Suzanne Telsey – McGraw Hill LLC
Students looking to save a little money on textbooks often search online for deals or used copies. What they might not realize, though, is that some of the books they’re buying are counterfeit.
“People buy them because they appear legitimate and are cheaper,” Suzanne Telsey says. “But these unauthorized books are being sold and distributed illegally.”
As associate general counsel at McGraw Hill, it’s her job to protect the company against piracy. The global company develops educational content and digital learning platforms for millions of educators, students and professionals around the world. As more and more books are published digitally, it’s become easier for pirates to copy or strip content to sell to unsuspecting students and professors.
The COVID-19 pandemic has escalated pirating because more people have looked to buy materials online, especially when most students were learning remotely. Telsey says pirates have worked hard to improve the look of their websites and selling platforms to trick people more easily.
“It’s important to protect any IP, but educational texts are here to help people, so it’s especially frustrating that pirates take advantage of people trying to learn,” Telsey says. “These are important works to protect and it’s fulfilling to play a role in that.”
Telsey and her team monitor websites known for selling pirated materials, as well as file-sharing sites and e-commerce platforms. They work with the IT team as needed, especially if they need help determining where a counterfeit book originated from.
They also rely on tips from students and professors, who can contact the team through email addresses dedicated to piracy and counterfeits leads and materials they find suspicious. Each year McGraw Hill receives thousands of leads from students, teachers and others to pirated content being distributed through various channels, especially websites and e-commerce platforms.
“I appreciate that students and professors not only recognize fake textbooks, but also take the time to help McGraw Hill stop the illegal activity,” she says.
As pirating approaches evolve, McGraw Hill and other educational publishers provide distributors with updated resources and training. This includes materials and information on stopcounterfeitbooks.com, a website developed by a group of education companies, including McGraw Hill, Cengage Learning, Elsevier, Macmillan Learning and Pearson Education, working with their anti-piracy counsel. The website includes resources and best practices for avoiding, identifying and reporting counterfeit books.
Telsey and attorneys from other educational publishing companies share anti-piracy information with each other, too, sometimes filing joint litigations, she says.
For years, a group of educational publishers that includes McGraw Hill have sued the anonymous owners and operators of websites that sell pirated textbooks and related digital content. Those efforts have resulted in the closure of numerous websites but haven’t eradicated the flow of new pirate sites coming online, Telsey says.
Last year, McGraw Hill and the four other education companies behind stopcounterfeitbooks.com sued Shopify for facilitating known textbook pirates to sell infringing books through the online storefront’s platform. The publishers alleged more than 3,400 copyrights were violated and are seeking up to $150,000 per infringed copyright and $2 million for each counterfeited trademark. When Telsey spoke to Vanguard in September, the case was ongoing.
She and her team pursue many cases every year, she says, and at any given time, have about a dozen cases pending. They also send, through their vendors, take-down notices relating to over a million infringing URLs each year.
“I believe in our products and the importance of protecting them,” she says. “They’re valuable commodities that our researchers, writers and editors put a lot of time and effort into and that the company expends substantial resources to develop.”
Booked for life
While Telsey developed an interest in law over time, she’s always loved books and publishing. She has a bachelor’s degree from Brown University with a double major in classics and comparative literature.
After graduating, she worked as an editor for a publisher of legal treatises, which sparked her interest in law, particularly copyright. She decided to go to New York University School of Law, where she earned her JD, was an editor for the NYU Law Review and was inducted into the Order of the Coif, an honor society for law school graduates.
After graduation, Telsey clerked for the Honorable Pierre N. Leval in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. She then worked as a litigation associate at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel in New York City for three years before returning to publishing. She spent six years as associate general counsel at Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc. and five years as vice president and general counsel at DeAgostini USA Inc. and Atlas Editions Inc., a direct market publisher.
Working in trade publishing was fun, she says, because of the well-known titles and wide range of topics and styles. She was glad to join McGraw Hill in 2000 because it allowed her to work within a different content area—the educational publishing sphere.
Telsey says the past 22 years have been rewarding because everyone at the company cares about creating high quality products. She says it’s also been interesting to watch the industry evolve, especially regarding the shift to online education and content. From 2017 to 2018, she experienced remote learning as a student in King’s College London, from which she received a post-graduate diploma in U.K., E.U. and U.S. Copyright Law.
Outside of work, Telsey, who lives in New York City, enjoys engaging in outdoor activities, usually with her yellow lab, Cora, who she got during quarantine, in tow. She also keeps up with her love of books through a long-standing book group, which the members fondly refer to as Gutenberg 2.0. The group, which reads classics as well as prize-winning authors, such Booker and Pulitzer Prize winners, has been meeting since the mid-80s.
“I love being part of it not only because I love reading, but because it helps me keep a hand in what’s going on in publishing,” Telsey says. “It’s wonderful discussing books with people who are as passionate about them as I am.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Fall II 2022 Edition here.
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