On August 1, a vitriolic, hysterical mob of authors mistook e-book lending Web site Lendink for a piracy clearinghouse, rallying a terribly mistaken call to action.
The site remains offline today as details emerge revealing just how wrong these authors were -- and how unrepentant some of them still are.
Lendink was a hobby site put together by disabled army vet Dale Porter, who created a person-to-person e-mail request system where e-book fans could find out about lend-enabled books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and contact each other to arrange loans on titles they wanted to read.
Borrowing lend-enabled Kindle and Nook e-books is perfectly legitimate, as spelled out on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble Web sites; book e-tailers have a series of permissions in place where publishers can allow a 14-day lend of a purchased book between customers. (Amazon notes that "not all books are lendable -- it is up to the publisher or rights holder to determine which titles are eligible for lending.")
But to a few virulently righteous individuals, this was not a new model for library science, but a hotbed of peer-to-peer piracy that had to be stopped at any cost.
The whole ugly scene is reminiscent of when an angry mob in Britain vandalized a pediatrician's office when they thought the word on the doctor's office sign meant "pedophile."
An ugly, clumsy mob
It started when one person took a cursory look at Lendink and thought the site was giving books away for free -- and told as many authors as possible that it was a piracy site, and everyone's work was listed on it.
Via Twitter and Amazon's KindleBoards forums, the groupthink fed on itself. The mob conducted a campaign that essentially took the site offline for the foreseeable future, and enacted some scary DMCA and C&D abuse:
I noticed my work there and sent the site a Cease and Desist Notice, giving them 48 hours to remove my work or face prosecution.
They were in breech of copyright and deserved to be shut down. Am I proud they have been shut down? Am I proud to have stood up for my legal rights as author? You betcha!
What's worse is that when blogs such as Techdirt began to reveal the truth, the most vocal witch hunt proponents admitted no mistake and made no apologies.
Many have stood by their actions, in at least one instance claiming they meant to go after "Lendlnk" (lowercase L) and not "LendInk" (uppercase i) -- when no such site with the alternate spelling exists.
So far, one of the angry authors has admitted the mistake and apologized.
Dale Porter explained that the site -- originally purchased in hopes of passive income from Amazon's Affiliate program -- had actually been running on autopilot for a year as Porter battled health issues.
Porter told blog The Digital Media Machine:
At this time, the host company is only advising that they have received hundreds of threats regarding possible lawsuits if they did not take Lendink.com down immediately.
(...) The hosting company has offered to reinstate Lendink.com on the condition that I personally respond to all of the complaints individually. I have to say, I really do not know if it is worth the effort at this point.
The entire episode is an object lesson in IP and copyright among writers who don't understand the tools and technologies they use -- and whose sense of self-entitlement (or greed) runs roughshod over the social and cultural principles of their own medium: books.
It's OK to shoot the burglar?
The ugliness of Lendink's story underscores the malfeasance behind file-sharing hysteria.
Content creators perceive an untenable ownership; no one was sued for making cassette mix tapes, and libraries are not hotbeds of loan-theft.
It is obvious that the authors involved have limited technical understanding of digital goods.
It's also clear that many of the people unrepentant about the harm done to Lendink feel as though they themselves are harmed in some way by what they perceive Lendink to have done -- facilitated the loan of their books at the very least, or at worst, the copying of digital files.
It seems to me that these authors and indie publishers don't quite understand that computers are made to copy files.
This is a feature, not a bug.
As an indie author and digital self-publisher, I've seen much success by allowing my books to be loaned -- among other sharing methods, this has helped my business enormously.
Even still, we've learned that some authors apparently would never want their books in libraries, or to participate in the wider cultural good of library principles, such as the open exchange of information.