Infringement, plagiarism, and Amazon to the rescue
A kind reader (who wishes to remain anonymous) sent me an e-mail before I woke up this morning.
It alerted me to the fact that there was a ninety-nine cent title in the Kindle store, which the reader had bought. A large percentage of the title (which was a Kindle how-to) had simply copied one of the posts from this blog.
It appeared to have been actually copied: even the formatting (bolding for questions, not bolded for answers) was the same.
The only difference? The title was slightly changed…and it didn’t include the part at the bottom where it says it first appeared in this blog.
I bought a copy of the book to verify…yes, it was my material.
I had not been contacted by the “author” involved, or a publisher.
As always, I want to take this opportunity to talk about things more generally…it’s not all about me. I also want to commend Amazon’s actions in this instance.
The first question: had the person done something wrong?
Yes, two things, basically.
The first one is claiming my work as their own. That’s called plagiarism. It’s a common problem…high school teachers run into it all the time. Is it criminal? No, although I suppose there might be fraud involved in some cases. If you recite a Tennyson poem when wooing someone and claim to have been inspired by that person’s attractiveness, you aren’t going to jail for it.
That doesn’t mean people approve of it. It can get you fired if you are a journalist, for example.
The other issue is copyright infringement.
That can take a lot of forms. In this case, copying and selling my material without my permission was an infringement.
It’s worth noting that, in the US, material you write is considered copyrighted automatically. You can take an additional step and register the copyright (that makes a difference in the remedies you have), but it isn’t required. If you read an original blog on the web (one being written contemporarily…not consisting of reproductions of “public domain” material), it is copyrighted.
The fact that it has been distributed on the internet does not change that.
The fact that it does not have a copyright notice displayed or a rights statement made does not change that. That used to be true, but hasn’t been true for some time.
In this case, it was both infringement and plagiarism. There are certainly cases that are only one or the other.
It’s also worth talking about Fair Use here.
I’ve talked about that before: that’s one of the exceptions to copyright, and you can read the US information on it here:
Fair Use says that there are certain times when the use of copyrighted material can be made without obtaining permission.
For example, someone writing a book review might quote a paragraph of a novel, to show what the writing is like.
There are four factors to be considered in determining Fair Use (which can be a bit fuzzy):
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
- The nature of the copyrighted work
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work
By the way, it’s okay for me to put that in this post. I’m excerpting a small part of a government document (the one linked above).
In this case, the distributor of my material is on the wrong side of: #1, since the work was being sold; on the wrong side of #3, since the entire post was reproduced; and on the wrong side of #4, since the title was a how-to on a subject on which I might clearly write in the future. I have also published one collection of posts from this blog, and intend to write more. The market value of the collection is diminished if you can already get part of it on your Kindle.
So, I’m going to ask you to accept the postulate that the distributor infringed on my legal rights under US Copyright law.
What comes next?
Suppose that I had written a paperbook, and someone found one of my works in another paperbook in a store and let me know.
I’d have to track down the publisher, contact them, maybe hire a lawyer…it would cost me quite a bit in time and effort.
However, this happened in the Kindle store.
In another example of Amazon’s great customer service, they have a link right on the page that says:
“Do you believe that this item violates a copyright? Click here”
When you click, you are taken to this page:
They give you a precise way to let them know that you believe a work in the Amazon store violates your copyright…including a way to do it by e-mail.
I stated the case carefully, linking to the book and to my original blog post. I stated the information under penalty of perjury, as instructed. You would be taking a considerable risk doing this as a joke.
I sent that e-mail at 6:31 AM my time this morning.
I got a response back at 11:20 AM my time.
The book appears to have already been removed from the store.
I want to especially commend Amazon for protecting rightsholders (commonly authors) in this way. Yes, I believe they could be held liable if they knowingly allowed an infringing work to be downloaded from their store.
However, they could make this much more difficult. They could make me snail mail a notarized statement or some such.
Thank you, Amazon!
My guess is that purchasers will get a refund, and that the book will be removed from their archives (but not from their Kindles or Kindle apps).
I should know that shortly: I had to buy a copy to verify the situation.
You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t named the distributor (the claimed “author”) or the title.
I don’t think that’s necessary in this case. If people get refunded for their purchases, I’ll consider it resolved. The “author” doesn’t have any other titles in the Kindle store, so I don’t think other people are particularly at risk.
I’m not a big person for punishment, public shame, or revenge. I usually just want the situation fixed.
Thanks again to the reader who took the time to let me know! You’re my hero of the day!
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.