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Scammers Are Using Createspace to Spam Amazon With Pirated Textbooks

12 September 2015

From The Digital Reader:

A reader has tipped me to the news that Amazon’s own website is a great source of pirated books.

Scot Schad 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, and it must be working because they keep doing it.

. . . .

Three pirated textbooks might not sound like much, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Schad identified a half-dozen other pirated POD textbooks on Amazon, and I found at least dozen other titles sold by the same “authors” of the pirated books.

For example, there’s a copy of Linear Algebra and Its Applications by the aforementioned Ben Ward. This book was pirated from a Linear Algebra textbook published by Bookboon.

I also found dozens of books from those “authors” which were no longer available but also showed every sign of having been pulled because they were pirated.

. . . .

It is difficult to say how long this operation has been going on (months? years?), but I would say that we are looking at industrial scale pirates second only to the ones that used to infest Google Play Books (it looks like Google has fixed the problem).

The only real difference is that these scammers are targeting POD textbooks, rather than ebooks, and that the POD scammers are going after even the most arcane title.

. . . .

This isn’t just a problem with pirated books on Amazon. What you see here are signs of a fundamental problem with one of Amazon’s platforms.

All of the textbooks mentioned above, as well as all the other textbooks published by these scammers, were distributed through Createspace.

And that is a huge problem for everyone because Createspace doesn’t just distribute to Amazon’s website.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader and thanks to Stephen for the tip.


16 Comments to “Scammers Are Using Createspace to Spam Amazon With Pirated Textbooks”

  1. “This isn’t just a problem with pirated books on Amazon. What you see here are signs of a fundamental problem with one of Amazon’s platforms.”

    So copyright thieves don’t exist other than here? Sorry, the ADS is strong enough to kill the message they’re trying to push …

    • I don’t know what is more laughable, your misinterpretation of a single sentence or your belief that I have ADS.

      Or maybe it’s the sign that you obviously didn’t read the entire post.

      In any case, I am LMAO right now.

      • That’s what I get for not having any caffeine …

        That and some of the ‘way’ things were said remind me of some of the NYT pieces we’ve been laughing at …

        I pointed out that line because you seem to imply that this issue only happens in this one place — and that it’s all Amazon’s fault that the ‘pirates’ do it.

        Amazon has the same problem everyone else does of people pretending some work belongs to them — and trying to make money off it. As Amazon sells more books than most others, I can see the copyright thieves trying their tricks more on Amazon than the others.

        I didn’t see a ‘sign of a fundamental problem with one of Amazon’s platforms’, I see a very useful tool being misused …


        And looking at the comments in the OP, others also see this as just a Createspace issue, not one to whine/blame on Amazon — unless one thinks no one will notice the blog without ‘Amazon’ being mentioned?

        And it seems Createspace takes them down as soon as they are pointed out — still missing that ‘fundamental problem’ thingy …

        • Do you know of a distributor or ebookstore that will let a pirate continue to operate after getting a half dozen or more DMCA notices?

          I was under the impression that most services will blacklist an account before that point. Createspace, on the other hand, allowed the pirates to continue to sell pirated textbook.

          Or do I have my facts wrong?

          In any case, I asked Mark Coker of Smashwords. I’m going to flesh out the post with his response (context).

          • thanks Nate for being a truth seeker instead of a bloviator without facts. Please come back and tell us what Coker says. Thanks for doing the work with integrity instead of seat of pants bs

          • It’s nice that you’re going to go ask Mark Coker of Smashwords, but did you also think to ask Createspace on their policies?

            As far as being ‘quick’ to shoot down said pirate and kill their account, be careful what you ask for as that same quickness could then be used to shut down the actual writer. DMCA notices don’t ‘prove’ that there was a violation — just a claim of one, and you need go no further than the music industry to see it abused to take down things they don’t even own.

            Without proper (maybe legal) looking into, anyone could shut down any writer/artist they don’t like/are mad at for some reason …

            • I think if you can ask Createspace Allen and get an answer that is effective and transparent, you will make front page of NYT

  2. This seems like a good argument for using a distinctive title. While that wouldn’t solve the problem in itself, it would certainly help in identifying instances of it.

    For instance, it would not surprise me if there was more than one legitimate book entitled Linear Algebra and Its Applications, while Hydrocarbon Potential of the Caney Shale in Southeastern Oklahoma is going to jump right out.

  3. Another case of otherwise smart people turning to theft instead of using their brains to make money “the old fashioned way, earn it.” I hope they get caught and spend time in jail.

    • A forlorn hope. More realistically, we can hope the scammer gets that account shut down quickly (although it’s probably one of many he has).

  4. I had a case of this old-school paperback piracy a few years ago. I was just about to release the print version of one of my books and noticed someone had uploaded an unauthorized edition. Amazon Legal was very quick about taking that down, but very very slow about shutting this operator down. I was happy they acted quickly for me but could never figure out why they dragged their feet so much with this pirate. He had over 100,000 titles, all either scraped from Wikipedia or outright pirated. Many of the titles were huge names from large publishers. He was uploading a new title every six seconds or something crazy like that but Amazon didn’t stop him for months and months. Eventually they took all the titles down but it took way longer than you might think. And considering how they drop the hammer on someone with four or five “typos” in their book, it seems more than a little strange.

  5. It seems like a lot of work to pirate these particular books, considering the rather limited audience for most advanced textbooks. The electrical engineering text featured on bookboon only costs $9.99 anyway, for the legitimate ebook. I imagine a pirated POD must cost at least that much.

    One wonders what factors drive the underlying market, if the books being pirated are open source and freely available (and free or inexpensive).

    • Do you mean the content in the pirated book?

      Yes, it is freely available to download from various legal sources like Bookbook, SyncFusion, etc.

      • Yes, I was thinking of the content. I wonder if buyers don’t know about the original free content, or if they prefer the “unofficially repackaged” alternative for some reason.

        It is an interesting phenomen – stealing free stuff. Which doesn’t mean that think it’s ok, just that it seems like a very “new world of publishing” thing. One wonders how a judge would assign damages in the case of a lawsuit, for instance.

        • I didn’t know about a couple of the sources until I tracked them down for this post, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the victims didn’t know either.

          In either case, the source is not easy to identify from the copied text. If you didn’t know better you would think this was just a badly printed textbook.

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