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Google Play Piracy Takes a Turn for the Bizarre

76104212_c441b28186_bOver the weekend the NYTimes revealed that Google was taking steps to curb the piracy problem in Google Play Books. Based on what I am hearing from authors, Google hasn’t solved said problem, but the news about the piracy is have all sorts of interesting side effects.

Authors are still finding pirated copies of their books in Google Play Books, only now the pirates are confusing the issue. Rather than upload a pirated book under a bogus name (a common trick used this spring) the pirates are now using the names of real authors and organizations as a way of cloaking their activities.

Yesterday I was contacted by an author, Gay Courter. She was seeking information on how to file a DMCA notice with Google concerning a pirated copy of one of her books in Google Play Books, and when we were exchanging emails she also happened to mention how she learned of the illicit ebook.

Courter wasn’t notified by Amazon, or an anti-piracy service, or by a reader. Instead she learned of the pirated ebook from another author, Tony Dunbar.

The pirates had expropriated Dunbar’s name and bio, and used those details to populate the listing for the pirated book. The pirates were in effect using Dunbar’s legitimacy as camouflage for their illicit activities.

That trick is relatively new, but at least one other pirate is using it in Google Play Books. A few minutes with Google  uncovered another of Courter’s books, only this one was attributed to the AARP. That pirate was also selling a "for Dummies" book, and was listing the AARP as the co-author of that volume.

This is odd, I know, but there could be a method to the madness. Google is taking piracy more seriously, and an obviously fake author listing is much easier to spot than either of these chameleon listings. In fact, Google hasn’t caught either pirate yet, which suggests that this trick works to some degree.

But as we learned last week, it’s no match for an attentive author.

A similar, albeit more sophisticated, scheme appeared in the Kindle Store a couple weeks ago. In that case, the pirate had cloned all the visible details for a book and used them to fill in the listing for a pirated book.

That listing was only discovered when the author searched for her name and found two copies of her book. The pirated book had even passed Amazon’s sometimes intense scrutiny, which just goes to show you that not even the largest ebook retailer is perfect.

And in any case, the fallout from that NYTimes story suggests that Google really is fighting piracy in Google Play Books. I have only found a couple pirates with a few pirated ebooks, where this spring I would have found a dozen accounts with hundreds of pirated ebooks.

image by plasticrevolver


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