A Frustrating Pagan Plagiarism Scandal

Earlier this month, Pagan author Mat Auryn took to Twitter to highlight what he said was a very clear case of verbatim plagiarism of his work. 

According to his tweets and provided images, the book Awakening Your Witchy Intuition & Psychic Abilities, penned by an author using the name Glinda Porter, lifted whole paragraphs from his book, Psychic Witch

The plagiarism, to put it modestly, was both flagrant and obvious. A few hours later, he dug into another one of Porter’s books and found that whole paragraphs of it were taken from an article written by two other authors 2018

Update 8/24/2022: The article mentioned in the paragraph above was actually from the book Besom, Stang & Sword: A Guide to Traditional Witchcraft, the Six-Fold Path & the Hidden Landscape. It was written by Christopher Orapello and Tara-Love Maguire. The article was a section from the book, but it was the book itself that was plagiarized.

Star Bustamonte, writing for The Wild Hunt, reached out to Auryn and found that his discovery of the plagiarism was coincidental. He says he saw a picture of the book on Instagram and decided to check it out since it dealt with similar subjects to his work. Upon reading it, he quickly realized that it was his work “almost word-for-word, changing the smallest word here or there.”

Butamonte was unable to find contact information for Porter and her attempts to contact the books’ publishers were unsuccessful. Amazon, for its part, has removed the books at issue, but others of the author remain available

For me, this story is insanely frustrating. Not because of the authors involved, the fact that these are books on a religious subject, or because of how long it took place. Instead, it’s frustrating because it was 100% avoidable and all that had to happen was Amazon put forth even the minimum amount of effort needed to prevent it.

Amazon’s Ongoing Plagiarism and Copyright Problem

Amazon Logo

Long-time readers of this site will have undoubtedly heard this story many times before. Back in 2009, Amazon launched a Kindle service for blogs that made it easy for anyone to sell any blog’s content. 

In 2012, Amazon had a major scandal as fake authors were exploiting their Direct Publishing platform to publish plagiarized erotica

In 2015, an author at the Hustle plagiarized a 2008 book, and it became a bestseller on Amazon. In 2016, The Atlantic did their own expose on widespread plagiarism on Amazon’s self-publishing service.

Then, in 2020, as the pandemic was ramping up, Amazon found itself in the news again as it was overrun by plagiarized books about COVID-19.  

In this context, what happened to Auryn and other Pagan authors is not a shock. It’s just the latest example of an unscrupulous author targeting a popular niche with plagiarized content and selling it on Amazon.

However, as I pointed out in 2019, Amazon could solve this problem quickly and easily. All it has to do is use readily available plagiarism detection tools to detect works that contain a large volume of clearly copied text.

To that end, they are the perfect company to do it. Their database of books is one of, if not the largest in the world. Auryn’s book, for example, is available on Amazon and as a Kindle book. Even just a check within their own database would have raised red flags about Porter’s work.

Amazon, however, has repeatedly chosen not to take that simple step. Even as they are hit with plagiarism scandal after plagiarism scandal, they’ve shown an unwillingness to do even the bare minimum to prevent plagiarized work from being published.

Unfortunately, it’s not difficult to see why that is the case.

Why Amazon Stays Silent

The reason that Amazon stays silent here is simple: There’s no reason for them to do anything.

As easy as it would be to implement this system, there would still be cost. There would be cost for the technology itself and, most importantly, for the employees that would be needed to review findings and make judgments. 

Amazon has a lengthy history of trying to minimize how much it spends on employees, often with dire consequences. It’s easy to see why Amazon wouldn’t want to invest in this, especially when the outcome of it would be them selling fewer books.

Amazon, for their part, feels very well protected. They have relied upon the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to shield them from potential lawsuits over hosting infringing content. Though Amazon claims in its Brand Protection Report to have taken down millions of improper listings and destroyed millions of products, that same proactive push is not extended to authors, even those featured on its Kindle service.

With no legal lever to apply and no real alternative for authors to go to, Amazon simply has no reason to care if books uploaded to it are plagiarized. If authors can’t leave and can’t sue, there’s no real motivation for Amazon to change.

Bottom Line

There’s no valid reason that Porter’s plagiarized books should have ever made it onto Amazon. Realistically, there’s no reason that an author who has participated in such clear plagiarism should still have a presence on the site, full stop.

This isn’t an example of accidental plagiarism or someone being accused of poor paraphrasing or inadequate citation. It’s an author acting in bad faith to sell a book that was copied wholesale from another author. There’s no justification for that, and no justification for Amazon to not catch it.

To be clear, anti-plagiarism software would not detect every case of plagiarism. Smaller cases, better rewritten cases and other issues would likely slip through. However, egregious ones like this would be caught and prevented before they became a larger issue and a public controversy.

Amazon is actively choosing not to do this. They’ve known about this problem for over 13 years and have done nothing.

It’s because they know authors have no real alternative and no legal lever to force them. Amazon simply doesn’t care, and there’s no way to force them to.