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April 1, 2011

Fence Your Stolen Content at Amazon.com
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:23 AM * 181 comments

Since fraud and publishing fall straight into our bailiwick, I’d been meaning to do a full-dress Post about this, and may yet do so. This, rather, will be a lick-and-a-promise review of the literature.

With the cost of self-publishing approaching zero thanks to e-publishing, and with content-farms being depreciated by Google, it seems that spammers have taken to e-publishing.

First stop: Are eBooks the new Content Farms? by Mike Essex. I recommend his article.

Here are the bullet points from his post, in re e-books:

  • They have little to no copyright detectors
  • You can turn around a book 24 hours
  • Books can cover the same topic in multiple angles
  • They sit on strong domains so have an added boost
  • They have high royalty payouts
  • Reviews don’t help
Please take the time to read his article for the expansion and discussion of those points. He arrives here:
Solutions are needed
It’s these problems that mean eBooks as a platform could soon become flooded with bad writers, stolen content and scammers out to make easy money.

Bad writers, yes. One man’s trash is another man’s pit of voles. But one of the advantages of e-book/Kindle store/et al that we keep hearing from the e-book enthusiasts is that it bypasses the gatekeepers.

“Stolen content and scammers” is another area, and there isn’t any pressure on Amazon to stop ‘em, since they get their cut regardless. Adding acquiring editors would add time and expense, and keep the struggling geniuses whose works no one understand from ever getting published at all.

That was the 8th of March. Mr. Essex has a bunch of suggestions. I doubt that any of them will happen without government regulation.

This brings us to the next post I’d like to bring to your attention: The Kindle Swindle by Laura Hazard Owen, March 31 (yesterday).

Ms. Owen links to Mike’s post, and runs with it. She has a screen shot of an ad for something called “Autopilot Kindle Cash,” a training course being sold to would-be Kindle spammers, that promises to teach them how to post ten, twenty, or more new e-books to Kindle every single day.

Again, I recommend this post, because it expands and comments on Mike’s original. Taken together, they make the future look bleak for legitimate authors who want to use the Kindle platform.

Which brings us to the reason for this post here, right now. S.K.S. Perry is a Canadian writer. He had a hard time getting an agent interested in his novel, Darkside, so he posted it on his web page.

A couple of weeks ago someone suggested that he put it on Kindle as an e-book. He thought that was an excellent idea. Someone else agreed: To his surprise he found that person already had. He posted about this on his LiveJournal on March 30 (two days ago), and since then has found that Amazon doesn’t care.

Several of my books are already available in electronic form in those 500 Science Fiction Novels in .PDF Format torrents that you can find on the net. I wonder how many of them are now Kindle books?

The question of who has the time/money/duty to bell this particular cat is open.

Google

Comments on Fence Your Stolen Content at Amazon.com:
#1 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 09:00 AM:

See also this thread about gaming the Kindle.

The initial post is BS (and spam), but the discussion is good.

#2 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 10:23 AM:

How hard would it be to gather a group of authors like S.K.S. Perry and bloggers who have had content stolen and published via Kindle Spam? These would be people with evidence of theft and Amazon's noted lack of response to repeated request to have them cease and desist on aiding plagiaristic spammers.

Next, would it be better for that group to file a class action law suit against Amazon.com or go to the FBI (or other federal agency with the appropriate oversight) and have them charge Amazon.com for aiding and abetting fraudulent activity that crosses state lines?

Is it possible to get other countries' legal forces involved in such a suit as well? I know international law is tangled and difficult, so how about having other people in other countries with the same problem file against Amazon.____ in their own courts?

It occurs to me that up until now, no one has cost Amazon.com money or hurt their public image by trying them for harboring thieves and malcontents. Even if it never goes before a judge, (and I really do think it should) being tried in a court of public opinion and found guilty will cost Amazon.com money where their kindle store is concerned.

If every person around the world who has had their content stolen start proceedings against Amazon around the same time, it should be a bit like being nibbled to death by ducks. If one bite doesn't hurt and doesn't matter, a few bites in short order will. Then a lot of bites all at once should ensure you will surely avoid ticking them off in the future.

I guess I'd like to know how hard it would be to start a grass roots effort to instate content checking controls in electronic formats. And not just Amazon.com, either.

#3 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 10:28 AM:

Just wait till there are enough e-book readers out there so that professors can do this with required "textbooks".

#4 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 10:44 AM:

There's ebook spam and rip-offs on the Barnes & Noble Nook as well; ten page excerpts of Wikipedia going for over fifty dollars, books by living authors, some of which may or may not be out of copyright depending on your jurisdiction, poorly formated versions of classics. Feh.

#5 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 10:54 AM:

Earl Cooley III @ #4:

Selling Wikipedia pages as ebooks (or, for that matter, printed) is, I believe, legal (although most definitely sleazy).

Poorly formatted classics is, if nothing else, sloppy.

Works by living authors? Most copyrights these days is "life+75", isn't it? If so, "not OK". Copies of copyrighted works (without proper permission from the copyright owner) is also "definitely not OK".

I don't know that I would want the law to completely eliminate the ground between "not sleazy and perfectly fine" and "illegal", I think that fulfills an important boundary, a lot of the time.

#6 ::: Matthew Ernest ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 10:57 AM:

In contrast to the claims that Amazon doesn't care about where the ebooks they sell come form those that have the right to do so, we have the famous case of the disappeared _1984_ where due to the fact the publisher of that edition didn't have the rights to sell it as an ebook Amazon not only stopped selling it but removed it from Kindles of people that had already bought it.

Is there really any reason to believe that the real problem isn't the impedance mismatch between the individual non-lawyer and the corporate lawyer? This is especially notable in this case since S.K.S. Perry is not American and isn't even familiar with things like DCMA takedown notices.

Really, if you have an international legal problem that is losing you revenue, why wouldn't you get a lawyer to help? A lawyer that needed a novel wouldn't try to write it themselves.

#7 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 11:00 AM:

Really, if you have an international legal problem that is losing you revenue, why wouldn't you get a lawyer to help?

Possibly because lawyers are expensive and time-consuming, and any gain you might make (at some indefinite date in the future) would be far out-stripped by legal bills right here right now.

#8 ::: Nina ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 11:30 AM:

Posting someone else's books to the Kindle Store is actually Piracy and while Amazon can be slow to respond, they are actually DMCA compliant *if* you phrase it as a takedown notice.

Perhaps that would help?

#9 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 11:35 AM:

How much vigilance do we need, as authors, to find places where our books are being pirated? In practical terms, how do we go about doing that?

#10 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 12:03 PM:

Jim Macdonald@9: How much vigilance do we need, as authors, to find places where our books are being pirated? In practical terms, how do we go about doing that?

I'm not certain a perfect, complete solution is even possible. After a certain point, more energy would be spent in tracking down pirates than in producing more and better books. I suspect that the best most of us can do is to monitor the high-profile, high-volume "respectable" venues like Amazon and Barnes&Noble with a reasonable amount of vigilance.

#11 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 12:06 PM:

I wonder if there's a business opportunity in here for someone? Do it on an insurance model: we'll check for your titles in areas both obscure and popular. If we find anything, we'll tell you and fire off the appropriate takedown notices. All for the low, low monthly fee of...

Of course, the next thing will be the scammers, claiming to do exactly the same but not actually doing a damn thing.

Or do the scammers come first? I so often forget.

#12 ::: Douglas Henke ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 01:09 PM:

Jim @#9: Maybe what you need is someone (like, say, the SFWA president) to go around looking for violations and sending out DMCA takedowns on your behalf.

I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

#13 ::: LinD ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 01:21 PM:

Or the scam of posting your material only to charge you a finder-and-takedown-notice fee.

#14 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 01:28 PM:

abi @11: there are already plenty of companies offering to do that for music, video and still images, so you'd think text would be easy. (Of course, with text you could hack up a bot in a day or two to check on the insurance companies, so it's perhaps not as enticing as you'd think.)

#15 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 01:37 PM:

I've found several examples of DMCA take-down notices on the web, with enough context to make it pretty clear what parts are the general structure and what are the specifics. It's not quite fill-in-the-blanks, but close.

The problem with Google is that there is a lot of noise from sites which index illicit sources, and a lot of the illicit sources aren't easy to get at, being in distant countries with different legal systems.

Though I know of one recent case, not related to copyright, where a convicted computer criminal had started up a new scam as soon as he was out of prison. He worked a computer at home, on a broadband line, through a Christmas Island domain name. But that did need work to pin down.

#16 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 03:37 PM:

Jim: "Several of my books are already available in electronic form in those 500 Science Fiction Novels in .PDF Format torrents that you can find on the net. I wonder how many of them are now Kindle books?"

I'd hazard not many. Pirating a book in PDF format is simple: unbind it, scan the pages, assemble together in a single file, and upload. Converting to Kindle format is a whole different ball game: you need not only text rather than images, you also need semantic markup: this is where a paragraph starts, this is a new chapter, etc. PDF->MOBI converters I've seen all mess it up, badly, even when starting with a textual PDF rather than images.

If any of your stuff is available in MS Word or HTML, chances may be a little higher, as those conversions tend to work pretty well.

#17 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 03:58 PM:

Jim @9: "How much vigilance do we need, as authors, to find places where our books are being pirated? In practical terms, how do we go about doing that?"

And even then, what do you do once you've found them? Sure, a DMCA notice can help if you're talking about Amazon or another high profile web site. But if I can log on to a bittorent site and download your books, or pull them off a USENET group, or download them from a random bot in an IRC channel (yes, I have checked, and I could do all of these things), how on Earth do you go about getting them removed? With USENET you can ask one ISP at a time to remove them, but they'll probably be reposted as quickly as they're cancelled. But torrent sites are not generally receptive to takedown requests, and IRC is too decentralized for there even to be anyone you can send a request to. So what point is there in even checking, when you can do nothing to stop it?

#18 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 03:59 PM:

Amazon providing a marketplace for low quality e-books does not make me want to shop there.

#19 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 04:14 PM:

Amazon Kindle Store: Fence your stolen e-books here!

#20 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 04:16 PM:

I changed the title of this post because it was (slapping forehead) interfering with searching for spam in the comment threads.

#21 ::: S.K.S. Perry ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 04:37 PM:

What you have to remember is the thief isn't just offering my work as a free download, he put it up and charged people for it!

#22 ::: Joris M ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 05:07 PM:

It is not limited to the dedicated ebook stores. Playing around on the android market I ran into a couple of books that almost certainly were not offered by anyone allowed to. The only option to easily report is is to flag as inappropriate with a custom message, luckily those specific books seem to be gone now.

#23 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 05:14 PM:

I think the answer to 'how far do you go' is the big platforms where people are selling.

I think it's been sufficiently proven now that if it's possibly digital, it's going to be torrented, and there's really not a whole lot a content creator can (effectively) do about it. A fan, or potential fan, is downloading your work. A download here doesn't equal a lost sale, it's some complicated relationship between freeloaders and name recognition.

If it's being sold, that all changes. The responsible party is no longer the fan, they're the one collecting the money. The downloader has shown that they do want to pay money. And there are a couple of good places to send a DMCA notice (itunes store, kindle, and nook store). Presumably, all of the copyright infringement there is statuatory, with registered copyrights and the like, since we're talking actual published works.

So my pragmatic answer about how far to go is the big ereader stores.


#24 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 06:28 PM:

There is almost certainly legal precedent in Harlan Ellison's various cases against AOL and individual plaintiffs, even more since there is expectation of financial gain.

Paging Charlie Petit...

#25 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 08:29 PM:

The behavior of those selling copyrighted work without permission pretty clearly falls under the rubric of criminal copyright infringement in the US. A quick search suggests that the threshold for a felony charge is total traffic of either $2500 or $5K (retail value, not price charged) in a 180-day period. IANAL, but the statute doesn't seem to distinguish between people acting alone and those acting as agents for someone else in doing the distribution. Somebody find a deputy US attorney with time on their hands...

#26 ::: S.K.S. Perry ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 11:20 PM:

Both copies of Darkside are now available on Amazon.com; mine and the thief's. That's right, Amazon allowed the same book--written by the same author--to be published on their site under two different accounts and ASIN numbers.

The sequel, however, they're still unsure of.

#27 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 12:54 AM:

This is the author's edition of Darkside by S.K.S. Perry.

#28 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 01:22 AM:

S.K.S. Perry:

I followed Jim's link and bought a copy; figured I could afford to give $0.99 to a good cause. The thief has set 5 times that price; maybe you could up yours to $2 or $3. Good luck taking the bastard down.

#29 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 02:30 AM:

Bruce:

Me too.


Nina #8
Posting someone else's books to the Kindle Store is actually Piracy

No, it's actually copyright violation. Piracy is when you attack a ship at sea, take it over, and kill the sailors or take them hostage. It's punishable under US law by life imprisonment, even if it happened outside the US (Title 18 part I chapter 81 § 1651)

#30 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 06:43 AM:

I had precisely the same problem with "Scratch Monkey" and "Missile Gap" -- someone had added the online versions to the Kindle store.

"Missile Gap" was finally dealt with by Ace's legal department. "Scratch Monkey" was another matter: Amazon failed to acknowledge my DMCA takedown notices via email or signed-for international snail mail, and I was forced to resort to SFWA's griefcom process, which finally got their attention.

I'm now waiting for someone to buy a legit Kindle ebook edition, crack the DRM (not hard), and re-post it in the Kindle store as, say, "Rule 34 by Charles Stross -- low-cost edition" for $3.99. Bonus points for using an offshore cut-out to make it easier to take the money and run. Extra bonus points for doing it within one month of hardcover publication.

#31 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 06:55 AM:

Nina @8: Posting someone else's books to the Kindle Store is actually Piracy and while Amazon can be slow to respond, they are actually DMCA compliant *if* you phrase it as a takedown notice.

Unfortunately this isn't true. Speaking from personal experience, Amazon's copyright folks pay no attention to anyone who isn't a publisher or a body like SFWA.

#32 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 06:57 AM:

Jules #16: cracking the DRM on a Kindle ebook is piss-easy. I routinely do it to every kindle ebook I buy -- for personal use. (My preferred ebook reader app is an epub reader, so I like to transcode them. Oh, and see also: the 1984 fiasco: I like books I've paid for to stay bought.)

#33 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 07:03 AM:

Note to all contacting Amazon: keep a timeline of events, particularly when you sent DMCA takedown notices. The longer Amazon delays or ignores you, the more they will be on the hook for damages. And unlike the people putting the books up, they have billions in cash to go after.

#34 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 01:36 PM:

Is it too early to say "Death to Amazon"? Because after all their repeated AmazonFAILs, most of which they didn't even apologize for, I really want to. This latest fiasco is not so much the straw that broke the camel's back as a load of bricks dropped onto the back of a long-dead camel.

I've bought things from them since the MacMillan fail, but not books. I tell everyone I know not to buy books from them, and that B&N has everything they could want...also not to buy a Kindle, because then B&N won't have everything they want.

#35 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 01:41 PM:

Charlie (and S.K.S. Perry):
That's very interesting info. I would speculate Amazon may be using "Did it come from a law firm?" as a pre-screen for whether the complaint needs to be treated seriously. Speaking as the guy who formerly handled these complaints at a small ISP, it would be a serious temptation, as an Internet service of any kind gets a metric buttload of DMCA complaints, most of which are incorrectly formed, invalid, and a waste of time; I'm sure Amazon gets that times 1000.

That's potentially a big and very expensive mistake for them, as ignoring a properly formed complaint, whether or not it came from a law firm, loses them their "safe harbor" as an Internet provider.
http://www.chillingeffects.org/dmca512/faq.cgi#QID125

The eeevil approach would be for an author to send them a properly formed notice in the author's own name, wait for them to ignore it, and then contact a US lawyer to file suit against them. (Maybe not worth it for you in that case, as it's over with, but maybe for S.K.S. Perry...)

Note that just as in casting a magic spell, for best effect one must invoke each of the five names of power precisely:

  • 512(c)(3)(A)(i), I invoke thee!
  • 512(c)(3)(A)(ii-iii), I invoke thee!
  • 512(c)(3)(A)(iv), I invoke thee!
  • 512(c)(3)(A)(v), I invoke thee!
  • 512(c)(3)(A)(vi), I invoke thee!
Having done so, the demons ignore you only at their peril.

Seriously speaking again, if you include those five elements in your complaint, it is well-formed under the DMCA; if you include them and cite those provisions, it is indisputable that the recipient knew the complaint was valid. If Amazon were to ignore you, they could then be sued for statutory or actual damages as a contributing infringer, and statutory damages for registered works range from $750 to $30,000 per infringement.

#36 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 01:51 PM:

abi @ 11: I believe there are law firms which specialize in exactly that for (corporate) clients, and I'm sure charge a hefty fee. It's an interesting question whether a non-lawyer could offer the same service cheaply without doing anything which could be misconstrued as practicing law without a license. Probably if you didn't actually send out the takedown notice yourself but merely notified your clients of the exact info they needed to do so, you'd be OK.

#37 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 03:26 PM:

Xopher @ 34:

This is the first purchase I've made of an Amazon book or Kindle download (I don't have a Kindle, but I do have the Kindle app for my iPhone) since the last major Amazon.FAIL, and I did it only as a gesture to help out S.K.S. Perry. I don't plan to buy anything else from them unless another situation similar to this one arises. So far that's caused me some inconvenience because the iBook store inventory is somewhat spotty, and the Barnes and Noble app is a pain in the ass to search with, and also doesn't have some of the books I've looked for. But the inconvenience is worth not having to deal with a company that seems dead set on establishing monopolies in every market it touches.

#38 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 04:05 PM:

Total aside, but on the very early question of publishing a series of Wikipedia posts, is that really very different from publishing sets of related laws & regs? Seems to me like there's a legitimate market for someone to compile "everything relevant to Topic X as of Date Y" in book format, as long as it doesn't violate any rights wikipedia is interested in holding on to. Useful for finding that one reference you just know is in there, but can never remember what subsection of what page it's on...

#39 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 04:57 PM:

Xopher #34: Having spoken in the past couple of months to an Amazon staffer, my understanding is that Amazon will not be deleting books from customers' Kindles in future without it having been ordered personally by Jeff Bezos, who is the CEO who had to publicly grovel and eat humble pie after the "1984" fiasco. They've allegedly learned their lesson on that one.

Learning their lesson on all the other fails ... that takes longer.

Let's just say I don't think Amazon are any more evil than, say, Tesco. (Who are sufficiently evil enough that WalMart's UK subsidiary filed a complaint about their unfair and anti-competitive practices with the UK Competition Commission. Yes, you read that right: a retailer more rapacious than WalMart.)

#40 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 05:11 PM:

Charlie 39: Well, since I boycott WalMart because of their rapacity, I'm certain I would boycott Tesco as well. If Amazon's evil is comparable to Tesco's...well, the math is obvious.

Making all the gay and Lesbian titles "adult" was the first AmazonFAIL that caught my notice. The one that made me swear off ever buying from them again, though, was the MacMillanFAIL. That one wasn't a mistake or the action of a rogue operative; that was Amazon being consciously and deliberately evil.

#41 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 06:02 PM:

I forgot to mention something in my earlier comment on DMCA notices:

The DMCA also requires companies who want the "safe harbor" provisions to have a clear notice posted somewhere on their Internet site stating exactly who to contact about alleged infringement and how. Again this is to clarify what is proper notice. For big companies, that is sometimes an outside law firm. If you the complainant do not send the DMCA notice to what they list as the right place, they are not required to pay attention.

The Amazon page with contact information for copyright infringement claims is found at
http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=footer_cou?ie=UTF8&nodeId=508088#copyright
It currently reads:

Amazon.com's Copyright Agent for notice of claims of copyright infringement on its site can be reached as follows:

Copyright Agent
Amazon.com Legal Department
P.O. Box 81226
Seattle, WA 98108
phone: (206) 266-4064
fax: (206) 266-7010
e-mail: copyright@amazon.com

Courier address:
Copyright Agent
Amazon.com Legal Department
410 Terry Avenue North
Seattle, WA 98109-5210
USA

That's the only place any DMCA claims to Amazon should go, preferably with some kind of proof of delivery.

#42 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 06:08 PM:

Xopher @40, MacmillanFAIL was the second time Amazon pulled that particular stunt; you didn't notice HachetteFAIL the previous year is because it was confined to the UK side of the pond. (My understanding -- which may be wrong -- is that Amazon backed down quickly that time because it was costing them serious money. They didn't anticipate "Twilight" turning out to be the new Harry Potter when they tried to lean on Hachette;"Twilight" was peaking in the bestseller charts in the UK at the time, and in order to avoid blowing a buttload of customer goodwill Amazon were buying case-loads of the Hachette edition from other booksellers and shipping them to customers while trousering the loss.)

#43 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 06:33 PM:

With notably rare exceptions (such as MacmillanFAIL), Amazon looks after customers and authors very well.

#44 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 06:37 PM:

Non-rhetorical questions:

1. How is Amazon supposed to police all their e-book submissions for copyright violations without an unreasonable effort, and without incurring legal liability?

If someone records one of my songs and registers it with BMI as their work, are BMI going to check to see if it matches a song in their database? They are not. If I tell them "hey, that's my song," are they going to unilaterally decide the copyright in my favor? They are not. What they're going to do is tell me and the other guy to sort it out and let them know the result.

2. How can it be both an author's right to expect Amazon to enforce her* copyright and a purchaser's right to retain an illegal copy of a book on his* Kindle when Amazon has the technological ability to delete it?

*Sometimes singular "they" bothers me, sometimes it doesn't. This is one of the former times, so I flipped a coin to assign genders randomly.

#45 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 06:47 PM:

Charles Stross @ 39... a retailer more rapacious than WalMart

That would explain how Tesco was able to defeat the Tripods invading Copenhagen.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IevLaMPaxM

#46 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 07:02 PM:

Tim Walters @44:

1. How is Amazon supposed to police all their e-book submissions for copyright violations without an unreasonable effort, and without incurring legal liability?

Well, they could take down reported violations. That would be a start.

The terms and conditions for Kindle publishing include If we request that you provide additional information relating to your Digital Books, such as information confirming that you have all rights required to permit our distribution of the Digital Books, you will promptly provide the information requested, and you represent and warrant that any information and documentation you provide to us in response to such a request will be current, complete, and accurate. You authorize us, directly or through third parties, to make any inquiries we consider appropriate to verify your rights to permit our distribution of the Digital Books and the accuracy of the information or documentation you provide to us with respect to those rights.
so Amazon is clearly saying that it will sometimes do this sort of checking.

It seems reasonable for them to at least require the submitter to say whether they (a) are the copyright owner, (b) have written permission from the copyright owner (attached), or (c) claim that the work is not under copyright. In the cases we've been talking about, this would require the submitter to make very clear and specific false claims.

2. How can it be both an author's right to expect Amazon to enforce her* copyright and a purchaser's right to retain an illegal copy of a book on his* Kindle when Amazon has the technological ability to delete it?

Well, if the authors were arguing that Amazon should be deleting these books from customer Kindles you'd have a stronger case here. The authors seem to have a firm grip on the distinction between people who have paid for the book and want to read it and people who are trying to sell it unlawfully. Works for me.

--
*Sometimes singular "they" bothers me, sometimes it doesn't. It doesn't bother Jane Austen. Or God.

#47 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 07:48 PM:

thomas @ 46: Well, they could take down reported violations. That would be a start.

Not without adjudicating a copyright claim, they can't. Unless it's a DMCA-compliant takedown notice, of course--but if that's the case, why not bust them rather than just complaining?

It seems reasonable for them to at least require the submitter to say whether they (a) are the copyright owner, (b) have written permission from the copyright owner (attached), or (c) claim that the work is not under copyright.

I agree with this.

Well, if the authors were arguing that Amazon should be deleting these books from customer Kindles you'd have a stronger case here.

If it hadn't already happened once, you'd have a stronger case here.

It doesn't bother Jane Austen. Or God.

Or me, in my third paragraph. It's grammatically acceptable, but not always felicitous.

#48 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 08:23 PM:

Tim Walters

My point is that the authors are being perfectly consistent and reasonable. They want people who have bought books in good faith to be able to read them, and they want people who sell books without permission to be stopped (and preferably fed to extra-dimensional monsters, but that's probably ultra vires).

As far as I know there has been no case where an author has got a book deleted from anyone's Kindle. The 1984 incident is not a counterexample, since Eric Blair obviously wasn't involved.

The publishers of 1984 may have thought that people who lost their unauthorised copy of 1984 would then buy an authorised one. That might work for 1984, though I'd be strongly tempted to buy a secondhand copy instead. I can't see it working for a typical author, whose ex-readership would probably be very upset.

#49 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 09:04 PM:

Xopher #34: Damn, and I just recently ordered a present (yeah, books) from them. I was running late, and I'd been informed in no uncertain terms that used books Would Not Be Appropriate, but now I really wish I'd gone over to Barnes&Noble.

Tim Walters: As I argued back on a previous AmazonFAIL thread (MacMillian?), being able to fulfill their legal obligations is an inextricable part of maintaining "good faith" in their dealings, even if they do need to hire extra staff, and charge fees to cover that staff.

To excuse them from checking the copyright status of their product, is to treat compliance with the law as a "mere externality". That translates exactly to letting them profit from their indifference to the law, and I'm not willing to give them that.

#50 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 09:22 PM:

thomas @ 48:

My point is that the authors are being perfectly consistent and reasonable.

I don't understand what this has to do with my question, since I wasn't talking about any authors in particular. I should have said "copyright holder," though, I guess.

They want people who have bought books in good faith to be able to read them

What happens if the copyright holder doesn't want that? If they're really "stolen" (not your term, I realize), buying them in good faith doesn't mean you get to keep them.

#51 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 09:32 PM:

David Harmon @ 49: My understanding is that their legal obligation is to respond to DMCA takedown notices, not to preemptively remove things which they think might be in violation. (As far as I know, there isn't any way to determine a work's copyright status with complete accuracy.)

Clearly removing works based on someone's say-so isn't going to work. YouTube, famously, takes down stuff based on incorrect DMCA takedown requests quite often. Imagine if even that hurdle were removed. How would a copyright holder feel if Amazon took their book down because the copyright violator got there first?

IANAL, and I might be wrong about any of this. But that's my current understanding.

#52 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 09:35 PM:

Mentally add a comma after "clearly" in my last post, please. Or just delete the word--it's noise.

#53 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2011, 11:18 PM:

Tim Walters #51: "Complete accuracy" is not what I'm calling for, nor is it expected by the law. "Due diligence" is another story, and as a practical matter, most such cases would be avoided by even a cursory check -- either upon receipt of the material, or in response to a complaint. Remember, we're talking about digital submissions here -- they could easily set up a system to routinely check incoming E-books against their own accumulated library, especially the items for which they've previously had cause to verify the proper owner. That sort of search is pretty much a solved problem these days, and it's not like most of the offenders are taking much trouble to avoid such tests. (And why should they, when they know Amazon doesn't care?)

Worse, Amazon's response to such complaints is clearly "fire and forget" -- even after verifying the proper owner of the material, and admitting that there has been copying, they are completely neglecting to check for later re-submissions of the same material. They haven't done that because it would take time and money, (including new staff) to actually look at the things. That would cut into their business model, which is dependent on crowdsourcing letting the public provide their merchandise.

#54 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 12:24 AM:

David Harmon @ 53: It doesn't sound as easy to me as it does to you. You need a fairly reliable similarity metric that can't be easily gamed; you need to run it on every submission, against every existing submission; you need a system for resolving priority; and you need to have zero, or near zero, false positives.

And what are the penalties if they fail? Who decides what level of success constitutes due diligence? Does an external authority have to audit the system?

But let's say it's doable with Amazon's resources, and that it's legally required. Then it's legally required for all their competitors as well, who are probably much less well equipped to implement it. Is that what we want?

I think Amazon could probably do a better job of stopping copyright violations than they do, but I also think there are real tradeoffs involved.

#55 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 12:28 AM:

Tim Walters
What happens if the copyright holder doesn't want that? If they're really "stolen" (not your term, I realize), buying them in good faith doesn't mean you get to keep them.

My claim was that the author, typically, would prefer you to keep them rather than have them taken away. I would guess, with less certainty, that for currently-active authors the copyright holder would usually feel the same way, but that wasn't my point.

You originally asked
How can it be both an author's right to expect Amazon to enforce her copyright and a purchaser's right to retain an illegal copy of a book on his Kindle when Amazon has the technological ability to delete it?

I read this as either saying that the law couldn't go both ways or (in a weaker reading) that it would be unreasonable of an author to want it both ways. I was arguing that it was perfectly reasonable, and that there was a clear principle that distinguished the two. My apologies if I misunderstood your question.


I would be interested to know whether copyright law actually provides for the copyright owner to recall or destroy unauthorized copies that have already been sold, or just provides for damages and for halting of further infringement. For ordinary theft it's certainly true that an innocent purchaser of stolen goods has no rights, but this is precisely the sort of issue where one might expect intellectual property to be different.

#56 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 01:00 AM:

thomas @ 55: What I think is unreasonable is the belief (by anyone--I wasn't thinking of authors as the believers) that a copyright holder has the right to expect Amazon to police their copyright in one legal way, but not the right to expect Amazon to police their copyright in another legal way. (As I understand it, e-books, like most software, are licensed rather than sold, and there was nothing illegal about the removal of 1984. Amazon got in trouble because someone's class notes went with it, but even there it's not clear that the student would have prevailed at law.)

A copyright holder can, of course, waive any rights they choose, but the question isn't about what they want, which will vary. It's about what their rights are.

#57 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 02:15 AM:

In general, I note that under the US Sentencing Guidelines, you get credit for trying to do the right thing, and there is zero expectation (in the law, or in practice) that you will always do a perfect job at preventing anyone in your organization from doing anything wrong. But you are expected to try to detect and prevent illegal activities, to a reasonable extent, and you are expected to try to address problems as soon as you become aware of them.

But it's really hard to call, without knowing Amazon's attorneys' meta-strategies.

#58 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 02:17 AM:

Drat. Also, IANAL. If it needs to be reiterated.

#59 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 04:30 AM:

Re: the Tim Walters-David Harmon conversation in 49-54, it seems to me your topic is basically the entirety of what the Viacom vs. Youtube/Google lawsuit was about.

Viacom's position was that Youtube had a legal responsibility to preemptively prevent any of Viacom's copyrighted content turning up there, and that it was ridiculous to expect Viacom to have to keep monitoring Youtube's content and fire off a separate DMCA notice for each offending item. Google's response was, we're obliged only to do what the law says, which is to take down what you notify us to; we're actually doing more to prevent it right now, but we have no obligation to. In the end the judge ruled as one might expect, that the law says what the law says, and that Viacom did not get to make up a bunch of new rules based on what it wished the law said and then collect damages on the strength of them.

If Amazon successfully presents itself as being a service provider in its role selling Kindle content, it has precedent to say that it has no legal obligation to even try to police what's being sold, only to respond to complaints. Anything else it might do is based on pure good will, however much of that you might expect to see in Amazon's activities.

#60 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 06:36 AM:

#59:

But apparently Amazon isn't even responding to complaints. So they're in the wrong. This is one thing that Ellison v. AOL hinged on.

#61 ::: Mal ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 06:46 AM:

The solution is to repeal the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA (as well as the inconventient anti-circumvention rules). Let people host and be responsible for their own content, it's what the web was designed to do.

#62 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 06:53 AM:

Mal @ 61

Question of who's got the deeper pockets and more lobbyists, I'm thinking. I don't see this being reformed in the interests of the little people, any time soon.

#63 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 08:52 AM:

#61: That involves a lot of technical understanding and time to spend administering it, and loses economies of scale. I am glad that we can have <insert your favorite user-generated content hosting site> around, and DMCA safe harbor is part of what keeps that feasible.

#64 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 09:21 AM:

Tim Walters #54:

David Harmon @ 53: It doesn't sound as easy to me as it does to you....

Consider TurnItIn.com and similar services, which do a fairly good job at it.... Remember, the offenders wouldn't be doing this at all if they actually had to work at it. Right now, they can just fire up a roboposter. No, the check system does not have to be strawman perfect. It just needs to be "good enough" at winnowing out suspicious cases for human review, and there need to be enough humans to ride herd on the process.

And what are the penalties if they fail? Who decides what level of success constitutes due diligence?

That's where the courts come in, and they have plenty of precedent to help them. Bluntly, the courts don't just randomly smash businesses for the hell of it. They investigate. They apply both professional (judge, expert witnesses) and civilian (notably the jury) scrutiny. And, eventually, they figure out workable sets of rules for new situations. In general, "due diligence" includes using available tools for research, it includes knowing how your own field of business works, and it certainly includes remembering your own prior mistakes, from one month to the next.

Does an external authority have to audit the system?

Not if the hierarchy at Amazon itself (in this case) takes the rules seriously, and insists their subordinates do too. Otherwise....

Then it's legally required for all their competitors as well, who are probably much less well equipped to implement it. Is that what we want? ... I also think there are real tradeoffs involved.

Preventing all and sundry from profiting off large-scale, automated abuses of copyright? Preventing any yahoo who throws up a website, from monetizing "oh, we couldn't possibly look at submissions before we go ahead and sell them to people"? Yeah, I think we want that. Sure, there are tradeoffs, but what you're advising is more of a handoff.

As has been noted many times before in this blog, every business has a natural incentive to ignore problems that don't bite them directly, otherwise known as "externalities".

  • "Oh, well, we couldn't know that these toys were made of lead alloy, blame the factories over in China!"
  • "Oh, yeah, our TV dinners have salmonella, but the customer is responsible for making sure that their food is adequately cooked before eating. Pay no attention to those cooking times on the box!"
  • "Hey, people need coal, and there's coal under these mountaintops. Why would anyone want to live in a stupid forest anyway?"
  • "As a company, we need to ensure that our factory workers aren't sneaking out for breaks, or knocking off work before the job's done. And that fire marshal's demands are just ridiculous!"
  • "Oh, there's plenty of fish left in the sea! Now that we've switched to the new bottom-scraper nets, we're back to picking up tons of fish! How should we know what happens to the seabottom? We just sell fish, we don't live with them!"
  • ... and yes, I could go on all day here, but within the hour I'd have to start in with Google and such; the above are off the top of my head.

Keeping them from doing that is exactly why businesses and markets need regulation. "We have to make a profit" does not excuse a business from running roughshod over the public interest, much less the public itself. And no, I'm not a lawyer, but I do have some in my family.

#65 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 09:26 AM:

Bah, and after all that, I missed italicizing Tim's first time addressed to me.

#66 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 10:16 AM:

Tim Walters @56: As I understand it, e-books, like most software, are licensed rather than sold, and there was nothing illegal about the removal of 1984

Whether licensed or not, depending on your jurisdiction modification of another person's computer system without their explicit authority may be a criminal offence.

As of right now, there's nothing in the Kindle Terms & Conditions that allows Amazon to do this kind of thing. Maybe there was prior to the 1984 debacle, but unfortunately I don't have any old copies of the T&C to refer to in order to check.

Mal @61: The solution is to repeal the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA (as well as the inconventient anti-circumvention rules). Let people host and be responsible for their own content, it's what the web was designed to do.

Unfortunately, that doesn't work, as without those safe harbor provisions, your ISP would be responsible for your content. We'd all have to have our own hosts, connected directly to the Internet backbone, and provide warranties to the peers you connect to that you will not transfer any unauthorized data. The minimum cost of hosting your own web site would rocket, to something like $1000 per annum, or substantially more if you actually expect to receive non-trivial numbers of visitors. And any discovery of infringement would result in an avalanche of law suits, as every ISP along the distribution route sues the previous one...

#67 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 10:16 AM:

Mike Essex, in the post linked in the main post here, suggests a bunch of possible solutions. As I note, it's unlikely that any of them will happen absent government regulation.

It's unfortunate that companies will destroy their own product long-term in order to get short-term profit, but that seems to be an unintended consequence of the SEC's rules for publicly traded companies.

#68 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 10:46 AM:

49-54 (and also Charlie Stross @ 30-1)

While I don't want to start up a game of 'electronic publishing bingo' I wonder whether this kind of thing may turn out to be another reason why traditional publishing isn't going away any time soon: as well as being good for editing, marketing etc, publishing houses might have thne kind of deep pockets that individual authors might have.

(To be clear: I don't know whether publishing houses would pursue Amazon in the kind of scenario the Jim was presenting @ 9. Butstarted when someone started talking about 'piracy insurance', it occurred to me that this is one thing that a pubklishing house is, or at least might be.)

#69 ::: jim ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 11:36 AM:

I wonder if this sort of thing will kill ebooks.

Jules @16 says that you can easily pirate codices. Unbind them, scan each page, optionally proofread. But this is work. Converting something that's already digital into a different format is running a program: enter a few parameters and click: "rip, mix, burn." Not work.

If publishers find releasing an electronic edition more trouble than it's worth, they won't release one. Record companies couldn't go back to vinyl: who has turntables? Book publishers are still selling hardbacks and paperbacks. They can go back to making those their only formats. The distribution channels have been impaired, but are still there. Yes, pdfs of bestsellers, full of scannos, will turn up on The Pirate Bay, but this sort of reselling won't happen.

It may be that this sort of fraud will stay small scale and not damage ebooks. But it may not.

#70 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 12:18 PM:

jim #69: Oh, the balance of power will settle out eventually, but as with music, some of the players will get knocked out of the game. I'm confident that there will always be hardcopy versions sold, but they may not be the moderately-durable bound items we consider "real books".

By comparison, I've seen quite a few 100-year-old books that could easily last another 100 years... with proper care. (This is when we break out the leather-treatment goop.) I've also seen at least as many 100-year-old (or much younger) books that are unsalable, often facing imminent disintegration, because they didn't get that care. The older paperbacks and pamphlets aren't quite as durable, but quite a few from the 1930's or older, have held up pretty well. (Cue Abi re: binding methods and proper materials.)

I'm also confident that there will also be electronic versions sold, but how legitimate or complete those are... well, that's the other half of what's being decided now. And I still maintain that those electronic copies are fundamentally less durable than even a low-quality printed book.

#71 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 12:48 PM:

David Harmon @ 64: Consider TurnItIn.com and similar services, which do a fairly good job at it....

But there's a human (the teacher) in the loop doing a smell test for every document, right? And students have fewer options for disguising their text. An e-book scammer could, for example, render their book as a bitmap, meaning that OCR would be required to do the search--but then they could pick a difficult font to scan, etc.

I think the problem is in between catching student plagiarism (maybe solved) and detecting spam (definitely not solved).

It's certainly possible that you're right and I'm wrong, but I'd want to see a pilot progam working before I threw a court order at somebody.

And I'm completely in favor of correctly pricing externalities, but the first thing that would involve is getting some quantitative data on the harm caused by these scammers. So far we just have anecdotes.

If a system can be built that is reasonably accurate and cheap enough for small businesses to use, then I'm all for it. If it becomes an obstacle for small business and therefore just another competitive advantage for Amazon, I'd want to make sure the harm caused by the current system was enough to make the new system absolutely necessary (which it may well be).

One expenditure I could get behind immediately is a modern copyright registry system at the LoC, which might help with this problem, and would have any number of other benefits.

Jules @ 66: Whether licensed or not, depending on your jurisdiction modification of another person's computer system without their explicit authority may be a criminal offence.

Fair enough. I consider that question answered.

#72 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 01:18 PM:

David Harmon @70 -- the primary problem with books getting old and brittle isn't the binding, but the paper. The rise of acid sizing to prepare the paper to take ink in higher-speed presses dates basically to the mid-19th century, so it's harder to find a book in good shape from 100 years ago than from 200. The rise of acid-free paper in the later 20th century makes it more likely that many books from that period will survive.

Yes, it's possible to treat books badly and have them die. Absent that, there's some decay that's not related to bad treatment.

#73 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 02:04 PM:

Mal @ 61:
Prior to Title II of the DMCA being passed, it was becoming a serious question whether there could be an ISP industry in the United States. The money an ISP could make selling Internet access was dwarfed by the amount of money which you could lose in an instant if a few of your $10 or $15/month customers put up some ripped-off content and Sony or Disney or whoever sued the ISP as the one with deeper pockets. That was starting to happen at the time, and not just in egregious cases like Ellison v. AOL.

Strip that provision, and more likely what you would end up with in the longer term would be a system in which ISPs would only allow bigger companies who could indemnify them to host anything at all, and everybody else gets an "access-only" connection filtered out the wazoo to make sure they can't run any kind of server. I was in the business then, and it was a very serious worry.

IMHO what's needed is better balance in the requirements of a valid take-down notice. Right now, IIRC the only part the complainant has to legally swear to is that they hold a copyright in X, or legally represent the rights-holder. While they must make a "good faith" statement that the content they're demanding be removed actually violates their copyright, they aren't required to swear to it, so effectively there is no penalty for making an unlimited number of false claims. Google claimed in testimony in New Zealand that about 57% of takedown complaints it receives are used to target a competing business, and at least 37% of all complaints it receives are not valid copyright complaints.

#74 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 02:19 PM:

... and following up myself (sorry) I forgot to mention that absent Title II of the DMCA, there was a serious threat of ISPs being sued for activities like running a web cache for their users, because in caching that web page to disk you are making a copy of the data without explicit authorization; or in principle, since data flowing through your routers may be copied into buffers, just routing data from a website or other content site - even a legitimate one! - could have constituted a copyright violation. The 512(a) and 512(b) parts of Title II put an end to that worry.

#75 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 02:28 PM:

Tim Walters: No, Turnitin isn't using a human to do the smelltest. Turnitin is the smelltest.

There are some annoyances with their rules (they get rights to everything that passes through them), but the way it works is the prof gets an account, and all the papers are submitted to the site.

It compares them to the database (which includes, but is not limited to, every paper which has been submitted to them), and does a bunch of analytics, from which it renders a verdict.

That point is where the instructor comes in. So it's basically the system Dave is suggesting.

#76 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 02:33 PM:

Tim Walters #71:

Actually, I gather a fair number of professors do submit all their papers to turnitin.com or similar -- aside from avoiding missed smell tests, that obviously original paper might well be copied by someone else, for a different professor, next year,.

Actually, detecting copied books would be quite a bit easier than copied term papers, with science fiction and fantasy being easiest of all. More text makes it easier, not harder, to spot a match -- not just by brute-forcing snippets, but with tools such as concordances and Markov analysis, which can pick up on writing style. For a simple example: If the book I submit to them includes names like "Dzur", "Chreotha", etc., that would instantly pull up Brust's Dragaera series for more detailed comparison. Even if I've gone to the trouble of S&Ring those, distinctive phrases like "in two words", "How, ... ?", or "Nearly, ..." would be pretty strong hints. Even non-unique but characteristic usages like "Yes, exactly", "well acquainted with its length", or "It should come as no surprise to the reader", would narrow the field, especially in numbers and combination.

Like I said, this is a solved problem. Yes, scale is an issue, but not that much of one, and remember, there are already services that compare submissions to large libraries of books. This is a matter of getting Amazon and their copycats to use them or equivalent methods. Yes, that's likely to slow down submission processing, and maybe make it more expensive. But... that's probably a good idea anyway! A day (or few) delay between submission and first sale, will hurt the scammers a lot more than it hurts any legitimate author. The same goes for a two-digit submission fee for a novel, or even a requirement for real-world contact information. (That last isn't as useful as it sounds, but it at least raises the bar.) If Amazon's business model absolutely depends on them putting no effort whatsoever into the venture, that's not a business we should be defending.

#77 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 02:40 PM:

Let me clarify (having been a student who was required to use Turnitin: I was required to submit my papers to them.

They sent an analysis of my paper to the prof, with things like percentage of quotation, and I know not what else. I've never had a prof ask for the required text/.doc files so they could send it in themselves. All of those who have used it have done it that way. All papers to Turnitin.

#78 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 03:42 PM:

OK, I'm mostly convinced that this would be worth a try. To be fully convinced I'd want more data from Turnitin (lots of people use child-safe content filters, but that doesn't mean they really work), and a plan for resolving false positives and cases where the scammers posted first.

I'd also be curious to try one of these services myself, but they seem to fall into three categories: (1) not free; (2) Windows-only; and (3) wrappers for Google.

#79 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 05:09 PM:

Another thought: catching student plagiarists, who only submit one paper per assignment, is one thing. Catching script-generated texts, of which only a tiny fraction need to get through, is another. I don't see any reason to assume that we wouldn't see an arms race. Remember when Bayesian filtering was supposed to stop spam, because nothing that could get through it would be coherent enough to generate replies? Or when PageRank was supposed to weed out content farms?

It might be that scammers can make a profit just from people who buy their book but don't get around to reading it, and so the bar for comprehensibility could be extremely low. I suppose it's not really plagiarism at that point, though...

#80 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 05:55 PM:

Tim Walters #79: Well, I'd be happy just to solve the plagarism problem, as that's "my ox getting gored"☀. But I suspect that if Amazon is forced to pay attention to what's going through their content mill¢, they'll suddenly become much more responsive to other complaints, such as the outright spammers.

And yeah, it will be an arms race, but that's life. Surely an arms race is better than just ceding the field!

☀ I may not be an author myself, but I do want my money going to the authors, not scammers.

¢ And I still think that's the fundamental issue here.

#81 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 05:59 PM:

David Harmon @ 80: Surely an arms race is better than just ceding the field!

Agreed... but if it were coming out of my budget I might not be too thrilled. At the very least, I'd want to make my competitors chip in.

#82 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 06:35 PM:

Tim Walters #81: At the very least, I'd want to make my competitors chip in.

They will, one way or another. And once we've decided that Monopolies R Bad, arms races really are inevitable. The only players who can call off an arms race, are those who completely control their sphere, or belong to a alliance which does so. Of course, that sort of dominance can backfire badly in the long run! Consider China in the late 19th century... and America in the late 20th/early 21st.

#83 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 07:04 PM:

And once we've decided that Monopolies R Bad, arms races really are inevitable

The arms race here, I think, is the race between the spammers and all the rest of us.

Ceding the field to the spammers would make a place like Making Light ... horrible.

A bit part of my life goes to weeding out the spam here, and some of it still gets through, every time the spammers try something new. (Doesn't stay long, and we develop new antibodies, but ....)

#84 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 07:33 PM:

This is why I think spammers should be deleted with extreme prejudice. It's one of those "very little effort to produce substantial increase in quality of life" things.

#85 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 08:06 PM:

Amazon isn't the only seller of eBook titles, so I wonder if the concentrated fire they're taking in this thread is because they're the biggest or the worst, or possibly both. The Mike Essex article seems to be firing in a pretty broad pattern, but there seems to be extra hate for Amazon here that I'm concerned may be exaggerated.

To explain my personal interest in the topic, I once wrote a novel that didn't sell, though some of my friends and family expressed interest in having an eBook copy of it. So, not being interested in self-publishing, I simply made an EPUB file and passed it around. The inevitable dialogue follows:

- How come people can't just download it from the iBook store?
- Well, because I haven't published it, that's why.
- Well, why not? Have you looked at self-publishing? It's cheap!
- Sure, it's cheap, but it's not free and I'm neither stupid nor crooked. My book didn't sell to an agent. There's absolutely no reason to think it will sell if I self-publish it. Especially, since I don't have the time, the talent, or the inclination to market the damned thing.
- But it's easier to find and install your book if it's in the store!

At this point, I want to set my friend or family member on fire.

So, my question seems relevant. Is Amazon absorbing all the hate here because they're much worse that other players? Or are they just the largest? Because, if it's just Amazon being dickbags, then I can spend $99 on BookBaby and shut these people up. But if it's all the eBook platforms being basically SuckFactories, then I'll not bother.

#86 ::: becca ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 08:43 PM:

I think Amazon is getting the heat here because they're the biggest, but B&N isn't any better at taking down stolen books, or books with errors in them. They're just playing on a smaller field. And is iBooks any better at catching books that the submitter has no right to sell?

Amazon may be the Evil Empire, but I'll buy my ebooks from them over B&N: at least Amazon hasn't abandoned an ebook format (well, yet).

#87 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 08:55 PM:

James D. Macdonald #83: The arms race here, I think, is the race between the spammers and all the rest of us.

No argument -- the problem here is that Amazon has not been standing with "the rest of us", and consequently became a breeding ground. Obviously counterproductive in the long run. Even if they were planning to "save us from the lion" later (which in fact I doubt, as I don't think they're that cunning). But consider where such an attitude comes from in the first place... it comes directly from the arrogant delusion that they don't just dominate the market, but own it, so utterly that they don't have to pay attention to actual authors, much less mere readers. After all, they're getting their cut regardless!

#88 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 09:00 PM:

#85 j h woodyatt Because, if it's just Amazon being dickbags, then I can spend $99 on BookBaby and shut these people up.

BookBaby? $99?

Smashwords is free. And Smashwords allegedly does try to keep out the content farmers.

But I personally wouldn't publish anything that wasn't my Very Best, because ... if someone reads your book and hates it, they're never going to buy anything else you ever write.

#89 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2011, 10:43 PM:

Jim writes: Smashwords is free.

Yes, but last I looked, they don't let you write your own EPUB file. You must rely on their evil RTF converter, and its output smells pretty funny compared to what you can get by handcrafting your EPUB file yourself in Sigil, as I did.

But I personally wouldn't publish anything that wasn't my Very Best, because ... if someone reads your book and hates it, they're never going to buy anything else you ever write.

I adopted a simpler rule: if I can't get a legitimate agent to make a fair offer on it, then there is probably actual real dollar value in its active suppression.

I go back and forth on whether electronic vanity outlets should be considered harmful. After this thread, I'm leaning toward harmful.

#90 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2011, 01:59 AM:

becca #86: Amazon may be the Evil Empire, but I'll buy my ebooks from them over B&N: at least Amazon hasn't abandoned an ebook format (well, yet).

What abandoned ebook format are you talking about?

#91 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2011, 03:02 AM:

becca @86: Amazon did, after a fashion, abandon lots of ebook formats -- some time after it bought out MobiPocket, it abandoned all the ones it didn't now own as a proprietary format. And if your book was already on Amazon in something not-mobi, your book *stayed* on Amazon, with a description that said it was no longer available, but please ask the author to let Amazon make it available again. It didn't actually say the book was out of print and thus also unavailable from any other source, but contrived to give that impression to the unwary reader.

Why yes, that would be *my* books, and all the other books my publisher had placed on Amazon in DRM-free formats. I was Not Amused. (Some of my books are now up on Amazon again, as my publisher has started putting the backlist into Kindle format.)

#92 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2011, 05:23 AM:

I can see a potential for Amazon/Kindle as a market for shorter fiction, almost as a promotion. If you're established writer, maybe with work being handled by more than one publisher, self-publishing a novella through the Kindle route, at low cost, might make sense. Rather than fretting about getting published works out as both print and ebook, with all the fears about competing channels, get your name out there, in a form that tempts potential readers, and let Amazon tell them about all the other works you have on sale.

My own experience of ebook readers suggests that shorter fiction is easier to cope with. It fits better with the idea of reading when the opportunity arises.

Getting the ebook right--copy editing and such--isn't going to be easy. I do wonder if ebooks are being created at the right point of the production cycle: a lot of the layout work done for a print edition is, I suggest, of doubtful utility when the ebook user can just tap a key to change the font size, and hence the flow of text. At least with the Kindle you have a clear target, but it's not the same as a physical printing press.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure that things will be different next year. Maybe the publishers will have found a few answers. For sure there will be new questions.

#93 ::: Tyler Tork ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2011, 08:30 AM:

@76, I like the idea of an automatic delay, but I'd let the sales start immediately but have the delay be in the payments. Say, three months. That gives enough time for someone to notice the imposture, and the profits from any sales made in the meantime can go to the actual copyright holder.

Amazon should like that, since companies never object to holding on to money a little longer. And for what they were going to pay out anyway, what do they care who they pay it to?

#94 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2011, 08:52 AM:

David Harmon@70: I still maintain that those electronic copies are fundamentally less durable than even a low-quality printed book.

In the long run, though, textual longevity is probably better insured through multiplicity of copies than through durability of materials. (I'm a medievalist by training, which tends to make me unhappily aware of all the texts which survived into the age of print only in single copies, and how close some of them came to being lost for good.) E-text may not be especially durable, but my golly, is it ever multiple.

#95 ::: Nina ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2011, 11:02 AM:

@Jim and Abi - If you are with a house, they will often monitor and do takedowns for you. Since it's not fool-proof, sending them anything you find (esp in your daily googlealerts) can't hurt. There are companies that do pretty much exactly that - Attributor and Covington being the big two for publishing - and a lot of the larger houses use them.

@Charles Stross...well that sucks. Amazon really needs to listen to the rightsholder, whomever they may be.

#96 ::: beccab ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2011, 12:46 PM:

@90 - my understanding, at least, is that the original Nook supported .pdb, and the Nook Color does not, so if you upgrade to a color Nook, you've lost access to the .pdb books you may have purchased.

I'm not defending Amazon here - they're clearly in the wrong for not taking down stolen books immediately. But I don't think Amazon is totally evil, either.

#97 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2011, 12:53 PM:

Debra Doyle #94: E-text may not be especially durable, but my golly, is it ever multiple.

There is that! Of course, that shifts the question to "who's keeping the archives?" In this case, I'm thinking of one particular archive as exemplar: The collected messages of the mailing list "bandykin".

That particular list started with 21 people, before the formation of the Internet proper. By the time of its meltdown 6 or 7 years later, there, were (IIRC) a hundred or so folks who'd been there for at least a couple of years, perhaps twice that who'd been there a full year. The "old-timers" included a startling number of the ARPA/Internet's pioneers, plus an assortment of other geniuses, and many others who may not have been geniuses, but were certainly Very Special People, the sort of folks you can meet once and remember for a lifetime.

Given how personal the discussions got, those people who had kept list archives were damn wary of handing them around. I know that my 3 or 4 years worth of archive vanished in a disk crash, back when hard drives were expensive, floppies held 1.44Mib, and CDs were read-only. There are a few members who had unusual resources even then, as well as exceptional foresight. (Some of them occasionally swing by here.) Some of those might possibly have hung onto complete archives... of course, they're are getting older every year, and eventually, someone else will be tasked to sort the possessions they leave behind. Will their executors see any value in a batch of old mailing list messages?

Does a full archive of "bandykin" still exist? If so, for how long? I don't know... but I consider them as a cautionary example:

Very well, some unique medieval text has been digitized and uploaded to the web. But just how many mirrors of it are there? How many of those are not dependent on a particular organization not only staying solvent, but retaining interest in such matters? How many individuals not only have copies of that particular text, but reason to hang on to their own copy, even though "they can always get it off the Web"?

#98 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2011, 12:56 PM:

(Sigh, multiple editing fails above. Deep memories seem to do that to me.)

#99 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2011, 01:33 PM:

On the general subject of copyright/DMCA and the safe harbor provisions and take-down notice system, this David Post post on Volokh has links to an amicus brief arguing for the current safe-harbor policies. Some of you may find it interesting.

#100 ::: AndyHat ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2011, 04:29 PM:

I notice the discussion here is assuming that the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA apply to amazon with respect to ebooks. However, to qualify for the safe harbor provision it is required that the service provider "does not receive a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity, in a case in which the service provider has the right and ability to control such activity".

Now, granted, amazon won Corbis Corp. v. Amazon.com, which granted them safe harbor status in respect to zShops. But in the case of zShops, amazon is essentially just a payment processor, taking a smallish commission to pass an order along to the actual seller. That's clearly not the case with Kindle editions, where amazon is fulfilling the order and taking a rather large cut of the sale to do so.

So, why is the assumption that amazon is not directly liable here?

#101 ::: rick ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2011, 07:09 PM:

I wonder if some kind of electronic signature would help this out? Not this particular instance, but the problem in general. Amazon would only accept a book if it's been signed electronically by someone asserting that they're the author. Of course, you then have the issue of verifying that the person signing as SKS Perry or Charles Stross really is that person. For authors with publishers, the publisher could sign either under a publisher signature or an author signature vouched for by the publisher. For authors who don't have a publisher we'd need some other authority to vouch for that. Perhaps an author organization? Amazon itself?

This isn't without issues - what if an author switches publishers, what if the company vouching for a self-published author goes under, what about people like Hocking who self-publish and have books via publishers? But a secure, VERY hard to fake electronic signature ala SSL certificates would allow Amazon, B&N et al to automate verification of submissions and screen out submissions that aren't signed.

#102 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2011, 07:49 PM:

rick #101: I think that stuff might come later in the arms race, if it becomes exploitable to actively fake communications from an author. The thing is though, SSL itself isn't doing so well, apparently due to a mix of technical limitations, and carelessness about the root authorities.

In practice, you wouldn't need (or want) a new infrastructure -- as I implied above, we already have ways to be fairly sure that someone is who they say they are, if both you and they are willing to take a day or few at it. (That is, registration and verification, with spammer-throttling tossed in for free.) Then you can build authenticated channels on top of that -- PGP signatures, numbered and passworded accounts, whatever. Properly done, it might not stop a black ops attack, but it'll keep out the script kiddies.

#103 ::: rick ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2011, 08:39 PM:

David - agreed. I was putting this out there because the thread had several comments about "how could Amazon detect this" and I don't think it's conceptually that hard - all they need to do is to require that submissions be signed electronically somehow and for that signature to be trusted as verifying the author's identity. I'm sure the details will be fiddly and I'd like to see any such mechanism be low-cost/free and open so that it doesn't become a barrier, but the workflow and technical issues aren't particularly hard.

As far as stopping blackhats, etc... meh. If we can get a solution in place for Amazon, B&N and other large sellers and ideally have it work in various countries, then the damage left over from the blackhat sites that host collections and from torrents will be minimal.

#104 ::: Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 06:03 AM:

Ugh, came here via Schneier to read this but the default font size is *tiny*. Why make readers fiddle with settings? Bad useability. You need to make the default what is now "Even larger type, with serifs."

#105 ::: bkd69 ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 06:41 AM:

A propos of nothing, I just wanted to drop my favorite content farm finding in a search result.

The content farm was ancestry.com, and I was searching on Flashman.

And they offered me "The Name Flashman in History."

#106 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 10:01 AM:

Daniel #104: Dude, they're giving you a one-click choice of font sizes, on the page you're reading, even -- and you complain about "bad usability"? I direct you to AskTog to learn what bad usability is!

Seriously, many of us prefer to be able to scan long pages quickly, and we've got the eyes (and screens) to do it. If you think the big font is smallish, try using Control-'+' in your browser -- that enlarges the browser's font sizes as much as you want. (Naturally, Control-'-'reduces them.)

#107 ::: S.K.S. Perry ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 11:14 AM:

David #106: Dude, that tip about using Control +/- is awesome! (Sometimes I think I might as well be Amish.)

#108 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 11:36 AM:

106/107: Note that, at least on the keyboards I've used, it's not really Control-+, it's actually Control-= because to get the + requires holding down the shift key, and you don't want to do that in this case. It took me several years to be able to use that advice because I was trying to type an actual + instead of just the key that that symbol appears on.

#109 ::: John Fiala ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 12:10 PM:

Mary #108:

Actually, if you've got a keyboard that has a numeric keypad to the right, then you've got a huge '+' key on the right edge of your keyboard that works fine with Ctrl. But, now that I've typed that out, I'm suddenly flashing back to various laptops and netbooks that came sans keypad.

So, I guess it's correct to say that Ctrl-+ and Ctrl-= both increase the font size, which is handy, because I'm going to guess that more people want to increase the font than need to decrease it, most of the time.

#110 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 12:14 PM:

Daniel, #104: And who made YOU the center of the universe? I get along just fine with the default font, despite aging eyes. And if I didn't, it's a 1-click fix. Go teach your grandmother to suck eggs.

#111 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 12:30 PM:

In truth, I'd be more interested in what Daniel has to say about the site if he presented his criticism alongside some comments on the topic of the post. As it is, his comment amounts to a drive-by "TS;DR" and falls under "ignorable."

#112 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 12:43 PM:

Lee #110: Go teach your grandmother to suck eggs.

For those who would benefit from instruction, here is some process documentation.

#113 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 12:52 PM:

John Fiala (109): if you've got a keyboard that has a numeric keypad to the right, then you've got a huge '+' key on the right edge of your keyboard that works fine with Ctrl.

...huh. So there is. Shows how closely I (don't) inspect my keyboard. I saw the one + on the top row and never looked farther.

#114 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 01:01 PM:

...and until you open the box, the shift key is both depressed and not depressed. And if a web font enlarges in the woods...

#115 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 01:01 PM:

XKCD documents how to inspect your keyboard.

#116 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 02:47 PM:

Xopher (114): What kind of antidepressants would you recommend for a shift key?

#117 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 02:58 PM:

Mary Aileen @116 -- you clearly don't want to use anti-depressants on a shift key, because they're bipolar and need a different form of medication.

#118 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 03:36 PM:

I'm using a keyboard right now that has a shift key that needs undepressing every now and then. IT TENDS TO It tends to get stuck. I just kinda wham on it a couple times and it comes up.

This does not work with people. While I have been whammed on for being depressed, I cannot recall a single incident in which it helped.

#119 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 03:39 PM:

Whamming is so rarely the answer. You should use more control.

#120 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 03:43 PM:

Frankly, one could go for the seventies approach and use Tab.

#121 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 04:02 PM:

Fragano, I think that that comes under the heading of Alt-ernative Medicine.

#122 ::: DensityDuck ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 04:54 PM:

#54: "I think Amazon could probably do a better job of stopping copyright violations than they do..."

Yes, they tried that with 1984 and everybody shit themselves.

#123 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 05:00 PM:

DesityDuck @122:

If you read the actual discussion, you may see that the point where people are suggesting they could do better is when offering things for sale, rather than after they're already on Kindles.

There's plenty of scope for that, as, indeed, we have discussed. If you read the thread.

#124 ::: S.K.S. Perry ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 06:23 PM:

Although I still haven't heard anything from Amazon, the stolen copies of Darkside seem to have been taken down. When I go to the bookmarked site for the unauthorized copy I get the following message:

We're sorry. The Web address you entered is not a functioning page on our site.

So either Amazon took it down, or the thief did.

Which is nice, but it doesn't address the fact that it still leaves me no way to recoup any money the thief may have made off of the sale of my work. (I seriously doubt he made anything--but it's the principle.)

#125 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 06:25 PM:

DensityDuck #122 Yes, they tried that with 1984 and everybody shit themselves.

The 1984 affair was first mentioned here in post #6. Since then, it's been discussed in posts 32, 39, 48, 56, and 66.

#126 ::: Timothy Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 06:49 PM:

Jim Macdonald @ 125: Also at 44 and 47.

#127 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 07:08 PM:

abi #123: While "view all by" claims "DensityDuck" as a first-timer, I've seen other, annoyingly "dense", comments from that nick. Googling, I find: Climate change, In the Interests of Safety, from a common ID.

#128 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2011, 09:46 PM:

I've never complained about the Making Light text styles because I just enlarge the page in my browser.

If I have to enlarge it again, that means I'm getting tired and it's time to go to bed.

And seconding David Harmon, there are many many many websites with much much much worse usability.

#129 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2011, 01:38 AM:

Fragano@120, the hackers' jargon dictionary refers to typing control-meta-cokebottle

#130 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2011, 01:56 AM:

Jim@88, while you wouldn't publish anything but your very best, because readers who disliked it wouldn't read more of your stuff, even in the dead-trees-and-hot-lead publishing days, the magic of pseudonyms meant that an author could publish works of varying quality and style, without the readers necessarily knowing the connection between them. It's certainly far easier with electronic self-publishing.

In many cases, it was traditional practice for market segmentation - more than one author has published literature under one name and pornography under another because it pays the bills.

(And of course, the original context of this discussion was that while you'd only publish your best stuff, electronic self-publishing makes it easy for lots of other people to publish your best stuff too...)

#131 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2011, 02:41 AM:

Bill Stewart @130:

...even in the dead-trees-and-hot-lead publishing days, the magic of pseudonyms meant that an author could publish works of varying quality and style, without the readers necessarily knowing the connection between them.

And verily even before, when the lead was cold (and contained rather more tin and antimony). Not to mention the dead-sheep-and-oxgall days, and the days of river reeds and soot.

#132 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2011, 06:18 AM:

Bill #130

Oh, I know about pseuds (says the guy with at least four, plus some I'll never tell, not to mention the prolific "anonymous").

With electronic self-publishing, though, as with any self-publishing, all the marketing and promotion is going to come from the author. It's hard to explain why you're out flogging a book by some guy you've never heard of.

Unless you're willing to create an entire alternate persona, it'll be transparently easy to figure out who the author is.

#133 ::: Rhialto ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2011, 08:31 AM:

Coming back to font sizes, and the remark about "And who made YOU the center of the universe?":
Quite often, the author of a web page thinks they are the center (or centre) of the universe; in particular, they seem to think that they know better which font size I prefer than I do.

I have my font size set to a particular size because of the size of my screen, the distance to my eyes, and my eyesight.

Yet pages (such as this one) set their letters to a fixed size, overriding my requirements. Or worse, they set the size to "80%", deliberately making the letters smaller than I've indicated I like.

And then there are the sites that also make the background gray (or grey), and the letters too. Light-ish and dark-ish, but with far reduced contrast in any case. That makes them even more impossible to read (and to fix it, I need to enlarge them even more than usual).

So, I urge everybody to just let the default font size be. To do otherwise is disrespecting your readers.

#134 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2011, 09:00 AM:

In Firefox, CTRL+the mouse wheel allows you to scroll the font size up and down. And it remembers what size you set for any given page.

#135 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2011, 09:02 AM:

Rhialto: if the page didn't keep filling up with rude, unsolicited and off-topic posts, perhaps we'd have room for a larger font.

Enjoy the rest of your day surfing sites that suit you better.

#136 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2011, 09:02 AM:

I think the Choose links in the upper right-hand corner of the page are a good option.

#137 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2011, 12:24 PM:

Strangely enough (while ctrl-+ and ctrl-wheel are really good things to know), as far as fonts go, if you require a specific font or colour scheme, tell the browser. All reasonable browsers have not only a "here's my defaults" section, but also a "override page's suggestions with my defaults" checkbox (which unfortunately can't be done on a page-by-page basis, in my experience; but on the other hand, more often I'm right and they're wrong1 anyway, so).

I'm betting that MakingLight doesn't appear in The Prisoner's Village font 10 point for anybody else, for instance...2

I do find pages that demand a certain amount of the page for "side things" annoying, though, because I Don't Do Fullscreen. Therefore the actual content is 2 inches wide (those that do percentages are usually okay, because at least the content is half the width).

1 Yes, I know that "content providers" (i.e. advertisers) want things to look the way *they* want it to look, but that's wrong On The Internet. It's My Computer, it looks like I Want It To, thanks.
2 I switched to it because I liked the show, and kept it because I actually find it more readable than "normal" fonts (except for the "games" the font-writer played with the "unusual" or "occasional" characters - the £ character is the capital drop-legged G, the © is the Albertus-e-with connect, ø is the bicycle, and so on. Once I got used to it, though, everything was good.

#138 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2011, 12:25 PM:

Rhialto: If it means that much to you, you can set your font in your web browser to a minimum size (Under Options dialog, Content tab, Advanced), and Firefox at least will honor it. If it doesn't matter enough to you to set that, why on earth are you going around complaining that the designers of web pages don't pay enough attention to your preferences?

#139 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2011, 12:33 PM:

Getting back to the other topic under discussion, if the problem is being depressed for too long, maybe the key is more Space, or maybe you just need to Escape for a while. You certainly don't want to start thinking it's the End or let yourself get stuck at Home.

Getting back to the other other topic under discussion, I'm glad to hear you got Amazon to take down the offending copy of your novel, S.K.S Perry. I agree it would be nice to be able to track down the offender and recoup their ill-gotten gains, but I don't know that that is likely. In theory you could subpoena Amazon for their contact info, but you'd probably need a lawyer and a lawsuit filed to start down that road, which would make it ridiculously expensive.

(BTW, do you have a preferred form of address? It feels awkward to type S.K.S. Perry all the time when addressing you.)

#140 ::: Matthew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2011, 04:51 PM:

Google Chrome does not appear to have an option to force your font preferences to override the page's. Another strike against it as a serious browser, it seems. I'm not sure if that's something an extension could override.

To return to the topic, the ability of the Internet to make it easy to distribute and sell things works, alas, for the bad people just as well as the good people.

If they institute requirements to prove who you are and that you have a right to sell the books you're selling, I can see that having all kinds of unpleasant unintended consequences for people, such as the impoverished and non US resident.

I'm trying to think of a way with minimal unintended negatives and I'm somewhat lacking for inspiration, alas.

#141 ::: S.K.S. Perry ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2011, 05:07 PM:

First the good news: I recieved offical notice from Amazon's Copyright Agent today that they were taking down the stolen version of Darkside.

Now the bad new: they took all the reviews you nice folks wrote about how that copy was stolen, and applied them to the legitimate copy!

#142 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2011, 05:17 PM:

That's probably fixable, though -- and you're in a better situation now!

#143 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2011, 05:20 PM:

Julia Jones (#91): Amazon also killed the Mobipocket Reader for iPhone before release, so people who'd previously bought DRMed Mobipocket books couldn't bring them to their new hardware. Buy 'em again from the Kindle Store!

#144 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2011, 06:28 PM:

#141 ::: S.K.S. Perry Now the bad new: they took all the reviews you nice folks wrote about how that copy was stolen, and applied them to the legitimate copy!

Here's what to do: Get all of your friends to report those reviews as inappropriate.

They'll be auto-deleted once there are enough (and the number is quite low) reports.

#145 ::: Matthew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2011, 07:01 AM:

Give the people here & elsewhere a few days to change those bad reviews to good ones, though.

#146 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2011, 08:23 AM:

SKS Perry @141--W00t! and also Ooops!

I went and took down my snarky review--when I've had some time to think I'll put up a positive one.

#147 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2011, 01:06 PM:

One reason I have not chimed in on the whole discussion of establishing an web of identification and authorization for authorizing signatures for material for publication is that I've been sitting here thinking that the whole topic recapitulates so many many discussions about email.

To cut decades of discussion short, the fundamental reason we don't require digital signatures from authorized authorities is that to most people it is a valuable feature of email that you can get email from people you've never heard of and don't remember, and send email to people who don't know you, with nobody's approval required. Lots of elaborate authorization systems for email have been worked out and many of them implemented, and virtually nobody uses them. Most people seem to implicitly feel that that freedom to find something unexpected is more valuable, even if 99+% of what they find is spam and junk.

I think the same would be true in the long-term of any system which tried to be an absolute gatekeeper for electronic books - which is really what some people are suggesting here - people in large numbers would end up going around it to get access to more content, even if much of it were crappier or illegitimate.

#148 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2011, 03:14 PM:

Clifton @147: I disagree deeply with your parallel. Apparently I can't express my disagreements coherently. My first instinctive response was "Nobody makes a living writing emails"- which is imprecise, but much editing has failed to produce a better statement.

This is a COMPANY that SELLS things. Requesting that they not steal from people doesn't seem like an inappropriate restraint of trade to me.

#149 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2011, 03:56 PM:

S.K.S. Perry #141:

Now the bad new: they took all the reviews you nice folks wrote about how that copy was stolen, and applied them to the legitimate copy!

You know... at first, I and apparently most of the folks here, took that for mere stupidity. But the more I look at it, the more it looks passive-aggressive -- even after taking flak for selling the scammer's copy, they can't be bothered to actually look at the situation, and differentiate between genuine reviews and people trying to warn about the fake. It's like they're trying to set up for "see, we took it down already, what are you still complaining about? Oh, now you want us to go through all the reviews? Really!...".

The real test for that will be if their response to "you just applied scam-warnings from the fake to the genuine version" is to apologize and fix it, or to screw with the author(s) some more -- say by wiping all the reviews, or some such nonsense.

#150 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2011, 04:27 PM:

Sandy, #148: Where do you think all the spam e-mails come from, then? There are *tons* of people who make money by using bot-nets and backdoors and proxies to send out spam. Sure, they probably don't write it themselves, but spamming is Big Business even here in America. Although a few of our biggest ones have been successfully shut down in recent years, there are others still going strong.

#151 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2011, 05:02 PM:

Lee, spam emails are not saleable as content. It's the process that's for sale.

I'm not sure of the boundary either, but these are two different, and obviously different, things.

#152 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2011, 07:08 PM:

Lee @150: I'd apologize for not making my point more clearly, but I already did.

A writer whose intellectual property is stolen is not the same as a reader whose time has been wasted, or an ISP whose bandwidth has been wasted.

I see very, very little similarity between the offense of spamming and the offense of selling stolen books.

Perhaps I'm missing something obvious?

#153 ::: S.K.S. Perry ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2011, 11:09 PM:

David #149:

The real test for that will be if their response to "you just applied scam-warnings from the fake to the genuine version" is to apologize and fix it, or to screw with the author(s) some more -- say by wiping all the reviews, or some such nonsense.

That's exactly what they did--deleted all of the reviews. The sad thing is it was exactly what I expected of them.

#154 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2011, 11:40 PM:

Amazon sucks out loud. Unbelievable.

#155 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2011, 12:02 AM:

I don't think it's passive-agressive. I just think that Amazon's review system is badly broken for books that have multiple editions.

Ever tried doing a search on Amazon for an ebook edition of some public domain work? Terrible user experience. You usually get a half dozen different editions, some free, some not. There are almost certainly important differences between them. Some probably have unreadably bad formatting while others are ones that someone put work into. (And you can't assume the one that costs money is the one where someone cared about getting the formatting right.) The prefaces or notes might differ. The translations might differ. User reviews of the different editions would be extremely useful — but you don't have them, because the reviews of all the different editions all get mashed together and randomly distributed.

#156 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2011, 01:20 AM:

Sandy: I see you interpreted my comment as a suggestion that Amazon is doing just fine, which I don't believe and didn't say. Rather, it was a response to suggestions like this one from rick up-thread*:
"I wonder if some kind of electronic signature would help this out? ... Amazon would only accept a book if it's been signed electronically by someone asserting that they're the author. Of course, you then have the issue of verifying that the person signing ... really is that person. For authors with publishers, the publisher could sign either under a publisher signature or an author signature vouched for by the publisher. For authors who don't have a publisher we'd need some other authority to vouch for that..."

I can't interpret that any other way than as a suggestion that it would require some sort of authority to authorize one to publish an eBook.

This has no bearing on whether Amazon could do better - indeed, if you look back upstream you can see me saying that they certainly should, and offering some suggestions on how to motivate them to respond better. It's just that the suggestions have drifted into territory that looks uncomfortably familiar to the FUSSP** woods I know too well.

For example: We could introduce a secure hash or checksums for every new document to be checked against all existing eBooks, so as to quickly match a document against every document previously published! (Whoops, intentional typos or the insertions of a few hash-buster changes will counter that.) OK, we can use a fuzzy checksum and reject all partial matches. (But that doesn't verify whether the original one is the legitimate or the fake one, and what about an author or publisher publishing a second edition of their book?) and so on it goes...

Matt Austern:
Yes, I've noticed Amazon's review system is deeply screwed up, mostly by trying to be way too "clever". It's worse for things like musical performances which have more than one edition, with different performers.

I noticed that Amazon took a review for a CD of one performance of Bernstein's Candide, specifically critiquing that cast and performance, and was applying it (at that time) to every edition of every other performance of Candide, so that the Broadway original is reviewed with a careful critique of a Canadian performance some 30 or 40 years later with a different cast, libretto, music... As the saying goes: "To err is human, to really screw things up requires a computer programmer."

* Sorry to single yours out for example, rick.
* Final Ultimate Solution to the Spam Problem, see for example here, and particularly for instance spammers-are-stupid-2 and programmer-8 and programmer-9 to see why I say the discussion sounds familiar.

#157 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2011, 06:50 AM:

The important thing to remember about Amazon reviews is that they aren't meant to be reviews. They're meant to be a way to keep potential customers on Amazon's site longer.

See also the point "Reviews don't help" in Mike Essex's post linked in the OP.

#158 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2011, 08:22 AM:

Clifton Royston, #147: I don't think the analogy holds. Email and books serve completely different purposes. I do want anyone to be able to email me. Speaking as a reader, I don't want to have to wade through reams of semiliterate crap to find the books I want. Wannabe authors may get excited about bypassing the gatekeepers, but from a reader's perspective those gatekeepers are a good thing.

As it is, with the advent of Kindle books and cheap print-on-demand self-publishing, searching on Amazon is already difficult unless I know exactly what I'm looking for--when browsing by subject the first page of books may all be legitimate, but after that the good stuff will be buried in spam books, multiple copies of public domain works from fly-by-night POD publishers, and self-published garbage.

I almost wonder if, in future, it might be possible for small booksellers to compete with Amazon by offering limited, curated selections. "Amazon will sell you anything, but we guarantee you'll be satisfied with these books, whether you've heard of them or not!"

#159 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2011, 01:45 PM:

Wesley: I wouldn't go that far, but if one was able to do the sifting (having a bookstore in the family I can say that it's a lot of work, just to take in print books, and keep track of them), one could promise they won't be egregiously error full.

But it would take a lot of time, for much the reason you mention. The number of book in print is huge.

#160 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2011, 09:32 AM:

Christopher Davis @143, is THAT why I couldn't figure out how to transfer a .mobi-formatted book from Smashwords into my Kindle app on my iPod? It wasn't me being clueless, it was built into the system?

Luckily, the answer was easy -- download Stanza and read the book with that.But still. Nice to know it wasn't just me being clueless.

#161 ::: Network Geek ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2011, 11:12 AM:

Wow. I knew there had to be piracy on the ebook networks, but I had no idea it was this bad already.

I try to be careful about buying ebooks, to make sure the real author gets the money, which is why I've avoided the big package deals of books. They seemed too good to be true and, as it turns out, they very well may have been!
I used a rooted Color Nook, so I buy both Nook books to read natively and Kindle books that I read through the Android app, but I lean toward the B&N books. I find the native experience a little better than the Kindle app. Are there the same problems with Nook books as there are on the Kindle store? Am I less likely to accidentally buy a pirated book there?

Hopefully, more articles like this will raise consumer awareness and eventually put some pressure on the marketplace to do something about the piracy. I know we hope for changes in the system, but is there anything we can do as consumers to help *now*?

(And, incidentally, I bought a copy of Darkside from the link in the comment by Mr. Macdonald. Probably won't offset the piracy, but, I spend more on gum than that and every little bit helps. Besides, I might have just discovered a new-to-me author who I enjoy.)

#164 ::: Clifton Royston sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2011, 03:47 PM:

A suspicious link and suspiciously generic post content.

#165 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2011, 01:51 AM:

The New York Times:

Amazon Cracks Down on Some E-Book ‘Publishers’

Amazon, apparently worried that consumers will get lost in a maze of indistinguishable items, appears to be cracking down. On Warrior Forum, an Internet marketing site, commentators have been reporting this week that Amazon was yanking their P.L.R. e-books from the Kindle store. Amazon tells the offenders that their copycats “diminish the experience for customers.”

Asked about this, an Amazon spokeswoman, Brittany Turner, said, “We have worked steadily to build processes to detect and remove undifferentiated or barely differentiated versions of e-books.”

#166 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2011, 07:52 AM:

James D. Macdonald #166: And I notice in that article --no hint in the article that the "PLR" phonies are acting without permission of the works' authors. Also, no mention whatsoever of the words "fraud", "plagiarism", "copyright"....

#167 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 09:56 AM:

An Atlanta Nights spam-book at Kindle!

Product Description

Please note that the content of this book primarily consists of articles available from Wikipedia or other free sources online. High Quality Content by WIKIPEDIA articles! Atlanta Nights is a collaborative novel created by a group of science fiction and fantasy authors, with the express purpose of producing a bad piece of work of unpublishable quality to test whether publishing firm PublishAmerica would still accept it. It was accepted, but after the hoax was revealed, the publisher withdrew its offer. The primary purpose of the exercise was to test PublishAmerica's claims to be a "traditional publisher" which would only accept high-quality manuscripts. Critics have long claimed that PublishAmerica is actually a vanity press which pays no special attention to the sales potential of the books they publish since most of their revenue comes from the authors rather than book buyers. PublishAmerica had previously made some highly derogatory public remarks about science fiction and fantasy writers, because many of their critics came from those communities; those derogatory remarks influenced the decision to make such a public test of PublishAmerica's claims.

#170 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2012, 12:12 PM:

Now I am wondering what happens when this meets SOPA/PIPA...

#171 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2012, 12:29 PM:

Another author runs afoul of pirates, and Amazon's response:

"KDP Select gives Amazon way too much power, power they are abusing with draconian impunity."

Short version:

Authors publish with Amazon Select, which requires exclusivity.
Pirates take stories and e-publish them elsewhere.
Amazon shuts down original authors' accounts with one-day notice.

#172 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2013, 07:46 PM:

Two years on and the stolen-content scam is still rolling:

An Epidemic of Plagiarism in the Indie World

#173 ::: Dave Luckett sees spammity spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2013, 12:51 AM:

Viagra Falls! Slowly I turned...

#174 ::: Tom Whitmore sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2013, 12:51 AM:

Die, Australian scum! So we can like the nice Aussies again.

#175 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2013, 02:42 AM:

I'm sure it wasn't a real Australian. It is, however, a real dead spam now, on its way to the underworld with the others.

You do know that they replaced the river Styx with pureed spam about three years ago (because economics)? Charon is pissed—he's a vegetarian, and the smell makes him nauseous—but he's on a zero-hours contract and doesn't dare complain. Even though he's only paid in tips, it's an afterliving.

#176 ::: SamChevre spots spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2013, 09:33 AM:

Oh the new filters are great,
But the spam still makes its way,
Over the hills and far far away.

#177 ::: P J Evans sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2013, 11:50 PM:

"slightly certain"?

#179 ::: Cally Soukup sees yet more old SPAM at 178 ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2014, 01:05 AM:

I'm seeing s e o spam that doesn't appear in the comment list but does appear in the thread. I have absolutely no clue as to what might cause this.

#180 ::: google.com ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2014, 01:01 AM:

Hello there, I think your blog may be having
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I merely wanted to provide you with a quick heads up!
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#181 ::: janetl sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2014, 01:07 AM:

@180

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Jim Macdonald, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

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