Thursday, September 30, 2010

How Amazon handled a recent illegal book upload

Much has been said, often, about how Amazon once automatically deleted, from Kindles, books that had been illegally uploaded -- and Jeff Bezos, in his forum apology, termed it "stupid, thoughtless" and a "self-inflicted" problem for which he said they deserved the criticism they got.

  In a later court hearing, Amazon gave legal assurances they'd not be doing that again, and before the hearings, Communications Director Drew Herdener had said they were changing their systems so that this situation wouldn't be repeated.

  Despite all this, hardly a day passes without online discussions including statements from many who are eager to believe and to tell others, that Amazon will delete books when it feels like it, which is, at this point, a fantasy, since they are a business interested in survival.


In a story early in September that didn't get much exposure, The Australian's Fran Foo wrote, "Amazon caught by fake e-book scam: Kindle users refunded for bogus Jamie Oliver title."   I'll take the liberty of quoting quite a bit of it, as I'd rather not paraphrase here and the story is linked for further reading.
'AMAZON has been forced to remove a fake Jamie Oliver title from its Kindle Australia e-reader bookstore.

The internet giant didn't realise it had been duped when it added the so-called book, priced at $US3.99, to its online store.

The Kindle edition of The Naked Chef 2 Recipes, purportedly by Oliver, has been available in Australia since at least January.

A spokeswoman for Oliver's local publisher, Penguin Group, said there was no such title by the celebrity chef.

Amazon admitted a "third party" who didn't have rights to sell the book was behind the problem.

It sent emails to affected customers in July informing them of the breach and offering a refund.

"We are writing to inform you that we need to refund your purchase of the book Jamie Oliver The Naked Chef 2 Recipes," the Amazon email said.

"This book was added to our catalogue by a third party who we now believe did not have the rights to make the book available for sale.

"We will be removing the book from our servers, making it unavailable for re-downloading from your archived items.

"Any copies you already have on your Kindle devices will not be removed, but you may choose to remove any such copies yourself." 
[Emphasis mine]

Seattle-based Amazon spokeswoman Stephanie Mantello declined to say how long the book had been on sale, how many copies had been purchased or what steps the company would take to ensure the incident was not repeated.

She declined to reveal how and when the issue first came to Amazon's attention. "We don't disclose details of private conversations with partners."

It is unclear how the third party slipped through Amazon's screening process, but Ms Mantello said there were many ways of placing e-books in Amazon's Kindle catalogue." '
The rest of the article, explaining how e-books are placed in the Kindle catalogue plus a bit of history of a previous book scam involving a purported Oliver book are at The Australian's news site.
  Also, any interested in how the original scam developed can read about it at Snopes.


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15 comments:

  1. the problem of Amazon's allowing anyone to put up works for sale through their website. Vetting for legal status is next to impossible (especially if it's internationally complex like this case could have been) to do automatically and too expensive to do manually, yet Amazon takes the blame (and suffers the cost) for any problems that arise.
    No doubt the person selling it will be found out to be some anonymous account with fake contact information, the money having been deposited in a bank in some obscure country that doesn't hand over account information to foreign law enforcement and has no laws prohibiting copyright theft.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm surprised they're leaving the books on the Kindle. If this fake e-book violated Oliver's copyright, Amazon could be exposing itself to litigation. It's great for customers, but lousy for Amazon and Mr. Oliver.

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  3. Thanks for posting this, Andrys. I have been someone who assumed Amazon would never make its 1984 mistake again, and this story confirms my belief.

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  4. In response to Anonymous: I work for a University and we use a plagiarism detection tool that checks students works against a database of published works and checks against websites. In addition to this it also stores the students work to see if the students are copying each other. It's remarkably in-expensive, quick and easy to do, and totally automatic.

    I can't believe that Amazon can't put a similar system into place.

    The problem in this case (I'm working on some assumptions given that I've not read the full article/s) arises when the content isn't published elsewhere but did appear on the TV and remains copyrighted.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous, 10/1/10, 4am

    Probably should read the articles, as what you describe was probably developed by UC Berkeley here and is used a lot, but doesn't begin to apply to this situation.

    Still, a great tool, for sure.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Such tools can work, but they can only check against a collection of known prior works.
    I wonder how many verbatim copies of things downloaded from the net slip by that originate from sites you don't realise exist.

    In this case, it wouldn't have likely worked as the manuscript wasn't a complete work but rather a collection of fragments taken from several different prior works, an anthology as it were created without prior permission.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I am absolutely fascinated by these kind of scams. Just the fact that they occur at all is cause for consideration. It's amazing that the more technology develops, the more these kinds of unanticipated and inadvertent consequences arise alongside them.

    I am curious to see how this sort of thing will be vetted in the future in emerging circumstances where retailers like Barnes & Noble have announced the release of PubIt!, a self-publishing program...It seems like just as iTunes operated to curb a lot of illegal downloading of music, it could just be that the opposite may be true here - in the sense that opportunistic folk will seize the chance to ride on the coat-tails of other authors and personalities. Hopefully this will only be a very small thorn in the side of what is going to be an amazing technological and cultural development for the future of books!

    Thank you, Andrys, for writing on this very interesting issue. I have learned a lot and it's definitely got my mind thinking! Another great contribution. Also, I hope that your concert was indeed enjoyable and that you managed to get some sleep! :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Melita,
    I guess it must be a challenge to scammers, the more difficult, the more they try.

    I agree that given openings, opportunistic people will take as much advantage of those as is possible, and unlike musicians who can then depend on their live performances, with mp3s used mainly as advertising, the author's possibly-unprotected book-file IS the author's performance but very easily transmitted to thousands at a time for free. Even then, I wish for no-DRM where possible because those types would not likely buy the books in the first place. They mainly want the thrill of getting (or 'giving' w/their own user-id on it) something valuable for free).

    It's the live broadcast (globally) of the Chopin int'l piano competition that many of us are enjoying, day and night, so, little sleep but it's really rewarding.

    Thanks again for your feedback!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Sorry for joining this party a bit late, but I've got a friend who distributes his eBooks for free, 4 of his works (plus hundreds of other authors) have been uploaded for sale to Amazon (.co.uk and .com) by one individual. Amazon are being borderline incompetent about removing the books (initially only changing the author's name from the illegal uploader to the actual author). Through Facebook and Twitter we've been contacting other authors who have been affected (you can see there names on the front covers of the books!) and leaving "Don't buy - this has been stolen" reviews wherever we can.

    You can follow the whole sorry saga here: http://wagar.org.uk/website/?page_id=1337

    ReplyDelete
  10. Anonymous,
    I wish on something like this that people would use their real names. All it does is perpetuate anonymous activities in any direction and on this kind of thing people willing to identify themselves would be better, obviously. But do that for Amazon. I can see why they'd hesitate if they can't confirm who is making complaints.

    But the issue is important enough that I'll provide a clickable link for people to use and do a tweet on it later (just got here). The website you've given and which I've done a quick look at is http://wagar.org.uk/website/?page_id=1337.

    In the meantime, this old page does not get much traffic but it's an apropos place to post it.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Dear Andrys,

    apologies for the anonymous post - my real name is John Hoggard, on Drew's page I post as DaddyHoggy. I'm not the author of the books and I'm not one of the hundreds of authors that one individual ripped off and Amazon allowed to sell. I wasn't hiding behind my anonymity, it was just that my real name was unimportant and the details were contained within the link. I was just trying to let people see that Amazon continues to do nothing to protect authors from illegal, copyright breaching uploads.

    Regards,

    John

    ReplyDelete
  12. John,
    Thanks for that. It does help for people to be able to get a sort of fix on people reporting a problem that involves people using others' names as has happened.

    I would like everyone (on the page you link to) to suggest concrete things that Amazon could do to protect authors from illegal uploads such as requiring certain types of identification. On the page you link to, some suggestions for solutions would be good.

    Also, I agree that Amazon is too slow once they have had ultra-strong indication of illegal activity (such as one person uploading 100 books claimed to be his own) to move on these things.

    I think that as a slow, overcautious bureaucracy sometimes, they worry about legal issues all around these uploads and also about taking books down from the servers upon the first complaint by someone they also must get identification-info from. I imagine they have to get approvals from higher departments etc.

    I do believe it helps to try to solve this without heavy blame but with a set of steps we feel strongly that Amazon should take that wouldn't be too tough on actual authors trying to get their works published without waiting weeks. Obviously, something needs to be done.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Having seen John's link I thought I'd also join the discussion. I'm the owner of wagar.org.uk and I set up the page on Sunday evening as it became clear that I, along with many other authors were having our work published on Amazon without permission, with any proceeds going to an individual called 'Peter Michelsen'.

    Clearly our first priority was get the books taken down. This was particularly important in my case as my books were a deriative work on someone else's copyright, therefore having them offered for sale anywhere left me (inadvertantly) in a potentially litigious situation.

    Amazon were slow in responding, but they have responded, and I agree with you, Andrys, that the next step is to make some positive suggestions on how Amazon could prevent this situation occuring again.

    Clearly deleting works directly from customers' kindles wasn't acceptable. Nor will be removing books from sale the moment there is a whiff of alleged copyright violation.

    Identification is fraught with difficulty too. Who is going to vouch for that identity? Will uploads need to be validated agaisnt facebook, twitter, OpenID?

    I don't have the answers, but I will be modifying the page to start opening a dialogue on the subject. Watch this space!

    Kind regards,

    Drew.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Great news, Drew.
    Will be watching your page.

    Also, good luck with the book you completed. about. It was poignant to read about your first pink slip. May one be another color soon. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  15. I don't know what procedures Amazon already have to check that sellers own copyright, but whatever they are, they're obviously not enough. I would argue that, since Amazon's product (the Kindle), and Amazon's website, are being used here to facilitate copyright theft - which they are getting a cut of - they carry a substantial moral responsibility to protect authors' and publishers' copyright. What would the situation be if iTunes was found to be selling pirated music? Amazon should require sellers to confirm, on a legally binding document, that they own copyright, and be prepared to hold on to payments for some length of time (3 months, say) before passing on any potentially ill-gotten gains to prevent fly-by-night profiteering. Paypal manages to have a robust method of checking identity and ownership of bank accounts: there's no reason why Amazon shouldn't do this as well. Amazon should also be prepared to pursue copyright thieves: at the moment, although Amazon have accepted that "Peter Michelsen" was selling Drew's work without permission, they have still not suspended the sales of his other 57 - frankly obviously pirated - products. They don't seem to care that at least one of their sellers is, demonstrably, a copyright thief.

    ReplyDelete

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