Home » Amazon, Piracy » Another Case of Someone Stealing a Book and Selling It on Amazon

Another Case of Someone Stealing a Book and Selling It on Amazon

20 June 2011

Passive Guy received an email pointing him to a blog post by author Ruth Ann Nordin documenting the theft of two of her books by someone who has posted them for sale on Amazon.


Last night while I was checking the prices of my books on Amazon, I noticed Falling In Love With Her Husband was already priced at $2.99.  I thought that was weird since the other books I put to $2.99 were still showing at $0.99.  I checked the sales rank and saw it was 51,000 and thought, “Seriously?  I just priced it at $2.99 and it’s already that bad?” But then I noticed the cover was blurry.  Then I scrolled down and noticed it was published on June 6, 2011.  Now, I knew this wasn’t my doing.

Here’s the link to the stolen book: http://www.amazon.com/Falling-Love-Her-Husband-ebook/dp/B0054QQQJ4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1308534574&sr=8-1.

It looks just like mine.  The person stole my cover, my name, the description, and now Amazon has linked that book up to my Amazon Central Page where I have changed the description to state that it’s a stolen book and in addition to seeking legal advice, I have notified Amazon of the copyright infringement.

. . . .

Now, I also discovered another book that’s been stolen.  This one is A Chance In Time, and this time the thief (aka scumbag) changed the title and cover.  Here’s the other stolen book:  http://www.amazon.com/Best-time-ebook/dp/B0055PERYK/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1308534924&sr=1-1

I wrote “I am the real Ruth Ann Nordin, and this is a stolen copy of A Chance In Time
that I wrote and published. I have contacted Amazon to report copyright
infringement and am waiting for their response. I am also seeking legal advice
on this issue. You can get the legitimate version of this book for FREE right
here on Amazon.” Then I linked to the correct book.

Ms. Nordin is posting one-star reviews with explanations that these books have been stolen.

Link to the rest at Self-Published Authors Lounge

The legal route begins with a DMCA take-down notice, but Passive Guy wonders if anyone has some good ideas about effective non-legal responses.

What do you think about the one-star review with explanation? Does that pose any danger to the author’s brand name? Are there better/additional paths to pursue?


Amazon, Piracy

28 Comments to “Another Case of Someone Stealing a Book and Selling It on Amazon”

  1. Very scary. Amazon is doing wonders for self-published authors but obviously there are issues. Good luck with sorting this out and many thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  2. You keep posting about these stolen ebooks, and it’s scaring me into not trying to epublish myself. What to do? 🙁

    I think maybe the author of these books should write reviews as warnings that it’s her stolen work, but she should give them 5 stars, not 1 star.

    At least there’s a legal way to stop the ebook theives. So scary though. So upsetting to hear about.

  3. Personally, I don’t have a problem with the author posting 1-star reviews with an explanation that the book is stolen. She’s getting the word out there every way she can.

    As I recall, Tolkein had to do the same thing with the US version of his books, when they were originally printed without authorization in the US. The unauthorized version cost less, and his fans helped spread the word to get the legitimate version sold, instead.

  4. Maybe the 1-star reviews are not such a good idea: As both versions are linked together now, the warnings turn up at the real one as well. Not to mention the effect on the review ratings…

    It will be interesting to see how quick Amazon can react in cases like this.

  5. Wow. Scary. In order to leave a comment, she has to post a review and therefore a star or stars along with her review. I don’t blame her for posting a one star and I’d blab this everywhere I could.
    Awful…just awful. I’m so sorry for the author.

  6. Thanks PG for bringing this to everyone’s attention, the more of us that are aware of this and the more noise we make about it, the better!

    One-star rating may be effective but it could also hurt the author.

    NO! We all should be writing letters to AMAZON (would be great for us all to write to the same person – preferably an executive directly responsible for these types of issues – if someone posts that person’s email, I will definitely write a letter. p.s. I’ll do that anyway, but like I said, would be more effective for everyone to write to the same person)

    My pennies …

    I think if we all, as a global community of writers, appeal to our distributors like Amazon and the rest, they will be inspired to act. There are many ways they can act. Even simply by setting up a process where publishers and authors can verify authenticity. Once titles are authenticated, they can include a badge that says “Authorized Edition” so that consumers can be aware. This process is also relatively easier for the distributors since the authentication process would be built into their pre-publish-for-sale process – meaning they don’t actually have to set up another (costly) process to police piracy.

    Attached to that process they could have a default badge that says something like “WARNING: This edition has not been authenticated by the publisher – it may be pirated!”

    It would take Amazon some time and effort to set the process up and contact all publishers of already-listed editions to verify authenticity, but once it’s set up, it’s fire-and-forget.

    • I also think that since Amazon now has skin in the game – they may be even more compelled to act.

      Wait until one of their imprints get pirated on their own site and I think we’ll see them jump to action.

      Could you imagine the egg on their faces if they were listing pirated copies of their OWN imprints?!

  7. A couple of thoughts:

    1. I’ve heard from more than one author that Amazon’s legal department is not that helpful on this sort of thing. I think someone is going to have to do the DMCA thing, then sue Amazon to change the legal department’s attitude. This might be something the romance writers’ organization might undertake on behalf of its members.

    2. For guerrilla warfare purposes, after branding the book as stolen in the comments, what about the author organizing her friends to all purchase the ebook, then return it? There would be no money in the thief’s pocket and Amazon might pay attention if it had 50 returns on a single ebook.

  8. Amazon will freeze accounts if they show too much return activity. “Too much” is defined by some hidden algorithm that Amazon doesn’t share with customers. (They occasionally get people who buy ebooks, read them in a day or two, and return them. Doing this too often sets up red flags on an account; Amazon has no interest in becoming a library.)

    The stolen-ebook and spam-ebook problems are going to continue, and get worse, as long as Amazon & other self-publishing sites are not requiring legally-meaningful identification for author accounts. A simple “click to confirm this is legal” is (obviously) not enough.

    It’ll probably take a class-action lawsuit, or a single lawsuit from an author with serious clout (Rowling, King, Brown) to get Amazon to change its practices.

    • Elfwreck – That would be a reason to have a group of people buy and return one book each. If they returned within two hours, I doubt Amazon could make a case that they had “borrowed” the book, but it would trigger a charge, then a credit against the purchaser’s credit card.

  9. This isn’t the first I heard of this. Apparently, Amazon is working on software to detect when the same book is published by two different people but no information on when this will be available. 🙁

    • Goldhawk – It shouldn’t be that hard to do.

      Certainly, given the number of books submitted for publication each day, it has to be a robust system, but it’s not hard to conceive how it could be handled.

      • Seems like something painfully obvious and incredibly necessary…

      • Except that each submitted book would need to be checked against each already present and sold. Some easy checks could be made, but for thorough testing it represents a GREAT amount of work.

      • (Software engineer hat on) This is one of these deceively “easy” problems that become quite complicated in real life.

        Creating an automated system, that checks a book against a full list of other, for “similarity” without giving too many false alarms (detecting similarity when there is none) or missing too many true ones …
        Just as a lawyer/attorney will want to know what a word means, the “similarity” word is also tricky to translate into software… There may be some algorithms, but I’m not sure they can easily be applied to whole books/ collections such as Amazon’s.

        • SFReader – I’m thinking of a system that generates a digital document fingerprint, which could be quite long, for each book as it enters the system. If another book’s fingerprint demonstrated similarity at some level, that might trigger more rigorous comparison checking, including a notice to one or both authors.

          This would not obviate the need for/benefit of a formal online reporting system with which authors could report plagiarism they find. That’s easy to build. The report would include requirements that the author demonstrate the plagiarism.

          • Yes creating a “fingerprint” is easy to do for any file, including ebooks. However, changing a single letter in the ebook will create a different fingerprint, defeating the purpose of the tests.

            An alternative is to create for each book a set of fingerprints, but again, some simple techniques allow to defeat the tests. For example adding non visible texts at some places etc.

            One could also compute sets of metrics, and use that as comparison elements but each time it gets more complicated/costly…

            Amazon could also insert “Watermarks” in the books it sells. these “watermarks” are fairly “resistant” to tampering (modifications), and allows to compare if one book is “derived” from the watermarked original.

            However, by buying the “source ebook” (used as source for the counterfeiting) from an other retailer, the derived version will not have the watermark –> fail.

            So simply put, it’s not as easy as it seems…

          • Nathan Whitehead

            I agree with SFReader here, this is an incredibly hard engineering problem that sounds trivial.

            Just to give you an idea of some of the problems: a short story is reprinted in multiple short story collections. Does that trigger the notice? A publishing company is bought out, the database now contains the same book with multiple publishers. Books are uploaded in PDF format – which versions and which features of PDF do you need to support? What about scanned books? Two books have the same content, but are both of public domain works. The thief takes an original book, splits it into two stolen books with Part I and Part II. The details go on and on…

            • Nathan – You make good points, but I don’t think R.1 of the system needs to handle all the outliers. Start with basic rip-offs and see where a good line between automated and waiting for someone to complain appears.

  10. Universities already have quite efficient plagiarism-detection systems they use (TurnItIn comes to mind), surely it wouldn’t take that much to buy/license or build off the algorithms and processes therein.

    • Sofie – You’re correct about the universities. My only question would be whether the systems they use can handle book-length material.

      • Yes, and “an Amazon library” sized text corpus.

      • It wouldn’t need to. You’re not searching for the level of plagiarism that a university cares about (uncited paraphrased paragraphs and quotes) you’re looking for someone putting up another’s work entirely. For that, you don’t need to test the entire text, just some random sections.

        And there are easy ways to limit the texts to be compared against – searching within the same categories will catch 95% of the pirated books that are going to do any damage – that’s what searching algorithms are for, to make things more efficient, rather than brute-forcing comparisons.

  11. Once Amazon has confirmed a claim of copyright infringement (should be relatively quick)how hard would it be to post the infringer’s details. They are a matter of record even if masked so the legal issues should be clearcut. It seems to me that this is one case where ‘name-and-shame’ might get some effective results, and form the basis for prosecution if repeated.

  12. As far as type matching or coding all books in their system, the algorithm created need only scan and store one random page of each book entered. As each book is entered, all pages must be scanned into the servers by necessity to digitally produce the book. A very simple system could be installed (which already exists I might add)that would automatically compare every new page entering the system with ones already in memory. the system doesn’t look for EXACT matches, it looks for a multitude of similar hits at points that are determined randomly from the page sample.

    This is exactly the type of comparison software our criminal justice systems use in the AFIS, CODIS, and Face recognition software programs now being mass produced and readily available.

    Fingerprint and DNA systems don’t scan for exact matches, they only scan for random identical hits on several randomly determined points. When a match is found using that criteria, it raises the flag and a human examiner ultimately makes the determination if the two samples are an exact match or just a staggering coincidence.

    Much easier to do this with a random page of text. But it would also guarantee that the pirated version would never actually be able to go live on the system since the program defaults would block it the moment a hit was made and a duplicate suspected. As we all know, no two published books could possibly have the same page be so close to another and the match be innocent. At the very least it would detect some blatant plagiarizers.

    • Dorian – I hadn’t thought about a face and/or fingerprint matching algorithm approach to the problem.

  13. Just figured it would be the easiest, most cost effective way to implement a solution to the problem right away.

    No doubt someone would find a way to beat it eventually, they always do; it’s the very nature of technology. But it would equal the playing field, at least for a while and show the authors Amazon was trying to do something to protect them….after all, their motivation and sense of urgency needs to be called into question as well. They make the same amount of money off of the pirated copy being sold as they do from the legitimate one, maybe even more depending how the pirates price the goods.

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