More on Apple and Pirates

applepirates.jpg

So, the weirdly expensive pirated version of my ebook is still there on the iBooks store. Just to recap, The Felapton Digest 2017 is available for free on Smashwords, they distribute to other ebook providers (Kobo, Apple etc), so my ebook with them is available legitimately via iBook for the princely sum of $0.00 (€0.00 and £0’00”00 in old money). Somebody has taken the free version off Smashwords (and some other free books from the same source by different authors) put into Apple’s own ebook making software and from there put into the iBook store at a price of $39.99. Weirdly the book is dated September 2017.

I contacted Apple support once I was made aware of the piracy. The first response I got was from the “ibooks_applicationsupport” team at Apple. That response was helpful in so far as it pointed me towards the next step – contacting “iBooks Store Content Dispute”. I navigated through the legalese of that stage and got an automated reply and since then…NOTHING from the legal side of things.

Yesterday I got this email from Apple:

We’d like to hear from you.
You recently contacted iTunes Provider Support.
We’d love to hear about the experience.
Your Advisor: XXXX
Your Case ID: XXXXXX
Take the survey
Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

Sincerely,
iTunes Provider Support

Hmmm. Now basically Apple has done nothing but this survey is framed so it is asking about the support the person who sent the FIRST email gave. Well, that person gave the correct advice but that advice was also useless. I could answer this survey saying their advice was fine but that would be wholly at odds with my actual experience. However, almost certainly the survey would form part of the actual personal evaluation of this person! They didn’t do anything wrong! It’s like the survey is framed to make that person a human shield.

I decided to answer negatively – the experience had not been a good one and the complaint is wholly unresolved. Of course, by then I was even more cross because Apple had contrived the situation that I had to give a blameless employee a shitty comment because Apple had messed up.

Feeling now both cross and guilty, I went back and replied to the original email:

Hi,

I just received a survey from Apple on my customer experience with regard to my issue. My response was uniformly negative.

The pirated version of my book is STILL available on the iBooks store. Apple still receives money from the sale of it. Aside from copyright theft, that’s also fraud and I also assume it is a money-laundering scam.

The response from Apple? “Please understand that we have a high volume of complaints at this time and are delayed in processing. Duplicate submissions will not expedite your matter and may in fact delay the processing of your claim.”

That’s not good enough. I doubt that Apple would be satisfied with that response if somebody was appropriating Apple’s intellectual property – and Apple would be quite right to be cross.

When will the pirated version of the book be taken down?

Will all people who spent money on the pirated version be fully compensated?

The seller who pirated my book appears to have done the same with at least two other authors. Will that be investigated?

How will this rogue seller be sanctioned?

In general what steps are Apple taking to prevent this? Again, possibly this kind of scam is a means of money laundering – which would make Apple unwittingly part of some wider criminality. What is Apple doing about that?

There was a reply to that email:

Hello Camestros,

My name is XXXX. I’m a senior Advisor here to assist you moving forward. I understand you have contacted our legal team through the iBooks Store Content Dispute Form provided by XXXX.

They will be the team that can address your questions regarding this case. We provide administrative level support for publishers and authors that submit their content to iBooks.

If you do not hear back from our legal team reply with the incident number and date you submitted your claim.

Thank you for your cooperation. Your case number is xxxxxxxx

Best regards,
Apple Inc.

I replied to that as follows:

Thank you for your reply, XXXX.
I understand that your department’s role is different but I was sent a survey from your team asking how well my complaint has been dealt with and in the circumstances, I had to give a uniformly negative answer. However, that survey was structured in a way that implied my responses were about the first point of contact (XXXXXXXX XXX). I hope you understand my dilemma there – yes, that initial contact referred me to the team that Apple wants to deal with the issue but no, as far as I can see THAT team has done nothing. Not only have they done nothing (in response to what appears to be a crime) they actively discourage further contact.

Put another way: how Apple organise themselves internally and which departments do what is not something that is actually my concern. Your store (or rather the store of the company whom you are representing publicly) is doing something illegal. I have made you (as in Apple) aware of this. Apple should be taking action as a consequence.

This isn’t a customer complaint per-se. I’m not unhappy with a product or disappointed with a service. It is simpler than that – Apple is charging people money for something I made that you should not be charging people money for. I’d like you (Apple) to stop doing that. That’s not legally or ethically complex.

Think about it this way. Imagine a somewhat surreal scenario:

I walk into a physical Apple store and to my surprise, I see that amid the shiny devices is a computer that was stolen from my house. Next to it is some other stuff that also looks like stuff that’s been nicked from people’s houses. I walk up to the Genius Bar and say “Hey! You are selling stuff nicked from my house and probably from other people’s houses!”

  • The right response from the person at the Genius Bar would be “WTF! How did that happen! That’s terrible! We shouldn’t be acting as a market for stolen goods! I’d better sort this out!”
  • The wrong response would be “Oh, my job is just to advise on what apps you should get for your iPad. You’ll need to speak to our legal team. There will be a long wait because this kind of stuff is always happening.”

Anyway – yes, I get your team can’t fix the problem but no, that’s still not good enough. You represent Apple to customers and potential customers, you represent the whole organisation when you deal with the public. I’m not going to rate or evaluate the response of Apple as a whole organisation in terms of sub-departments.

Sorry for the rant. I get that you don’t have any power over this but your the point of contact that I’ve got.

So far still no word from the dispute team and the only human contact is from the hapless “ibooks_applicationsupport”. On reflection I should have contacted them and said “Gosh, the price on my book looks wrong, can you fix it for me?” and treated the whole thing as a *technical* problem (which is within their purview) rather than a legal one (which appears to have raised Apple’s defensive legal-liability shields).

Sooner or later one of these scams is going to land Amazon or Apple in real hot water. It won’t be this one but if it is so pervasive that I stumble into one with just my third ebook, then there must be a lot of it going on.

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19 thoughts on “More on Apple and Pirates

  1. Maybe you could talk to Popehat about what might work to actually get somewhere with Apple’s legal department. A possible thing would be for you and Smashwords to officially withdraw your book from iBooks, and it is possible that Apple would then remove all copies of the book from the store, including the pirated one. That’s something the customer service people could technically do. And then you could put the free one back up later. But maybe there’s some magic legal words (since the ones you are using aren’t particularly a concern to them,) that would get you a contact person.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Just a heads-up: it looks like you’ve left some potentially identifying info at the bottom of one of the emails.

    But also, Christ, what does it take to get Apple to take this illegal, fraudulent, potentially money-laundering scam seriously? That said, given my own issues with another large company and their frustrating legal team, I’m not greatly surprised.

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  3. @Camestros Felapton: “On reflection I should have contacted them and said “Gosh, the price on my book looks wrong, can you fix it for me?” and treated the whole thing as a *technical* problem”

    ROFL! That’s an awesome idea, and if you don’t (I realize it’s probably too late here), I hope someone tries this. It probably won’t work (contact info for seller not matching yours, or something like that), but it seems like a novel approach.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. IMO, it would be a good idea to ensure that your communication to Apple Legal comes across as a serious takedown request with all the elements mandated by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, i.e., is fully complaint with the requirements that law (17 U.S.C. section 512(c)(3)) imposes on such takedown requests. Otherwise, your request doesn’t come across as having teeth in it, and you’re likely to be left languishing in their trouble-ticket system. Using the prescribed terminology and providing the necessary elements of a compliant DMCA takedown request is more likely to get Apple Legal’s attention sooner, I think.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m glad you have that covered. 17 U.S.C. section 512(c)(3) is so execrably written that many complaints accidentally omit one or more of must-have-or-else elements (ii) (iii) and (iv) without which the online service provider can utterly ignore the request, not to mention the other three elements that can if omitted at first be supplied upon the provider’s request.

        The hard fact of the situation, though, is that Apple Legal are motivated to care about DMCA Safe Harbour only to the extent they fear contributory legal liability, and their downside risk for permitting bootlegging of a free ebook is pretty small even if you sue, which they can reasonably guess you won’t. (They have to make ‘expeditious’ response to get safe harbour, that term being up to courts to define situationally.)

        For the record, given that the concept of ‘actual damages’ probably wouldn’t apply, a (highly) theoretical suit would have a haul limited to statutory damages (US $250 to $10k, as the court decides), an injunction against further infringement, and reimbursement of legal costs and expenses. But of course in a small matter like this, litigation would be unlikely, and they know that.

        Liked by 3 people

    1. I also assume they are in deeper legal doo-doo than the usual DMCA situation. Apple gets money from sales on the iBook store and so directly financially benefit from the sale of this pirated book.

      Either way they are clearly NOT be expeditious in its removal!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Belatedly correcting my comment of a moment ago, you’re right that to the extent Apple get money from the sales, there are indeed actual damages that could be claimed in a theoretical infringement case.

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      2. Interesting – I’m still not going to sue but this must be happening to other people (perhaps without their knowledge). Apple could be slowly chalking up a substantial liability

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      3. I think you should file it properly with all the i’s crossed and t’s dotted… wait… exactly like, not just in the form of, an official DMCA takedown notice. Because Apple Legal has probably tweaked that form you filled in *just enough* to not comply with whatever Rick said. So they can ignore you all they want. Which seems to be what’s happening. Using all the words will kick it up to someone with power.

        If you get the right magic words and get your incantations proper, they’ll take care of it just b/c it shows you know what’s what and might be inclined to sue them. So then it’ll disappear in a poof of smoke.

        They will absolutely continue to ignore you until you get your incantation correct.

        Never say you’re not going to sue. This is America. You can sue for anything at any time, and sometimes you have to. I did once, to recover minor medical expenses, lost wages, and a lot of damn annoyance from a hotel’s negligence. An apology, plus comping my room would have done me fine… but when they insulted me and then their lawyer insulted mine (!) it was ONNNNN. Luckily for all, someone higher up the legal chain realized the local screw up and quickly settled out of court. Paid the lawyer, the hospital, recouped the lost wages, and went moderately nuts with my Visa card for a week.

        There are plenty of IP lawyers who’d love to sue Apple to make their name or a quick buck or both. You could become one stepping stone (even if you don’t sue, but provide info to someone who does) in getting this scam shut down. It’s not fair to the authors, like that poor guy who had the $25K tax bill.

        Liked by 2 people

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