Want to End Book-Selling Scams? Stop Relying on Copyrights

By Chloe Anagnos

Authors in the United States are losing a major part of their income to impostors, a new Los Angeles Times report suggests. And while online platforms like Amazon help authors to bring the scammers down, the process isn’t always easy. For most of them, it takes a long time — sometimes years — for their earnings to be restored after the damage is done. 

But what exactly is causing this type of problem, and why are authors being subjected to counterfeiters? Is the publishing industry itself to blame?

As explained by the Los Angeles Times, authors’ median income declined 42 percent in the last decade. To some, the fact that plagiarism runs rampant in the industry may be one of the reasons why. 

In some cases, scammers reproduce an original book cover to cover and sell it directly to customers, while, oftentimes, others publish a similar book using the original author’s name so online platforms like eBay, Amazon, and Google can’t tell the difference. 

That practice is known as author doppelganging, and it’s more difficult to identify because algorithms often don’t recognize nuanced differences between authors’ names. Like title cloning, the practice of using the same title on a different book, author doppelganging is also legal, as you cannot copyright a title or a person’s name. 

Despite their efforts to curb this activity, authors are losing this battle. And while many will try to look to the law for help — believing that copyright protections can shield them from losing income to impostors — the reality is proving that they are wrong.

Much like what happens in the world of academic publishing, the crisis in the book-publishing industry stems from peer pressure. 

As authors began to notice that publishing houses were not trying to cater to readers but to libraries and bookstores interested only in buying full catalogs, they began to increasingly use self-publishing tools. 

While this gave authors more freedom than ever before, it also exposed them to scammers, as single authors are less likely to have the manpower to keep track of what’s going on with their books online — or the legal resources to go after copycats.

Furthermore, outdated intellectual property (IP) laws severely restrict the production of books and material that should be easily accessible to the public. This keeps presses and publishing tools from competing openly to suit customers’ preferences, as they are unable to offer different editions of these works. This generates unnecessary pressure on the author, putting him at risk of losing his work to people who see an opportunity to steal it from right under his nose.

As editorial director for the American Institute for Economic Research Jeffrey Tucker once explained, copyright and IP laws cannot protect your creative rights. After all, being creative is your God-given right and nobody can take that away from you. So when the government uses IP laws to claim it’s protecting you, what it’s doing instead is to assign monopoly rights over information as well as anything used to copy and further distribute that material. In other words, IP laws infringe on people’s property rights. 

And if that wasn’t enough, such laws also restrict the market by “imposing scarcity where it need not be,” as Tucker explained, leaving creative minds unable to legally build on work that has been copyrighted. 

As we’re seeing with the struggle artists are experiencing now, copyrights did nothing to prevent others from taking credit for their work. And when these same authors have contracts with publishing houses, copyright does nothing to protect them from the corporation either. In the end, contracts are all that matter as both the author and the publishing house must agree on the terms before a deal is reached. 

At AIER, we take a different approach to publishing, which encourages both creators and those who want to build on our material. 

By using a Creative Commons license and publishing our books through Amazon, economic literacy has never been easier to attain. And yet, we are not relying on IP laws to help us in this journey. 

As I wrote recently, ideas are anything that can be infinitely reproduced; therefore, they aren’t scarce. While we all want to take credit for something we worked on, we must know that the product we’re trying to sell isn’t the idea per se, but how we market and brand it. 

If authors want to boost their sales and become more popular, then they should move away from relying on copyright for protection. 

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Chloe Anagnos

Chloe Anagnos is AIER's Publications Manager. She is a writer and digital marketer and has been an AIER contributor since 2017. Her work has been the subject of articles in FOX News, USA Today, CNN Money, and WIRED. She has been a writer, commentator, and panelist for media outlets around the country on subjects like political marketing, campaigning, and social media. Follow @ChloeAnagnos.