Plagiarism in the Digital Age

Plagiarism isn’t a new problem. (The Ten Commandments bear a striking resemblance to the Code of Hammurabi.) But while changing technology has given people the opportunity to publish independently and get their work in front of the reading public, it has also made it easier for other  people to steal entire books from authors.

Writing is generally not a way to get rich, and it becomes even less of one if thieves sell your work as their own, or buy it not caring if it’s pirated. As reported in The High Low
an alarming number of people are knowingly buying pirated books, and a significant number of them (25%) do so unrepentantly, with a clear intention to continue doing so. Broken moral compasses aside,  (precious few pirates will mail guilt money as one reader did to Mary Roach) this is a direct assault on authors.

Unfortunately, Kindle Direct Publishing apparently has few protections in place to prevent this beyond requiring customers to declare that the work being published is their own. Ruth Ann Nordin reported on Self-Published Authors Lounge that two of her books were co-opted by a thief. The same thing happened to Shayne Parkinson’s Sentence of Marriage. More cases have been reported on The Book Market. Amazon’s response, as reported by the authors, is inconsistent. Some report Amazon taking down the offending books, others say Amazon hasn’t taken action in their situations.

Part of the problem is that Amazon is being spammed with cobbled together books created using Private Label Rights content. There’s even a product available called “Autopilot Kindle Cash that claims to teach people how to publish 10 to 20 new Kindle books a day without writing a word.” With this much content coming in, it’s not surprising Amazon is failing to police itself. What there’s no excuse for, is their apparent disinterest in solving the problem, as some authors have reported. Cynically, but also accurately, they’ve noted that Amazon gets its cut whether the book sold is stolen or not.

But before we get out the pitchforks, Amazon can hardly be the only offender. This is probably happening in the Barnes & Noble ebook stores, and Borders, and Smashwords. Amazon is just the biggest market, so it attracts more thieves.

Does this mean that it’s too risky for authors to self-publish? No. This isn’t a self-publishing issue alone. Traditionally published authors are vulnerable to this as well. It does mean we have to be vigilant. (There is no automated way to screen for pirated content that can’t be easily circumvented.) Will we lose a certain amount of income to piracy? Of course. Brick and mortar bookstores lose money to pilferage too. I like Ruth Ann Nordin’s idea of an Indie Author Defense League, perhaps as an arm of a professional organization for indie authors like the Association of Independent Authors. In the meantime,

As for what authors can do if their book has been pirated, I recommend reading The Passive Voice  and benefitting from Passive Guy’s legal knowledge.


Filed under writing

3 responses to “Plagiarism in the Digital Age

  1. SandySays1

    Technology sure is a double edged sword, isn’t it.

  2. For those interested in the subject of digital plagiarism, I offer some additional information that I recently found on ereads. (Ereads is a newsletter from Richard Curtis an agent/publisher.)

  3. Pingback: Policing Plagiarism « Frankie's Soapbox

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