In the New York Times this past Sunday, David Segal related the story of an author whose work was pirated and distributed under another individual’s name.
The author, Robin Landa, reported lengthy delays in having the pirated book removed from Google Play, a scenario that’s familiar to many victims of piracy.
Legally, the only responsibility distributors bear in piracy cases is to respond promptly to infringement claims by removing the pirated work. But there are no clear preventative measures in place to stop pirates from publishing stolen content in the first place, which seems curious when one considers the mountains of data that Google and Amazon juggle every second. Surely these retail giants could screen for and block duplicate content if they were motivated to do so.
Amazon used to do just that. The company flagged suspicious content throughout 2011 and 2012, sending suspected plagiarists form letters like the following:
We’re contacting you regarding books you recently submitted via Kindle Direct Publishing.
Certain of these books are either undifferentiated or barely differentiated from an existing title in the Kindle store. We remove such duplicate (or near duplicate) versions of the same book because they diminish the experience for customers. We notify you each time a book is removed, along with the specific book(s) and reason for removal.
In addition to removing duplicate books from the Kindle store, please note that if you attempt to sell multiple copies or undifferentiated versions of the same book from your account, we may terminate your account.
If you have any questions regarding the review process, you can write to email@example.com.
Kindle Direct Publishing
Amazon appears to have ceased duplicate content warnings. Their absence raises questions about whether Amazon has shifted its efforts from piracy prevention to mopping up the damage after an author is victimized.
Google Play’s piracy prevention efforts have been equally impotent, but changes may be on the horizon for that venue.
Google Play closed enrollments to indie authors in May of 2015. The company has been tight-lipped about the reasons for the partial shutdown, but a simultaneous purge of pirate accounts suggests that piracy concerns may be at the heart of the decision.
If so, that could be spell good news for authors targeted by digital pickpockets, and bad news for the pirates.
Pirates and plagiarists should be blocked before they ever enter the marketplace. When distributors don’t screen books for plagiarism and piracy, pirates can freely upload illegal copies of authors’ works. The burden of discovery and reporting is then shifted to the author.
But authors don’t have access to the company’s data or their data-sifting capabilities. Detecting infringements may be virtually impossible, and removing them becomes an endless game of Whack-A-Mole via DMCA filings.
Are Amazon and Google Play are serious about preventing piracy? Or will authors like Robin Landa continue to be victimized by pirates?
Time will tell.