Monday, 22 July 2013

'TheTime Hunters' author Carl Ashmore asks: Dear Harper Collins, can I have my series back, please?

In September 2010, I was invited by the Strictly Writing team to write about my experiences on the Harper Collins writers website ‘Authonomy’. I had gained a gold star for my children’s book ‘The Time Hunters’, and a highly positive review from a Harper Collins editor. Here is a passage from that review:

'I really enjoyed reading THE TIME HUNTERS. You start off the action with a bang, drawing the reader in right away. Your writing is strong, and in places has a classic feel.... It has terrific potential.'

In October 2010, I decided to independently publish ‘The Time Hunters’ and made it available as print and eBook. Pretty quickly, the book gained a number of very positive reviews and began to sell well, generating a solid and loyal fan base. Since then, the book has gained 128 five star reviews across Amazon.co.uk and .com and sold twenty thousand plus copies. I have also published two sequels, ‘The Time Hunters and the Box of Eternity’ and ‘The Time Hunters and the Spear of Fate’ and they have sold equally well and maintained the same level of acclaim. I have also sold the foreign rights to a Brazilian major publisher, Bertrand Brasil, and ‘The Time Hunters’ is due to be published in that territory at some point in 2013.   


To sum up the plot, ‘The Time Hunters’ is about a young girl, Becky, and her brother, Joe, who, along with their time-travelling uncle and Will Scarlet, embark on a series of fast-paced adventures in a treasure hunt for powerful ancient relics.

Anyway, this month saw the publication of a new children’s series by Harper Collins. It’s called (I’m sure you can see where this is going) ‘Time Hunters’. And the plot – well, it’s about a boy and girl who embark on a series of fast-paced adventures in a treasure hunt through time for powerful ancient relics. Now, in many ways, that is where the similarities appear to end, but they don’t. In Book 5 of their Time Hunters they encounter ‘Blackbeard’ (I meet him in ‘The Time Hunters and the Box of Eternity’ (2011)).  In Book 4 of their series, they visit Ancient Greece, I do it in ‘The Time Hunters’ (2010). In Book 6 of their series they visit Ancient Egypt and battle mummies, I do that in ‘The Time Hunters and the Spear of Fate’ (2013).

I know full well you cannot copyright a title or idea, but this seems more than that. My series has been exceedingly visible across the Internet since 2010, so why on earth would anyone publish a new series under the same name, particularly when the general premise, some storylines and target audience are identical?

Like many writers, when preparing a new book, I spend countless hours considering titles, trying to find the most suitable one to reflect the tone, storyline, target audience and genre of the book. Upon crafting a list of candidates, I’ll Google what already exists. This is where I’m incensed by the actions of Harper Collins. ‘The Time Hunters’ (yeah, I know they dropped the ‘The’) is extremely visible whichever search engine you use. I also understand that some titles are common and will have multiple books attached to them. As an experiment, I Googled the term ‘Killing Time’ and found there were over twenty books from different authors with that title on Amazon alone. However, ‘The Time Hunters’ is a much less generic title. Plus, it is indelibly linked with an established and popular series that already exists … my series.
 
Furthermore, my frustrations are compounded by the fact the new ‘Time Hunters’ is published by Harper Collins - the very same company who said my book had ‘terrific potential.’

I have contacted the author and she (Chris Baker is a pseudonym) has pointed out she was working for a book packaging company, Hothouse Fiction, and that the name, concept, copyright etc. all belong to Harper Collins and Hothouse. She said she was merely a ‘hired pen’, that this kind of thing ‘no doubt happens a lot’ and I must find it ‘frustrating’. Well, in truth, there are other ‘f’ words I could use to more accurately describe my feelings about this.

And, in this case, I’m not sure this situation does happen as often as she suggests. As I said earlier, this is not merely the duplication of a title, or the similarity of the concept, this is a combination of the two that damages a brand (I hate that term) I have worked on since 2005. Clearly, if I approached another major publisher and pitched them a children’s time travel series about a boy and a girl that travel through time on a treasure hunt, then surely their response would be  ‘Well, hang on, Carl, a series like yours already exists and is published by Harper Collins.’

Let me just say I bear no ill feelings toward the author of the new TH series, whatsoever. She seems very personable and is just a writer trying to eke an income in a difficult publishing world. And I wholeheartedly believe her when she says she hasn’t seen my work. However, someone would have seen it, they had to have seen it - someone at Hothouse or at Harper Collins - and they still pressed ahead with their ‘Time Hunters’ series.

I’m just the little guy and they’re a major corporation. I write from my kitchen in a terraced house in Crewe, my four-year old daughter doing everything she can to stop me writing a word, whilst the people that have created this situation probably swan around Soho quaffing goblets of Viognier. The two stories are probably different enough for them to argue there has been no plagiarism, but I can’t deny this situation smarts, somewhat - no, as a matter of fact, it stinks…

Furthermore, as using the same title and concept of an existing series is clearly not an issue, then the next time I write a children’s series I’ll make sure it’s about young wizards and call it ‘Harry Potter’. No better still, I’ll call it ‘Ziggy Waggabobble and the Mosphorous Flagdulaters’, a story about heroin-addicted frogs that pepper their conversations with swear words. Let’s see if the Viognier quaffers want to nick that, too …

If you have any thoughts then my email is carlashmore@mailcity.com


46 comments:

Sandra Almazan said...

I submitted this post to The Passive Voice. There's no guarantee that PG will use it, though.

Have you done a passage-by-passage comparison of the works?

Roh Morgoon said...

Hi Carl,

Have you consulted an IP (intellectual properties) attorney?

I would if I were you. This rip-off just seems too blatant. The same premise? The same title? from a company that highly praised it?

Seems like a lawsuit to me. Hopefully you're ahead of me and already checking into it.

Eric B. Thomasma said...

Accept no imitations! Only the original The Time Hunters bears the name Carl Ashmore. Best wishes, Carl! Hope it all works out for you.

Derek Thompson said...

Carl, I'm speechless.

May I suggest the following:
1. Join The Society of Authors - they're a great organisation and, as a member, you could avail yourself of their expertise in this matter.
2. Follow up Sandra's advice and get the two manuscripts compared.
3. Contact the reviewer from Authonomy to see if there's a paper trail.
4. Collate your evidence, detail your concerns and contact Harper Collins for a response / meeting.

Please keep us informed on any progress at Strictly Writing.

Suzy said...

Sue. For real.

Carl Ashmore said...

Thanks, guys,

Your support means a great deal to me.

I only found out about the new series on Friday, so I'm still in the earliest stages of formulating any kind of response.

I shall certainly take your advice seriously and investigate some of those options.

It's all such a pain. It's hard enough to write with normal life/work getting in the way. The last thing I want to deal with is this mess.

Cheers, anyway. I'm a huge fan of your site.

JO said...

This is despicable. I agree with Derek: join the Society of Authors and talk to them - they have a legal team and may have a view.

Use every blog, blog comment, etc to draw attention to this - making sure that everything you write is totally accurate, so Harper Collins has no come back. You might like to splash it all over the forum on authonomy, with the link to your review (if it's still there), date, your date of publication etc.

You are up against a huge organisation -owned by Rupert Murdoch ... so don't expect miracles. But if you can make a big noise, you might ruffle their feathers a little.

LK Rigel said...

Harper Collins has a history of "appropriating" what they want - whether the creator wants them to have it or not. cover controversy

Carl Ashmore said...

Thanks, Jo. I shall. And yeah, I was thinking about making a little return visit to Authonomy.

And LK, I saw your blog post when I was investigating this issue. I find that cover duplication utterly despicable.

Kathleen Jones said...

I think you should go for it CArl - this is utterly despicable. There is definitely a plagiarism issue here. I had a similar thing happen to me - my agent circulated an idea and synopsis for a non-fiction book and two publishers came back saying what a wonderful idea it was - so commercial, but pity I wasn't well known enough for them to make a viable offer for the book. Then, a year later, out came the same book (slightly different title), same content, written by a much bigger author. It's criminal!!!

Rebecca Alexander said...

You're quite right to be livid but remember HC is a big, nasty beast and your blog might be interpreted as libel. Just a thought (you don't have to put this up!) I urge you to join the society of authors and ask their advice. And well done for doing so well with the books!

Lydia Bennet said...

this is awful for you and I think increasingly common. however you need to remember that these big orgs have pots of dosh and big rich lawyers. I'm thinking they'll be skating just on the legal side of plagiarism (if not the ethical side) having taken legal advice. as you say, plots and titles aren't protected, just the words used. I'm having one of my projects Quantum Sheep ripped off right now by Yorkshire sculpture park who don't give a damn and whose artist is claiming she thought of it, though mine's been all over the internet and in book form since 2003. Some supportive friends are saying go to law, sue them. just remember how much this can cost (no win, no fee is not much help if you win but the fee is way bigger than the settlement) and you'd be going up against big league lawyers. so be careful before committing to this action. Your series is already out there and selling well so they are openly copying you so hopefully they will look bad and any publicity will actually help your sales. even worse is rejected books or pitches leading to this practice before you can put them out yourself, which is also prevalent. by all means look into plagiarism by doing searches etc and talk to Soc of Authors who are worth joining in any case. Good luck.

Carl Ashmore said...

That's bad, Kathleen. So unfair.

I doubt they'd want to throw a libel action at me. I've simply asked why they have released a series with an identical title, similar concept etc. after saying mine had 'terrific potential'.And if they did throw a libel action at me then they'd receive incredibly negative and unwanted publicity.

And I'll have to seek legal advise before I'd consider suing anyone. I've not said that I'd do that.

This really is a question of ethics. And let's face it, as you can imagine, biting the lip on this issue is rather difficult.

Roz Morris aka NailYourNovel said...

This is horrible, Carl. I do hope you can sort something out - and as you way, it's a pity you have to.

Kathryn said...

Well, I for one, have retired my Authonomy profile (not that anyone was noticing!) Carl, I can't find the HC series anywhere on Amazon. Is it possible that they've pulled it, or was it not listed there? It's true that they are a big company with deep pockets, but the internet is a big ol' viral place full of self-publishers with blogs, so they might do well to consider that the brand they are actually damaging is their own.

Anonymous said...

If you're an American, go find a lawyer who handles copyright. Remember that you have a constitutional right to represent yourself, too. But you should be able to find a lawyer to take what sounds like a pretty case on a contingency fee basis (more below).

American authors: If you fail to register your work with the U.S. Copyright office you cannot bring a copyright infringement case, for which you can get not only damages but also attorney fees (hence, a good lawyer with a good case will take the case on a contingency-fee basis, with you paying only the expenses). Put another way, no registration effectively means no copyright (a right without an enforcement remedy is basically no right at all, right?).

You can register your copyright online for $35:

http://www.copyright.gov/eco/

Have a .pdf of your book and .jpg of your cover ready to upload.

Here's some law on the subject:

“[N]o action for infringement of the copyright in any work shall be instituted until registration of the copyright claim has been made in accordance with this title.” 17 U.S.C. § 411(a).

Hackett v. Feeney, 2011 WL 4007531 at * 7 (D. Nev. Sep. 8, 2011) (“For a valid copyright registration, an applicant must deposit as a part of his application a copy or copies of the work.”).

Attorney's fees as recoverable damages:

In any civil action under this title, the court in its discretion may allow the recovery of full costs by or against any party other than the United States or an officer thereof. Except as otherwise provided by this title, the court may also award a reasonable attorney's fee to the prevailing party as part of the costs.

17 U.S.C. § 505.

Latest Attorney Fees case: Allora, LLC v. Cambridge Builders of Johnston County, Inc.,
--- Fed.Appx. ----, 2013 WL 3388937 (4th Cir. July 9, 2013).

Just to avoid legal hassles in publishing my "KC" book on Amazon: I had made up a website that one of my characters owns. I Googled to make sure no one owns it. But when I published "KC," someone in fact had just bought it. So I had to make up a new name and, just to avoid downwind hassles, bought it from GoDaddy. The sales guy (they call you the next day to try and up-sell you on additional services) laughed when I told him I spent the $4 just to avoid legal hassles, but otherwise had no intention of ever using the site (a faux porn-site).

Here's my book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DYVWGUY

Carl Ashmore said...

Kathryn, I think it's only appearing on Amazon.co.uk at the moment.

http://goo.gl/MyRYfc

And thanks, Roz. Most kind.

Alexandra Lynwood said...

Saw this on The Passive Voice, and came over to read the full article.

I'm pretty bemused by the whole thing in all honesty. Did Harper Collins just imagine you wouldn't care or notice?

From what you've said the differences are so minute as to be completely discountable. I would be interested in a side by side paragraph comparison to see just how far it goes.

I'm not an attorney, but it seems like a straight forward case of IP theft. Sure you can't copyright an idea, only the expression of it, but if so much of that expression is identical it's the same difference.

The most damning aspect of your article is the mention of Authonomy. The fact you posted the book there and received such great feedback, made me laugh.

I guess none of us can trust anyone with our manuscripts anymore. That's pretty sad coming from a big 5 publisher. It's not as if we can avoid submitting our books to the publishers to avoid this kind of thing. Well, unless you plan to self-publish, and many writers still prefer the legacy system.

Hope you get this sorted out soon, truly.

Thomas Jefferson said...

This is a case believe or not CAN NOT be tried and proven in court for the theft and piracy of an IP i.e. Intellectual Property unless you have a copyright or trademark for the name, and since THE is important to the case it wouldn't matter if you had TM or branding. You have to file a copyright any time you come up with an intellectual property idea to stop this from happening. Now, where you do have a case is getting part of the royalties if their IP wasn't copyrighted before you posted your book. And, they most definitely have a copyright and it is public record since the series is already in print, it wouldn't be if still a work in progress to keep what happened to you from happening to them. But, you have the date of the posted book on hence website, Authonomy, you can get the date for the filing of said copyright of TIME HUNTERS, which rights belong to Harper Collins, which also owns Authonomy. You see where I'm going with this. You CAN NOT stop the book from print or be removed, but you can and have quiet a good chance of getting a good portion of the royalties for their series. Do the leg work, don't let them steal from you. Hire an attorney if need be, but you can do something about the money, just not the book.

Stephen Winterflood said...

There is a big difference between the two series - one is a quality piece of work with well designed covers and the other is a cheap production with poor covers.

I guess this shows again where the values of some big publishers are. Knock out a cheap copy for quick profit and don't care about the writers who give us these ideas in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Well, hang on a second.

Kids travelling through time to places like Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt isn't an incredibly novel premise. There's a very partial list here, for example: http://timetraveltimestwo.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/list-time-travel-book-series-for-kids/ - and I'd be surprised if the 'treasure hunt' aspect hadn't also been done.

If the only similarities are the name and the general premise, I don't have very much difficulty in believing that someone at Hothouse came up with it independently. And of course what is protected in law and valuable commercially is the expression of the idea, not the idea itself.

There is the possibility that you could accuse HC of trading on an established (though I'm guessing unregistered) mark of yours, w/r/t the title, but you'd have to show that there's a substantial risk of confusion that would hurt your business. It's not beyond the bounds of possibility - I'm not a lawyer.

I find it unlikely that Authonomy had anything to do with this even if the series was somehow derived from yours. Hothouse, in my experience, comes up with series ideas and sells them to publishers, rather than the other way round. It doesn't have any connection to Authonomy.

That's just my take on it without any more detail and without having read either book, so take with a pinch of salt.

Ken Weene said...

I suggest that you make this issue more broadly known. In fact, you can even use it to market your book. Become a thorn in the side, and the big boys may decide to come to reasonable terms. This is, however, one problem when you create an idea for a series, too easily ripped off.

Debs Riccio said...

Think what Stephen Winterflood says would be the only thing keeping me from going out of my mind if I were you right now, Carl. I cannot believe this sort of thing is allowed to and clearly does happen. And as an unpublished writer it makes me wonder 'so what's the flippin' point?' (insert alternative eff word).
And to echo Stephen's point, the HC covers (and indeed internals) are pretty flimsy, infantile things with silly sketches and giveaway 'cards' as another incentive. Your series needs no such enticements; it stands on its own merits. (I am still FUMING on your behalf, btw).

Jaclyn Aurore said...

Carl, your story has shaken every author up, particularly those on authonomy. One of my books is self-published and has already been awarded the HC ED award. it too is part of a series and now I'm nervous. I have spoken to a lawyer to see what action I can take now to prevent being in the same situation in the future. Sadly, there's nothing you can do to prevent, but she did suggest to pursue legal action because you do have a case. Plain and simple. The whole situation is awful.

I have a second book close to the desk now and wanted to pull it. Instead, I've removed content and posted your story to make word count. Please see the link and spread the word.

Hopefully more eyes will see your story and if nothing else, the situation will be addressed - and you get what is rightfully yours.

http://authonomy.com/books/48108/my-life-without-me/read-book/?chapterid=476978#chapter

Robert Richardson said...

I'm sorry to say I agree that I do not believe this can be tried. The only way I can see it being tried is if you had The Time Hunters trademarked. Suing them would require them to produce all their discussions on the series, right? So if they had talked about ripping you off there might be a case I think? It would at least be bad publicity and they may be willing to settle outside of court in spite of you not having a strong case.

This is absurd though. It's also ridiculous that the fake author name has the same first name as you.

Robert Richardson said...

Gah. Misread Chris as Carl. Sorry! I still maintain that it's absurd they started with the same letter for their fake author name.

Anonymous said...

Just staggering. Sounds like an HC executive took a risk, perhaps expecting that you, a supposed Authonomy minnow, would drift away rather than sell, what was it, 20,000+ copies. (Congrats!)

Carl, your case looks sound as a pound. You have to pursue this. Hit those plagiarists with a writ. It's a shame for any well-intentioned employees who worked on the Hothouse/HC project when they get zapped with that injunction to cease and desist this utterly flagrant plagiarism. Tough cheese. They're all ripping you off and that's still against the law!

OK, the rip-off is more like Carl Ashmore *meets* Horrible Histories, but the case stands and it's outrageous. The time-travel children's adventure genre is as popular now as when Dan Billany wrote The Magic Door but that's no excuse. Shame on whoever passed this off as an original HC idea. Someone's head should roll...

Debs Riccio said...

Hear hear, Anonymous!

Mister Teacher said...

Carl, I'm very sorry to hear this is happening to you. I just recently finished your second Time Hunters novel and enjoyed it just as much as the first. Best of luck in getting this resolved to your satisfaction.

Sheri said...

Carl,

This really is horrible and something we all fear as authors.

What can we do to help you?

I will try to post it on my facebook page but if there is any band wagon you need me to jump on, I will be happy to.

I have been trying to get my children's series published and have sent the premise & query to several agents. I have read several times that plagiarism is never something we as authors need to worry about. Agents and publishers are way too busy to even conceive that thought...

Very sad that it is happening before our eyes and so blatently.

I copywrighted a novel of mine a few years ago but then was told that once it is written and sent via email, that is copywright enough.

Again, anything I can do, let me know! Oh and I will go buy your books. They are on amazon?

Good luck! Sheri

Sheri said...

Carl,

I am just sick that plagiarism was so blatantly thrown in your face.

I am a children's author also and have been worried that an agent might take my query and premise and run with it. I thought I was being paranoid.

I have read that publishers and agents have no time to steal ideas, they are too busy doing books deals. So much for reading on the internet.

If there is anything I can do or a bandwagon you need me to jump on, count me in.

Also regarding copywright, it is considered copywrighted once it is sent via email and is dated. You definitely seem to have a case to me, especially since you received such praise.

Good luck with it all and please keep us uprised of things. I will try to post your blog on my fb page.

Are your books on amazon? I will buy them!! :)


Take care, Sheri

Carl Ashmore said...

Hi all,

Thank you so much for your support. It really does mean a lot.

As you can imagine I've had all kinds of ideas spinning through my head of late. On one hand, I know that the books/stories are different in many ways - on the other, I know that my series has been out for quite some time, has an identical title, similar general concept, same target audience and was described by HC as having 'terrific potential on Authonomy.

What still riles me is that this could have all be avoided with a simple google search and a rebrand.

Anyway, I contact HC a week ago and have still to hear from them. I've also been fortunate in that a fellow writer friend of mine's husband is a copyright lawyer. He is looking into my situation to see if there is any case. I don't know, I'm not that knowledgeable into the detailed legalities of this, but I hope he can enlighten me.

I've even been accused on another forum of wanting 'my five minutes of fame' or a 'handout'. I swear to you that this is not about any of that. I would just like a few answers.

Part of me has become so tired of it all. It's prevented me from doing things I really want to do, like writing Time Hunters 4, rolling about in the garden of composing a song for my daughter Alice called 'My jumping bean'. :)

Still, I'm awaiting a response from the legal bod. I doubt there's a case, but I'm sure (or at least hope) most of you can sympathise with my situation.

Cheers,
Carl

Oh, and so far it goes like this:

My jumping bean, my jumping bean,
Have you seen my jumping bean?
It's small and thin and red and green.
So have you seen my jumping bean?

It's entirely possible that I'm losing the plot :)

Carl Ashmore said...

And I'm delighted you enjoyed the books, MIster Teach .

Bless you, Sheri. What age group do you write for? Anyway, the best of luck with that. Please keep me informed of your progress. And yes, my books are all available on Amazon. Just try and avoid the Harper Collins ones if you're purchasing one. Ha :)

Debs Riccio said...

Carl, I hope (for Alice's sake) that you've copyrighted the Jumping Bean song - I hear walls have ears ;)

Carl Ashmore said...

Well I've heard Simon Cowell is releasing it as this year's X Factor single, but it'll just be called 'Jumping Bean.' :)

Derek Thompson said...

But with no 'the' at the beginning! Or maybe it'll become Bumping Jean?

Carl Ashmore said...

'Bumping Jean', Derek? I think I'd get locked up if I started singing that to Alice :)

Derek Thompson said...

It's probably why Spoonerisms went out of fashion.

Carl Ashmore said...

Yeah, shame that. I know some good ones.:)

Sheri said...

Thanks Carl. I will look for your books. The series goes from 1 - 10 years old. Still battling to find the right illustrator.

That is great that a copywright attorney is looking it over. You have tons of support. Any whoever touted that you were looking for your 5 minutes of fame...you deservie a heck of alot more than 5 minutes for the series you came up with.

Keep us updated & prayers and good thoughts are with you.

Anonymous said...

It sometimes happens that two authors come up with the same idea. I know I've thought of book ideas only to find after a Google search that the same thing has recently been published. However, this is not just a random case of similiarities. They read your book first and commented on it. Then they used it. That is wrong.

As a novice writer this post is a bit scary. What if I write a book, send it out, and though the idea is great the writing needs more pep. Will they give me a chance to revise it, enlist a ghost writer to clean it up, or just take the idea and pay someone else to write it. Very scary, especially from a well-known and respected publisher.

No matter what you decide to do, I wish you luck.

Debs Riccio said...

Anonymous, that was EXACTLY my first thought - not a case of 'how dare they?' but 'they dare, and do.' It is worrying isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Carl - my heart hurts for you. Well done for managing to post about this and hopefully garner support. I've been very wary about sites such as Authonomy as there are too many people out there who have so little imagination hey trawl for the gifts that others have. I wish you well and hope wiser folk will guide you. Good thoughts Kate

Gillian McDade said...

I'm astonished! I really am. Please join The Society of Authors and seek legal advice! I remember your book from
Authonomy, not that I use it as I get suspicious of sites like these. They smack of x-Factor puppetering.

Anonymous said...

woa that sucks :(
hope you can do something against them!

Gillian McDade said...

Any updates on this??