Policing plagiarism

Motivated in part by its links to piracy, I've been reading about the perceived problem of plagiarism of self-published works. The story broke earlier this year, with publications like Fast Company profiling a number of book marketers who scrape content from various web sites and sell the plagiarized work under their own names.

Diana Peterfreund, a self-published author who maintains a blog and a newsletter, recently offered her take on the problem. In Peterfreund's view, the problem affects readers, book bloggers, a range of self-published authors and even traditionally published authors and their publishers.

Both Fast Company and Peterfreund focus a good deal on the role Amazon plays in either enabling or ignoring book marketers who take content from self-published authors. There is a generalized sense that Amazon is less aggressive or effective in policing plagiarized works, although the reports I've read are entirely anecdotal.

Earlier this year, Amazon told paidContent's Jeff John Roberts that it is working to address the use of plagiarized content:

Since the launch of Kindle, we have worked steadily to build processes to detect and remove books that either violate copyright or don’t improve the customer experience. Over time, we’ve rejected or removed thousands of such offending titles, and we expect to keep improving our approach to protect the service we provide to both Kindle readers and authors/publishers.

Roberts went on to report that the company confirmed it uses screening software, but a spokesperson declined to provide details.

In the same article, Smashwords CEO Mark Coker claimed that "plagiarized and PLR [private label rights] content banned by Smashwords still appears in the Kindle and Nook stores." In Coker's view, "those stores don’t vet content as thoroughly as Smashwords does."

To the extent that Amazon and other platforms are falling short in policing plagiarized content, it may reflect the open nature of the web. Many of Peterfreund's examples involve content posted on non-commercial writer and fan fiction sites. While Amazon may be effective in scanning works it already offers, I wonder how aggressively a retailer will search the web for works it doesn't actually sell.

If that's the case, the short-term solution for self-published authors concerned about plagiarized work might be to list their books on multiple commercial sites. Of course, that's the thing Amazon and Nook Press want them to do. It doesn't seem quite fair to start-ups like Smashwords, which has made reader and author service a priority, but individual authors can decide which path makes the most sense.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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