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‘For Dummies’ publisher targets Erie County’s GOP elections commissioner in court

Like the film and music industries, book publishers are cracking down on copyright pirates.

And one of them has its sights set on a prominent local politician.

Ralph M. Mohr, the Republican commissioner on the Erie County Board of Elections, is the sole remaining defendant in a civil suit brought by the people who publish the popular books “For Dummies” series.

They contend that Mohr illegally downloaded a single copy of “Calculus Essentials for Dummies” and then distributed it using peer-to-peer file-sharing technology.

The company is suing him in federal court.

“I thought it was a scam at first,” Mohr said. “I didn’t even have an operable computer when this happened.”

The former county legislator insists that the plaintiffs have the wrong man and has vowed to fight to clear his name and reputation.

Now 2 years old, the suit by John Wiley & Sons, a New York City publishing house, was originally filed in Manhattan but was recently moved here. U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott is handling the case.

Wiley’s books are instructional guides to everything from home improvement and personal finance to self-help and relationships.

Mohr is accused of illegally downloading a calculus instructional manual that sells online for less than $10.

“Wiley earns a substantial amount of its revenue from the publication of its copyrighted works and would suffer serious financial injury if its copyrights were not enforced,” the company said in its complaint against Mohr.

Initially, the company was unaware of Mohr’s identity, but, through a court-ordered subpoena, it obtained an Internet protocol address that his carrier linked to him.

When Mohr learned that the suit was genuine, he said, he called Wiley’s lawyers and tried to explain that his computer was down on the date in question.

He also told them that, yes, he has children, but they’re away at school or too young to be interested in calculus.

“Every explanation I have isn’t good enough for them,” he said. “I understand there’s a problem (with piracy), but they get blinded when they hear ‘teenage kid.’ ”

Guilty or not, Mohr’s case shows how serious book publishers have become in their fight against piracy.

In its court papers, Wiley makes the case that counterfeit books could eventually lead to its demise, not to mention harm to its reputation.

The company is seeking restitution and punitive damages from Mohr and points to what it describes as his “ill-gotten gains.”