July 31, 2019

Bookselling scams on the rise


We often write about downward trends in book buying–that folks just aren’t buying enough books. But maybe they are also buying the wrong books.

Today, buying the wrong books is easier than ever, thanks to a recent surge in bookselling scams, which come in many forms: from willfully confusing knockoffs of popular titles, to straight-up plagiarism and ebook piracy.

In a recent op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Author’s Guild President Douglas Preston explains the problem:

To be fair, Amazon has made genuine efforts to combat this problem with algorithms and staff that search out crooked sellers. It has launched a service called Transparency that would allow every book sold to be tracked if it’s adopted by publishers. But stamping out all these scams has proved very difficult. Amazon’s reseller marketplace is like the Wild West: vast, hard to police, with many anonymous players.

The fundamental problem is with the law itself. Many of these swindles are illegal because they involve copyright infringement. But the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act exempts internet platforms from liability for copyright infringement occurring on their sites provided the platforms respond to “takedown notices” when told that a particular book on a particular webpage is stolen. In other words, the law places the burden on the author or publisher to police the web.

(Although, as we’ve learned recently, Amazon itself can play fast and loose with copyright.)

Preston recognizes these scams as a major driver of the decline of author income and, as we’ve written about before, they can hasten the end of a once-popular series.

The solution? Adjust the law so that online platforms selling these fakes must carry the burden of protecting the copyright. We mustn’t submit to the algorithm and watch our authors die by its sword!



Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.