Prominent Food Blogger Discovers Plagiarized Ebook

BlogHer Original Post

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:

Screen capture from Amazon.com

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:

Elise Bauer's Tweet

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 photographs—eBook 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.

So what's the solution?

Though Amazon.com pulled down the stolen manuscript, Bauer said she doesn't think that goes far enough. She would like to see all ebook companies adopt a better way of dealing with reported and confirmed offenders by taking the following steps:

  1. Retract any plagiarized ebook from a customer account to which it has been downloaded. In 2009, Amazon.com deleted an edition of George Orwell's 1984 from customers who had downloaded it, but according to the New York Times article about that retraction, the company decided that would not remain their standard protocol going forward.
  2. Credit the customer the amount they paid for a plagiarized book.
  3. Withdraw publishing privileges from authors who violate terms of service.

"I don't care about the compensation," Bauer said. "I do care that there are dozens, if not hundreds of copies out there of my work with someone else's name on it."

Bauer is far from alone in this frustration. Just yesterday, Kalyn Denny of Kalyn's Kitchen lamented the prevalence of content thieves in this tweet:

Tweet from Kalyn Denny

If you're looking for more information about detecting and then stopping content scrapers, I encourage you to check out the following resources:

Have you had your blog content scraped and reposted on the web? Has it ended up in an ebook? Share your experiences and thoughts on this in the comments below.

Genie blogs about gardening and food at The Inadvertent Gardener, and tells very short tales at 100 Proof Stories. She is also the Food Section Editor for BlogHer.

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