The next hot take… an open letter to Jeff Bezos

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Writers, we have a problem. Doesn’t matter if you’re writing about slaying zombies, speeding through space, chasing down rogue CIA agents gone bad, killer clowns in space, historical hijinks or sexy smooches on the beach…we’ve got a problem. I’ve blogged about this several times the past few days, the problem with scammers taking over the Kindle Unlimited program and how it’s affected the Amazon Kindle platform as a whole, and genre writing.

On that note…we all need to take action here, and I’ve written RWA, my writing org. Today, I wrote Jeff Bezos and am posting the letter here, hoping to encourage more people to do the same.

ETA: It was suggested that I also write to content & legal at Amazon. Emails below.

jeff@amazon.com CC both content-review@amazon.com and legal@amazon.com

 

Letter below.

~*~

Mr. Bezos,

I’m writing about an issue that’s been plaguing the Kindle Unlimited & KDP Platforms for some time, namely the practices used by some participants who buy up manuscripts from other participants after the income stream has dried, then repackage, recover, sell as new on KU with no disclosure that the work has been previously published, not even a mention on the copyright page. They use a rapid release schedule, and may or may not use click farms and other methods to help bolter standing, but the repetitive cycle of constant releases pushes them higher up in visibility, earning them a larger share from the KU proceeds and on their part, they do no true work, make no disclosure about the fact they’re releasing rehashed work and are flooding KU with recycled works that make the quality of the platform rather questionable, while many authors with new stories, fresh voices struggle to find any visibility at all.

This issue compromises the very art of storytelling, yet some continue to defend it, ignoring the readers, your customers, and the very base who that bolsters the creative industry. You can see their viewpoints, erroneous as it may be, defended on several blogs, including Nora Roberts’.

http://fallintothestory.com/blowback/#comment-183197

https://yourcheekywench.com/2019/02/26/as-the-scheme-turns/

One such comment, from Nora Roberts’ blog, posted below:

​The link you posted above is suggesting that authors cannot sell their intellectual property (their books) to other authors and publishers. It’s literally calling someone a “scammer” for selling the rights to some books they wrote.​  The link you posted above is suggesting that authors cannot sell their intellectual property (their books) to other authors and publishers. It’s literally calling someone a “scammer” for selling the rights to some books they wrote.​ How on Earth is that a scam?​ By that measure, every single traditional publisher that has ever bought rights to a book (and subsequently published that title with their own cover and marketing spin) would be a “scammer”.​  That’s silly.​ Do you genuinely think it’s a scam for someone to sell the publishing rights/copyright for their original work to another person? If that person then packages and sells that book to the masses, is that a scam?

​This person equates the practice of an author regaining their backlist books and repackaging/reissuing them to somebody who sells a work for another to repackage/recover and sell as a completely new work entirely.​

comment from bobfrost on kboards defending regurgitated books

It’s mentioned several times on Kboards and in other places that the failure to disclose is problematic, but as evidenced by the screenshot above, that’s clearly no concern to some, to say the least.

There are several screenshots where this practice is discussed and defended.

The screenshot above with red text is from the Kboards site and has since been deleted so I can’t provide you with a clean copy, but this user has attempted to defend this stance on other blogs, such as Nora’s mentioned above, and Suzan Tisdale’s, also mentioned. The discussion on Kboards is here, although one must have an account to access. The direct link is https://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,309267.0.html

These shots discuss KU author Isabelle/Marci Fawn.

People buy these books, change the names of characters, then recover/repackage and reissue as new, with no disclosure that the books had been previously published.

KU readers pay into the KU program expecting new, fresh content from an author who is advertising it as such. Readers not in the KU program download a book from Amazon have the right to expect a book with a 2019 copyright to actually be a new book, released for the first time in 2019.

Copyright, as you’re likely aware, is established when the book is first published and it doesn’t change simply because a book is unpublished.  Even if it’s sold to another, the copyright, text, etc, the copyright date remains.

Copyright establishment, etc is clearly stated on Copyright.gov

In this area for ‘‘notice’, see where it references the year.

​The copyright notice generally consists of the symbol or word “copyright (or copr.),” the name of the copyright owner, and the year of first publication, e.g., ©2008 John Doe.

​When protection starts is also addressed. When protection starts

Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.​

Copyright law addresses derivative works which significantly change the piece in Chapter 1 of the law itself, https://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.pdf

Specifically, this is addressed in this section here.

  • 103 · Subject matter of copyright: Compilations and derivative works (a) The subject matter of copyright as specified by section 102 includes compilations and derivative works, but protection for a work employing preexisting material in which copyright subsists does not extend to any part of the work in which such material has been used unlawfully. (b) The copyright in a compilation or derivative work extends only to the material contributed by the author of such work, as distinguished from the preexisting material employed in the work, and does not imply any exclusive right in the preexisting material. The copyright in such work is independent of, and does not affect or enlarge the scope, duration, ownership, or subsistence of, any copyright protection in the preexisting material.

So even attempting to claim modification to a bought work as a derivative piece and therefore new is wrong–the copyright to the original piece remains the same and does not get extended. But the buyers of these previously published works haven’t even done that. Beyond a search & replace to change the names, the works are unchanged.  They also make no attempts to let anybody know they’re reselling previously published material.

On my blog, I openly walked people through how blatantly some engage in this practice.  One book had been pubbed & repubbed three different times just since 2016, each time with a new copyright date, which is unethical and I question whether it could even touch on fraud.

The original copyright date still stands.  This could potentially be a legal matter as the people engaging in this may be fraudently extending the copyright each time they reissue an already copyrighted work with a new, invalid copyright year. As an example, the above link discusses a piece I uncovered, Savage Vow by April Lust released as new this year, but was originally published as Rafe by Ellen Harper in 2016.

By not informing readers that the work they’ve bought, even legally with the copyright, is a previously published work, and even going to so far as to put in a copyright date with the current year, they are misleading readers. It is entirely possible they’re violating FTC guidelines on truth in advertising and regulations on consumer fraud and deception , as mentioned by a visitor to my blog.

Cassandra S.28 February, 2019 at 2:13 pm

I’m not a lawyer, but…

It seems to me that slapping a new title and new author name on a previously published book and then advertising it as a new, original work without any disclaimers whatsoever runs afoul of FTC regulations on consumer fraud and deception and also violates truth in advertising laws.

Might be interesting to take some of the research done on repackaged books, plus any ads or newsletters advertising them as new works, and see what the FTC thinks.

Anyone have a contact at the FTC?

On a related sidenote, apparently there’s a practice where scammers are encouraging people to play their Romance Package books all night since they are paid by the minute. Really??? And I was just happy I had a couple of books in it.

Any successful business, such as Amazon, will have those who come in and attempt to scam customers, but Amazon has a responsibility to their customers and to those who legitimately and ethically provide content to take action when matters like this are brought to their notice.

Amazon cannot continue to ignore these issues. It’s violating the trust of the readers who contribute to KU, the customers who buy kindle books, to the authors who legitimately and ethically use your platforms and provide content.

To this extent, I’ve reached out to RWA’s board, as a longstanding member, and I’ve encouraged fellow members to do the same.

I’m also encouraging other writers to take the same action, to contact their respective writing organizations to see how this matter can be addressed.  I’m also asking those who have more expertise and knowledge in areas regarding FTC regulations and specific areas of copyright law to chime in.

I will be honest. It has not been easy to speak up so vocally about this.  I’ve been attacked personally via email and have been the recipient of some nasty and derogatory comments elsewhere. I had to put moderation up on my blog.

In some ways, I’ve been luckier than some may have been, likely because I’ve been quick to call people out and I’m not shy about smacking somebody down when they attack me. But at the same time, going through personal attacks is never easy.

Additionally, I’ve lost work hours trying to fight this and my own career really needs me to focus on it, as I’m not exactly selling like hotcakes.  There’s also the fact that being outspoken often comes with the risk of alienation.

But this is an issue that needs be addressed, and in the open.

Below you’ll find my letter to the RWA Board, which includes the links and information that led to my involvement in this.

It’s in your control, Mr. Bezos, to fix this. Please do so.

Sincerely,

Shiloh Walker

 

 

To the Members of the Board:
With the next board meeting coming up, there’s a matter affecting numerous writers within RWA that I feel needs to be addressed. I understand that the agenda is full, but this is a problem that has been ongoing for some time and it’s getting worse.
After it was discovered that Cristiane Serruya plagiarized more than two dozen authors, something else brought back into the focus on social platforms was the matter of how certain players in the industry are manipulating the Kindle platform—namely Kindle Unlimited—in a manner that is affecting authors in a negative manner. It’s severe enough that I’ve seen several writers comment on how they’ve given up writing altogether.
Some focus has been placed on ghostwriting, but that isn’t my concern. I ghostwrite myself, so I’m biased, but professional ghostwriters in honest contracts with ethical clients don’t pose a problem, regardless of whether anybody agrees on the practice on a personal level.
The issue boils down to the deceptive practices used by scammers, with everything from buying reviews, to keyword manipulation, clickfarms, etc. But the worst, in my opinion, is something I’ve recently become aware of and that’s the matter of a group of select individuals who sell manuscripts amongst themselves, then repackage as brand new works and reissue so they continually have what looks like endless new releases.
There are literally no changes made to many of these works, sometimes not even the character names. Yet they put a brand new copyright date on the book to make it look new.
I found two different books that had done this, and I didn’t have to search. I simply pulled these names off a screenshot I saw on twitter, did a phrase search on Google and they were there.  One title had been published in 2016, 2017, and 2019, each time as an original work.
Amazon has been made aware of this, of course. Readers have contacted them, individual authors have.  But they’ve taken little to no action.
I, personally, feel there’s a matter of legality going on with the copyright dates, as copyright dates, once set, don’t change. Derivative works can add additional copyright dates and there are other factors that come into play, but that original date stands.
These practices are deceiving readers and they are drowning writers. Romance is being hit especially hard due to the popularity.
I’ve got screen shots of the information I’ve found myself on my twitter feed, and there are more screenshots by the reader who clued me in on what was happening.
This is a screenshot of the newsletters where I found the names I researched.
https://twitter.com/ease_dropper/status/1099504870527250432
Some of the works the reader found. She’s been doing this for months and reporting the scammers for months.
https://twitter.com/ease_dropper/status/1099504873245167616
https://twitter.com/ease_dropper/status/1099504876105666560
The first time I looked into this, I used ‘author’ Paula Cox. I simply did a web search with some text from the Kindle app and it pulled up a second, unpublished book that was still on the internet.
https://twitter.com/shilohwalker/status/1100108458701942784
The work had been published before as Jenny Jax.
https://twitter.com/shilohwalker/status/1100109632104730625
Today, before writing this letter, I pulled another name from the list, April Lust. I grabbed the most recent work and this one was the one that been published twice over before making its current debut.
https://twitter.com/shilohwalker/status/1100109632104730625
https://twitter.com/shilohwalker/status/1101150815912374279
https://twitter.com/shilohwalker/status/1101150815912374279
https://twitter.com/shilohwalker/status/1101152859733876736
https://twitter.com/shilohwalker/status/1101153261296500740
https://twitter.com/shilohwalker/status/1101153656123154434
https://twitter.com/shilohwalker/status/1101156064282714115
https://twitter.com/shilohwalker/status/1101156659974545409
https://twitter.com/shilohwalker/status/1101157704628867072
There is nothing on these works to indicate they’ve been previously published. The works are issued with new copyright dates, which seems to be some sort of violation of copyright law. This all works up to these people feeding a slew of recycled material into the Kindle Unlimited platform which is funded by readers who think they’ll be accessing original content.
I’m asking for RWA to look into this and consider speaking to Amazon on this issue. RWA, as an advocate for writers, has access to lawyers and other with more specialized knowledge than I have at my disposal. I understand this is a big request, but I firmly feel this is a matter that is affecting not just members, but the area of genre fiction as a whole. It’s cheapening our work, devaluing our work and if we don’t take action and demand Kindle see the value in the works we provide to them, there will come a time when hardly any authors can afford to provide work.
Thank you for your time.
Shiloh Walker, RWA Member

Shiloh Walker
https://www.shilohwalker.com/website/