Pirated E-books (Image by fantasy-faction.com)

Image by fantasy-faction.com

I’ve already written about piracy. Twice, in fact: in Har! How to Deal with Book Piracy and in Should I fear Piracy? Insights from the PWC report. In both cases, I advised people to keep calm about it.

There is a kind of piracy that ticks me off, though. That of people copying your book and passing it off as their own. The Digital Reader recently posted about an author, Scot Schad, who discovered that pirates had been ripping off freely available and open source digital textbooks, and then using Amazon’s POD service to sell print versions on Amazon.

Here’s how it works

The scammers identify a popular textbook, copy the name, and then start selling the paper copy of a pirated book under that name. They’re hoping to sell the pirated book to an unwary buyer who might mistake the knockoff for the legit textbook.

Schad only learned of this problem when the scammers copied the name of his graduate paper:

I only noticed the problem when two clones of my M.S. thesis appeared on Amazon. My title, Hydrocarbon Potential of the Caney Shale in Southeastern Oklahoma, is about as obscure as it gets. Amazingly, the two bogus books pretending to be mine boasted that they were the second edition!

Schad complained directly to Jeff Bezos, and those books are gone now, but Amazon continues to sell other pirated textbooks. And Amazon isn’t just selling the pirated textbooks; it’s also advertising the textbooks through its ad network:

To commemorate the occasion, I've collected here a few tidbits on the moon landings.

Spot the difference: Which one of these books is the pirate edition?
(Image: The Digital Reader)

The common thread here is that all of the textbooks were distributed through Createspace. And that is a problem, because Createspace doesn’t just distribute to Amazon’s website. These books are available through every online book retailer that has a contract with Createspace.

A quick check on BookFinder shows that the “author” in question has a half dozen other books to his name, all of which were distributed by Createspace, and all of which are widely available.

Amazon has a well-deserved reputation for keeping pirated, public domain, and spam ebooks out of the Kindle Store. They earned that reputation by keeping a close eye on ebooks uploaded to the KDP portal and discouraging or deleting undesirable books. That’s why the pirated textbooks mentioned above are not available in the Kindle Store – the pirates know that Amazon would catch on quickly.

I hope it’s only a matter of time before Createspace becomes as vigilant.

Smarter Pirates

A similar kind of piracy is mentioned on John Doppler’s blog.

When Vancouver attorney and author Rebecca Merry Murdock checked Amazon listings for her debut book, she found that the listing for her ebook version was not linked to her author page or the print version of her book. Amazon’s support team remedied the problem.

So far, nothing unusual; the same thing has happened to me a couple of time. However, a few weeks later, Rebecca noticed that a search for her book brought up an unfamiliar ASIN (Amazon’s unique catalog number).

It turns out that an imposter had stolen the content of her book, uploaded it to Amazon, and created an exact duplicate of her real sales page. That imposter had been collecting royalties for the sale of Rebecca’s book. Even worse, their sale page was indistinguishable from the real one – and linked to her official author page.

From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

Spot the pirate 2: one of these is the pirated account. Can you tell which one?
(Image: The Digital Reader)

How can I tell if my book’s been pirated?

First of all, these cases made the news because they’re still petty rare. Before you file a complaint, be sure that you’re actually dealing with a counterfeiter.

From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

Shut up and take my money!

When I first published Pearseus: Rise of the Prince, I found it on sale on Amazon (used) for a mere 999 GBP (some $1,500). I joked that this would make it the best investment ever: buy now for GBP 2.99, sell a couple of weeks later for 500 times as much! Sadly, this was not the case, and I’m not filthy rich. Sigh…

You see, authors often become alarmed when they find listings for their books at inflated prices, or listings for a book that hasn’t been released yet. Understand that third-party resellers often use automated systems that generate listings for books at slightly above or below the official sale price. Generally, these sellers don’t actually have possession of the book; when they receive an order, they simply order a copy from the official source, then ship it at a profit.

The product being sold in these cases is the legitimate product with the correct ASIN, and these third-party resellers are legal and permitted by Amazon. Don’t mistake them for counterfeiters. Also, be sure to check out Rich Meyer’s post on the Choosy BookwormWhen is Piracy NOT Piracy before you panic.

A counterfeit book will show an unfamiliar ASIN, and that’s your tip-off to a possible fraud.

What to do?

Victims of piracy need to ask for the pirated copy to be removed, through a take-down notice known as a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) noticeHere’s a great link to get you up-to-speed on how and when to use a DMCA.

If your book has been pirated on Kindle Direct Publishing, you may be able to claim the royalties from the pirated works.

Don’t bother contacting customer service for copyright issues; go directly to the legal department. Amazon provides an online form for filing a copyright infringement notice, or you can email your own DMCA notice to Amazon’s legal department, via copyright@amazon.com.

You cannot prevent counterfeiting, but you can be proactive about detecting and disabling infringing content:

  1. Assemble a list of the ASINs for each version of your books.
  2. Search retailers regularly to ensure that only legitimate copies with your ASINs are present.
  3. File a copyright infringement report immediately when counterfeits are discovered.

Victims of the first kind of piracy must direct their DMCA to Createspace. While sending Amazon a take-down gets a book off Amazon’s main properties, the order is never forwarded to Createspace, so the book will still be available from other sales channels and action won’t be taken against the uploader. Not having Createspace pull the book on its end can result in a pirated book landing back on Amazon.