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On Plagiarism

December 12, 2014

Plagiarism has become a hot topic lately. There was the case of the German author who won an award for her book, despite the evidence that she had lifted material from another title. Then there is the bizarre case of the author in a legal battle with a person who allegedly added a few sex scenes to a 1998 manuscript and claimed it as their own. It’s becoming a tough world for authors, as it’s become even easier than before to steal.

Then there is a case that is perhaps the most brazen I have seen yet. This particular person’s Amazon profile had three pages of books to their credit, from erotic fiction to how-to titles. The problem? The cover images were stolen from other books. The original author bylines were clearly visible beneath a banner with other person’s name.

Even worse, the books’ pages were filled with mostly one-star reviews that call out the theft. Thankfully for one of the original authors, some alert readers warned her and she was able to inform amazon. As of this blog post, the account in question, along with the stolen books, is down. It does leave some real questions that we, as authors, should be asking.

  • How was this even possible? According to everything I saw about this, the covers were not the only obvious sign of the theft. The original copyright notices were in there and, according to people who had read the samples of both, there wasn’t even any change to the book.
  • With all the one-star reviews calling the theft out, why did it take the author finding out through readers and informing Amazon to get the stolen content removed?
  • How can we protect ourselves from getting our own books taken down as well, as some say happened to them, should we become victims of a plagiarist?

Obviously, no online store or site is perfect. Things are going to fall through the cracks from time to time. This case is a perfect example of why we need to be as proactive as possible to protect ourselves. Get the copyright for your book or, at the very least, be meticulous about your documentation during the writing process. The more you have to show you wrote the book first, the better. Do an occasional search for your books on Amazon and on Google to see what comes up, preferably from a computer you don’t own (the library or a friend’s). Encourage readers to stand up for you and other authors by reporting it when they find a copyright violation– they are our best defense.

Copyright issues like this are never going to go away, especially with technology making it easier and easier to steal works.The best we can do is take steps to simplify the process when we need to protect our rights. What do you think? Have you had any of your own material stolen? If so, how did you handle it and what was the outcome?

  1. December 13, 2014 8:23 am

    This is a tough crime to track. Like is pointed out, most of the time an author never knows until he or she is informed.

    • December 15, 2014 12:54 pm

      Very true! It’s a shame, but it’s part of the life of a writer. The best we can do is encourage our readers to tell us when they see it.

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