If you aren’t up on your eBook news, you may not have heard of this scam that’s been running rampant: A person combs the web for content (blog posts, stories that authors are offering free for exposure or marketing reasons, content shared on forums and other websites, etc), compiles this content into an eBook under their name instead of the original author and sells it. This problem has been particularly rampant on Amazon where creators faced a strange issue: Amazon would only agree to investigate the stolen content if the original rights holder (aka the author) reported it but there was no way for an author to know their work was stolen unless they just happened to purchase the pirated book. To add to this, these same thieving publishers were able to relist the stolen content almost immediately after Amazon took it down under new accounts and Amazon did nothing about it.
It’s been a big PR problem for Amazon and a big concern for content holders. But it looks like Amazon is finally taking a proactive stance on trying to combat this.
On Monday, I got this email from Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing):
During a review of your catalog, we found that one or more of your titles contain content that is freely available on the web. Copyright is important to us – we want to make sure that no author or other copyright holder has their work claimed and sold by anyone else.
If, in fact, you have the sole publishing rights for the books listed above, please provide the URLs for all websites where you have previously published this or any other Kindle content. Please respond within five business days with the requested URLs so we can verify you have the sole publishing rights, or the books will be removed from sale in the Kindle Store. If the book(s) are in the public domain, please confirm this and include the information you used to make this determination.
The bold is mine. On one hand, as a content owner, I was glad to see this email. It means that Amazon has added some kind of automatic scan to detect exactly the kind of scam I detailed above. They aren’t just leaving the burden on the content owners to realize that they’ve been stolen from and report it, they are putting the burden of proof on the publishers to prove that their content isn’t stolen.
But, on the flip side, as a publisher, I’m also annoyed. Because, yes, some of the content from that eBook IS available for free online… right here on this website. Because that’s the promise I made to Whine Seller readers: If they subscribe to this blog, they’ll eventually get to read all of the content of my eBooks for free… it just won’t be as neatly organized as it will be in the eBooks. It’s my content and I have the right to do that since I own both the book and blog.
Even if that blog post I linked to wasn’t there, it’s really easy to see that the name on this blog and the name of the author of this content are both Hillary DePiano which is not exactly John Smith in the realm of common names. The eBooks also promotes this website and this website promotes the eBook. (Most of the actual excerpt posts also promote the eBook to make it even more obvious.) If a human had actually looked at this at any point, they would have realized very quickly that they were accusing me of plagiarizing myself.
Now, to their credit, once I provided all their requested links, they reinstated my book right away. But I’m annoyed that I had to prove to them that I hadn’t stolen my own content like a criminal… when I didn’t do anything wrong! Is Amazon really willing to accuse everyone of having stolen content just to catch the few bad eggs who actually do?
All of my eBooks are made up at least in part of content that either has run on the blog in the past or will run soon. Which means that Amazon is going to make me go through this process of sending them all the content links every single time I publish an eBook with them. That’s annoying and time consuming. At the least, they could let me file a list of what websites I own so that they know to ignore when my content shows on them.
And if I don’t send the info back fast enough? They’ll take my book down and refuse to let me sell it. Because, on Amazon, you’re guiltily until proven innocent regardless of your track record. We’re all content thieves as far as they are concerned.
In the end, I think this is a step in the right direction. But it’s overzealous. It’s like killing a whole garden full of plants because you’re mad at a few weeds.
But what do you think?