Scammers Are Using Createspace to Spam Amazon With Pirated Textbooks
A reader has tipped me to the news that Amazon’s own website is a great source of pirated books.
Scot Schad discovered that pirates had been ripping off freely available digital textbooks, and then using Amazon’s POD service to sell print versions on Amazon.
Here’s how it works.
The scammers identify a popular textbook, copy the name, and then start selling the paper copy of a pirated book under that name.
They’re hoping to sell the pirated book to an unwary buyer who might mistake the knockoff for the legit textbook, and it must be working because they keep doing it.
Take, for example, Practical Electronics for Inventors. This is a real textbook from a legit publisher, but if you search for it on Amazon you will find that at least two of the results lead to pirated scam textbooks with identical names but different authors.
One of those books, by Benjamin Ward, uses content pirated from a textbook published by BookBoon. The other, by Naomi A. Patterson, rips off the syllabus for a course taught at Amity University in India.
That second book is no longer available, but Patterson does have another textbook on Amazon. Her other book uses content pirated from a book published by SyncFusion.
Three pirated textbooks might not sound like much, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Schad identified a half-dozen other pirated POD textbooks on Amazon, and I found at least dozen other titles sold by the same "authors" of the pirated books.
For example, there’s a copy of Linear Algebra and Its Applications by the aforementioned Ben Ward. This book was pirated from a Linear Algebra textbook published by Bookboon.
I also found dozens of books from those "authors" which were no longer available but also showed every sign of having been pulled because they were pirated.
This copy of Windows Azure for Students, for example, contains work originally published by SyncFusion. The book is no longer available, but the scammer is still in operation on Amazon, and the other scammers show a similar work history.
It is difficult to say how long this operation has been going on (months? years?), but I would say that we are looking at industrial scale pirates second only to the ones that used to infest Google Play Books (it looks like Google has fixed the problem).
The only real difference is that these scammers are targeting POD textbooks, rather than ebooks, and that the POD scammers are going after even the most arcane title.
Schad told me that he learned of this problem when the scammers copied the name of his graduate paper:
I only noticed the problem when two clones of my M.S. thesis appeared on Amazon. My title, Hydrocarbon Potential of the Caney Shale in Southeastern Oklahoma, is about as obscure as it gets. Amazingly, the two bogus books pretending to be mine boasted that they were the second edition!
Schad complained directly to Jeff Bezos, and those books are gone now, but Amazon continues to sell the other pirated textbooks.
And Amazon isn’t just selling the pirated textbooks; Amazon is also advertising the textbooks through its ad network:
But wait, there’s more.
This isn’t just a problem with pirated books on Amazon. What you see here are signs of a fundamental problem with one of Amazon’s platforms.
All of the textbooks mentioned above, as well as all the other textbooks published by these scammers, were distributed through Createspace.
And that is a huge problem for everyone because Createspace doesn’t just distribute to Amazon’s website.
These books are available through every online book retailer that has a contract with Createspace. That Ward’s Linear Algebra, for example, is available from Amazon sites around the globe as well as Powell’s, Abe Books, Half.com, and Barnes & Noble.
A quick check of BookFinder shows that the "author" in question has a half dozen other books to his name, all of which were distributed by Createspace, and all of which are widely available.
Folks, Amazon has a well-deserved reputation for keeping pirated, public domain, and spam ebooks out of the Kindle Store. They earned that reputation by keeping a close eye on ebooks uploaded to the KDP portal and discouraging or deleting undesirable books.
The pirated textbooks mentioned above are not available in the Kindle Store because the pirates know that Amazon would catch on quickly, but unfortunately Amazon’s vigilance does not extend to its other platforms.
Createspace clearly does not have the same safeguards as KDP.
But something tells me that Amazon will make it a priority to address this issue.
image by Marcus Jeffrey
Michael September 11, 2015 um 12:36 am
It’s also important to understand that it’s to Createspace one should direct their DMCA. While sending Amazon a takedown gets a book off Amazon’s main properties, the order is never forwarded to Createspace, so the book will still be available from other sales channels and action won’t be taken against the uploader. You might expect with Amazon owning Createspace, there’d be good communication between the two, but it’s not there yet.
Not having Createspace pull the book on its end can result in a pirated book landing back on Amazon. If you’ve ever wondered how Createspace books on Amazon can end up with third-party sellers undercutting Amazon’s price from the very day of release, it’s because there are a number of companies with Createspace Direct Reseller accounts. When you don’t get your book completely out of the Createspace system, these resellers' listing creation tools will often put it back on Amazon, the reseller entirely unaware they’re helping sell a pirated book.
IrishImbas September 11, 2015 um 3:13 am
Yup. I did notice that one of my more popular books (Beara Dark Legends) turned up on my Amazon author site (small cover image) and fitted the above description. Still there as of today. In terms of potentially useful info:
(1) I first spotted this about 2-3 weeks ago
(2) It has turned up ONLY on Amazon UK (not Amazon USA, Canada etc.)
(3) From data alone, It’s very difficult to tell its not mine as it links back to my page – the most immediate clue was a smaller/poorer cover image and then the fact that it has a different ASIN number
Nate Hoffelder September 11, 2015 um 6:41 am
Actually, it sounds like you might have a different piracy problem (thisone).
Was this copied book POD or an ebook?
Mary Maria Modirzadeh – Papaoulakis September 11, 2015 um 9:54 am
Book Hades and Persephone pirated by Author House Indiana/UK and it’s partners selling internationally since 2007 until now without Author
Scott Schad September 11, 2015 um 10:32 pm
To Amazon’s credit, they have been moving at warp speed to remove the fake books that I listed as examples. I hope that CreateSpace follows suit.
Nirmala September 12, 2015 um 11:30 am
One of my books, Living from the Heart, which is not a textbook, but nonfiction in the self-help/spiritual category, was also pirated this way. I suddenly noticed that the paperback version was a sort of cliff notes version with the same title and my name as author (although a different cover), and strangely, the book was about half as long as my actual work. The pirated work was created on Createspace and had became linked to my ebook on Barnes and Noble and Amazon, and so was showing up instead of my legitimate POD version. Createspace quickly took care of the problem when I sent them a take down notice, and now my POD book is back as the only paper version.
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skreutzer September 13, 2015 um 3:29 pm
Selling printed copies of freely licensed and Public Domain digital textbooks isn’t illegal at all, to the contrary.
Nate Hoffelder September 13, 2015 um 3:37 pm
Actually, it can be illegal to sell "printed copies of freely licensed" textbooks – if altering the book or selling the book violates the license.
But that doesn’t matter, because I didn’t write "freely licensed". The words I used were "freely available". Bookboon and SyncFusion will give you a copy of their textbooks, but they don’t give you permission to distribute or sell the books.
I also mentioned open source textbooks, but since I didn’t cite an example in my post I removed the mention.
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