08 August 2012

On Lynch Mobs, Social Media, and LendInk

Social media is a funny thing. Nothing moves more quickly than an angry internet lynch mob.

Authors today are understandably worried about piracy and copyright infringement. Especially the ones going it alone, who don't have a big publishing house at their backs.

What do these things have to do with each other? I've seen them work together, for good and bad, the past several weeks. I first became aware of a site claiming to be an ebook library, which was really just a place for people to upload and download (in other words, illegally share) books. The cry of piracy went up. I heard about it on AQC, then Twitter and Facebook. Authors sent takedown notices. Their FB page blew up. PayPal yanked their donate button. Within a very short  amount of time, the site had to deal with a lot of trouble brought by irate authors. And rightfully so. Though hiding behind semantics and nasty online personas, the site owner and main defender know exactly what they're doing.

Fast forward a couple weeks. I was about to get on a plane to visit my #goatposse writing friends in Las Vegas and was checking Twitter on my phone. I came across a conversation where someone I didn't know was accusing a writing friend of violating copyright and owning/operating a pirating site. I clicked through the conversation and links to see what was going on, and that's how I first heard of LendInk.com. My Twitter interactions at the time were assuring the rabid tweeter that no, this other person was not affiliated in any way with LendInk. (Turns out the confusion came up because of a Hootsuite toolbar that popped up on the window with my friend's Twitter profile pic. Which is not an excuse for this other person to get all crazy over it. If you don't know how social media apps like that work, you shouldn't be on social media. Or at the very least, you need to refrain from making accusations like that.)

After seeing what happened with the site-that-shall-not-be-named mentioned before this, I wanted to warn other authors about another possible piracy site.

Guess what I DIDN'T do? I didn't immediately start tweeting and posting and re-tweeting and shouting PIRATES! PIRATES! What I did do was look at the LendInk website. I was a little confused about what the site was, at first, and I didn't have much time to look before boarding my plane that day. What I gathered was that LendInk facilitates lending of ebooks (that are already lendable) and that said lending was handled by the appropriate sites (like Amazon or B&N).

There was still some confusion because I was seeing people tweet stuff about not authorizing LendInk to lend their books and people still shouting about piracy. I also noticed a few murmurings about it on Facebook. I didn't think it looked like a pirating site, and I had a plane to catch, so I forgot about it for a few days.

Imagine my shock and surprise when I returned a few days later to find that LendInk had been taken down as a result of this internet lynch mob mentality. My first thought was Oh, maybe I was wrong and they were pirating books. But I really wanted some more info. I didn't have to talk to anyone personally involved, as others had already done that for me. The first thing I read was April L. Hamilton's post on the topic, and then this one on The Digital Reader. They basically confirmed what I thought LendInk was about, plus clarifying a little farther how their process works.

Still, I was skeptical. Because how could SO MANY people fly off the handle like they did and be SO WRONG? Since the site had already been shut down (a result of their hosting company being bombarded with angry, misinformed emails threatening lawsuits, and NOT as proof of guilt) it was difficult to dig for more info. All I had to go on was what I remembered reading four days before.There were also people touting an emailed response received by a friend (or by themselves) from Amazon as proof that LendInk was in the wrong. The letter states Amazon did not authorize LendInk.com or any other website to lend their book, and then suggested "contacting that website to confirm your rights and request removal of your work." When I read that, the only thing I could think was that A) this sounded like a form reply, based on the misleading question about whether the site could legally lend boks, and B) LendInk was never lending books to begin with. No files were ever uploaded to, downloaded from, or stored on the site or its servers.

The owner/operator of LendInk has since replied directly to the article on The Digital Reader, and today a friend (the same one who had been accused of being the owner of LendInk by an overzealous author last week) directed me to another article, this time on techdirt, saying exactly the same thing: LendInk was completely legal and legitimate, and it was brought down by a lynch mob of authors who didn't do their due diligence in fact-checking.

So, to recap:
  • LendInk was not doing anything illegal
  • LendInk was not offering pirated books for free
  • Users could go to LendInk and state they had whatever title available for lending
  • LendInk hooked up users who were looking to borrow with users who had books to lend, then referred them back to either B&N or Amazon to do the lending
  • Lending ebooks is legitimate and legal
  • This fiasco is an example of social media gone wrong
It is truly sad that this scenario played out the way it did. I don't know what will happen to LendInk or if the owner will be able to get it up and running again. I hope so. But at the very least, I hope this is a warning to writers everywhere.

You are responsible for your own actions. You owe it to yourself and to those who could be negatively impacted by your premature mouthing off to do your homework. Read FAQs, take to google, email the appropriate parties (and for goodness' sake, give it TIME! Not everyone is glued to their inbox every second of every day the way we are, waiting for query rejections or news from an agent), talk to each other in a civil manner, and remember that everything you do in a case like this will be subject to public scrutiny.

Think. Then act.