One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other: Beware Knock-Off Books On Amazon

It’s not just fake Louis Vuitton purses and Prada shoes getting knocked off and sold on the Internet — you could get scammed by a book title as well if a self-publishing author plays their game well enough. And yes, this kind of thing happens under Amazon’s watch.

Fortune warns of titles on Amazon that are very similar to best-sellers, but are in fact, just crappy knock-offs of the real things.

For example, there’s a book by Isaac Worthington about Steve Jobs, which is definitely not the same as the best-seller by Walter Isaacson. Or Thirty-Five Shades of Grey by J.D. Lyte, which is not to be confused with the steamy Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James currently on the bedside tables of women across America. Gotta assume those 15 shades went missing somewhere in the upload. Then there’s I am the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Twilight New Moon — the list goes on.

The authors of these faux bestsellers even use Amazon’s CreateSpace system to design and self-publish their own books, which then go on sale on Amazon or other sites. Amazon gets half the money from the books, earning it a new nickname — Spamazon!

“It’s the book equivalent of spam,” lawyer Eric Rayman, a former attorney for Simon & Schuster tells Fortune. “Amazon should be taking steps to stop this. It’s bad for consumers and it’s bad for the book business.”

Amazon removed some of the pages for books after Fortune contacted them, but they’re still for sale with Amazon’s CreateSpace listed as the publisher. A spokeswoman says they have a system to deal with and get rid of books that don’t “improve the customer experience” and says they’ve done so for thousands of books.

“We expect to keep improving our approach,” says the spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, those creating this content are all, “Shrug! It’s a moneymaker!”

The author of I am the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is unrepentant, as she says she’s self-published around 10,000 and likes the cash.

“I am a single mother who home schools her children,” she said, claiming she sells “thousands of thousands of books per month. “Self-publishing is a great way for me to make income. I receive a pretty nice royalty every month.”

Just be careful how you search and make sure that’s not a super cheap copy of The Hungry Hungry Hippo Games* before you buy.

*Made that one up, coming to the Internet near you soon!

Amazon’s knock-off problem (35 Shades of Grey, anyone?) [Fortune]

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  1. El_Fez says:

    Did the authors actually put some real, original (albeit crappy) content together? If yes, then I have a problem with Amazon stamping out these clones. Yes it’s a shameless cash grab and kind of skeezy, but if the inside of the book is 100% original material, then Amazon shouldn’t be censoring content.

    If the title is different, if the content is different, then where is the IP violation?

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      There’s no IP violation if done as you say. And truly nothing illegal has happened.

      People not paying enough attention to what they’re doing may very well inadvertently purchase such a book, thinking it was something else. Do you blame the author who is making money off the fact that people don’t pay attention to what they’re doing, or do you blame the consumer…who isn’t paying attention to what they’re doing?

      Hate the game, or hate the playa?

    • Coffee says:

      Because the titles and the authors’ names are so similar to the originals that it’s obvious the “authors” are deriving income by deceiving people about which book they’re getting. If I sold you a V0lkswagon online, and when you received it, it was a Yugo that I’d rebranded, then I told you that it wasn’t a “Volkswagon, but rather a ‘V0lkswagon,'” don’t you think you’d have a good reason to be upset?

      • El_Fez says:

        Since I don’t know what the actual product is, my answer is “depends”. Is the product being misrepresented? IE actual pages from the original book as the “preview pages” as MaryK suggested? Then yes, you have a right to be pissed.

        Is the book a full length novel and 100% original content? Then no. I will admit that it’s kind of skeezy to sell something that I banged out on my word processor one evening between dinner and bed time, but people need to make informed decisions and actually look at what they buy and not just click the “fast buy” button and assume it’s all good.

        Basically, how is this any different than what Asylum Films does? They take an upcoming Hit Movie and rush a cheap knockoff out first. Movies like Alien versus Hunter or Transmorphers or Alan Quartermain and the Crystal Skull.

        • Coffee says:

          I guess I had to re-read your initial post, and that you’re speaking more to the IP side of things…if that’s the case, I suppose one could argue that if, indeed, people are confused by these knock-offs, then every sale is potentially a wasted on, which deprives the publisher of the income they would have received, in addition to any additional incomes derived from future sales.

          • El_Fez says:

            Oh, they’re totally trying to ride the coat-tales of a much bigger hit – no argument there. But doing that isn’t illegal*, which is why I disagree with Amazon’s censorship.

            *Assuming that it’s actually an original work and not just a cut-and-paste job.

            • Coffee says:

              I guess my next question would be how this is different from a store calling itself “Monster Cable” and selling speaker wire. If someone did that, there’d be a trademark lawsuit in a second because of brand dilution.

          • larissa_j says:

            How could anyone be confused? Really? This looks nothing like the legit copy. The only reason someone would be ‘confused’ is if this version was cheaper and so they bought it and then realized they got scammed.

            But still how can you not realize it’s something else based on the TITLE and author?

            You know what the problem is? People don’t read.

    • MaryK says:

      They may have uploaded actual pages from the original book as the “preview pages” to trick people… but I don’t know that.

    • MMD says:

      By that logic, would I be able to produce and market a soda called “Koke” and put it in a red and white can and a cursive logo?

      I’m surprised publishers of the real books haven’t sent Cease and Desists, claiming (apparently rightly) that these titles are too similar and cause confusion.

    • Tim says:

      Amazon has the right to sell or not sell what it wants. If Amazon decides that “I Am the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” shouldn’t be sold, it won’t be sold.

    • mikedt says:

      It looks like the “I am the girl with the dragon tatoo” is 30 pages of spaced out tripe. The author – and I use that loosely – knows exactly what she’s doing.

  2. shthar says:

    I’d say it’s about 50-50 which book would be better.

  3. Snoofin says:

    So now we have to protect people who are too stupid to read the title of a book and author and not know its a different book than the one they were looking for?

    Its bad enough we have people who cant even do basic things anymore like use a remote control, secure a wireless network, set up their email account on their phone, install a program on their computer, hook up a cable box or blue ray player to their TV etc….

    When are we going to hold people accountable for their own stupidity and let them figure things out on their own or go use their antiques

    • MMD says:

      So you’re saying that “writers” should be allowed to rip off popular works?

      • Eremis77 says:

        You ever notice when going to the video store (if anyone still does that), there will always be low-budget knockoffs of all the current movies? Sounds like the same thing to me. Definitely a questionable strategy, and poor quality, but not illegal.

        • OutPastPluto says:

          Star Wars
          A Fist Full of Dollars
          The Magnificent Seven

          • Weakly says:

            Except none of those are trying to piggyback on Akira Kurosawa’s success. Releasing a Japanese samurai film called “The Secret Fortress” or “The Seventh Samurai” to cash in on Kurosawa mania is another matter.

            To say these authors are remixing culture is being disingenuous.

      • OutPastPluto says:

        > So you’re saying that “writers” should be allowed to rip off popular works?

        That’s how all culture is created.

        If you aren’t literate enough to notice the differences here, perhaps you shouldn’t be buying books.

        • MMD says:

          There’s a difference between being inspired by something and blatantly ripping it off to make a buck. If you don’t know *that* difference, perhaps you shouldn’t spout off about art and culture.

    • RayanneGraff says:

      So I guess that means people like my dad, who is elderly and forgetful, are just “stupid” if they don’t know the exact title of a book…

      People get confused, and book covers can change. I’ve seen later editions of books that often have different cover art. Just cause someone can’t recognize a blatant ripoff of a popular novel doesn’t mean they’re stupid.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        The elderly are usually the exception to the rule, as they don’t comprise the largest demographic of Amazon shoppers, or even internet shoppers, I bet. What Snoofin is talking about are everyday, perfectly capable people who aren’t forgetful (due to a medical condition or old age) and are yes, downright STUPID for not checking the author name.

  4. Kate says:

    What’s worse is an old book retitled and with new cover art – buy it because you like the sound of it and realize, you’ve read it years before.

    • caradrake says:

      Yes.

      One of my old (and now ex) favorite authors hasn’t published anything new in years. Instead, they remake a cover, and in some rare instances even *change the actual title*. Turns out it is the exact same book, just a new release of it. And here I was all excited to see a new book by them out. :(

  5. GoldVRod says:

    If the title is different (albeit obviously similar) but the content is different then where’s the problem? You can’t copyright ‘similar’. Look at The Lion King.

    This also reminds me of the story where the hero of this film is a boy named Harry Potter and he is surrounded by a fantasy world of witches, wizards and magic. I am of course talking about the 1986 movie ‘Troll’ – what story did you think I was talking about?

    • RandomLetters says:

      Ever read Books of Magic? The DC Comics mini-series published in 1993? Compare Tim Hunter and Harry Potter and you might as well be talking about the same kid. JK Rowling may have had some orignal ideas but she “borrowed” heavily from other sources to get them.

  6. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    This has to be the lamest scam I have ever heard of.

    Effective, it may be, but it’s still ridiculously lame.

    • El_Fez says:

      You literacy snob! Clearly you haven’t read the amazing works of Darles Chickens like A Tail of Two Cities or Grate Expectations!

    • larissa_j says:

      Wait until one of these takes off like 50 Shades of Grey. All it takes is a bunch of bored people with no taste to make a bestseller now that they’ve removed the publishers from the equation.

  7. axolotl says:

    This is just like the movie you can get from Netflix called “Battle: L.A.”
    NOT THE SAME AS “BATTLE: LOS ANGELES”! BE WARNED!

    • Gardius says:

      Yepp. Made that mistake. Sat down to watch “Battle: Los Angeles” and was fed that crap that is “Battle of Los Angeles,” a terrible B-Movie attempting to take advantage of the hype. What really bothered me is that “Battle of Los Angeles” was the working title of “Battle: Los Angeles.” What bullshit!

  8. axolotl says:

    “The author of I am the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is unrepentant, as she says she’s self-published around 10,000 and likes the cash.”

    Self-published 10,000 books? Am I reading that right?

    • MMD says:

      That’s gotta be the number of downloads.

      • larissa_j says:

        If she doesn’t understand the difference between downloads and self published books, I can only IMAGINE how bad fanfiction based on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is going to be. Considering it’s about a female hacker and all.

      • everythingisungodly says:

        Judging by the wording of the original article it does sound like a misunderstanding on the part of the writer of the article; Amazon makes self-pubbing very easy but producing content (even shitty content) takes time. Even if she were somehow able to put out a book a day, it would have taken more years than Amazon’s been around to reach 10,000 publications.

        As a self-published writer on Kindle Direct, the e-book version of CreateSpace, I’m actually glad that Amazon allows this. I write in a genre that has a time-honored tradition of nudge-nudge-wink-wink homages to popular properties – I bet you can guess what it is – and I’d hate to see a crackdown on that sort of thing when it’s done with the intent of indulging people with something they want, rather than with the intent of deceiving them. And while the difference might seem obvious, if you put it down on paper it’s pretty difficult to build any sort of case against these “authors.” The titles are different, the author names are different, the cover art is vastly different, and the reviews should tip people off as well. Getting visible on a site as bloated as Amazon is hard to do, and these people have found a creative way to do it. If Amazon starts disallowing them I’m not confident that they’d know where to draw the line.

        I don’t like that it makes all self-pubbed writers look bad, but hey – there’s always going to be a few rotten apples.

  9. topcad says:

    I just checked out the fake “Dragon Tattoo” author’s list of books. Holy crap! Biblical diets, Rubik’s cube solutions, Russian torture techniques, etc. This list goes on and on and almost every review is 1 star stating that the book is very short, filled with typos and poorly formatted.
    Hmmm, I believe I may have found that elusive 2nd job…

    • drjayphd says:

      I wonder how much they’d pay to have professionally-edited crap. That’s gotta be worth two stars.

    • pgr says:

      What would one expect from Christian fundamentalist home schooler?

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        It doesn’t say anywhere in the post or the article that the mother is a Christian fundamentalist. People homeschool kids for a variety of reasons, not all related to religion. Way to make assumptions.

  10. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    I met a guy one time who was very proud of the fact he had produced a movie called Saturday Night’s Fever that was about disco dancing and just happened to be released a couple of months after the original. He had gotten it in some local arthouse/independent theaters. I guess he made some money off it from people who were confused about what they were going to see.

    I always think things like that only reflect that the creator has no originality.

  11. KB says:

    This reminds me of my favorite eBay scam every time a new video game console comes out; “BRAND NEW ULTRA RARE XBOX 360 empty box only LOOK HERE RARE!!!” Although I don’t even like calling it a scam, it blatantly says it’s only the empty box, but people still buy them for hundreds of dollars. If you can’t tell the difference between the book pictured here and the real Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, then I don’t know why you’d need either one of them because you can’t read.

    • Anna Kossua says:

      Ebay… One woman got nailed for that on Judge Judy. A woman listed two cellphones on Ebay and said in the ad “what you see in picture is what you will” receive. (I couldn’t read the last word or two.) The winning bidder sent her $467.00 for the phones… and received a PICTURE of two phones.

      The auction never said it was for a photo only, and even gave specs and weight of the phones. Judge Judy wasted no time in calling the defendant a scammer and a thief.

      Video of the smackdown:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzGOJJmrPNo

  12. HogwartsProfessor says:

    “”It’s the book equivalent of spam,” lawyer Eric Rayman, a former attorney for Simon & Schuster tells Fortune. “Amazon should be taking steps to stop this. It’s bad for consumers and it’s bad for the book business.”‘

    As an aspiring novelist, I have to agree with this. I’ve been told many times I should self-publish, but barring a tiny e-pamphlet, I won’t do it. There is a reason self-pubs have a bad reputation. It’s because a ton of them suck donkey balls. I highly doubt these knockoffs will help the situation.

  13. pythonspam says:

    “Twilight New Moon”, still a better love story than “Twilight”.

  14. RandomHookup says:

    Thus, my plan to publish “The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo” and “Hungry Games” may work perfectly.

    • fortymegafonzies says:

      I’ll review them on my new website, theconsumerist.com (not to be confused consumerist.com).

      • fortymegafonzies says:

        p.s. whoever does own “theconsumerist.com” has malware on it according to Avast!, so I might not try to go there

  15. Not Given says:

    I know a woman who self published a book and got some nice reviews on Amazon. Then people started complaining about the ebook being a ripoff. The problem was she didn’t have it in ebook form at the time. Some opportunist published an ebook with the same name on the same subject but his own content and she got slammed with the reviews for it.

  16. oldwiz65 says:

    So Amazon is the latest company to toss out ethics in favor of making money. This is nothing new; companies all over will bend or lose ethics if it will earn money for them. The telcos by default allow anyone to add charges to your phone bill without your consent, mostly cause they get a percentage of the money.

  17. ironflange says:

    It’s pretty safe to assume that any Twilight ripoff would have more literary merit than the real thing.

  18. Professor59 says:

    Redbox does this all the time. I see a title for what looks to be a recent popular movie, then I get it home and find out it is a black and white movie from 30 years ago. It’s clearly intentional, because Redbox has only a few hundred titles in each box. Naughty, naughty!

    • larissa_j says:

      Netflix does it too but so does SyFy. There will be a movie in the theater and SyFy will make a knock off and change the words around just slightly and then Netflix will ‘feature’ it as a new release. Unless you’re careful about your movie titles, you wind up watching garbage.

  19. mistyfire says:

    I like reading the knockoff books. Many of them have been very original and entertaining.

  20. larissa_j says:

    “Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James”

    Is ALSO trash. Amazon should have stopped it and saved me a couple hours and ten dollars. What a piece of garbage. An antiBDSM book parading as BDSM written by someone who doesn’t understand BDSM and don’t even get me started on the British-isms used by the Americans in the book and the mystical Seattle locations that DO NOT EXIST because yah, I’m totally going to go shopping at Neiman Marcus in downtown Seattle and fly around in my helicopter WHENEVER I feel like it because we do that in Seattle. And did you know that Tacoma is far enough away that you go there for the weekend if you live in Seattle? TRUE.

    Idiot. You’d think she’d at least travel here and do some research.

  21. Riroon13 says:

    I’m an author who has dealt in self-publishing and, specifically, createspace. Upon submission, they do hold your title for a few days to comb through for copyright infringements, etc. One of my titles got dinged for a very minor, vague problem. Once I corrected it, all was hunky-dory. I’m just surprised my little issue caused a problem when ‘I AM THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO’ jumped right in the fray.

    (FWIW, createspace is an awesome service. I am thoroughly happy with them and have bypassed traditional publisher’s offers to deal with these guys. Just disappointed they’re letting opportunists like the ones in the article slip past.)

  22. Raider Duck says:

    Isn’t there an entire direct-to-DVD studio that specializes in this (Titanic 2, Snakes on a Train)?

    • MurderGirl says:

      The Asylum produces loads of these “mockbusters”.

      There are also people taking wikis and packaging them as POD books.

  23. Zombini says:

    ‘Made that one up, coming to the Internet near you soon!’

    You were beaten by a good few months by Key of Awesome..

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGbRMT1i76c

  24. RandomHookup says:

    Time to start writing Downtown Abbey.

  25. mysterydate98 says:
  26. CalicoGal says:

    Why is it relevant that she is a single mother who home schools?? Does that make her entitled to something? Apparently she thinks it does since she specifically mentioned it.

  27. cybrczch says:

    Looks like I’m running out of time to self-publish my series of novels starring blood-sucking cow farmers – “The Vampire Dairies”

  28. ansjc09 says:

    I bought a book that was by a self-publishing author on amazon for my kindle. I frequently look for $0.99 books to add to my kindle and I’ve had pretty good luck finding decent books (usually longer than 100 pages, too). Unfortunately, the one self-published book I purchased for $0.99 was really disappointing- kind of entertaining when the book was called Disappointment in Love. It was maybe 20 pages and was just bad in general. So, shame on me; I have to be more careful when looking at those cheap Kindle books.

  29. dolemite says:

    No really anything new. Any kid can tell you there are 50 knockoffs of a popular toy: “Grandma, I wanted Transformers, not Transmorphers!”, and every movie that comes out has a knockoff that ends up on Syfy.