Prominent Food Blogger Discovers Plagiarized Ebook
The constant war against content scrapers and plagiarism on the web has become a standard annoyance for food bloggers, whether they have large or small readerships. But this week, Elise Bauer of the popular food blog Simply Recipes (which is a member of the BlogHer Publishing Network) discovered a new twist on the phenomenon: an ebook "author" had stolen pasta recipes and photos from her site and repackaged them for sale via Amazon.com's Kindle Store.
Here's a screen capture of the book in question, which Bauer grabbed before Amazon.com removed the book completely from the site:
Bauer had complained privately to to Amazon.com's copyright/trademark agent, and received a message back informing her Amazon.com had "disabled" site visitors' ability to purchase the ebook. The message, which she forwarded to me, then said, "If you believe you are entitled to compensation, you may wish to contact the party who made the title available for sale on Amazon.com." Amazon.com then provided the name, seller ID, and mailing and email addresses for Sarun Srirunpetch of Bangkok, Thailand.
"We're supposed to hunt them down and demand compensation?" Bauer asked via email. "Yeah, right."
On Tuesday, Bauer took her private complaints public. She tweeted this to Amazon.com's Kindle Twitter account:
In an emailed statement, Brittany Turner of Amazon.com said, "Since the launch of Kindle, we have worked steadily to build processes to detect and remove books that either violate copyright or don't improve the customer experience. Over time, we've rejected or removed thousands of such offending titles, and we expect to keep improving our approach to protect the service we provide to both Kindle readers and authors/publishers."
How do plagiarists slip through?
According to marketing expert Mike Essex, it's incredibly easy for plagiarists to slip through the eBook publishing process.
It's true most eBook platforms review the content they receive, however it will be little more than a cursory check by automated software with thousands of eBooks published every day across multiple platforms. I tested this by publishing an eBook with content taken from my own blog on Amazon, this didn't set off a single detector or warning. You have to tick a box to confirm you have permission to use the content, but tick boxes have never stopped scammers from lying before.
If the ebook publishers and distributors aren't catching the scammers, many of them are falling through the cracks of a system flooded with new products (legitimate or not) every day.
"How to find infringers?" Bauer asked in an email. "That's hard! A reader noticed this and notified me."
Easier to make ebooks all the time
Part of the reason there is such a flood of material for food bloggers and others to sift through is because it's getting easier to make ebooks all the time. According to this article from The Guardian, there are entire companies providing databases of what's called "Private Label Rights" content, which operates in a similar manner to stock photographseBook producers can pull royalty-free content, package it, and resell it through a distributor. On Unofficial Blog Kindle, Matthew explains the process in Kindle Spam Highlights The Worst Side of Easy Self-Publishing:
The form that this takes can be anything from republished PLR content (content that the “author” buys the rights to republish under their own name) to the deliberately malicious. The former are interesting in that they at least have the potential to be real, quality works, even if they aren’t exactly originals. A system calling itself “Autopilot Kindle Cash” claims to be able to teach people to publish as many as 20 of these recycled eBooks per day at minimal expense. For the most part, it is a load of worthless writing that offers little enjoyment, advice, or information, but that doesn’t mean that the occasional gem might not appear.
I should note here that Mike Carraway, creator of the "Autopilot Kindle Cash" system, released a statement in June that takes issue with any association of his program with spam ebooks or any "intellectual property piracy."
Though ebooks created through the PLR process might not be plagiarism or illegal, it occurs to me that their proliferation junks up the system and makes it that much harder to find the true rip-offs. "All of us bloggers are at risk," Bauer said.