A zero-tolerance policy on Wattpad, the social media site that claims 35 million readers and writers worldwide, has not done away with the problem of digital piracy on the site. Earlier this month over 41,000 readers downloaded free copies of a novel by New York Times bestselling author Jasinda Wilder, which had been pirated. The incident, Wilder estimated, cost her roughly $168,000 in royalties.
“Most of us indie authors know plagiarism is out there,” says Wilder, whose novel Alpha was posted by a Wattpadder earlier this month, under a different author and title. “Some of us ignore it, and others hire companies to do take down.”
Even though Wilder pays two companies to search for illegal postings—one found close to 32,000 of them—it’s unlikely that any company could have found Wilder's pirated work on Wattpad. The plagiarizer gave the book a new name, My Dominant Alpha, along with new cover art. The title was also posted by a different user: Amyleigh153. Because Wattpad pirates are now changing basic, but key, elements of the original work, they have become an even more worrisome issue for authors on the website.
It was a reader who ultimately brought Amyleigh153's work to Wilder’s attention. It took another 18 hours, from when Wilder initially contacted Wattpad, for the site to remove the work.
Wilder’s agent, Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency, also stepped in to get the pirated material deleted. But was not successful in obtaining the identity of AmyLeigh153. Plagiarizers on sites like Wattpad often commit their crimes to develop a following, so that they can rely on an established audience to purchase their own paid work.
Although Wattpad deletes offending accounts, it protects the privacy of the plagiarizer and will not release that information without a court order. “That’s unfortunate, as it does not stop this person from doing it again to some other unsuspecting author,” Nelson said.
Nor does Wattpad do anything to point readers back to the real author so that they can benefit from a potentially new fan base. “We delete offending accounts in keeping with our zero-tolerance policy,” said Jordan Fischler of Allison+Partners, a public relations firm that represents Wattpad.
Wilder isn’t the only author who has had to rely on the kindness of readers to delete an illegal post, either. S.L. Morgan recently blogged about her experience with Ancient Guardians, the first book in her series of the same name. In that case, the plagiarizer used an earlier cover and simply removed Morgan’s name.
“This was definitely an eye-opening experience for me,” Morgan told PW. “Initially, I was unsure how Wattpad worked, or what it was. I had honestly believed a reader/fan was promoting my work on the site, until I noticed she was literally taking credit as the author of the book.”
After Morgan and her friends confronted the pirate, whose handle was GraceRules, directly, the post was removed. Wattpad also declined Morgan’s request for the plagiarizer’s identity. “Wattpad wished me well and hoped this reader had learned their lesson.”