Tag Archives: piracy

Intellectual Property Theft, Part III

kbreast

The Breast Book by Maura Spiegel and Lithe Sebesta, outrageously similar to the manuscript my agent had shopped all over New York, performed even worse with readers than the dry work of Marilyn Yalom. At present, Amazon.com finds the book out of print with nine reviews: five 5 star, one 4 star, and three 3 star. Goodreads shows one review and sixteen ratings with a 3.75 average.

One of the book’s biggest drawbacks was its format—too precious for serious readers with a four-by-six inch sideways layout and a ten-point font. The text had been edited to a barely-coherent minimum. The publisher attempted to balance cost with the relatively untried market for a book on breasts. Hardly the loving extravaganza I had in mind, the book became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Determined to gain justice, I collected my carefully outlined fifty-three points of comparison plus the hard copy of the book and visited an intellectual rights attorney. A week later he called to say that yes, there were “certain uncanny similarities” but that he wasn’t in a position to pursue the matter against the publisher. The reality was that in order to sue for copyright infringement, I’d have to hire a New York attorney because that’s where Workman Publishing offices were located.

In order to have grounds to sue, I’d have to prove ‘damages,’ i.e. show that the money produced by the book would have been mine if not for their theft. Since at that point no one knew what money the book would produce, I had to wait to see if the book became a big seller. I’d also have to figure out how to determine the book’s sales. And I would have to come up with money for that New York attorney, or convince him there would be such a large settlement in this lawsuit that he’d be happy to take it on contingency.

Not.

Was all this simply a horrible case of bad timing and “uncanny” coincidence? I’ll never know. But it taught me a lesson about publishing: it’s a very nasty bucket of snakes. Cut throat tactics run rampant in a world where lazy people with few if any original ideas of their own prey on those of us rich with ideas and short on connections. Publishing, like anything else, is full of ‘who you know’ and glad handed back biting. Perhaps a book published by a mainstream publisher enjoys legal protection against theft. But before it hits the street, there is no protection.

Copyright? Oh, it sounds good. But the burden of proof lies in the claimant. There are no copyright cops walking around checking on these things. If an author is lucky enough to discover a work has been pirated, there’s still the need for attorneys. (Read: money.)

With self-publishing, the author has an advantage in getting the book to print without anyone siphoning the manuscript or concepts, but unfortunately that hasn’t eliminated theft. Now it simply occurs after publication. Lifting an electronic file of a book isn’t exactly rocket science. Stories abound of books for sale through unauthorized channels without any royalties going to the author. Or major sections of books end up in someone else’s publication. I’ve recently heard of an author losing chunks of a manuscript to a wanna-be writer after trusting that person to read and review the work.

Overall, I’d rather take my chances and continue to self-publish than wait months even years for my idea to wind through industry channels of agent, editor, and publishing process. At least with self-pub, I can earn 70% of the sale price on an ebook and 30-50% on a paperback. With traditional publishing, I’d be paid a dollar on the sale of a $16.95 book, and the agent would get fifteen percent of that.

Stealing is a white trash thing to do, whether it’s taking someone’s package off their porch, downloading an illegal movie or song, or ripping off parts of a book. Fortunately for musicians, writers, and other artists, there’s some small solace in the pleasure we find  shaping our ideas into real-world forms. Slime bag thieves who steal our ideas may gain a few dollars for their trouble but the miserable creeps will never know the joy of the creative process.

Maybe a breast book as I envisioned it, told passionately, would have hit the market with the same dull thud as did the works of Yalom and Siegel/Sebesta. After all, breasts are magical in multiple arenas and words, even photos, cannot capture the essence of that magic. I doubt I’ll make another run at the project. I’ve discarded most of my research but haven’t let go—yet—of the manuscript. Tossing that into the trash would be akin to cutting off a breast.

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Intellectual Property Theft, Part II

Cbreast

Revived in hope of still capitalizing on my fabulous notion, my new version of the breast book followed these chapter headings:

  • When Breasts Were Bare: Why Fat Breasts? The Shape is the Thing; Apples and Other Allegations; Definition of Female: To Suckle; The Breast: Site of the Soul; Clan of the Breast Queen
  • Get Those Women Out of Here: From bare breasted goddesses to shrouded wives, Sumeria to Rome. What do breasts say about falling from grace?
  • The Amazon: Women of lore who gave up a breast to fight
  • The Breasts of My Distress: Cesspools of sin, women head for cover; how did that lead to corsets and décolletage? Only witches wear their breasts loose; breasts as ornaments
  • Restless Breasts: Breasts in Revolution; A Victorian Life; Women’s Liberation; The Birth of a Fetish; A brief history of breast coverings; Pop culture and breasts
  • Glands, Ducts, and Fat (physiology)
  • Mother’s Milk (milk and human reproduction)
  • Pointedly Erotic (sexual response, arousal, pornography)

Appendices would include personal stories about breast cancer, breast augmentation, breast size. A running text along the bottom of the pages would chronicle the many slang terms for breasts. Chapters would begin with a poem.

Richard began shopping the manuscript around NYC. By January 1999, it was in the hands of four houses. He said length was the primary issue among editors he talked with, but agreed that if they had any vision for the project, they would recommend cuts and help shape the focus.

No one did. New York City froze for a while after 9/11. My idea died cleanly in early 2002 when a cutesy little book came out by Workman Publishing. Entitled ‘The Breast Book,’ it was authored by Maura Spiegel and Lithe Sebesta, two young women who worked in New York City and had connections in the publishing industry.

I bought the book and again experienced shock at the similarities between this and my second manuscript. Furious, I carefully documented the fifty-three main points where the new book paralleled my manuscript. Here are a few examples:

The poem I quoted at the beginning of Chapter 1: “There is something between us.” From “Breasts,” by Donald Hall.

The poem Spiegel and Sebesta quoted at the beginning of Chapter 1: “There is something between us.” From “Breasts,” by Donald Hall.

My first chapter, opening paragraph addresses the question of why women have fat breasts. “Why do women have them? No other animal breasts swell to such voluptuous proportion unless they are producing milk. Even for the chimpanzee, whose genetics are less than two percent variant from humans, the female chest hosts only an insignificant nipple except when feeding young.”

Their first chapter, opening paragraph: “…humans are the only mammals whose females have breasts that are permanently enlarged. While in other mammalian species the paps grow full only during lactation when the mother is suckling her young, female humans are perpetually endowed…”

Second paragraph, mine: “Is there some evolutionary basis for fat breasts?”

Their second paragraph: “Evolutionists have pondered why women developed this outstanding trait.”

Over the second and third page, I discussed various theories of breast fatness, specifically the Desmond Morris idea: that “…primate males mount their females from the rear…primate males must have been naturally stimulated by the sight of buttocks…what if milk-filled breasts reminded the males of buttocks…”

Theirs: “According to writer Desmond Morris, ‘If the female of our species was going to successfully shift the interest of the male round to the front, evolution would have to do something to make the frontal region more stimulating…’”

Next page, mine: “…fat stored in breasts helped provide food to nursing youngsters even when the rest of the tribe went hungry. The female body’s ability to store fat before and during milk production unquestionably assured survival in hard times.”

Theirs: “…[breasts] simply functioned as fat storage areas for females who evolved under nutritional stress. Ancestral humans walked long and far in search of food and they needed fat storage for years of lactation.”

And on it goes, page after page:

Mine: “Most women’s breasts are not equal in size.”

Theirs: “Many women’s breasts are unevenly matched, with one slightly larger.”

Mine (chapter on nursing): The nipple and skin of the areola darken from pink to a brownish color as a woman progresses through pregnancy and with each successive pregnancy.”

Theirs: “…the areola darkens and spreads, sometimes to a shockingly different shape and color.”

Mine (chapter on physiology): “Sometimes…a person is born with extra nipples (polythelia). Occasionally, nipples appear at such unrelated sites as the armpits, stomach, and pelvic region and, rarely, some breast tissue develops in these locations (polymastia).”

Theirs: “An estimated one percent of the human population breaks the rule with either polythelia (extra nipples) or polymastia (extra breast tissue).”

Mine: “In recent years, some women have been arrested for breastfeeding in public…”

Theirs: “In 1975, three women in a Miami park were arrested for indecent exposure while nursing their infants.”

Mine: Regarding the progression of breast coverings through Western culture, I cite Crete and present images and description of bare breasted goddesses

Theirs: same

Mine: Medieval Europe, “The old garb of plain loose chemise underneath coarse woolen robes gave way to finer fabrics and tailoring. Among the favored features of women’s dresses was the tight-laced bodice made possibly by the invention of the corset, which consisted of two layers of linen stiffened with glue.”

Theirs: Women “traded their loose tunics” and “hit upon the innovative front-lacing corset.”

Mine: “During the time of Queen Elizabeth, upper class women experimented with steel corsets which laced up the back. These were lined with thin silk and served to flatten the breasts and give an upright posture…”

Theirs: “Elizabeth I chose rigid corseting that minimized her femininity while enhancing her authority. In such tight girdling, she must indeed have walked with unbending majesty.”

Mine: Historical review of breast improvement methods including creams, exercises, and surgeries. I cited annual plastic surgeries statistics.

Theirs: Historical review of breast improvement methods including creams, exercises, and surgeries. Cited annual plastic surgeries statistics.

I discussed size, is bigger better? Their section “Is Bigger Really Better?”

I discussed augmentation surgery, including price, silicone use, “hardening around the implant” (capsular contracture) and loss of nipple. They discussed augmentation surgery including price, silicone use, “capsular contracture” and loss of nipple.

I discussed ‘falsies,’ the history of their development and advertising terms such as “lemon bosoms.” Their heading: “The truth about falsies,” including history of their development and “lemon bosoms.”

I discussed the breast as a symbol: “Basic symbols derive from the idealized breast image, a circle within a circle…” Their heading: “Magic Circle.” “A round within a round…”

I briefly discussed breast tattoos and provide one photo from a collection. Spiegel and Sebesta briefly discussed breast tattoos and USED THE SAME PHOTO.

I could go on, but I fear you, dear reader, may tire of the tirade. Suffice it to say that if I mentioned Amazons and the derivation of the word in Greek (a=without, mastos=breast), they did too. If I mentioned strip tease and the casual exposure of the breast, so did they. If I related the story of St. Agatha in my group of stories about breast mutilation, so did they, including the same image of breast-shaped baked goods served on a tray. I presented the bare-breasted image of liberty by Delacrois in conjunction with its analysis by Anne Hollander. So did they.

In my appendix of slang terms for breasts, I begin with “abbondanzas, abundance, airbags, angel cakes, apples…” And yes, they have a list of slang terms, too, beginning with “abbondanzas, abundance, angel cakes, antiaircraft guns, apples…”

Those clever girls.

What did I do about this? Check my next post, coming soon.

Intellectual Property Theft, Part I

DbreastI recently read another author’s lament that her self-published book had appeared in the marketplace under another author’s name. Soon other authors in this discussion thread added their emotional stories about finding exact sentences or entire paragraphs of their works appearing in other books. Everyone lamented these problems that seem inherent in self-publishing.

No one should assume such problems occur only in self-publishing. Here’s my story.

As often happens to me in the spring, in March 1995 a brilliant idea captured my imagination. A book on breasts! Why were there hundreds of published works on World War II, for example, and nothing out there about breasts but dry tomes on cancer or breast feeding? What about the rest of the story?

The book I had in mind would explore each aspect of this hallowed and controversial feature of the female anatomy. I jotted down a quick outline as my brainstorming progressed. I went to the library and searched the “books in print” to see if something like this had already been published. I also searched the listings of ‘forthcoming books.’ Thrilled to find nothing similar to my concept, I dove into research.

By late winter that year, I had a chapter outline and partial manuscript, enough to start sending queries to prospective publishers. I kept checking the most recent edition of ‘forthcoming books,’ haunted by the idea that someone would beat me to the punch. My chapters included the following:

  • Female Breast in Society: An overview of how the breast has been viewed in human cultures through art, religion, word derivation; the influence of the breast on women’s place in society.
  • Clothing the Breast: evolution of women’s attire; how women’s identity is influenced by methods of dress.
  • Woman Revealed: how artists since the earliest times have depicted the breast in statuary, engravings, paintings, and pottery; the use of the breast as a symbol of fertility; erotic depictions of the breast; breast in political and religious symbols; classic and modern realism; modern day entertainment and advertising.
  • Her Pappes Round and Thereto Right Pretty: A review of breasts in literature including poetry and modern erotica.
  • Glands, Ducts, and Fat: An overview of breast physiology and its functions, diseases, and treatments; history of breast cosmetic surgery, ritual mutilations, tattoos, and piercings.
  • Mother’s Milk: Review of the biological process of milk production; examination of controversy over formula versus breast milk; breast feeding and breast milk in health and psychological development of the child.
  • Pointedly Erotic: Review of the many roles breasts play in human sexuality
  • Poking Fun: Jokes, slang terms, cartoons.
  • Testimonials: Candid personal testimonials revealing views about breasts; photographs of non-glamorous breasts.

This was a working outline I fully expected to be refined as an editor provided experienced feedback. I said as much in my cover letter, which I sent along with the outline to all the major publishing houses. By early June, I had received form rejection letters from all of them. Of particular interest to my story here is the letter from Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. “Thank you for your recent letter. We have discussed the manuscript which you propose, and I am very sorry to report that it is not a likely prospect for Knopf…”

I regrouped and started contacting agents. I got interested responses from three agents and went with the first one who replied—the Claudia Menza Agency (NYC). Richard, the agent who wrote me, asked for whatever manuscript I had. I sent it to him in October. He projected a read/wait time of 10-12 weeks.

In January 1997, Richard called me to say that Knopf was coming out with a book very much like mine. I couldn’t believe it! Why no mention of this in the listings of ‘forthcoming books’? Why didn’t their rejection letter tell me they already had a similar concept in the works and save me months of work? I had no choice but to wait until the book hit the market January 28. I ordered a copy and steamed through it, hardly able to believe my eyes.

Authored by Marilyn Yalom, a professor at Stanford University’s Institute for Women and Gender and with two books previously published by Knopf, the book was entitled A History of the Breast. The table of contents:

  • The Sacred Breast: Goddesses, Priestesses, Biblical Women, Saints and Madonnas
  • The Erotic Breast: Orbs of Heavenly Frame
  • The Domestic Breast: A Dutch Interlude
  • The Political Breast: Bosoms for the Nation
  • The Psychological Breast: Minding the Body
  • The Commercialized Breast: From Corsets to Cyber-Sex
  • The Medical Breast: Life Giver and Life Destroyer
  • The Liberated Breast: Politics, Poetry, and Pictures
  • The Breast in Crisis

At 279 pages, the book trudged through quotes, a few images, and a boring narrative.

To me, it seemed obvious that someone at Knopf saw my outline, thought it was a great idea, but didn’t think I had any credentials to be the author. Who was I? Not published. Not a professor. Just somebody out in the heartland with a great idea.

Richard tried to comfort me. He said things like this happen. He said it would be unusual for a big publisher like Knopf to resort to such tactics and that pulling together a book that fast would be difficult. I argued back—Knopf had my outline in March. Why no listing in the ‘forthcoming books’? What about Yalom’s stable of graduate assistants to kick up research?

Currently on Amazon.com, Yalom’s book has only ten reviews: six at 5 stars, two at 4 stars, and one each at 3 and 2 stars. On Goodreads, a deeper history of reviews shows an average 3.91 rating. One of the 29 people who wrote a review gave it one star with the following statement: “In reading this book I was hoping for something entertaining and engaging, or something that offered interesting anecdotes, historical facts, people, or situations. That is definitely NOT what this book is. It is actually more of a history of the depictions of breasts in poetry, art, and propaganda, and even then, the book is focused at least as much on a feminist analysis of these texts as it is on the presentation of historical facts/stories…”

In other words, Yalom drew largely on her previous scholarship in feminist studies. She evidently didn’t share my passion in celebrating the breast. But now the book was out there and my project was DOA.

On Richard’s advice, I rewrote. The new book, tentatively entitled simply ‘Breasts,’ would carry a less scholarly tone and take a more ‘fun’ approach to the topic. Richard and the agency liked the rewrite concept I sent two months later. That spring and early summer, I wrote the manuscript, commissioned sample photographs, and sent him the package in July. Over a period of months, we discussed various elements and tweaked the text. The following March 1998 they sent me a contract giving the agency sole right to represent my work.

Stay tuned—the next chapter of this story will be posted in my next blog.