In “Stealing Books in the Age of Self-Publishing,” Joy Lanzendorfer discusses the growing problem of plagiarism among self-published authors on Amazon. For romance author Rachel Ann Nunes, not only was her novel reproduced almost identically under a different title, but she started being attacked anonymously online as well, receiving hostile one-star reviews on Amazon and personal insults on social media. She eventually found the plagiarizer with the help of a legal team, and legal proceedings are currently underway.

However, the plagiarizers –while they certainly did wrong, and should be punished– have understandable motivation. Amazon encourages authors who publish often, listing them higher in author rankings. One author currently being sued for plagiarism published seventy-five books in five years, and may have plagiarized several novels purely to keep her ranking, since she apparently started publishing on Amazon with original works.

“This may sound crazy, but I have 18 releases planned for this year,” said Carew [a victim of plagiarism]. “In order to survive, I have to put out as many books as I can….If you’re living on your writing like I am, the stress can get to you.”

Where does Amazon lie on the plagiarism front? Amazon makes 30% of the royalties whether a book is plagiarized or not, and unlike a traditional publisher, they cannot be punished by federal law as long as they pull the offending title. However, even though they don’t have the aid of a publisher, self-published authors can take comfort, because someone is looking out for them: their fans. In nearly every case of plagiarism discovered, it was due to a keen reader or book blogger finding the similarities and pointing the offending book out to the author. This is something that can only happen in the self-publishing world, where the authors and readers are much closer than they used to be.

Lanzendorfer explains:

“There’s a certain irony to the whole cycle: The circumstances that enable criminals to profit off other people’s work also help to expose their misdeeds, however messily. The result is an imperfect ecosystem that authors, readers, and self-publishing platforms will likely help to refine in the future as digital technology and culture continue to merge.”

Lanzendorfer, Joy. 2016. “Stealing Books in the Age of Self-Publishing.” The Atlantic, June 5.