Surprisingly, many authors haven’t bothered worrying about book pirates. They figured a few copies going to readers who never would have paid for them anyway didn’t matter.
Heck, some authors even thought book pirates could be good for their career. Spread the word, appeal to more readers who might buy their book next time, yadda yadda. Um, think again.
When most of us think about book pirates, we think of a shady file-sharing pirate site. We wonder if the time we spend sending out DMCA takedown notices is worth it. We rationalize that no real readers go to those sites anyway, so the impact is small.
Those are old-school pirates. Amateurs.
The reality of book pirates is far scarier than we think. Welcome to a wild, lawless—and more importantly, consequence-free—mash-up of fan fiction, plagiarists, content scrapers, and Amazon scammers.
Quite frankly, I don’t want to think about it because it’s enough to make me consider giving up. But maybe if more of us are aware of the reality, we can help each other, keep an eye open for suspicious activity, and push for change.
The Perfect Storm Gathers Its Weapons
- Fan Fiction and Plagiarism
I’ve written before about fan fiction (fanfic) and how some involved in the fandoms are ethically challenged. Unlike most fanfic writers, who create fanfic for love of the stories or characters, these people are interested only in the attention or in making a name for themselves.
Some of the latest big name fanfic authors are, in fact, plagiarists. They copy from published books, change just enough (character names and worldbuilding terms) to match a fandom, and post the story to a fanfic site (like fanfiction.net).
If they do any writing at all, they’re merely adding transitions between a section from plagiarized book A and a section from plagiarized book B. If they get enough acclaim—and don’t get caught—they might try publishing the stolen story for money, changing the character names yet again, in what’s known as pull-to-publish.
- Content Scrapers and Amazon Scammers
The rise of Amazon self-publishing has led to scammers posting hundreds of books of dubious quality in an attempt to make money before Amazon catches up with them. Where do they get content for those hundreds of books? The internet.
Content scrapers used to be mostly known for copying blog content and pasting it to their own site for the purposes of advertising and spam revenue. Google Authorship has made that route less successful. So they instead take that scraped content and make money by posting the material as non-fiction books on Amazon.
Now, the scammers are also scraping fanfiction.net, FictionPress, literotica.com, etc. and taking those stories—some of which are already of questionable legality—and posting those as self-published novels on Amazon. Fanfic authors, who can’t even claim copyright infringement, are powerless to fight back.
Or the scammers take a couple of those old-school pirate ebook copies, mash them together, and post it on Amazon—with their fake name as the author. Why just steal content like those old-school pirates when you can plagiarize it and make money off it too?
Far-Fetched? Or Recent History?
We might want to pretend this couldn’t happen to us. Tell that to bestselling New Adult authors Jamie McGuire and Tammara Webber.
A month ago, Jordin Williams was outed as a plagiarist for her debut novel. Except there was no Jordin Williams. Or Liz Thomas. Or Emily Curran. Or Beth Klein. Or Emma Buch. Or K A Andrews.
All of these “authors” were in fact the same person: James Bishop, an Amazon scammer and content scraper. He created fake social media platforms on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads for each name. He stole pictures off the internet to use as their avatars. He scraped fanfic stories (calling it ghostwriting!) and posted them on Amazon for profit.
He was caught when one of the fanfic stories he copied and published on Amazon turned out to be plagiarized from the two bestselling authors. Their many readers recognized the writing and reported the book to Amazon, who removed it from their site.
In other words, he was caught only because he unknowingly copied a plagiarized fanfic instead of a normal fanfic, and the plagiarized content came from two bestselling books with many fans. Those of us who aren’t bestselling authors would have a harder time dealing with the issue but are no less likely to be victimized.
The New Book Pirates Do Not Help Authors in Any Way
Whether a published story is stolen for fanfic or for an Amazon scammer, the original author receives no benefit. Unlike the old-school pirates, who some argued “helped” authors connect with new readers, these stories are plagiarized.
The original author’s name is no longer attached to the story, so there will be no new readers discovering their other work. Readers who would never download from a pirate site can unknowingly purchase a plagiarized story from a site they trust, Amazon, and the original author has limited ability to recover any damages or lost income.
In addition, this “epidemic of plagiarism” is hitting the self-published arena harder because too many self-published books are plagiarized. The erotica section of Amazon is infected with them.
Hmm, New Adult… Erotica… These scammers are going after the popular trends. That doesn’t help readers, reviewers, or book bloggers from knowing who among self-published authors are legitimate either, and that hurts all self-published authors.
How Can We Combat These Pirates?
It’s not good for our long-term career goals to hope our stories are never liked well enough to appeal to a fanfic plagiarist or a content scraper. *smile* That means we have to find ways to improve the situation.
- Register for copyright protection. In the U.S., all original writing is automatically covered by copyright, but we can’t sue for damages unless the work is registered.
- Set up Google Alerts for phrases from our books. I’ve recommended using Google Alerts to protect our blogs from content scrapers, and we should do the same for our books.
- Use Amazon’s Look Inside sample to do a Google search before purchasing. If you find a match on a free fiction site, the story might be plagiarized—either by a content scraper stealing the material from the fiction site, or by the poster at the fiction site stealing from the original author.
- Let authors know when you suspect their work has been plagiarized. Many eyes working together is better than using just our own. If even a blurb on Amazon sounds too familiar, let the author know. Sites like Dear Author are experienced at confirming plagiarism and spreading the word to get Amazon to take action.
- Report confirmed plagiarized work to Amazon. Encourage them to remove the work from sale. With enough pressure, they’ll issue refunds to purchasers. If they have to refund enough money, they’ll take the lead in preventing these spammers from posting stolen content.
- Traditionally published authors can encourage their publishers to push Amazon. Maybe Amazon will make changes that will benefit all authors (like stronger prevention and content verification, establishing consequences, etc.), not just those who catch the scammers.
- Accept that Amazon may have to make pay-out changes. Amazon might have to institute a longer payment hold to create a cushion in ensuring the scammers never receive the money.
- Fanfic fandoms need to make it clear that plagiarism is unacceptable. Those active in fandoms can push fanfic sites to have a clear plagiarism policy and methods for reporting and removing violations and the violators.
- Recognize that our online presence is now more important. In the above cases, the “authors” weren’t active in the writing community—blogging or social media—until right before their debut releases. This is now a red flag and book bloggers are (rightly) becoming suspicious of review and blog tours requests from authors who don’t have a long-term online presence.
- Be real. Pen names are okay. What’s not okay is completely misrepresenting ourselves. Workshops for “How to Set Up an Author Persona,” complete with instructions on where to find fake avatar pictures, shouldn’t be encouraged. (I’m talking to you, FF&P chapter.)
That last tip, “be real,” along with our online presence, ensures that we won’t be suspected of being one of these content scrapers. Also, if people form a relationship with us, they’ll be more likely to report suspicious content that might be plagiarized from us.
As I mentioned earlier this year, “the internet is not just a faceless mass of words. The internet is people. People like you and me.” And together we can improve this situation.
(Tangent: Marcy Kennedy is running an encore of my guest post with tips for making a scene stronger over at her blog. Stop by and say hi. *smile*)
Had you heard about the Jordin Williams plagiarism case? Had you heard the full story, with fanfic and multiple persona details? Do you have other suggestions on how we can improve the situation? How else could Amazon or other retailers prevent these scammers or create consequences for them?Pin It