Jim Hayman: A month or so ago I wrote a blog for this site about the growing problem of the wholesale theft and subsequent sale of intellectual property by Internet pirates. Just this weekend, I came across a related article by a writer named Adam Penenberg in the January 12th issue of Fast Company Magazine’s online version that explores a fascinating and racy new twist to the nasty practice of stealing other writers’ work for personal gain.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Fast Company, it mostly publishes articles discussing the inventiveness and entrepreneurial spirit of people who start and run interesting and often unique small businesses.
Mr. Penenberg’s article certainly does that. Titled Amazon’s Plagiarism Problem, Penenberg’s lead-in makes reading the rest of the piece practically irresistible. “Amazon’s erotica section isn’t just rife with tales of lust, incest, violence, and straight-up kink. It’s also a hotbed of masked merchants profiting from copyright infringement. And even with anti-piracy legislation looming, Amazon doesn’t appear too eager to stop the forbidden author-on-author action.”
Apparently these “masked merchants” copy and paste, word for word, stories by other writers they find on erotic websites, the chief one being a site called Literotica, and then self-publish them mostly as ebooks on Amazon and other online booksellers’ sites. According to Penenberg one of these ebooks can be put together and published in just a matter of hours. The plagiarists use only slightly different titles from the original and what I suppose are invented pen names. The rest is word for word. To my surprise many of the stolen works seem to rank fairly high (or is it low?) in Amazon’s bestseller lists which means at least some of the thieves are making pretty good money
The literary merit of the two works I checked out on Literotica wasn’t high. Henry Miller has absolutely nothing to worry about. Still, in my view, the folks who actually write this stuff ought to be protected from outright theft and Amazon isn’t doing that. At least not on its own. When the plagiarism is pointed out, Amazon pulls the titles. But the company does nothing to check the originality of the works it accepts for publication.
One simple solution, according to Penenberg, is that “Amazon could also run content through one of the many plagiarism detectors that are available–such as turnitin or iThenticate–before an ebook is put on sale. Perhaps,” he goes on to say, “Amazon doesn’t care if it sells plagiarized works; it benefits from the sale whether it holds back an author’s royalties or not.”
You can read Amazon’s Plagiarism Problem for yourself at: http://www.fastcompany.com/1807211/amazons-plagiarism-problem