How do some people sleep at night? Blind people ripping off other blind people

Recently on The Blind Side podcast, I was honoured to be able to conduct a fascinating interview with professor Stephen Lockley of Harvard University about non-24. That’s the condition that makes it difficult for many of us in the blind community to maintain consistent sleeping patterns. Perhaps that’s not the only reason some people are having a little difficulty getting shut-eye.

Recently, I was contacted by a public-spirited member of the blind community, alerting me to piracy of the “iOS without the eye” series. This piracy has been occurring on a server run by a blind person, for the use of blind people.

I learned as a kid that if you continue to let the bully kick sand in your face, you’re only going to end up with more sand in your face. So, here’s my perspective as an author in a tiny niche market on this issue.

Since I wrote the first book in this series, “iOS 7 without the eye” in 2013, I have charged $19.95 USD for the book. In fact, if you pre-ordered the iOS 7 book, you got it at half price, because the book was then an unknown quantity, and early purchasers were taking a leap of faith. The price has remained the same ever since, despite the book nearly doubling in size with iOS 11 compared with iOS 7.

I figure that if I charge a reasonable price, it will make it affordable, and people won’t feel the need to pirate because they could genuinely benefit from the book but couldn’t afford it.

I also like to think that in the blind community, we look out for one another. That’s probably a bit naive, yet not many a day goes by when I don’t receive a lovely message of appreciation from someone about how the book has helped them, and that makes my day.

So, my heart sank when a customer of ours kindly forwarded a message to me from an email list. This list is apparently a complement to a server hosting a large quantity of illegal content, operated by Bernard Hemmings, a blind person living in Australia, where, ironically, I’m writing this as an attendee of the Blind Citizens Australia convention.

In response to user inquiries, whose names I know but won’t reveal at least for the moment, Mr Hemmings provides details of how to access the books on his server, in a section I understand one must pay to access. What an irony.

My initial feeling when I received this information was sadness that there are other blind people who would be willing to rip off a husband and wife team trying to make a go of running a small business which provides helpful information at a reasonable price.

But what to do about it? Does one just accept that piracy is a fact of life? When someone has an organised server, with a folder called “All Things Apple”, and my books in there, we’re talking pretty organised, serious, blatant copyright infringement.

So, I decided to give Mr Hemmings a phone call. He kindly puts his phone numbers in his email signature which is a kind thing for a widescale copyright infringer to do. I introduced myself, and told him that I had become aware that he had a bunch of material to which Mosen Consulting owns the copyright. His first reaction was to flat out deny it. “I don’t know where you got that idea from”, he said. I explained that I got the idea from an email he had written. He then backtracked and said he didn’t realise these books were for sale.

I indicated, naturally enough given the scale of this, that I required him to take the books down immediately, or we’d have to investigate our options. Those options of course would include contacting the company providing bandwidth to the server and alerting them that their bandwidth is being used for a well-organised pirating site. Companies take those matters extremely seriously, and tend to act first, ask questions later.

He agreed to take the material down. I asked him what sort of assurance I could have that the material was in fact removed. His extraordinary reply was that I would just have to trust him. Naturally, I pointed out that it’s hard to trust a blind guy who had been so freely ripping off another blind guy.,

I was going to leave the issue at that and not write this post, but I changed my mind after receiving this message, which I will quote in full, from the email list supporting Mr Hemmings’ server hosting illegal content. This message is from Mr Hemmings.

 

“Following a demand from the author I have remove the iOS stuff. A user and soon to be ex user reported the content to the author. So if you can no longer find it that is the reason.”

 

So, no remorse, no message that said, “I’m sorry, I got it wrong”, just an indication that he was going to go on some sort of witch hunt to find which of his users has a conscience about blind people ripping off one of their own. Good luck with that, I’m a journalist as well as an author, and I protect my sources.

Some people have suggested that we should sell the iOS books exclusively on iBook’s. I don’t do that for two reasons. First, Apple takes a third of the price of every book, which for a small market like this makes a significant difference. But second, a lot of the people who need this book the most read it on other devices, like a Victor Reader Stream or their PC, while they’re trying to come to grips with all the recent changes. It may reduce piracy significantly, but I also believe the books utility would be reduced, and I don’t want that.

I am very grateful to the customer who took a risk and let me know about this issue. There is despicable behaviour in the world, but there are a lot of decent people too. This has inspired me to announce a bounty programme. If you can provide me with evidence that our material is being hosted on any FTP or similar server, and the evidence must be definitive as it was in this case, I’ll give you a product from our Store. You can choose what it is.

And, since I have published this post which can serve as a warning, when I find out about such piracy, I’ll go straight to the provider hosting the server and ensure the whole server is taken down.

There is a debate to be had about authors with millions of readers and millions of dollars, and the effect the occasional pirated book download has on them. I won’t go there today. But no one with a working brain cell seriously thinks that a blindness-related book with highly-targeted information fits into that category.

I’d like to close on a positive note. Thank you to everyone who does the right thing and buys our material. We’ll continue to try to provide quality material at a decent price. Not only can you help by making a purchase of something you want, but also by acting to stop behaviour that has the potential to spoil it for us all.

6 Comments

  1. Timothy Appleby

    Wow, how can one be so cruel by pirating stuff such as e-books, software etc, I don’t get it. I’d rather purchase the goods offline or online, at a physical store or on a reputable web site, it pains me to hear such illegal stuff moving as such a fast paste. I wonder if you have to DRM protect your e-books so that piracy would be preventable. I know it’s not totally possible to stop piracy but, we can try to reduce the amount of it.

    • Sandy Finley

      I worry that, here in the US, this kind of behavior is being normallized by the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The bar for personal ethics continues to slide downward and it is people like us who will sufffer when people like Jonathan decide that publishing a book like his is no longer worth it.

  2. Amanda Rush

    Jonathan,

    Thanks for writing this post. This kind of piracy goes on all the time in this community, and creators have a right to speak up when their products, which they’ve invested a lot of time and hard work in, are stolen.

    Might I suggest that, instead of selling your material in ePub format or similar, you consider doing something like publishing it on the web, and using a plugin like Restrict Content Pro to lock it down. This entails some user management, but it avoids having to come up with a DRM scheme that also works with screen readers or assistive technology devices, it’s still easy for people to consume, and it means that anyone who wants to pirate it has to perform a lot of copy-paste work and reformatting in order to pass it around. In the event that someone passes out a username/pwd combo, you can revoke the account, and you can also prevent more than one person logging in with an account at the same time.

    Just a thought.

    Amanda

  3. Rick Roderick

    The only way to keep the books and updates coming is to pay for them. I am glad I bought the book. I am a braille transcriber, and I cringe when people ask me to braille things for free.

  4. Mike Cole

    Hi Jonathan, My take-away is that blind and sighted people pretend innocence when they sneak a freebee to themselves and others, hey, I’m just passing something on, they might be heard to say. But we’re grown ups here. The guy knew he was precluding you from selling the book, he had a what-the-heck attitude going and you caught him. And as you say, it’s worse than any one of us passing on an article, it probably doesn’t matter if the Washington Post doesn’t sell one news paper, but it does matter when a person works hard to produce a technical book, a copy of which I have by the way. Chasing him down and confronting him was right and proper. I’m sorry that situation came about for you. I appreciate your fine efforts, hey you’re important and relevant enough people want to wrip you off, not good news, but sadly the way of the world some times. Hang in there. Mike

  5. Darre

    I think your products are excellent and well worth the money, not long ago I purchase Meet Me In The cloud, invalueable stuff. Maybe an alternative would be to have some kind of membership program where folks have to login and can only stream the content from their secure membership area?

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