Kindle Counterfeiting — A Growing Threat to Authors

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An insidious form of piracy is on the rise again, and you may already be a victim.

When Vancouver attorney and author Rebecca Merry Murdock checked Amazon listings for her debut book, she found something strange. The listing for her ebook version was not linked to her author page or the print version of her book. Amazon’s support team remedied the problem by linking the ebook to the print version and her author profile.

Weeks later, Rebecca noticed that a search for her book brought up an unfamiliar ASIN (Amazon’s unique catalog number).

An imposter had stolen the content of her book, uploaded it to Amazon, and created an exact duplicate of her real sales page. That imposter had been collecting royalties for the sale of Rebecca’s book. The imposter’s sale page was indstinguishable from the real one, and worse — it was now linked to her official author page.

And as a final insult, the counterfeit page appeared first when customers searched for Rebecca’s title.

The real sales page details (left) versus the fraudulent page (right).

The real sales page details (left) versus the fraudulent page (right).

Rebecca again contacted Amazon’s support, and was told to contact the counterfeit book’s publisher:

Hello Rebecca,

I checked our records and found that the Kindle title “Rocco’s Wings” (ASIN: [redacted]) was published through another publishing company, which is a different channel outside of Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

We’re unable to delete the book or have the royalties transferred to you since your book was published through a different channel from Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). I’m sorry if this may cause any inconvenience.

We recommend that you contact the publisher directly for assistance.

Thanks for your cooperation.

Rebecca holds exclusive rights to the book, which is published under her own imprint, Bark & Howl Press. “If a third party has a separate ASIN, any sales go to their account, not the authorized copyright holder,” she explained. “With all of Amazon’s algorithms for sniffing out fraud you’d think they’d be on top of this one.”

After pointing out to the support team that this was a copyright infringement case, she was referred to Amazon’s copyright/trademark division. One week later, she received notice that the infringing content was being removed, and would disappear from the catalog within three days.

And the stolen royalties?

Although Amazon’s Anti-Counterfeiting Policy states that “if we determine that a seller account has been used to engage in fraud or other illegal activity, remittances and payments may be withheld or forfeited,” there is no indication that Rebecca will be compensated for months of stolen royalties.


Update, 8/30/2015

Victims of piracy on Kindle Direct Publishing may be able to claim the royalties from the pirated works.


Can You Protect Yourself from Counterfeiters?

The short, unsettling answer is that you cannot prevent counterfeiting, but you can be proactive about detecting and disabling infringing content.

  1. Assemble a list of the ASINs for each version of your books.
  2. Search retailers regularly to ensure that only legitimate copies with your ASINs are present.
  3. File a copyright infringemment report immediately when counterfeits are discovered.

Don’t bother contacting customer service for copyright issues; go directly to the legal department. Amazon provides an online form for filing a copyright infringement notice, or you can email your own DMCA notice to Amazon’s legal department, via copyright@amazon.com.

Before you file a complaint, be sure that you’re actually dealing with a counterfeiter. Authors often become alarmed when they find listings for their books at inflated prices, or listings for a book that hasn’t been released yet. Understand that third-party resellers often use automated systems that generate listings for books at slightly above or below the official sale price. Generally, these sellers don’t actually have possession of the book; when they receive an order, they simply order a copy from the official source, then ship it at a profit.

The product being sold in these cases is the legitimate product with the correct ASIN, and these third-party resellers are legal and permitted by Amazon. Don’t mistake them for counterfeiters.

A counterfeit book will show an unfamiliar ASIN, and that’s your tip-off to the fraud.

About John Doppler

Author, cruciverbalist, serial hobbyist... John Doppler blends science, art, and humor into a delicious smoothie of chaotic evil.
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15 Comments

  1. Pingback: The Pirates Are Getting Smarter | The Digital Reader

  2. Blimey! You need eyes in the back of your head!

  3. Pingback: Kindle Counterfeiting — A Growing Threat to Authors | The Passive Voice | A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing

  4. A Google alert on your name or the name of your book should ping you if this happened. That way you could get right on the issue and not lose months of revenue.

    Monitoring your creative portfolio is an essential part of being a creative professional.

  5. I don’t understand how the plagiarist got the same upload date as the real ebook? They’re both listed as published on the same date (dec 14, 2014.

    When you upload the ebook isn’t the date of the upload marked as “publication date”? Wouldn’t the fakers upload date be different?

  6. It’s so discouraging to hear about this. Man, people would steal your soul and sell it, if they could get away with it and make a profit. It’s a sad world.

  7. One way to detect this quickly for Amazon would be to search for your books at Sales Rank Express (my site) and look for unknown Kindle Editions among the listed “Linked Versions.”

  8. With all due respect, a Google alert won’t necessarily give you what you need. What you need is a comparative report on ASINs on a regular basis (if Amazon is your only sales channel.)

    While page scraping is not allowed by Amazon for sales purposes, you should be able to use it for the purpose of monitoring ASINs. It’s not difficult–hire a developer to do this for you on Fiverr or elance (or get a recommendation from a friend or colleague). It isn’t much work, and shouldn’t take a lot of time. The script can run nightly and return results via email, or append to a spreadsheet. You can monitor easily for discrepancies. It may sound complex, but it’s really not.

    A Google alert will provide too much information and be too difficult to sift through.

  9. Actually, John, this doesn’t even make sense. The publication dates for both editions are the same. More likely, Amazon screwed it up somehow when “fixing” the link, and the KDP rep got confused by it. No publisher working with Amazon directly (rather than through KDP) would risk such shenanigans.

    • Not an unreasonable guess, but I’ve seen publication dates set to a common date before when items are linked by support.

      For example, a the print version of a book I assisted with was published on Dec. 14. The ebook was published three days later, and was not initially linked to the print version. After Amazon linked the pages, both versions showed a publication date of Dec. 14.

      However, it’s not consistent: a nonfiction ebook published on Oct. 27th was linked with the softcover version (dated Oct. 28), and both retained their respective publication dates after Amazon linked the pages.

      Chalk it up to the ever-baffling Amazon logic.

      As for the KDP rep, I agree, there was likely confusion on their part. That support team doesn’t do well with questions without answers pre-written in their three-ring binders. I have more faith in the copyright/legal department, which confirmed that the second ASIN was an infringing copy uploaded by a third party (but not necessarily a publisher working with Amazon). They removed the offending listing this morning.

  10. Pingback: Writing RoundUp 08/30/2015 | Killer Ink Press

  11. Pingback: A Dastardly Kind of Book Piracy | Nicholas C. Rossis

  12. Thanks for doing a post on this. I’ve been through this twice and have talked to other authors who’ve also been through it. The ASIN is the way to go. I wish we didn’t have to worry about it, but sadly, we do.

  13. Pingback: Book Pirates—ARRGH! Have Pirates Stolen your Book or Blog? - Anne R. Allen's Blog... with Ruth Harris

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