A couple of days ago, I blogged about being made aware of the organised theft and redistribution of my intellectual property.
I thought long and hard about whether to publish the post, and decided to do so for several reasons.
First, it gave me the opportunity to communicate how hurtful these acts are for the creator of the intellectual property, particularly a small operator in a tiny market. My feeling was that a few people who may not have given this issue thought from the content creator’s perspective may understand how wrong it is to steal. I was burgled back in the 90s, and learning about this organised site where my property was available in a premium section felt just like the aftermath of a burglary, a sense of violation.
Second, I wanted to make it clear that I wouldn’t stand idly by when I learned of the theft of our property, and that a bounty programme was available. I’ve already received several tip-offs as a result, so thank you, I am following up.
Third, if he did it to me, there’s the possibility that it’s being done to other small operators creating content for the blind community. Let me be clear, since as you’ll see in a moment, I’ve been issued with a legal threat, I don’t have any evidence that any other blind person’s content is on the illegal site operated in contravention of Australian and international copyright law by Bernard Hemmings, but it’s a fair question to ask, given the disregard that was shown to me.
After I published the post, several things occurred. There was an unusual spike for this time of year in sales of “iOS 11 Without the Eye”. If you bought the book because you have already read it without paying for it, I’d like to thank you sincerely for doing the right thing.
I was contacted by several content creators who are blind, thanking me for exposing what is a real problem for the viability of specialised content. When pirates steal our property, the price will inevitably be raised to compensate for that. That may well perpetuate further piracy, and so the cycle goes on. It’s time we brought this kind of behaviour into the light.
I received some suggestions from a few people regarding how we can crack down on piracy. Some of these involve techniques like logging in and consuming the content behind what would essentially be a pay wall. I have two concerns about this. It would involve a lot of set-up on our part, but far more important than that, I feel uncomfortable about anything that would make it harder for users who are struggling. For some of us, this technology is so easy that it’s hard to fully understand just how frustrating it is for others. Even though we don’t technically need to, we spend time with some users who have trouble working out how to read what they buy from us. I worry about making it harder for those folks.
I haven’t made any further comment on this matter in any forum, and I intended not to write or say anything more, but there have been extraordinary developments.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I phones Mr Hemmings when I became aware that he was responsible for the illegal distribution of my material on a site for which he is charging. I think I handled the situation properly, except for one thing. I didn’t block my caller ID.
I realised afterwards that I may well be subjected to nuisance calls, and sure enough, I’ve now received two, 19 minutes apart. I took the precaution of blocking Mr Hemmings’ number, so calls go straight to voicemail.
While I reluctantly accepted that I may have made an error in exposing my phone number, I did not expect that Mr Hemmings would be audacious enough to threaten me, the victim of a crime, with legal action.
Below, I’m including a transcript of the two voicemails he sent me. You can also download them in MP3. I’ll also respond to each, publicly, via this post. Because when it comes to stealing, I will not be bullied or intimidated into silence.
“It’s Bernard Hemmings here. If you do not remove my name off your blog site, I shall take legal action against you. I did what you asked, I took your stuff down. And then you repaid me by doing this! So there you go. If you don’t take my name off your blog within 24 hours, I will take legal action against you. Thank you.”
Let’s examine this message in-depth. First, it’s noticeable for its complete lack of remorse. Had the message said that he had made a horrible mistake, he was sorry, he was giving up his piracy and would I please consider removing my post, I would have done so without hesitation. But this message indicates anger at being caught, nothing more.
Next, let’s imagine Mr Hemmings walks into a lawyer’s office, yes, I know it sounds like the beginning of one of those long bad jokes, and says “I have been running a for-pay site distributing pirated content. One of the small businesses I have been profiting from found out about it and demanded I remove the stolen content. When I did so while at the same time expressing anger at the user who exposed my piracy racket, the owner of the content told people what I had done”.
What do you think the lawyer would say?
Most lawyers would run a mile from such widescale intellectual property theft, which, my source tells me, involves many commercial publishers with deep pockets and permanent legal teams designed to prosecute pirates through the court system and extract compensation.
But let’s say Mr Hemmings got lucky and found a lawyer who didn’t laugh him out of their office. What would I be prosecuted for? Defamation? Everything I’ve said is absolutely true, and if Mr Hemmings took me to court, I would be able to demand a list of all users on his FTP server so I could call them as witnesses. We are talking a crime here, and lawyers would start asking tough questions from those users about exactly what they downloaded. Those users would be under oath. Tell a lie, and they’d be perjuring themselves. Then they would have committed two crimes.
So, if you’re on Mr Hemmings’ site, I’d demand to be taken off it quickly, because it sounds like he’s about to expose you to serious risk.
Mr Hemmings says in his first voicemail, ” I did what you asked, I took your stuff down. And then you repaid me by doing this!” Interesting turn of phrase, that. His voicemail implies that because I busted him for illegally redistributing my content and he had to take remedial action reluctantly, I should somehow be grateful, yet this is how I, the ungrateful victim, repays him. That’s incredibly distorted logic. But his use of the word “repay” prompts me to make this point. At present, I have not asked for repayment from Mr Hemmings for loss of revenue. Every individual who downloaded my copyrighted work without paying for it represents lost revenue. Perhaps it is I who should begin talks with Mr Hemmings about repayment.
Here’s the transcript of the second voicemail I received, 19 minutes after the first.
“Just letting you know I’ve saved your web page so I can talk to my legal people, but even if you did take legal action against me, I don’t have any money anyway. You know? I have nothing anyway. But, yeah so I should have apologised to you on Saturday, and I regret not doing so. But as I said I would take it down for you, and I did, straight away. And I’m not a bad person but to do that to me in public, I’m quite surprised that yeah your legal team wouldn’t have advised you against that. Anyway we’ll see what happens. Bye.”
I would love to know the names of Mr Hemmings’ legal people, because they must be incredibly brave. That said, this is the first expression of any form of contrition by Mr Hemmings I have been made aware of, so I acknowledge and appreciate that. When he removed the illegal material, the message to his list indicated that he was annoyed with the user who dobbed him in, not in any way remorseful for what he had done.
He says that legal action on our part wouldn’t be worth it because he has no money. I guess at least he may be entitled to legal aid. But I don’t think Mr Hemmings, and others who do the things he is doing, fully appreciate that organised redistribution of copyrighted material can even result in a prison sentence.
Now I’m not at all interested in seeing another blind guy going to prison over this, I just want the ripping off of decent, hard-working people to be exposed and to stop. I also know that if someone makes a mistake and genuinely now understands that what they did was wrong, we should all be entitled to start over having learned from the experience. So, I’m publicly offering Mr Hemmings a deal.
Mr Hemmings, the idea that you could take legal action against me for blowing the whistle and exposing your highly illegal piracy racket is hilarious. But in the interests of reconciliation, I’ll take both these blog posts off the site and not refer to them again, if the site is shut down completely, and I have unambiguous evidence that this has happened. Because as I’ve already indicated, if you’ve done this to me, it’s reasonable to wonder who else is a victim. And as you weigh up your decision, keep in mind that if these posts stay up, they will continue to be indexed by search engines. Google on your name, and it will come up. You just never know when a publisher’s going to do that.
Mr Hemmings says that he’s not a bad person. I don’t know him, and even if I did, I try not to be judgmental about people. But whether one is a good or bad person is irrelevant. What we know for a fact is that, based on the best available knowledge I have as of writing this post, he continues to run a site for which he charges for content to which he doesn’t have the rights, which means he remains a criminal.
So, there’s your deal Mr Hemmings. Take the site down, do the right thing, prove to the community what you say about not being a bad person, and these posts will be deleted.