Fast Company Exposes Plagiarism on Amazon

    January 13, 2012
    Mike Tuttle

As I reported yesterday, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing is big business. Amazon is putting more money into the payout pool for the Kindle Owners Lending Library and many amateur authors are getting in on the action.

But, as Fast Company reports, there’s always someone out to game the system, and even a giant like Amazon has trouble swatting all the bugs in the barn.

The game afoot has come to light, firstly at least, in the erotica section of Amazon. Authors were noticing that their own works that had sold well elsewhere were being surpassed by fiction titles that were of very poor quality, even containing spelling errors in the titles. This led to a further look, and upon closer examination some major fouls were uncovered.

One author was found to have 40 titles in the store, but the contents were copied and pasted from other sources, ranging from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” to copies of user-submitted erotic fiction from online forums. Pasting from erotic websites was not unusual, it turns out. Other authors were found, upon closer examination, to have done the same thing.

And, it’s not just the steamy stuff either. Older works now in the public domain have been pasted in, retitled, and sold as original works. Books on health insurance, advice for senior citizens, and cookbooks have all been found to be plagiarized outright from other authors, many of whom are so small that they do not have the resources to fight a copyright battle in court.

That this kind of behavior is happening under Amazon’s nose might seem shocking to folks who have done business with them over the years, especially those associated with Amazon’s affiliate programs. Affiliates commonly spread stories of hair-trigger account suspensions for violating terms of service. It often seems that Amazon will shoot first – ask questions later – when it comes to affiliates.

But, suspending affiliates keeps Amazon from paying out money tallied up fraudulently. Quashing plagiaristic works on its virtual shelves may not be a priority since they have nothing to lose. If enough complaints come in on a particular title, they can remove that title, even sanction an author. But, they still have profited from the sale.

Some people point to the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act now under consideration as a means to stop this activity. But, many people see that approach as going after a fly with a sledgehammer. Too much damage would be done to the surrounding structure to make it wise.

Amazon has an email address that authors can submit complaints to if they wish to report plagiarism. But, there are tools available that can recognize text lifted from other sources. Businesses that solicit original material from article authors commonly check for plagiarism using little more than the almighty Google machine. That’s how some of the complaining authors in Amazon’s erotic fiction section found out their competitors’ trespasses. If Amazon wanted to be proactive in defending its legitimate authors, it could with little inconvenience.


Mike Tuttle
Writer. Google+ Writer for WebProNews.