- by Patricia McLinn
You know how some stories change in mid-stream? Well, this is one of those. I started writing this blog saying that it was a work in progress. That I was “telling you upfront that there’s no ending – happy or otherwise – to this tale. Not yet.”
I was wrong.
There is an ending. And it is happy.
After having it pointed out that AT&T ads were appearing on a website that offered downloads of copyrighted material that had not been authorized by the copyright holder, AT&T said Monday that it is pulling its advertising from 4shared.com.
That is worth celebrating.
Maybe you have questions about all this. I can think of three big ones (those who know me are shocked – shocked! – that I can think of questions):
– Why should readers care about this?
– What does this mean in the big picture of copyright infringement and abuse of intellectual property?
– How did this happen?
Why should readers care?
I mean those many, many, many readers who don’t traffic with the copyright infringers, who buy from legitimate sources that pay the author and publisher – why should they care? For the same reason all of us honest shoppers care about shoplifting – because we are penalized for it. Just as shoplifters’ dishonesty becomes a cost that is calculated into the bottom line that stores need in order to stay in business, so it is with the cost of intellectual property infringement and the bottom lines that publishers and authors need in order to stay in business.
There’s another way the honest are penalized for the dishonesty of the shoplifters – suspicion. If you’ve ever noticed with discomfort cameras or eagle-eyed employees watching you in a store, you can thank the shoplifters for that. Consider DRM and its attendant annoyances the digital version of those cameras, and you can thank the infringers for that, too.
What does this mean in the big picture of copyright infringement and abuse of intellectual property?
In the context of one company removing advertising from one website, alas, it’s closer to a drop in the bucket than a tidal wave. Even in that context, however, it’s very good news that a.) it’s a big company and b.) it’s a drop in the right bucket.
And, in a broader context it might mean a lot more, because it alerts authors to an effective tool to use against some copyright-abusing sites.
Granted, there are a lot of sites abusing copyrights that are not supported by advertising. However, the ones that are supported by advertising tend to be glossier and more attractive, which lends an air of legitimacy to the whole abuse of copyrights that is not there with many of the mushroom sites we know and loathe.
If these legitimate-looking sites are not supported by advertising we might, eventually, have one less level of hell to pass through to protect our copyrights.
How did this happen?
After 4shared.com was mentioned on NincLink, I checked it out last week.
I didn’t check every file 4shared.com offers for sharing so I can’t say it doesn’t offer some legitimate file-sharing exercises that do not infringe on copyright. But it definitely has been offering free downloads of copyrighted material that were not authorized by the author. Including books of mine.
I went through the rigmarole of their “takedown request” form, which included promising that I really, truly, honestly was the copyright holder entitled to do this extraordinary act of taking down this material.
(You’d think that if they were that stringent about letting people put files up that they could avoid infringing in the first place. You’d also think that when they have, say, 10 files up under an author’s name and the e-mail addresses of the “sharers” are all different and not one of those addresses has any association with the author’s name that it is highly unlikely that it was the author/ copyright holder putting the files up. And you’d further think that people tech savvy enough to create such a site could create methods to prevent copyright abuse instead of forcing authors to expend time and energy in trying to undo the abuse of their intellectual property the site has fostered.)
Still in a state of irked about text telling me that my book Match Made in Wyoming had been downloaded 130 times in violation of my copyright, I noticed a banner ad above the text. The banner ad was for AT&T.
I checked other authors’ names, and saw more ads for AT&T. Hmmm.
So I searched online for the name of the AT&T executive who oversaw advertising and/or marketing. Bingo. I found a news release from May announcing Esther Lee being named senior vice president-Brand Marketing and Advertising. I also found Catherine M. Coughlin is the senior executive vice president and global marketing officer of AT&T Inc.
I called corporate headquarters and asked for Esther Lee’s office.
(Hint: You can find corporate headquarters phone number and address for publicly traded companies on financial websites, such as Yahoo!Finance, under “company profile.” The sites also list executives, and you might find the person you want to contact listed right there for medium or small companies. But for huge companies the folks listed are basically too high up to do much good . . . at least to start.)
On the first call, I reached the answering machine of Esther Lee’s executive assistant. I left a message. I called back about three hours later.
(Hint: Don’t wait forever to be called back.)
I explained who I was, and that I wanted to ask Ms. Lee about AT&T’s advertising on a site that infringed on copyright. He said Ms. Lee was traveling and would not be available the rest of the week. I asked when she would be back in the office. Monday, I was told.
So, I called Monday. This time the operator didn’t put me through. She put me on hold, eventually coming back to say Ms. Lee wasn’t available, but that she had someone else for me to talk to.
(Hint: Note the name of each person you talk to. Take notes of what they tell you. If a thread breaks, you want to be able to go back and pick up with one of the people you’d talked with previously.
(Another hint: If this handoff had resulted in a brushoff, I would have called the office of Catherine Coughlin, the senior executive vice president for global marketing. I’d also noted the CEO’s name. Try to always have another avenue to pursue, and be prepared to go higher if necessary.)
So, I called Melissa Oakley, who works in corporate communications for AT&T. She was expecting my call. She, in turn, gave me the name and contact information for another woman in corporate communications for AT&T, who worked closely with the area I was interested in.
(Hint: Don’t get discouraged. Keep following the thread, keep taking notes.)
I left a message for Jenny Bridges.
(Hint: Decide beforehand how much time you’ll let elapse before you call back.)
Bridges returned my call before my call-back time. Since my books had been removed, I directed her to listings for Kathleen Korbel (in case anyone’s in doubt, they were not authorized by the copyright holder, Eileen Dreyer.)
After some discussion, Bridges said she would look into it further and get back to me.
She had mentioned seeing different ads from the ones being displayed to me – not that she was denying AT&T was advertising on the site, but that she was seeing other ads. Interesting.
I kept searching more authors’ files. The vast majority of the banner ads I saw were AT&T, but I did pick up a few from Toyota. So, while I waited for a call from Bridges, I started tracking Toyota. That is still a work in progress; I’ll let you know how it goes.
I hope they’ll be as responsive as AT&T.
I had started drafting this blog when I received a call from Oakley, picking up for Bridges, who had other obligations. Oakley gave me the good news that AT&T was pulling its advertising – as quickly as possible.
She also connected me with Steve Governale through a conference call.
Governale team does online media buying.
He explained that AT&T works with network partners to set up online advertising aimed at certain audiences; the networks deal with myriad smaller sites. AT&T has guidelines for its network partners to follow in selecting acceptable sites for placing AT&T ads. To this point those guidelines have focused on avoiding such areas as pornography or, more broadly, sites that “basically wouldn’t be family friendly.”
He said he wasn’t sure that the guidelines explicitly address matters of copyright infringement.
He also said there were “a lot of sites where peer-to-peer is valuable and rights are well-managed.” However, “in this case, it felt like something we didn’t necessarily want to be aligned with.”
As a result, all AT&T ads would be pulled down.
AT&T’s withdrawal of its ads from 4shared.com “raises a red flag” to the network. “If they start to see that certain sites within their network have a bad reaction from advertisers,” Governale said, the network will be less likely to include those sites.
So, if authors contact more advertisers supporting these sites – and the advertisers respond as positively and promptly as AT&T has – the networks will recognize that sites infringing on copyright do not make good business partners. And the infringing sites’ financial support will dwindle.
Governale finished by saying that AT&T was “going to take a look at” including in “our requirements to any network partners that in file-sharing or peer-to-peer” sites all material has to adhere to copyright regulations.
Authors hope AT&T will adopt that requirement immediately, and that more companies will follow its lead.
Many thanks to AT&T’s Melissa Oakley, Steve Governale and Jenny Bridges for their time and their prompt response on this issue.
So, what should authors do?
– Note the advertisers supporting any site that infringes on copyright.
– Contact the advertiser and express your disappointment that they are supporting a site that infringes on copyright and intellectual property rights. (Some companies will actually appreciate it, as AT&T did. “You did the right thing – call the company,” Oakley said. “It’s a good way to alert us,” Governale added.)
– Go through the hoops to get your material taken down.
– Communicate to the site that you withhold permission for that site to ever offer any of your works.
And add another drop to the right bucket.