Amazon Reverses Course on ‘Garbage Books’ After Public Uproar

From Decrypt:

When Professor Jane Friedman complained about books that she didn’t write being attributed to her on Monday, ecommerce giant Amazon initially said that it would not remove them. But after she took her case to Twitter, earning the backing of the Authors Guild, Amazon relented early this morning.

Friedman—a non-fiction writer, journalist, and educator—said Amazon had refused to remove the books even though they appeared to trade on her name and reputation as an author who has published how-to guides for other writers.

The “garbage books,” which Friedman says were probably churned out using generative AI, had the titles “Your Guide to Writing a Bestseller eBook on Amazon,” “Publishing Power: Navigating Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing,” and “Promote to Prosper: Strategies to Skyrocket Your eBook Sales on Amazon.”

When Friedman acknowledged that she could not prove that she owned the trademark on her own name, she said Amazon said it would leave the book up and for sale. But that stance changed late Monday night when the books began disappearing from Amazon’s website, and after the Authors Guild offered to step in on Friedman’s behalf.

“We have clear content guidelines governing which books can be listed for sale and promptly investigate any book when a concern is raised,” Amazon spokesperson Ashley Vanicek told Decrypt by email. “We welcome author feedback and work directly with authors to address any issues they raise and where we have made an error, we correct it.”

Other authors responding to Friedman’s tweet said the same thing had happened to them, and in some cases, the publisher of the fraudulent books did more than just use their names.

“Sorry you’re dealing with this,” author and poet Hattie Jean Hayes wrote. “I have had someone using my name to publish erotica on Amazon [Kindle Direct Publishing] for the last three years. It’s pretty clearly a targeted attack since they’ve used names of my (minor!) family members in the stories,” Hayes said. “Amazon/Kindle gave me the exact same answer.”

The Authors Guild said that its members could request the organization’s assistance in contacting Amazon’s senior management about fraudulent works.

“We’ve worked with Amazon on this issue in the past, and we will continue our conversations with them about advancing their efforts to keep up with the technology,” the Author’s Guild said in a statement shared with Decrypt. “Meanwhile, we encourage everyone to report these books that try to profit from your brand through Amazon’s complaint portal.”

Link to the rest at Decrypt

PG says Zon should police books that use an author’s name when they were written by someone other than that author. He understands that there are many people with the same names plus pen names have a long history in traditional literature. Legitimate authors named John Smith or Jane Smith will develop ways of distinguishing themselves from other authors with the same name.

Passing off a book as having been written by someone who writes good books when it is not written by that author means the fraudster is trying to sell a product under false pretenses. PG doubts that Amazon would run into no problems if it refused to sell such books to preserve its reputation as an honest online merchant. It is not in Amazon’s interest to sell junk.

PG has opined that the folks who run KDP are not the best managers of their business. He takes the OP as further evidence that Zon needs to pay more attention to management issues at KDP if for no other reason than to maintain the quality of Amazon’s brand name as a whole. Business organizations that sell goods or services have a lot to lose when customers have a bad experience with a purchase.

People who buy books on Amazon likely also purchase a whole lot of other goods from Amazon. From PG’s outsider view, it appears that Walmart is taking aim at Zon in the huge middle and lower-middle-class consumer goods market. PG has moved more than a few of his purchases of products that Amazon and Walmart both sell over to Walmart on the basis of some better prices and much faster delivery on items Walmart stocks in its nearby retail locations.

PG made a trip to his local Walmart to purchase some necessities for Casita PG a couple of days ago and was kicking himself while wandering around the large store wasting his time searching for products. He should have saved a lot of time by ordering online using Walmart’s version of Prime for free delivery of the goods to Casita PG’s front door, likely within a few hours.

21 thoughts on “Amazon Reverses Course on ‘Garbage Books’ After Public Uproar”

  1. Amazon was taking advantage of a quirk in trademark law:

    The mark that is the name of a living natural person cannot be owned by that person. So, in order to register that mark, one must use an IP holding entity of some kind. If, for example, one looked up the history of Harlan Ellison®, one would find that it was initially registered to and owned by The Kilimanjaro Corporation. Or one can use a pseudonym and register that.

    But the other thing is that most vendors neglect to tell people with misuse/misbranding problems that trademark registration is optional. The first user of the mark in commerce owns the mark until/unless something else comes along. Consider Joe Author† and his problem with generative-AI ripoffs of his bestselling chicken-farming manuals.‡ Legally all that Joe need do (in the US!) is (a) show a search result from TESS of the Dubiousvilles (you’ll probably need to refresh once or twice, it’s a dubious computer interface) that there are no registered marks matching “Joe Author” and (b) show use in commerce prior to the scammer. Of course, that that is legally sufficient may not overcome internal policy… but it puts the matter in play and makes the vendor potentially liable for willful infringement (that is, enhanced damages and liability for attorney’s fees).

    † Not his real name. Names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent-after-all.

    ‡ No points for guessing who (and the little dog, too!) this is referring to, either in black and white or Technicolor.

  2. So, how do you solve the problem of multiple people who have the same name?

    I have articles published in a print trade magazine, but I have a rather common name, and there are many books published by “David Lang”, and I occasionally run into cases where they are published in a field I am doing something in.

    Nobody trying to impersonate anyone else, just multiple people with the same name.

    • Search online for the other guys and use a variation if you find matches?l

      I did that once and only found a match with a Paraguayan ceramics artist.
      Then I moved and found two neighbors IRL (father and son, both lawyers) in my new development.

      In latin america is is customary to use both father and mother last names so it makes exact matches harder. In my case the maternal names were different and I’ve had no issue with people seeking legal advice. 😉

      • Punch my name into Google Scholar and you will find articles by three of us. I am neither the molecular virologist nor the vascular surgeon. (Sadly: They likely both earn considerably more than do I.) I’m the guy writing about 19th century baseball history. It is easy to keep separate. The other two are more easily confused with one another, if you aren’t paying attention.

        The problem with what Amazon was doing is not multiple authors with the same name, but multiple authors on the same author profile page. This is an affirmative claim that these books are by the same person.

        Amazon is not your friend. It only addressed the situation when it became a public embarrassment. Looking to the future, it will have no objection to AI-written books, if and when they get passably good. Indeed, it will embrace them, producing them en masse, removing any ugly necessity of paying royalties.

    • That is always a pickle – unless you can get hold of Elon’s “Names for Baby” book.

      Way back when, when the wife and I were newly married, I began getting persistent phone calls in the middle of the night from a woman insisting that I was the father of her child.

      Fortunately, the wife was willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. Until, that is, another woman called while I was at work, and began telling her how much she enjoyed “my” singing at the club the other night. Then she was (so she says) literally rolling on the floor laughing.

      We did end up changing phone numbers, and delisting the new one, so no more calls from the bed partners of the Lothario that happened to have my name.

  3. Can AI have a name? If AI is published as Arnold Ingersell, and a subsequent human Arnold then publishes, who has naming rights?

    And the notion that AI can easily be recognized? Wait a year. The notion that AI could do what we now see it doing was laughed at last year. Creatives and all that.

      • Here’s the translation into english:

        https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/other/field-workers-can-tap-their-phones-and-access-ai/ar-AA1f9G7t

        😀

        “Now, Copilot will be added to the Dynamics 365 service used by field workers like cable technicians and electric repair personnel.

        “With Copilot, service requests sent via Outlook will automatically pre-populate information, including how many times the same customer reached out for service before. Supervisors can review the work order before sending it off to field technicians. By fall this year, those work orders will also recommend specific people for the job based on their travel time, availability, and skill set.

        Technicians can update their work status, i.e., if they’ve arrived at a location and started fixing the issue and what precisely the problems are so managers know what’s happening with a project and they can help prioritize tasks. It also lets them find job location information in less taps. Then Copilot will help create recaps of the service for managers. Customers will have more visibility into where their technicians are, but it also opens up closer scrutiny of workers.

        And if the technician is stuck on an issue, Microsoft brought 3D spatial annotations to Teams video calling via mobile, which can emphasize a problem like a faulty screw by encircling it in the video call. If the camera moves away, so will the annotation. Think of it like the holograms in a HoloLens 2 Teams video call.

        Lili Cheng, corporate vice president, Business Applications and Platform at Microsoft, said bringing generative AI to fieldwork lets frontline workers like technicians work faster and smarter.

        “A lot of field workers often rely on pen and paper, with most tools fragmented, so it takes a long time to complete jobs,” Cheng tells The Verge. “We wanted to help streamline their workflows.”

        Copilot in Dynamics 365 is already available to current users. Microsoft worked with clients around the globe like Hitachi Solutions, the 9altitudes Group, and TechLabs London when testing out the product.”

        —-

        It turns out the market for field worker remote support was valued at USD 2.87 billion in 2020 and is projected to grow from USD 3.24 billion in 2021 to USD 8.06 billion in 2028, exhibiting a CAGR of 13.9% in the 2021-2028 period.”

        I’m pretty sure bot-assembled narratives won’t deliver even a thousandth of that *one* market.

      • The idea of a single, independent author making money selling on the internet is laughable. Publishing is a complex industry. There are acquisition editors, copy editors, book doctors layout, covers, printing, and distribution. And it has to go through an agent first. Independents will never be a serious challenge for real writers and creatives. Who could ever do all that alone?

        • Note that I’m talking about the bots.
          Which are, first, *not* cheap to run. The ones that aren’t user data miners run $20-30″ a month.

          And, second, they are incapable of producing anything original or with meaning. Every narrative will follow the old “the same but different” model of lowest common denominator output. (Say 2-3 stars at best). Which means they’ll have to come to market at rock bottom pricing and very large volumes. So there won’t be much money to support them all.

          Most importantly, the same tech can be deployed to other uses that make far more money than the decent middle class revenue indies can and do make. Remember, these scammers are in it for the big, fast buck.

          There is a lot more money in legit uses of the tech than in bottom feeder scamming. Why waste time scamming for a few thousands of bucks in low end publishing scams when there’s millions to be made in legit endeavors?

          Which is why the handwringing over “AI” displacing humans in creative endeavors is laughable; it shows major insecurity in their own skill (anybody who thinks a chunk of software can replace them doesn’t have much faith in themselves) as well as a lack of understanding of the tech, the business, and above all *the readers*. Readers aren’t lemmings that will buy whatever crap is placed before them. That is old school tradpub thinking from the days of limited supply. In the current age of abundance readers need to be discriminating out of self defense. Folks will only be burned by those narratives once or twice before they catch on. And with LOOK INSIDE and free samples they’ll figure it out pretty fast.

          Try this: seen many sparkly vampire best sellers lately? Mommy porn? Teenaged dystopia trilogies? The same but different has short lifetimes.

          As the saying goes: you can fool most of the people some of the time and some of the people most of the time, but you can’t fool everybody all the time.

          Finally, apropos of the OP, the very fact that the scammers have to resort to author misrepresentation is all the necessary evidence that their product is subpar. If it were good enough to sell on merit they’d pull a Galbraith.

          • Good point. Independent authors can make more money using AI to model molecules in a search for a Parkinsons cure.

        • > Independents will never be a serious challenge for real writers and creatives. Who could ever do all that alone?

          Independents are real writers and creatives, and there are lots of them doing it on their own (or hiring the work they don’t want to do), most of them are one-person businesses with creative names, so unless you know something about the author or the ‘publishing company’ you have no way to know.

          It gets easier to do every year.

      • The majority of books ever written, much less published, are mediocre. This is by definition.

        • But what fraction of those *sell* enough to matter?
          This is hardly the first time scammers hit KDP.
          It won’t be the last.
          The world is a crappy place and life is too short to angst over maybes and mights.

  4. By not wanting to be ‘Alicia Ehrhardt’ or ‘Dr. Butcher’ (you do the math) when I married en route to a PhD, I may have inadvertently and accidentally made my name – I use the full thing, no hyphens, and he made no changes – a lot rarer.

    I’ve never found anyone other than myself when I search. Convenient for an author.

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