Op-Ed: Online Book Sales Scams Steal Writers’ Lives


American authors are suffering. Surveys by the Authors’ Guild show that the median income of authors from writing decreased by 42% over the past 10 years. More than half of full-time published authors now earn below the individual poverty line because of their writing.

Although there are many reasons for this, one of the factors is the increase in book sales scams: counterfeiting, “double authoring”, title cloning, e-book piracy, copy-paste plagiarism. and other scams, many of which take place on digital platforms like Amazon, Ebay, and Google. The variety and intelligence of these cons is breathtaking.

Basic counterfeiting can be simple: The physical book is reproduced in its entirety, printed, and sold to unsuspecting customers. In the case of pirated eBooks, the electronic file is simply stripped of digital copy protection and uploaded to a pirating website.

For example, Laura Pedersen, author of 18 books, was plagiarized with an entire book. His memoir about his childhood in Buffalo, NY, titled “Buffalo Gal,” was stolen and released for sale on Amazon, but with a new cover, new title, and new author. Once Pedersen discovered the fake book, Amazon removed it.

But there are other more devious and more difficult schemes to patrol. Author dubbing, for example, happens when someone starts posting books like yours, using your name, in order to play with Amazon’s search algorithms. I write a thriller series with a partner named Lincoln Child, and our pen name is “Preston & Child”. Half a dozen years ago, an entity called “Preston Child” began releasing thrillers surprisingly like ours, with surprisingly similar covers and titles.

For years, Amazon’s algorithms have mixed “Preston Child’s” books with our books, as if they were by the same author. Our editor investigated and could not confirm the existence of Preston Child. (It’s almost impossible to prove someone doesn’t exist.) It took several years for Amazon to adjust its algorithms to distinguish “Preston Child” from “Preston & Child.”

Title cloning, such as author dubbing, is legal because you generally cannot copyright a title. Duplicate book titles are an old problem, now exacerbated by Amazon’s search algorithms. Seven months after the publication of my non-fiction book “The Lost City of the Monkey God”, on an expedition which discovered a lost city in the Honduran jungle, in 2017, a novel appeared, entitled “The Lost City of the God monkey, ”published using Amazon’s CreateSpace platform. It was also an “expedition to discover a lost city in the Honduran jungle”. The last time I searched for my best-selling book on Amazon, the other one appeared in position number 3, above some editions of my book.

Cheaters are getting weirder. Nora Roberts, the author of romance novels, discovered that books were sold on Amazon that contained many passages from her books. She found a person in Brazil who appeared to run a plagiarism factory, where she took Roberts’ books and those of other romance writers, cut, paste, rearranged and rewritten them into new books to sell. on Amazon.

To be fair, Amazon has made a real effort to combat this problem with algorithms and staff looking for crooked sellers. He launched a service called Transparency which would track every book sold if it is adopted by publishers. But eradicating all these scams has proven to be very difficult. Amazon’s reseller market is like the Wild West: large, difficult to control, with many anonymous players.

The fundamental problem lies in the law itself. Many of these scams are illegal because they involve copyright infringement. But the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 exonerates Internet platforms from any liability for copyright infringement that occurs on their sites, provided that the platforms respond to “takedown notices” when notified. that a particular book on a particular web page is stolen. In other words, the law places the onus on the author or publisher to monitor the web.

Amazon is actually doing more than most internet platforms to remove copyright infringers, but it’s still not enough. It should come up with a more efficient system to thwart title and author cloning scams that abuse its algorithms to deceive customers. To encourage online marketplaces to improve their practices, the law needs to change the accountability structure so that more of the burden of monitoring copyright theft falls on these platforms – and not on the perpetrators. difficulty that can barely make a living as it does.

Douglas Preston is a writer and president of the Authors’ Guild.


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