A New Form of Book Piracy

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Earlier this year, after publishing a new book, I visited Amazon to check it out. When I finished inspecting the Amazon detail page for my new book, I clicked the link by my author photo to visit my Author Central page. And, boy, was I surprised by what I found.

(A little background: Author Central now shows only my Kindle eBooks by default. Customers have to click the Paperback tab to find my paperback books.)

I noticed one of my better selling books near the top of the list. What stood out is that book is only available in paperback. (For good reason. With thousands of math problems, this particular workbook would not be ideal for Kindle.) Yet, there it was on the list of my Kindle eBooks.

At first thought, I had hoped that Amazon was finally starting to show all of my books by default (like they had once upon a time), instead of just the Kindle eBooks. Some of my books are only available in paperback, and so customers can’t find them on my Author page unless it occurs to them to click the Paperback tab.

But I soon realized that it was indeed a Kindle eBook. What a surprise! This book is only available in paperback. How was a Kindle edition of this book on my author page?

I visited KDP just to see with my own eyes that this book wasn’t showing on my Bookshelf in eBook format. Indeed, it was only available as a paperback.

When I explored this mysterious Kindle eBook, it was obvious to me that it wasn’t mine. Yet it had the same title, the same cover, and even my own name listed as the author. Only it wasn’t a book that I had published (or authorized). When I opened the Look Inside, it looked like someone had used OCR to convert my paperback to a Kindle eBook (which is NOT a good way to convert a book to Kindle format, by the way). When I reached the exercises, I immediately saw a problem. The paperback has the exercises arranged in three columns. In this mysterious Kindle edition, the three equations from the three columns merged together, so that a customer wouldn’t be able to tell when one equation stopped and another started. It was a formatting nightmare, rendering the math unreadable. So not only was there a pirated version of my book available for sale, but any customers who purchased the eBook would likely be quite displeased. Yet the book had a sales rank of about 100,000, so people had evidently been buying the book. What is even more incredible is that the list price was exactly the same as the price of the paperback. The publication date showed that the eBook had already been available for a few weeks before I discovered it.

Fortunately, Amazon has a special form for people or businesses to report copyright or trademark infringement. If you published through KDP, visit KDP’s Contact Us page, and when you select the appropriate menu item, it will automatically take you to Amazon’s copyright infringement form.

I’m not a big fan of the form itself. You have to state your problem clearly in 1000 characters or less. I struggled with this because it was my own name on the pirated book, and I wanted to make it very clear that someone else was using my name and content without my permission (to try to avoid confusion). Plus, the form has lawyer-ish language that seems nonspecific to books. One question wants to know if it is a physical item, and, well, it was an eBook. Is that a physical item? There wasn’t an option for a Kindle eBook. Other questions like this ran through my mind.

Unfortunately, it can take an agonizing couple of days to receive a response. I submitted my request on a Saturday, and Monday was a holiday, so this evidently added to my waiting period. Remember those snow and ice storms that some states had earlier this year? Guess what. This book piracy happened to occur at about the same time, so that while I was constantly checking my email for a response and Amazon to see if the pirated book would ever get taken down, at home I was experiencing frequent rolling power outages. It was a nightmare in a nightmare. (Pinching didn’t help.)

After this waiting period, I received a response and the pirated eBook was taken down. (Thank you, Amazon.)

I can’t imagine what the “pirate” was thinking. Somebody invested some time to get the book, OCR the book, and make the Kindle edition (as little effort as that might have been, and as poorly formatted as the result was). What did they expect to gain from this? Amazon doesn’t pay authors for a couple of months after the purchase specifically so that in the case of infringement or other violations of the TOS, the infringing author won’t ever receive one penny. Did the person expect not to get caught? The book used my cover, my name, even got linked to my actual paperback. Kind of hard not to notice. I’m guessing the “pirate” must have done this to several books, not just mine. The copyright team hopefully checked out any other books that person had published when they blocked the book that I reported.

The lesson is to make sure that nobody else is selling your book on any major retailers, such as Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.

A more common mosquito-like book piracy problem is to find websites that claim to be selling or giving away unauthorized copies of your book. Often, these websites don’t actually have the book. With all of the viruses, malware, and phishing that plagues the internet these days, my advice is to avoid visiting untrusted websites, avoid clicking links, and avoid downloading files. Hopefully, most customers will be wise enough not to try to obtain books from unknown sites. People shop for books at places they trust, like Amazon. If you find your book being sold or given away, you can issue a takedown notice. Unfortunately, this can become a regular occurrence, taking up a great deal of time and energy.

If you’re an author, I hope you never have your book pirated. I hope you sell enough books that other people “wish” that they had written your book, but I hope they don’t try to actually sell unauthorized copies of your book.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

24 comments on “A New Form of Book Piracy

  1. Oh gosh Chris… what a nightmare! It boggles the mind, what deviousness these piratey gremlins get up to. Thanks, though, for the heads up.. and I’m really glad to hear that Amazon shut down the intruder.

  2. That’s one heck of a situation. Glad you managed to get it resolved.

    I have been pirated. Twice.
    One site has my current book (in full) up for people to download in pdf and epub format. Another site has all my books up for anyone to read on their site (including their two mirror ones). From the looks of it, this one is Russian-owned and targets certain novels.
    Sadly, sending DMCAs has proven to be futile.

    • Piracy is definitely a frustrating aspect of publishing. It’s unfortunate that DMCA takedown notices sometimes aren’t enough. I hope your books still get read plenty from stores, as they should. Thank you for taking a moment to describe your experience with this.

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Chris. I’ve had a different but worrying experience with someone else’s book being attributed to me on one of my book pages and on Author Central. It was written in Irish, but a quick trip to Google Translate confirmed my suspicions that the content was pure pornography (and badly written too). I actually phoned the Amazon helpline to get this removed and, in fairness, it was taken down within a few hours. Where the book came from, I’ll never know. Now I apparently have an Audio CD book version of one of my books, but it’s the score to a song. I’ve reported it (twice) but it’s still there…

  4. Reblogged this on Just Can't Help Writing and commented:
    A cautionary tale from Chris McMullen. My past experience with pirated books echoes his sense that for many of the sites claiming to carry unauthorized copies, tracking them down is a lifelong enterprise. But this looks like something you can spot on Amazon if it happens to you. Thanks, Chris!

  5. Sadly, piracy of written material is rife, I could not tell you how many times my books have been ripped off, republished under different titles or in different languages (lol- usually with a digital translation which makes them almost indecipherable)
    Almost all my books are available to download now from bit torrent sites and have been pirated in one way or another.
    Sadly (again) there is little that you can do about it. Other than starting a hugely expensive case against the perpetrator, which you will win but never be compensated for you just have to accept it. Sorry.

    • I can imagine translations going badly. I bought a bicycle where the owner’s manual was incomprehensible; obviously a translation gone bad. I saved the manual and read it to people periodically. Quite entertaining, but not at all helpful for assembling a bicycle.

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