1. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Amazon's failure to police plagiarized work

    Discussion in 'Electronic Publishing' started by GingerCoffee, Aug 24, 2013.

    So I got beached at for hijacking the "I'm Being Plagiarized ... Advice" thread and I promised to take these larger issues to a new thread. The argument that Amazon isn't responsible has been revived by Shadowwalker, so rather than continue in that thread, here I am.

    The background: Amazon took plagiarized work down after a bit more than a week, only upon a direct request from the original author. This particular thief had 11 stolen works for sale, all taken from Wordpress, all documented in comments posted in the book reviews. Six have since been removed by Amazon and five remain despite the obvious question, why doesn't Amazon care when the evidence is overwhelming the author is a blatant thief? Amazon's legal department said they don't look at any evidence of plagiarism except direct requests.

    Steerpike and Shadowwalker both expressed the belief it wasn't up to Amazon as a bookseller and not a publisher, to police for plagiarism.

    The problem, however, is the individual author has no way to search the Amazon site for stolen work. It's behind the 'preview this book' wall.

    There is nothing to stop the thieves from simply re-listing the stolen work under a different title and pen name.

    And the third thing compounding the problem is the plagiarized work is being stolen wholesale by professional thieves, including some who download large numbers of books from sites like Wordpress, put them in zip files and sell them to the fake authors. The fake authors are often overseas, with many barriers to prosecution.

    Here is the last post in the thread and my reply to it:
    The world, as you know, is not static. You can't always apply traditional truths when new realities emerge.

    The paradigm shift here is that the book sellers' new selling platform is a major component of the problem.

    I have a couple sources I posted in the original thread that discuss what measures Amazon could take and why they should take them. One of the sources was from a couple years back, so this is not new news for Amazon. I'll be adding links to the thread in the near future.

    It's my premise that Amazon will not act unless some legal or economic pressure is applied.
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    That strikes me as thoroughly appropriate behavior from Amazon, and in fact a little bit faster than I might have expected.

    If the same plagiarized work pops up again, and again and again...I'm not sure how to solve that. I think that the enforcement still needs to be initiated by the author, but I can imagine some sort of search/compare technology where new works are compared against old ones also on Amazon, with automated decisions based on settings set on the preexisting work...something like that. But that's a bazillion-dollar bit of programming; it's not going to happen casually.

    Edited to add: And the liability issues are, I'd guess, huge, looking at the risk of both false positives and false negatives in the search. It may be legally impossible.
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2013
  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    @ChickenFreak an automated system is tricky. In this case, the true author had the work online. If they later wanted to publish on Amazon, the automated system would flag it. Then what, you have to hope you can prove ownership to Amazon's satisfaction? Or if someone else besides the author posts a work online without permission, author has it taken down, but its cached. Automated system flags it when author tries to self-publish.

    When you upload, you affirm ownership. A week to investigate and remove a work is reasonable. The 'cure' of automated flagging systems that scour the net for existing copies of a work is worse than the disease.
     
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  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yep; it's probably not a solvable problem. Just to clarify one point, though: I wasn't proposing that Amazon search/match_every_ place that the work might be online, but instead only against their own database of their own Kindle works. The premise (again, I'm not saying that this would work, I'm just not instantly seeing the flaws other than the multi-million-dollar programming effort) would be:

    - Author A writes a work, and keeps it close to his chest, never ever ever publishing it anywhere, until:
    - Author A publishes the work as a self-published Kindle work. When he publishes it:
    - He checks off a configuration box saying, "I reserve this work for this specific ID. If it is shown to be a match against another work published later, under another ID, I do want that other work flagged for review."
    - When a work by Author B is flagged due to a match under these circumstances, a carefully trained human being compares the old and new works to see if they are clearly a match or if the match was an error in the matching algorithm.
    - If they are clearly a match, then the default action is to halt Author B's work unless/until Author B can prove that the work is indeed his.

    OK, I already see that one flaw with this is that Amazon defaults to respecting the first to publish on _their_ system. Is that within their discretion, as long as they take reasonably timely action with regard to other scenarios?

    But it does seem to me that this does offer reasonable assurance to Author A that no one is going to be able to copy his work word for word and sell it _on Amazon_.

    I don't know. My programmer brain is leaping in to try to solve the problem, while the part of my brain that distrusts any sort of prior restraint is eyeing my own ideas dubiously.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    And they are absolutely correct.
    Which is true of traditionally published books as well. Of course, traditional publishers perform due diligence before entering a print contract.
    I know you think Amazon should police its sales of e-books. Doing so would mean accepting liability. That would be insane.
    The problem is not as bad as you suppose. But perhaps you would be better off pressuring legislators to change the laws to allow the courts to impose criminal penalties for repeat offenders, and to require some proof of identity for self-published works to be offered for sale.
     
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  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would have to fervently oppose this - I understand the financial/copyright reason, of course, but the right to publish anonymously is a pretty bedrock right, and I don't believe that copyright concerns should be allowed to weaken it.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yup. There is that, too. Even if the proof only extended to identifying nationality, and encrypting but not making public the identity in a secure registry, only accessible through court order.

    Fact is, most plagiarists steal work that is, frankly, not worth stealing in the first place.
     
  8. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not going to pretend to know the facts on this matter as I'm coming in late to the party. Just a quick question: Is this issue affecting only those who self-publish or also those who are electronically published in the more traditional manner with an actual publisher?
     
  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Well it just so happens, people are posting stuff on FanFic, Wordpress and other sites that they initially plagiarized and that stuff has, in at least one case, then been "scraped" (the new word for it) off the site and published on Amazon.

    I was researching this and found a lot of stuff but wasn't quite ready to start the thread when Shadowwalker pushed the issue on the other thread. Now he's apparently not even interested in, oh well.

    So it's going to be coming out piecemeal from me, instead of in a more organized form, starting with this very recent blog post: An Epidemic of Plagiarism in the Indie World
    So it's perfectly possible to steal anything that isn't well known, even printed books are vulnerable with a scanner and some ocr software, or just a willing typist. And anyone can claim it's their work, and anyone can publish it or steal it from the thief who put it online that you didn't even know about.

    So yes while it's the e-publishing platform, it's not necessarily just the self publishing world.

    There is so much more, but like a good cliffhanger, you'll have to wait for the next chapter. ;)
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2013
  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    @Cogito yes, it's not hard to see how such a scheme would be unmanageable for a number of reasons.

    Here's a personal example: I have sold short stories to online markets, and I plan to sell more and, eventually, to compile them anthology-style and self publish. Any kind of automatic screening procedure would see that those stories were already online. What's more, I publish them under a pseudonym, so when Amazon comes back to me to prove I own the rights, the name of the author doesn't even match my legal name. Under such a scheme, I probably wouldn't be able to publish my own stories as "reprints" because providing Amazon with proof of ownership would be difficult, and expecting them to dedicate resources to that level of proof for any work that goes up doesn't make sense.

    I've dealt a few times with clients who have had work removed wrongly, due to over-zealous take down action, and that is much more difficult to fix than it is to get something taken down that was stolen or used without permission.

    It's an issue that affects all online sellers, not just Amazon. I have a client whose trademarks are routinely knocked off. I send a lot of take down notices for them. However, they also have many licensed sellers. Would online market places have some scheme in place to refuse to list products unless it could be proven the seller had all of the intellectual property rights? That would be a nightmare for both the legitimate owner and the online seller, because of the time involved on both ends in proving rights, and because of the loss of sales while that process was going on.

    You could, I suppose, have a registry where people could upload work so that it could be compared against newly submitted material, but even that would be difficult to manage and it puts online sellers in a very different position than other sellers. If I run a store and a distributor sends me a product, I don't have to clear their trademarks, or the copyright on any written material before I can sell it. If rights are being violated, it's the rights-holders responsibility to police it. Turning Amazon or another online seller into the Intellectual Property police isn't something that I think is legitimate, and it isn't how intellectual property is policed in any other context. For the intellectual property rights I hold, it is my job to police unauthorized use of them. If I find such a use, I can send a letter to the party involved, and I can issue take down notices to any online sellers that have the unauthorized products for sale. I'm already going to get a better result with online sellers than, say, if the local grocery store were stocking something that were violating my rights and I tried sending them a letter.

    As both a writer and an attorney who represents clients who own IP, I don't like seeing copyright violations online (or elsewhere) or any other IP infringements. But at the same time, I have to be practical and balance that aspect of things against things like false take downs or other issues that could prevent the legitimate rights holder from selling a product, and also to be cognizant about the extent to which is makes sense to tell some third party that they are now responsible for policing my intellectual property rights.
     
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  11. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Here's an author that went through what Agentkirb did and who blogged about the experience in real time. You can go forward and backward on his blog to read the entire chronology but here's a bit that makes the excuses being made for Amazon rather weak.
    And then, Amazon has a wide open door, and this is where they could have at least a cursory check since they do some kind of review.

    (Before anyone starts with the, it isn't possible, I have more links and I'd appreciate you wait until I get those posted. )
    Couple entries later:
    Amazon finally removed the stolen work on about day 10.

    And later still the thief was stopped but:
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yep, and in the case of e-books it's not even about a product - it's about publication. Expression. First Amendment. Fundamental basic freedoms. So while individual sellers like Amazon can have their choice of safeguards, I think that we can't afford to make laws that add up to prior restraint.
     
  13. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'm pretty sure a retail outlet is not beholden to the First Amendment when it comes to what they sell.

    I'm also unclear why an imagined problem (refusing to sell legit stuff) is so much more important than addressing an actual problem, increasing amounts of stolen material being sold by wholesale scammers?
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Meanwhile, I feel forbidden to respond to your post in any way. Not that I'm all that obedient :), but...?
     
  15. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's why I said "While individual sellers like Amazon can have their choice of safeguards, I think that we can't afford to make laws that add up to prior restraint." The sellers can do what they darn well please, as long as they accept the possible added liability that results from their decisions to pre-screen.

    But if we _legally require_ those sellers to pre-screen all works, then we have created a legal bar to publication, and a serious First Amendment issue.

    If new books have to wait while the seller makes sure that the content of the book has not been published anywhere before, that will keep new books from being released. It's a non-problem now because the seller _doesn't_ have to do that now. Those little authors whose material is being stolen won't have the problem of their material being stolen, because _they won't be able to publish that material_ in the first place. Publication will require the equivalent of a patent search, or worse.

    Really, in detail, how do you propose that Amazon make sure that they're not selling copyrighted material? Do they write code that does an automated search of each paragraph in the book against the Internet? What about books that are physically in print - how do they make sure that those aren't duplicated? How does Amazon make sure that each and every Kindle book has never before been published in the form of a book, newspaper, magazine, web page, audiobook, sheet music....?

    Amazon could search on title and author...and the pirates will change the title and author. They could search on the first words of the first page...and the pirates will change that. There's no value in Amazon engaging in minor safeguards like this, because they will be easily, trivially, bypassed.

    How do we make sure that what I just typed isn't a copyright violation, and that what you type in response isn't a copyright violation? Ensuring that would require that this forum hire extensive staff to read and search and review each and every word that we say. That wouldn't happen; this forum would close.

    I'm pretty extreme on the First Amendment. I think that every right and freedom that we have is dependent on the ability to express ourselves publicly. We've survived for a very long time without prior restraint for purposes of copyright enforcement; I think that we'll keep surviving.
     
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  16. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Sorry, trying to get to that. But people keep dismissing the problem as if it wasn't significant or didn't affect them.

    So, I'll start with what could be done if Amazon and others were motivated to do so:

    If Smashwords can vet material more thoroughly, so could Amazon. They claim they do, but the end result suggests they don't. Why Amazon's Problem Is More Than a Public Relations Issue.
    More potential solutions:

    Next, the extent. I wonder if people in this thread have any idea just how extensive plagiarized work is for sale on Amazon and other e-publishing sites?

    (This is the first half of the paragraph in the first quote.)

    Think it's not permeating the rest of the writing world? Here's one of the more extensive accounts of the scope of the problem. It's well worth checking out the entire piece.
    More on scope from the link above, Why Amazon's Problem Is More Than a Public Relations Issue:

    This post is getting tl,dr so I'll break here.
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not seeing the Smashwords reference in your link - can you point me to it? (Edited to add: In fact, when I read the Smashwords policy on copyright, piracy, DRM, and so on, they seem to have a _very_ low-key attitude.)

    The analogy with TurnItIn and academic plagiarism isn't working for me. A student isn't going to sue his professor if his professor _fails_ to find out that the student plagiarized. There is no obligation to guarantee that all instances of copying are found, and no establishment of liability if an instance isn't found. It's more like a spot check than a thorough search.

    Next: where would you get the database of material for the search? Who would pay for the millions of terabytes of storage required to store every book, newspaper, magazine, blog post, web forum post, cereal box back, _every_ last bit of copyrightable text? Even Google doesn't store the whole Internet, but to fulfill its purpose, this database would probably have to. Store it and archive it.

    Who would type in the material that is only available in print? Who would negotiate the copyright deals with millions of authors, since including material in this database _would be copying_ and therefore an action subject to copyright? Who would pay for the disks, the computers, the air conditioning, the tech support?

    How long would it take to screen a text against this monolithic database? According to your quote, it takes between 45 seconds and a few minutes to scan against the comparitively miniscule database of academic texts. I'd guess that a computer of the same speed would take hours to days to months against the much bigger database under discussion. Again, we're not talking about "best effort" here, like a Google search, we're talking about something that's supposed to _find_ violations. Hours/days/months would be unacceptable, so who pays for the hundreds of fast processors required to make it faster?

    We're talking about a data infrastructure that is likely to cost millions of dollars, perhaps orders of magnitude above that. Who pays? The government? The publishers? The booksellers?

    If it's the publishers and sellers, remember, it's not only Amazon that would be required to do this, but every small press, every blogger, and quite possibly everyone who goes to a copy shop to create the annual fundraiser cookbook for the grade school. We don't get to say, "Only big evil corporations have to pay." How many thousands of dollars are we OK with adding to the cost of creating that cookbook? How many thousands of dollars do we bill me for my blog? How many thousands of dollars do we bill you for making a post on this forum?

    You included several quotes from other sources in your post, copyrighted material. That material _would_ be found in a search, so it becomes not whether it's copied, but whether it's legitimately used. How many weeks are you willing to wait, and how many dollars are you willing to pay, while you wait for the lawyers to concede that your quotes are fair use?

    OK, so let's say that Amazon _only_ scans against their own Kindle works. (Which I'd guess might cost them "only" a few hundred thousands to a few million dollars.) They own that data, they can index it, it's already on their own computers, and they can require that authors sign off on an agreament that allows Amazon to use the works for that purpose.

    So people start stealing from non-Amazon sources to publish on Amazon, and vice versa. Most of the problem remains. Amazon has made a gesture toward reducing plagiarism, a gesture that imposes a liability on them without significantly reducing the problem. People can still steal from blogs, other publishing sources, paper books, a thousand sources; they just can't steal from Amazon. How long before Amazon is accused of hypocritically only protecting themselves?

    To protect publishers from copyright violation, we would essentially have to "protect" the small publishers with limited wealth from the right to publish in the first place.
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2013
  18. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Sorry, the links and quotes are a bit confusing the way I chopped the quotes up.

    Why Amazon's Plagiarism Problem Is More Than A Public Relations Issue Here is the quote:
    I'm not following you here. None of this is necessary, all one needs is a google search of a paragraph or couple lines in quotes.


    Nonsense, once you find the match you simply check another portion of the paper, not to mention one can have an algorithm that avoids quoted material within the submission.

    I'm not convinced any of these problems even make sense. It's always going to come down to cost/benefit for Amazon. I'm under no illusions there. But the costs you've described involving a new giant data base when one already exists on the Internet regardless of the search engine you use make no sense.

    If the bulk of the stolen material is being scraped from the Net, that can be addressed even if some stolen printed material are missed.
     
  19. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Here's another comment about Smashmouth doing a better job than Amazon:
    SELF-PUBLISHING PLAGIARISM: AMAZON KINDLE PIRATED BOOKS
    Yes, they appear to be plugging their own software, but that's another reason to believe there are options Amazon chooses not to use rather than can't do anything.
     
  20. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    That assumes that the web contains, and will continue to contain, every single copyrighted work in existence. What if Google Books and other similar sites (are there similar sites?) go away? It also assumes that works can be easily found even if the plagiarists do easy and obvious things like changing an occasional word.

    I just grabbed six books by major authors and major publishers. I was able to find four out of six by searching for selected lines. When I changed the character names in the lines, none of the four could be found. Of course, you could search for lines without character names. And then, of course, the author could change other lines. There are already "spinning" routines out there for the purpose of making similar content look just different enough to be a search mismatch.

    Y'know, Ginger, that was rude. I'm pretty sure I've usually not this sort of rude to you. In fact, in the first draft of this post I said, "Huh?" to one of your points. and that struck me as rather rude and sarcastic, so I removed it.

    I'm not interested in skimming past what I see as rude. If the rudeness keeps up, I'm done.

    In fact, I suspect that I'm already done, once I finish writing this post.

    I don't think that you followed what I was saying: You _are_ quoting material. You may or may not be quoting that material in a way that complies with fair use. Your quote could be a copyright violation. In a "pre-check" environment, how can the publisher/seller of your words be sure of that without a legal consultation?

    And for everyone else that publishes material. Like my blog host. Like the owners of this site.

    I don't think that my blog host is going to be willing to type in a few lines from every post I make, to make sure I'm not violating copyright. They'll just shut down the blogging site.

    I don't think that the owners of this site are going to be interested in typing in a few lines from each of the hundreds of posts a day on this site, to make sure that they're not violating copyright. They'll just shut down this site.

    I don't think that the clerks at the copy shop are going to be interested in typing in a few lines from every piece of paper that someone brings in to copy, to make sure that they're not violating copyright. They'll just shut down and start selling bagels or dim sum.

    What giant database are you talking about?

    How can you be sure that the search engine will have access to every copyrighted work? I got two-thirds success for major works by major authors. What is the likely percentage of success for unknown works by unknown authors?

    What if the owners of the big sites that include book content aren't interested in making those sites serve a purpose for which they never created them, and they change the interface to make such searches more difficult? What if the people who argue that those sites are illegal succeed in getting them shut down?

    What if the author has already posted his work on his own website, and he's barred from publishing his work because of his own pre-publishing?

    So maybe that catches half of the copyright violations, if you assume that my results are representative of the results for unknown works by unknown authors wehre the plagiarists change the text to avoid detection. (Realistically, I think that you'd catch more like a tenth.) Now the sellers have taken on an obligation to catch copyright violations in advance. Now we sue them for the other two-thirds?

    And, again, how do we go about ensuring that blogging sites and forum sites like this one industriously check for copyright violations? Are you willing to pay hundreds of dollars a year to participate in this site, to pay the people who will vet your posts?
     
  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Read that as "the other half". I keep getting a server error when I try to correct it in place.
     
  22. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'll try to get to your finer points later, but where does the "will only get half" come from? I think it's more like 90-95% of the plagiarized stuff was stolen from online sites. And even half is better than none.

    And I explained why it was "nonsense", but if the wording bothered you, I apologize. I tend to get carried away, I'll try to do better.
     
  23. IronPalm
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    IronPalm Banned

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    The alternative sites GingerCoffee brought up don't fix any of the problems ChickenFreak and SteerPike mentioned, like

    -A story being previously published on the Internet; how does one tell if it's the author currently trying to publish on Amazon or a different author entirely?
    -The massive amount of time and resources checking IP rights for every new author would take.
    -The ability to easily change enough titles/words to elude programs.

    Meanwhile, automated systems introduce new problems. I laughed at this blurb ;

    Ah yes, Youtube! A site that flags accounts, removes videos, and sometimes shuts down entire channels because its automated system is awful, and registers tons of false positives. Here is a story about a man whose video was deleted because of "copyright infringement". His crime? Recording a nature walk with birds chirping in the background. Meanwhile, Youtube still runs rampant with plagiarism and copyright violations, automated systems and copyright claim trolls be damned!
     
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  24. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Sites like YouTube, with automated processing, are also abused by people who send in bogus take down requests. The automated methods don't really solve problems very well and they create new problems. To really have a good system, you have to have some level of human determination involved to answer a number of basic questions:

    1) is it copyrighted material at issue;
    2) if so, is it the owner submitting the material;
    3) if it is not the owner, is it a party having rights to the material (e.g. a license);
    4) if it is not the owner and not a licensed party, is the submission a violation (e.g. does Fair Use apply, does the First Sale doctrine apply, and so on).

    Each of those work best with a human element making a decision, and for 2 through 4 it is hard to do it without that element. I posted in the other thread how many take down notices some of these sites get. If you set aside take down notices and just say they have to make a determination for each product that is provided for sale, it's not hard to see how quickly it becomes unworkable. When you're uploading a work to Amazon, you affirm that you have the rights. If you don't, then Amazon as well as the rights holder have claims against you. If Amazon can review and take down infringing works within a week of receiving notice by way of a take down request, I'm fine with that. It's not unreasonable given all of the problems inherent in the process.

    Ironically, no one would like a very broad, automated system more than the big media corporations who own so much content. They push this kind of stuff all the time, and are responsible for a lot of the unnecessary removals on sites like YouTube.

    The most reasonable way to approach the issue is to view it from all sides and look for an approach that balances the various issues. And in balancing, it also makes sense to ask to what extent it is Amazon's job rather than mine to police my intellectual property.
     
  25. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Other than, anything Ginger says must be wrong, I don't understand the objections to looking at what Amazon might do better to solve this very serious and quickly growing problem which threatens to damage the whole e-publishing platform.

    If any of you wishes to make the argument that the problem is minor, over blown, not really a big deal, I'd like to hear the evidence or reasoning.

    I've made the argument that with these paradigm shifts in publishing, the idea the writer is the sole person responsible for rooting out copyright theft and plagiarism is unfair and impractical. As I mentioned, you can't even search Amazon's site for your own stolen work, and they've not even helped the author with that problem.

    A jewelry owner is not responsible to search every pawn shop to recover their stolen jewelry, the onus is 0n the pawn shop owner to screen the items they buy. A retail store loses money if they buy counterfeit brand name products to resale. In both cases there is a financial incentive and regulations to protect the victim of the theft.

    There is no reason to expect any less from Amazon, claiming a book seller simply isn't responsible for selling copyright infringing books. It's quite different from someone posting copyrighted material on a forum and yet in many cases, the forum owner is responsible to prevent copyright infringement under a number of circumstances.

    The laws are evolving to keep up with the technology. Unfortunately, in much of the world, corporate interests have their fingers in the law writers till and the individual is again at a severe disadvantage. That leaves pressure by the numbers, IOW people need to speak up. They need to complain. What they don't need are people insisting nothing can be done and Amazon isn't responsible.

    I'll address the specifics that have been posted in separate posts.
     

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