unearthingA couple of weeks ago, I was notified by an e-mail from Duncan Jones about a pattern of alleged plagiarism and piracy by a seller on Amazon. Over the last couple of months, an Amazon seller named Peter Michelsen reposted several freely-distributed Internet titles, such as The Unearthing (actually by Steve Karmazenuk, and available for free download on-line).

According to posts on a forum on the blog of Drew Wagar, another Michelsen-pirated author, the piracy was first noticed on January 30, Over the course of the following week, Amazon removed a number of these titles (and responded to Karmazenuk on February 8th).

Though Jones’s email on 2/7 complained that Amazon had not taken any action against Michelsen’s seller account, another post to Wagar’s forum noted that the account was terminated as of 2/12. However, Karmazenuk posted to his own blog on the 19th that the matter of The Unearthing still had not been dealt with to his satisfaction, and he was giving Amazon one more week before getting a lawyer.

Though the Michelsen matter seems to have been largely wrapped up, it points out one of the problems posed by the ease of copying in the electronic age, and the size handicap companies like Amazon have in responding to it.

We’ve seen Amazon acting slowly or in self-contradictory ways before, such as in the case of the pedophile how-to manual; like many large companies, there is so much bureaucracy that it can be hard to get anything done quickly. But by comparison, individual “authors” who want to self-publish plagiarized work can do so with just a few mouse clicks. It means authors are going to have to be vigilant for piracy even on the most trusted sites, in addition to all else they have to do.

Can a better solution be found? Whether it can or not, it joins the host of other challenges the publishing industry is facing as the publishing market continues its metamorphosis from paper into electrons.