Plagiarism Plagues Self-Publishing

Self-pubbing has really taken off in the last year. Now more than ever, there are some great opportunities for authors who are interested in being their own publisher. It can be incredibly rewarding — and not just for an author’s sense of achievement, career and bank account. Self-publishing is the perfect way to release works that might not fit into traditional genres or conventions. (Readers also clearly benefit from this trend, as the result is more content and often at better prices with a shorter lead time between when a book is announced and when it becomes available.) 

Here at RT, we have closely been following the self-publishing trend and we have a lot of respect for this new opportunity available to writers. We are even hosting a Self-Publishing and E-Books Track at the upcoming RT Booklovers Convention in Chicago that will focus on the keys to success in this new arena. 

However, like with any new technology, there are several problems that plague self-publishing. By far the most egregious issue is that the rise of easy-to-use self-publishing platforms has also resulted in the rise of plagiarists, those ready and willing to steal the work of others in order to make a buck. Plagiarists take works of other authors, usually hosted online, often at free sites such as Literotica, and “self-publish” the stories as their own. Sometimes they change the books’ titles, but often plagiarists simply post the works with a new author name ... their own. 

In the last week, scandal erupted over at Amazon when it was discovered that the company was selling a huge list of self-published titles that were plagiarized.

Furor surrounded the discoveries that several erotica titles had been lifted. One instance was brought to the reading community on GoodReads when “Beth” posted this status update:

This was followed by much discussion, most of it very passionate, about the unfairness of the theft and frustration with Amazon’s slow response. (To be fair, at this point, only a few days after the initial inquiry, all of the links to the plagiarized e-books that have been identified have been taken down). But, with so many people out there committing this crime, simply removing the offending works — or blacklisting the offending “author” — is not really a solution. A recent Fast Company article reveals that shortly after works that had been plagiarized by “Maria Cruz” were removed from Amazon, the books were simply re-listed under the plagiarist's name. This, of course, is not the first time plagiarism has occurred in digital publishing, however, it seems with self-publishing on the upswing, it is a bigger problem than before. Especially due to the ease with which stolen material can be posted. 

So what are some solutions? People have suggested that publishing platforms should require that authors verify their identity and give proof that they have rights over works they want to sell. Another solution might be to have the companies selling the self-pubbed work, like Amazon, use services that compare new works with previously existing ones so thievery is caught early. Alternatively, perhaps the government that needs to get involved to crack down on offenders, making the punishments for piracy high enough to deter would-be plagiarists.

No definitive answer has been offered for this problem, but no matter how you look at it, something needs to be done and fast so that authors, the actual authors, get credit and payments that they have rightfully earned. 

What are your thoughts about digital piracy? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. And for more about what’s happening in the publishing industry, click here.