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Amazon and Book Piracy

7 July 2011

On June 20, Passive Guy blogged about author Ruth Ann Nordin and her problems with pirated copies of her books posted on Amazon.

We have an update and you’re not going to like what you read.

First, on June 28, Ms. Nordin had an interaction with Amazon.

Excerpts:

Okay, so last week I sent off the DMCA take down notice for the third stolen book I found for sale on Amazon at this link: http://www.amazon.com/the-path-to-christmas-pdf-ebook/dp/B0054DW3GW/ref=sr_1_40?ie=UTF8&qid=1309296125&sr=8-40.  The book has been flagged by me and a couple others as a stolen book.  I’ve posted about it on the blogs and on Facebook, making the same kind of noise I made with the first two stolen books that Amazon did remove.

The difference between this book and the two Amazon took down is that this book (The Path to Christmas) was only published through Smashwords and its distribution channels, and since I opt out for Amazon distribution, it didn’t go on Amazon.  So from this I deduct that if it’s not already on Amazon, they don’t care.  I don’t know what else I can assume.

. . . .

Another author emailed KDP about her concern regarding Amazon not removing stolen books when being notified of the theft.  Here’s KDP’s response:

Hello,

If you believe your work has been used in a way that constitutes copyright infringement, please provide our copyright agent the written information specified below. This procedure is exclusively for notifying Amazon that your copyrighted material has been infringed.

-An electronic or physical signature of the person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the copyright interest; 

-A description of the copyrighted work that you claim has been infringed upon; 

-A description of where the material that you claim is infringing is located on the site, including the auction ID number, if applicable; 

-Your address, telephone number, and e-mail address; 

-A statement by you that you have a good-faith belief that the disputed use is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law 

-A statement by you, made under penalty of perjury, that the above information in your notice is accurate and that you are the copyright owner or authorized to act on the copyright owner’s behalf.

Amazon’s Copyright Agent for notice of claims of copyright infringement on its site can be reached as follows:

Copyright Agent 

Amazon.com Legal Department 

P.O. Box 81226 

Seattle, WA 98108 

phone: (206) 266-4064 

fax: (206) 266-7010 

e-mail: copyright@amazon.com

Courier address: 

Copyright Agent 

Amazon.com Legal Department 

410 Terry Avenue North

Seattle, WA 98109-5210

USA

If you believe your work is being violated on the Amazon.co.uk site, please follow the instructions here and submit a completed Notice Form:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=1040616#infringement

I hope this helps. We look forward to seeing you again soon.

Did I answer your question?

****************************************************************

Sounds simple enough, right?  Except, what if you follow these guidelines (and the DMCA does make sure all that is in there) and Amazon doesn’t follow through?  Then what?

I sent Amazon’s copyright office and KDP emails sending them the DMCA take down notice I sent last week and then specifying when I sent it and that I got no response.

 

Link to the rest at Self-Published Author’s Lounge

Nothing good has happened, so on July 6, Ms. Nordin made another post.

Excerpts:

And I have an appointment with a copyright lawyer this Friday (July 8).  The response I keep getting (over and over again) is to contact Amazon’s copyright department at copyright@amazon.com.   Yeah, I contacted them by this email twice already.  I would have seen a copyright lawyer sooner, but the July 4th weekend put a lot of them on vacation.  So this is the soonest I can get a consultation.

I have no idea what happens in this process, but I’ll post about it so everyone will know what to expect if they ever have to seek an attorney in the event their book is stolen and Amazon (or some other place) refuses to take it down.

Link to the rest at Self-Published Authors Lounge

Passive Guy says we need to help Ruth Ann.

Everybody blog, everybody Tweet, everybody post on Facebook. Use the words “Amazon” and “Piracy” right up front. Include “Ruth Ann Nordin” somewhere in the body. PG will use the hashtag, #AmazonPiracy.

PG doesn’t care if you link or where you link, but make a fuss that shows up everywhere Amazon’s social networking folks watch.

If you want to send an email to copyright@amazon.com, that might help as well.

About a thousand different people stop by this blog on a daily basis. The title of this blog post will go out to not quite 3500 of PG’s followers on Twitter. If everybody blogs, tweets, retweets, etc., with the word to pass the information along, we should be able to make a ripple on the Internet.

Ruth Ann is an author who could use some support. She’s experiencing something that could happen to any indie author. It won’t cost any of us anything to get together and start making a lot of noise.

PG plans to retweet every tweet he sees about Amazon and Piracy today, so he’ll apologize to followers ahead of time for repeating the same message.

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Amazon, Piracy

48 Comments to “Amazon and Book Piracy”

  1. This is not just a problem with Amazon and not just a “disruptive technology” issue that will eventually be smoothed out, this is a fundamental problem with the way the internet is structured, and it’s not going to stop until we all wise up.

    If her book is being pirated on Amazon, it is probably also being pirated in other places she would never think to look. The “bittorrent” losers, who seem to make it their life’s work to illegally put all music and movies online for free, are just starting to do the same thing with e-books too.

    Gene Simmons recently expressed frustration that his property was being ripped off so widely on the net, and that no one seemed to want to do anything about it. He opined that people should become much more litigious to protect their property from file-sharers and hackers. Shortly thereafter, his websites were taken offline by “anonymous” hackers who mocked him for daring to suggest that people still have a right to control what happens to their own property in a post-Google age.

    • JSH – I think there is a qualitative difference between someone putting your work up on a bit torrent site and putting it up for sale on Amazon.

      I’m not condoning either, but piracy of the first kind generally doesn’t impact your sales.

      However, in the second case, all the author’s hard work in promoting her novel is going to finacially benefit someone else. They search for her book on Amazon, and then get tricked into buying the duplicate. That has a direct effect on her bottom line and what is disturbing about it is that Amazon don’t seem to care because they make their 30% either way.

      • I think it remains to be seen whether piracy outside of Amazon, etc. will impact sales of e-books. For a small-time writer, any dollar lost could be crucial. And for a big-time writer who would be more likely to be pirated widely, the lost revenue can really add up. And there’s a chilling effect when a powerhouse like Amazon is so obstinate/lazy in stopping piracy, because the apathy just trickles down from there.

        • JSH – I don’t think the piracy outside of Amazon has as big an impact as piracy inside Amazon where sometimes the pirated book shows up with the legitimate book when someone does a search. Agree that Amazon needs to crank up its antipiracy efforts.

          • Well, the movie industry certainly thinks it has an impact. They’re pursuing 50,000 lawsuits against people who downloaded The Expendables and The Hurt Locker off Bittorrent:

            http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2386739,00.asp

            Note that this is PC Magazine, supposedly a responsible professional computing publication, and the writer is actually treating the whole thing like a big joke and basically saying “these movies suck, so who cares whether anyone pirates them anyway?” This is probably the same la-de-da mindset floating around the Amazon offices, since it seems to pervade everyplace else already.

            • And of course the movie industry is always right about what hurts or helps sales. They never have a flop, or support a bad technology.

              Besides the authors that have experimented with “piracy” (Konrath, Gaiman, etc.) have noticed a sales INCREASE after their works have been on file sharing networks.

              I would say to an author that is concerned about file-sharing… “You should be so lucky!!”

            • The movie industry and the music industry.

              The last two places I will go for advice on piracy.

      • Agreed, David. Thanks for your tweets.

        • David, PG, Christian, you are all 100% right. JSH, not so much.

          The problem here is actual piracy, someone selling another person’s IP, without permission, and profiting from it. Has nothing to do with file sharing, which is a completely different animal from piracy.

          PG, you are doing a great job, keep it up.

          • Pointing out that there is a difference between the two is not the same as condoning either.

            There is a qualitative difference between sharing a file without permission, and putting it up for sale on Amazon and claiming it as your own work, and profiting from it.

      • I’ve been looking over the DMCA, and while I’m no lawyer, it reads to me like Amazon is not protected from liability because of that 30%. From this link: http://www.copyright.gov/legislation/dmca.pdf

        “Section 512(c) limits the liability of service providers for infringing material on websites (or other information repositories) hosted on their systems. It applies to storage at the direction of a user. In order to be eligible for the limitation, the following conditions must be met:

        If the provider has the right and ability to control the infringing activity, it must not receive a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity.”

        Amazon DOES receive a financial benefit, a la 30%, so to my mind, doesn’t qualify for the DMCA protection. And it can control access, its system is what provides the material for sale. But, alas, I’m no lawyer.

    • JSH – Bittorrent is also an aggravation, but I question whether very many of the people in that world would ever be paying customers for most books.

      • Yes, that is one saving grace, the statistic that most of the kids spreading mp3s, games and movies around the web probably don’t read a lot of books 😉

  2. Tweeted and shared on FB. A guest poster is taking over my blog tomorrow, but I will run a link to this post on Saturday.

  3. I had this problem recently (and still haven’t heard back from Amazon’s copyright department after contacting them in mid-June). However I managed to get the book taken down through the power of social media.

    I encouraged my Twitter followers to leave 1-star reviews saying that the book was stolen and being sold there without my permission. I then encouraged people on Twitter/FB to upvote the reviews. It gathered a bit of steam (I’m grateful to Wil Wheaton for tweeting/blogging about it) and after a few days it had plunged to a single star and all the reviews shown on the front page said things like “THIEF,” “DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK IT IS STOLEN,” etc.

    The person selling it caved to pressure, and I’m guessing a drop in sales, and took it down. Still waiting to hear from Amazon because I want the money refunded to the people who bought it (it was published as a free ebook, which made this quite galling) and obviously not given to the thief. But at least it’s not being sold any more. Step 1 accomplished.

  4. Retweeted! Amazon has to figure out a way to stop this sort of thing from happening, and has to respond immediately when it happens.

    Every author should also be formally copyrighting their work (I think the fee is $35 a book) so that they have more of a legal leg to stand on.

    • Thanks, Sariah. You’re right about the copyright registration.

    • Yes, I do this—but be warned that there’s such a backlog in the copyright office that it can easily take a year or two to get the documentation. And that’s just the timeline the copyright office admits to.

  5. Thanks for the call to action I tweeted about it and will post on FB.

  6. PG, I’ve posted about this at my fantasy and historical fiction blog (http://adventuresfantastic.blogspot.com) and my science fiction blog (http://futurespastandpresent.blogspot.com). I don’t get much traffic (especially at the sf blog since it’s new), but I’m glad to be able to help.

  7. Patricia Sierra

    Any way to keep this story at the top of your page a while so those following links will it right away?

    We could also let Bezos know of our displeasure here: jeff@amazon.com

    • Patricia – I just posted an update which moves it to the top. Good suggestion on Bezos.

  8. Patricia Sierra

    “will it” is supposed to be “will find it” … I need coffee.

  9. The suggestion about flagging the theft in reviews is excellent. Could someone post the link for reviews of the stolen book?

    A general caution re emails to and comments about Amazon: keep in mind the possibility of Amazon shouting “libel.”

  10. This is FLYING around Twitter. Good work, PG.

  11. Legalish question. So Amazon has ignored a DMCA takedown notice, and continues to profit from the sale of infringing material. Wouldn’t the next step be to contact the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center or your local FBI office?

    • Christian – When Amazon receives a DMCA notice, the procedure is to contact the person who posted the book. That person has a statutory period of time in which to respond.

      You can imagine that thieves are not the best responders.

      My theory is that Amazon has alternate routes other than DMCA that it could use under its contract with its publishers and becoming a very squeeky wheel is the best way to get attention paid to those alternatives.

      The classic DMCA situation is where someone posts a copyrighted photo or piece of music online in a non-commercial setting and the company providing hosting services to the website or blog has no way of knowing about it.

      Amazon is different because it has a contractual relationship with the thief and someone at Amazon has examined the ebook before it goes up. We know about the examination because Amazon rejects some types of erotic materials.

      I haven’t researched it deeply, but I suspect DMCA isn’t the only route an author could take to get a response from Amazon, but it’s certainly the cheapest.

      • When receiving a DMCA takedown notice the service provider must remove the content. They are not allowed to wait and see if person that posted the content is going to respond. Due to the contractual, for profit, relationship if Amazon does not respond to a DMCA takedown notice in a timely fashion they would be guilty of criminal copyright infringement. The only thing that prevents Amazon, or any other company, from being directly liable for copyright infringement is the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA. They are selling something that is not theirs and that they had no right to sell.
        At this point, assuming that the DMCA notice included all the legally required information, Amazon cannot claim that they did not know they are infringing on a copyright. They are violating copyright law and profiting from it, and assuming the value of the work is over $1,000, it is a criminal act. I would contact the FBI, and the domain registrar for amazon.com.
        The DMCA should be the authors first route, if we are talking about material provided over the internet.

        • Christian – You’re exactly right on the requirement to remove the content by the service provider upon receiving a DMCA takedown notice. My head was fuzzy when pontificating earlier.

          • So given that the material is still on amazon.com either:

            a) The DMCA takedown request did not contain the correct information.
            b) 10 days isn’t enough time for Amazon to take “expeditious” action.
            c) Amazon is forfeiting safe harbor and is liable for any material available on their site, including infringing content or obscene material.

            At this point I would file a cyber complaint with the FBI at http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx Also I would send a DMCA notice to Network Solutions which is the registrar for amazon.com.

  12. I followed the link in the post and as far as I could see, the book is still there. I left a one star! I’m so sorry this is happening to the author and so many others.

    • Jeanne – Somebody has to be the first one to get Amazon to adopt a more comprehensive approach to pirated ebooks.

      I think it would be great if Ruth Ann Nordin were the first author to accomplish this.

  13. I’ve re-tweeted the message and also sent a tweet directed to @amazon about this. I think it might help to send tweets to them as well as to other writers.

    I certainly think that this kind of piracy is much, much worse than someone torrenting a copy. I would tend to agree that people who torrent books generally aren’t those who would have paid for them in the first place. In an ideal world they wouldn’t do this but at least when they do, the author loses out but no-one else is profiting because it’s not a sale.

    If someone is actually charging money for someone else’s work that they have no right to. This ought to be a criminal offence as far as I’m concerned. Certainly, at the very least, Amazon should be reclaiming any funds paid to the pirate, passing them on to the actual author, banning the pirate and the bank account the pirate was using.

    They should also have systems in place to prevent one star reviews getting transferred to the legitimate copy after the pirated one is removed (which I read about happening in one instance!) Fingers crossed that Ruth doesn’t fall foul of this particular added insult.

    I hope this gets swiftly resolved. Good luck Ruth!

    • Zelah – Thanks for your thoughts.

      With a 60-day delay on Amazon royalty payments, hopefully they’ll have the chance to avoid paying royalties to the wrong person. I believe Ruth is hoping Amazon will refund payments to those people who purchased the pirated copy.

  14. I am appalled at the piracy but even more appalled at the fact no one seems to care. Of course it will affect sales (what a lame excuse for stealing it) and if it does not that is beside the point. This is theft pure and simple.

  15. Great post PG 🙂

  16. David Gaughran said, “Pointing out that there is a difference between the two is not the same as condoning either.” But saying I’m “not so much” right when I say that places like bittorrent are wrong sure sounds like condoning it to me.

    Yes, I am well aware there is a difference between the two. I haven’t stated otherwise. Just because I mentioned that this Nordin incident is just one factor in a greater problem with the internet’s inability to control what happens to people’s intellectual property – and it most certainly is – people seem to be getting rather reflexively defensive.

    Yes, there is an obvious difference between reselling someone’s book online without permission, and giving it away online without permission. And? So what? Your collective point?

    They are both illegal, and the party is just about over:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/07/us-internet-piracy-idUSTRE7667FL20110707

    • What’s my point?

      My point is that most file-sharing can’t be considered a lost sale. Whereas scraping the book contents, putting it on Amazon, and collecting money for it quite clearly can.

      This isn’t about the rights and wrongs of file-sharing. This is about financial and reputational damage being done to the author and Amazon’s response (or lack thereof).

    • There are a lot of things that are illegal. When a layperson hears you call something illegal they think “criminal”. File trading using the bittorrent protocol is not a criminal act. It does not even rise to the level of a traffic violation. Legally, it’s closer to libel or violating a rental agreement by having too many pets.

      I think that an author does her or himself harm by focusing too much on file trading. Suing a fan isn’t efficient or wise. It will probably cost more than will be recovered by the suit and anecdotal evidence shows that it will also hurt sales (authors who have experimented with trading their own work on file sharing networks report an increase in sales).

      The agreement you reference in your comment actually loosens the practices of several of the ISPs and is more about cost savings on the ISP side rather than preventing piracy. (That is of course not how they are selling it.) Also note that the agreement specifically takes termination of internet access OFF the table. Also note that authors and individual creators are not covered by the agreement, only the MPAA, RIAA and a couple other organizations are covered. The agreement isn’t good for artists, it isn’t good for consumers, and someone will probably throw an anti-trust lawyer at it.

      However in this case it appears that was Amazon is doing is criminal. What they are doing isn’t jaywalking or having too many pets. It’s profiting from criminal activity. The author should go to the FBI, and send a DMCA notice to the Amazon.com name registrar.

  17. Yes, yes, we’ve been through that already. Didn’t I just say that I’m well aware they aren’t the same thing? God forbid I should mention a tangentially related subject in a thread, FFS.

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