordable, that is certainly true in many cases. Anyone who has gone to college knows how high book bills can run. However, there are still brick-and-mortar libraries, and even legitimate digital ones. Libraries are wonderful community resource centers, and they deserve support as they evolve to meet current lending needs.

When I had three young children who loved to read and no money to buy them books, we made weekly trips to the library. It became a treasured family outing. For those that can’t buy a new book, there are also used book stores, eBay, and book swaps. There are ways.

Moreover, the fraudulent sharing of books raises the cost of books. The more illegal sharing occurs, the fewer books are purchased. Publishers lose revenue and have to make up the costs of production somehow, and that loss is typically pushed on the consumer. In other words, the more fraud occurs, the more expensive books become.

That hurts everyone.

Finally, let me be very clear; the sharing of a digital file is nothing like the sharing of a paper book. When a person gives a paper book to a friend or sells it on eBay, they are working with a single item. Nothing new has been produced.

That is not the case with digital files. When someone emails a friend a book or music file, they are most likely producing a new copy. That person takes on the act of production, and that is illegal. When someone uploads a file to a sharing site, they are producing a new file. Then, when someone downloads it, they are producing a new copy. That is illegal.

While this did happen in the world of paper media, it was not as easy. Photocopying 352 pages of a novel is just not as simple as cut and paste.

Foster, who herself was a victim of plagiarism, rightly says that the problem is “out of hand.” She added, “For every group we identify, there are many more we never see.

“The root of the problem is technology. We are beyond ourselves here. Unless we can find a way to control the flow of this technology, it will continue to be out of our control,” she adds.

As I write this editorial, PAP members are starting to report on yet another site, called Libros de Lumine, that has a large listing of copyrighted Pagan books.

Stop and Think

Whether its plagiarism or illegal sharing, it all involves the stealing of intellectual property. Setting aside all legal issues, these acts are essentially the theft of someone’s ideas and, in most cases, the theft of something that is very personal to the artist. Writing a book, creating an art piece, producing musical compositions – these are acts of spirit, of love, of worship, and of magic. Artists are not machines, and it takes an abundance of energy, devotion, and beingness to produce a single creative piece.

On the more practical side, theft also takes money out of the artist’s pocket. As noted earlier, some creators are wealthy, but most are not. Either way, the act is still theft.

In the case of illegal sharing, not only does the act steal from the creator, but it also steals from any others who were involved in production. Whether the work in question is a book, movie, or musical composition, there are editors, publicists, printers, accountants, cleaning people, and more involved. There are often a multitude of people behind any single creation – people who live normal lives and rely on product sales to feed their kids, pay their mortgages, and even afford an occasional trip to the movies.

Here are my tips:

  • Understand the limits of public domain and fair use. There are some situations where copying without permission or sharing is legal. Know those limits and obey them strictly.
  • Outside of fair use or public domain, always ask permission to use any creative materials. In fact, sometimes the creator will give permission without asking for a fee. Exposure is a wonderful thing. Don’t expect that courtesy, though. Exposure, like warm hugs and hardy congratulations, feel awesome, but at the end of the day they do not feed a hungry belly.
  • Creators: fix errors with regard to copyright immediately. There are gray areas and mistakes do happen; I have done it myself. Correct the problem and apologize.
  • Never share or upload copyrighted materials without permission. This includes using artwork on personal Facebook pages, headers or posts. Remember, social media posts are considered published material.
  • Never download from illegal sites. Don’t be a lemming.
  • Help combat the problem by reporting sites and groups that violate copyright laws. This is one of the missions of PAP.

Sorita D’este, another author who recently became a victim of illegal sharing and plagiarism, suggested that anyone who has committed copyright infringement should consider sending the affected artists a donation. Speaking specifically about illegal sharing, she wrote in a Facebook post, “If we don’t support our authors and publishers, we will be left with books produced only by those who are privileged enough to have the wealth to produce books, and commercial writers who produce books for the mass market – rather than books produced by those individuals who write because they are passionate, experienced, and qualified to do so.”

If we love a creator’s work enough to want to copy it or share it, then we should love the creator enough to respect their ownership. If we do that, they might be able to produce more – and there is nothing as valuable in life as fostering personal creative expression.