I am writing this letter because on March 13 I discovered employees at the company I used to produce some booklets of my poetry had (in their words) “printed a few extra copies” for themselves… apparently “to pass around.”
This was done without my permission, and without my knowledge. I am selling the booklets for charity (which is clearly stated in its text). A copyright on the last page is also very clearly visible.
I did return two days later, and was given a full refund. However, I was given conflicting details by one of the store employees involved, and I’m afraid I have no reason to trust that all the copies were indeed shredded and the file deleted – which is what I was told.
I will never be sure that unauthorized copies of my work did not leave that building with one of the employees before I ever even picked them up. So, though the problem has been resolved on one level, I am still left with an uneasiness that has prompted me to share my story with you.
While I am choosing to not name the business directly, I will say that it’s a large, national office-supply chain with a number of stores on the Delmarva Peninsula. (And when it came to appropriating my original works of poetry, it certainly did seem as though that was easy.)
This is the first time I have ever done any sort of printing of this nature. And I am fully aware of the doctrine of “buyer beware” but I don’t think it’s naive of me to expect the printing place to not run off a bunch of free copies of a little zine I’m selling to raise money for local food banks. Nevertheless, that’s what happened.
It is not my wish to see anyone lose their job. Despite how selfish, insensitive, unethical, and negligent their actions were, I do not believe they had overtly malicious intent.
In fact, I think it was supposed to be some sort of compliment, however misguided.
This letter is meant to serve two purposes... one is to be a warning to anyone looking to publish or copy any personal or copyrighted material.
(While I was in the store that day, another customer was having copies of bank statements made. If someone can run off copies of my poetry book, then it’s safe to presume they can make extra copies of anything they’re given).
So, absolutely, caveat emptor, fellow consumers. Learn from my foolish presumption of integrity and good will among those entrusted to do the job they’re being paid to do. Imagine my embarrassment. Mea maxima culpa.
But in addition to a warning, I also want my letter to help those employees who would do something like this to understand what kind of hurt and damage they cause to those who are struggling to make a living, start a business, and do something positive.
The book is an old-school throwback type of self-published zine. The verse is a form of micro-poetry called Pi(e)-ku, are composed to celebrate Pi, Pie, and All Things Round. (Pi(e)-ku is like haiku, but instead of “5-7-5” it’s 3-1-4.)
The issue I had printed on March 12 was Issue No. 1 of what I intend to be a quarterly publication with 50 percent of all sales being donated The Delaware Food Bank, The Maryland Food Bank of the Eastern Shore, The Food Bank of Southeastern Virginia, and the SPCA in Georgetown, Delaware. All of this is explained on page 1 of the book.
The store employee even told me they knew it was for a good cause.
So this thing I did for the very first time ends up getting taken by the very first people who see it. That is just so… spirit-draining. I’m just a random nobody trying to encourage the community to come together and have fun with poetry and art for a good cause.
Anyone can write Pi(e)-ku — anyone can get published in an upcoming issue of P(e)-ku Poetry to help raise money to fight hunger and food insecurity in our communities. It’s nothing more than silly, creative fun to benefit those who could use a helping hand.
What those employees took from me was more than just my words, my work, and my time. They took a tiny part of the thing inside me that drives me to want to help others with acts of charity, art, and kindness.
They took a little more of the frail part of me that still hopes there are people left in society who can be trusted. They took the joy I put so much effort in to feeling.
The fine for copyright infringement can range from $200 to $150,000 per work, plus all court costs. Criminally negligent infringement can also result in up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 per offense, plus all court costs.
Part of me feels that the corporation ought to make a sizable donation to the Food Banks, and the SPCA in Georgetown, as a show of good faith they will ensure their employees never do this to anyone else.
I’m not a litigious person, but I can’t just take my refund and go home, only to let this fade away like nothing ever happened. So that’s why I’m writing this letter. Because I wish someone had warned me ahead of time. And because I don’t want anyone else to have to feel what this experience has made me feel, so I’m asking anyone who might do something like this to someone else to, instead, try being a better human than that.
What might seem small or trivial to you could mean a great deal to the person who put their heart & soul into creating it. And your actions can have bigger and more damaging effects than you could ever realize. Instead of taking what is not yours, engage the artist or writer and ask how you can get involved, or help promote, or work with or support.
Don’t steal from struggling crafters, artists, poets, musicians, or other small-time creative individuals who are just trying to eke out a living and make whatever positive contributions to the community they can make.
I am not Abbie Hoffman. Please do not steal my book. And please rethink such callous social indifference.
B. W. McGrory
Publisher/Editor, Pi-ku Poetry
State of Delaware National Beat Poet Laureate