The DMCA on 7 Print-on-Demand Publishers

With modern technology, anyone can be a published author. Print on demand services enable anyone to create a book and publish it without worrying about issues of distribution, storage and what to do with thousands of unsold copies.

The print on demand publishing industry has exploded in recent years, giving thousands of authors an opportunity that they would not have had otherwise.

However, it has also given plagiarists a way to make a quick buck. They can take someone else’s work, package it in their own book and sell it over the Web earning a free royalty for every copy sold. I have had this happen to my works and I’ve talked with several other authors that have had similar experiences.

Unfortunately, the DMCA does not directly apply to these services. Since much of the plagiarism takes place off of the Web and the publisher profits directly from the infringement, these services do not fit neatly within the bounds of DMCA protection. Still much as with advertising networks, many use the DMCA as a touchstone for how to handle such matters as it is familiar and relatively easy to follow.

But how do these services fare when it comes to protecting the copyright at other rightsholders? Let’s take a look at their policies and find out.

Format: Form
Email Address: None
Location of Policy: Member Agreement
Registered with USCO: No
Comments: An industry leader and a poster child for the print-on-demand industry on the Web, Lulu’s policy is strong in words but awkward in execution. Though their member agreement makes it absolutely clear they do not tolerate copyright infringement, their reporting method is little more than a small textbox with a submit button. Though finding the form is simple enough, achieved by clicking the “Help” tab and then the “Report Abuse” link, there is no way to input your name or email address and, in most browsers I tried, the box is too small to easily type in. You have type your report up in another application, for which there is no guidance from Lulu, and then paste it into the textbox. Though Lulu has a great reputation of dealing with such complaints, the process is very frustrating to use and seems to hamstring efforts to notify the site of plagiarism or other infringements. All in all, it gets the job done, but it doesn’t do anyone any favors.
Grade: C-

Format: Email
Email Address: copyright at CreateSpace dot com (booksurge dot com)
Location of Policy: Intellectual Property Rights Page
Registered with USCO: No (May not be posted) Yes (Booksurge)
Comments: The new kid on the block, CreateSpace has made quite a name for itself through its affiliation with Amazon. It is, for most authors, the fastest and easiest way to get your book into some of the major channels including the Amazon bookstore. However, when it comes to copyright issues, CreateSpace, much like its sister company BookSurge, behaves as if it were any other host, albeit a very good one. Their IP policy, linked above, is both very robust, containing all of the needed information to file a notice, and very easy to locate. You can find it both on the “Contact Us” page and the “Terms of Use” among other pages. The policy even includes a courier address, which is something of an oddity among DMCA policies. All in all, though they don’t go too far out of their way for rightsholders, I can find little wrong with their setup. It will be interesting to see how well it is enforced.
Grade: B-

Format: Email
Email Address: trademark at cafepress dot com
Location of Policy: Intellectual Property Rights Policy
Registered with USCO: Yes
Comments: Originally famous for its custom t-shirts, mugs and other printed items, CafePress has in more recent years started offering print on demand books and CDs. Fortunately, their intellectual property policy is very robust and operates in a way similar to a very concerned traditional host. They provide the link to their policy at the footer of every page on their site, including their stores, and the policy is complete and contains of the needed information to file any form of intellectual property complaint. The one oddity is that the policy was clearly drafted initially to deal with trademark issues, no doubt due to the nature of their first products, but it seems to have expanded neatly to cover copyright and other issues as well. However, that explains the odd choice of email address for filing a copyright complaint.
Grade: B

Format: Form
Email Address: None
Location of Policy: See Below
Registered with USCO: No
Comments: A more traditional print on demand service, iUniverse charges up to $1,400 for submitting and preparing a manuscript, compared to Lulu, CreateSpace and CafePress, all of which are free. iUniverse has partnerships with Barnes & Noble as well as other distributors, provide editorial services, some assistance with marketing and offer flexible royalty plans. However, one thing they don’t offer is a copyright policy or means to report infringement. In order to find their policy, you have to go through the process of purchasing a package until the next to the last step, at which point you are given the chance to look at your author agreement. That is where you would certify yourself the copyright holder in the work and the sole author. But in the unlikely event someone takes your work and publishes it using iUniverse, reporting that infringement could be tricky. Their contact page, linked above, offers many places to send your letter, but none that are clearly right for this purpose. Your best bet, it would seem, would be to send your complaint to the legal contact, even though it is designated for “Publishing Contracts”, and hope for the best. This is hardly what one would call an ideal solution. Fortunately, due to the upfront fees, plagiarism or severe copyright issues are unlikely with iUniverse. That is probably the best news to report with this site when it comes to copyright.
Grade: D-

Format: Email
Email Address: webmaster at trafford dot com
Location of Policy: Item Seven, Terms of Use
Registered with USCO: No
Comments: Another traditional print on demand service, Trafford takes a stronger stand against copyright infringement than most of its counterparts in the field. Not only are copyright issues the first item in their author agreement (PDF), but they offer a direct channel to contact the company about copyright infringement on their site. Though the use of the Webmaster account is a bit unusual, the choice, as I see it, is up to them. However, despite all that they do right in this area, there are still issues to be found. They offer no specific instructions for filing a notice and it is unclear what action they would take upon receipt of such a complaint. Still, when compared to other traditional print on demand outfits, Trafford is looking very good in this area.
Grade: C

Format: Email?
Email Address: info at outskirtspress dot com
Location of Policy: None
Registered with USCO:No
Comments: Similar in many ways to iUniverse, including the up front fees, Outskirts Press takes a bad situation and makes it all the worse. Locating the actual agreement is almost impossible, I found it buried in the Help page and, as with iUniverse, it only seeks to cover itself. There is no means provided anywhere on the site to get in touch with some about a copyright issue. You can email their info account, call their number or write to their address, but that is all. If the company is small enough, that might be all that is necessary, but it would still be nice to have at least some kind of contact to report abuse, similar to what Trafford does. Once again though, it is highly unlikely that a plagiarist would choose this service due to the fees, but if someone did it would be a potentially very ugly mess.
Grade: D-

Format: Form?
Email Address: None
Location of Policy: Submission Form
Registered with USCO: No
Comments: Finally, another traditional print on demand publisher and this one also seems to fall into the same pitfalls as its companions. They require that those uploading content certify that they are not uploading infringing material, however, they say almost nothing else on the subject in the rest of their site. They have a contact form, linked above, as well as a phone number and a street address, but no other easy means of contact. As with other print on demand publishers that charge an up front fee, the chances of a problem are fairly slim, but if something does go wrong, it may be time to consider contacting an attorney.
Grade: D-


There is a clear divide in this industry between new and traditional publishers. The new outfits, Lulu, CreateSpace, BookSurge and Cafepress, all make some effort to address these issues and most do so by following the DMCA, even though it doesn’t directly apply.

The older publishers, however, mostly rely on the more antiquated system developed by mainstream publishers, a system that does not work well over the Internet. Of them, only Trafford showed any interest in accepting copyright complaints over their site and the others only paid attention to the issue in their contracts.

If I weren’t discouraged with print on demand before researching this article, I am now. That is especially true for the “up front fee” publishers.

However, this is an area where the DMCA policy is more than just a reflection on how good of a neighbor the site is. These companies make their living selling copies of copyrighted works, their respect for the law is also an indication, albeit a small one, of how good they are at their jobs.

The difference between an “author mill” and a “partner” is a slim margin in this field. But one clear indication of where a company falls is in how it treats copyright holders.

If that is to be believed, then these results are a very sad testament indeed.

What the Ratings Mean

A – A complete policy that goes well above and beyond what is required. Often shows real innovation.
B – A solid policy that is well-thought out and is very complete. Shows consideration for submitters and users.
C – An average policy, follows the law to the letter but doesn’t go out of its way to help those submitting a notice or its users.
D – A policy that, while mostly complete, still raises severe ethical and/or legal questions.
F – An incomplete policy that fails to follow the DMCA or local laws in a severe way.

Pluses or minuses are used to indicate how the where a host fits in relationship to other hosts in that that tier.

Want to Republish this Article? Request Permission Here. It's Free.

Have a Plagiarism Problem?

Need an expert witness, plagiarism analyst or content enforcer?
Check out our Consulting Website