How Amazon is Punishing Victims of Piracy

For many authors, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDP Select) platform is a natural choice for getting their work in front of a large audience. 

The program offers a great deal of benefits, including the ability to sell both digital and print copies, the ability to earn a higher royalty rate and inclusion in the Kindle Unlimited subscription service. For authors forgoing a traditional publisher, it’s a natural path. 

However, the program does come with some fairly significant drawbacks, the largest of which is that you agree to make digital copies of your book only available through KDP Select. This means that you can’t publish the work on your website or sell digital copies through another digital platform or publisher.

While most authors are happy to make that sacrifice that exclusivity agreement has become a recurring problem when an author’s book is pirated. For example, author Raven Kennedy took to her Instagram to say that her books were removed due to piracy. Carissa Broadbent faced a similar fate and took to her Twitter to vent those frustrations

Amazon, in a response to Torrentfreak, said that they are aware of the issue and are looking to find a solution. They also note that books removed from Kindle Unlimited remain for sale in the main store and that it warns authors before taking any action.

Supporting that point is the fact that both Kennedy and Broadbent appear to have had their books restored. 

However, regardless of whatever action Amazon takes in the future or how it corrects the issue with those harmed, the story speaks very ill of Amazon, especially considering its past problems.

Amazon and Kindle’s History of Plagiarism Issues

To put it modestly, Amazon’s self-publishing platform has had avery long and serious problem with plagiarism.

Going all the way back to 2009, when Amazon launched a Kindle service for blogs, the service has been a haven for plagiarism and infringement. That includes a 2012 story regarding plagiarized erotica, a 2016 expose by The Atlantic, and, in 2020, the issue was plagiarism in books on COVID-19

Even as recently as August 2022, Amazon was facing allegations that it enabled plagiarism in books about Paganism

However, this has always been an easily solvable problem for Amazon. With the largest library of books in history and easy access to the public web, they could cobble together a plagiarism detection service that could at least catch and prevent the most egregious cases.

Unfortunately, Amazon hasn’t done that because that would be an expense. It would require both technology and people to run it to make it happen, and the end goal would be to prevent some books from being published.

As a result, plagiarism continues to be an issue in the Kindle Store, but what has changed is that it’s now clear Amazon has the tools to address the issue but are choosing not to use it.

Why This is Worse

What this latest story has made clear is that Amazon has, at least for some time, had the ability to detect copied works. But rather than using those tools to prevent plagiarized copies of books from making it into the Kindle Store, they’re using it to enforce their exclusivity agreement.

Worse still, they aren’t using it well. Any reasonable exclusivity agreement would acknowledge that piracy is not a violation of the contract. Piracy is outside the control of the author and not something they should be punished for.

A simple sanity check of these cases likely would have revealed that the author was not responsible and had no control to stop it. Further, it’s clear that those who sent the notices did so without any serious investigation.

In short, Amazon has shown it’s much more eager to enforce its exclusivity agreement than it is to prevent plagiarism. It’s not a good look for a company that already has the ire of many of the authors that rely upon it.

What Should Amazon Do?

None of these criticisms change the fact that, for many authors, Amazon is not optional. Amazon is simply too big, it’s KDP Select program too valuable and Amazon is too important to not use.

That gives Amazon an incredible amount of control over the industry but, more to the point, a great deal of responsibility to authors.

The tools that Amazon already has and is clearly using to detect violations of their exclusivity agreement could easily be put to use detecting plagiarism or detecting piracy. 

Amazon has been very active on the anti-piracy front, even being one of the founding members of the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment back in 2017. However, their focus has been on their streaming properties, not their books, even the ones that they publish.

All this speaks to Amazon’s priorities when it comes to books, they’re more concerned about the threat of authors breaking an exclusivity agreement than they are stopping piracy or preventing plagiarism.

However, with little more than a shift in priorities, the tools Amazon has could make them an incredible partner on both fronts. Instead, they choose to use them against their own authors.

Bottom Line 

As I said earlier, Amazon is too big for authors to ignore. There simply isn’t a competitor in this space that can provide what Amazon does. 

But while Amazon is more than happy to have authors sign exclusivity deals and publish solely through them, they aren’t willing to invest back into those authors.

Instead, the company treats them with suspicion, looking for violations of the exclusivity clause, while allowing plagiarism and piracy to take place unchecked. 

To be clear, I’m not saying that Amazon could stop piracy or even make a significant dent, but the fact that their tools were used to punish authors and not target pirate sites says a great deal. 

Amazon has a choice to make. It can support the authors or treat them as antagonists. My only fear is that Amazon has already made that choice, and it’s too late to change. 

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