Amazon has never been a stranger to controversy or criticism. Whether it's the conditions of warehouse workers or the selling of a controversial book aimed towards pedophiles, odds are you've heard Amazon's name used in an unflattering news story.
Well, get ready for one of their newest situations: erotica plagiarism. Yep, plagiarism. It's one of the worst sins you can commit in publishing and according to some news sources, it's rampant. (Click here for one such news article.)
It was recently discovered that self-published "authors" such as Maria Cruz have been stealing stories from sites such as Literotica and passing it off as their own work. Cruz also plagiarized Bram Stoker's Dracula, a pretty gutsy move when you figure that it's a book that much of the literary world is at least passingly familiar with.
It's not only Literotica and Bram Stoker getting ripped off either. Another "author" named Jazmyne DeLyte (see her Amazon profile here) took the text of Victorian era novel Romance of Lust (written between the years 1873–1876), retitled it A Classic Victorian Erotic Novel, and never once stated that it was actually a public domain novel, choosing instead to pass it off as her own work. While it's not illegal to plagiarize public domain novels (see an explanation here), it is extremely unethical and is something that will eventually come back to bite you in the rump later on if/when you choose to try to publish something you actually wrote. Imagine trying to explain to your agent why you chose to misrepresent yourself and lie about things you actually wrote, especially after they (or a potential publisher) discovered the ruse! The old saying "you'll never work in this town (or at least in this publishing company) again" would probably apply. I don't have a problem with people selling copies of public domain works, just a problem with people trying to pass it off as something they wrote themselves. And yes, "forgetting" to state that you didn't write the book or "accidentally" submitting it incorrectly is plagiarism.
When the writing falls into a public site such as Literotica, the copyright is rather a tricky subject. What if the book was written anonymously or under a screen name? The author would have to find a way to prove that he or she was the actual writer of the tale. Then you come to another tricky subject: where you live. Some countries give you automatic copyrights under the Berne Convention, some don't. If you do live in one of these countries you will have some protection. If you don't, then it's all up to whether or not you applied to have your work copyrighted. WIPO says that you have the copyright to something the moment you finished writing it, but it can get tricky in the countries that don't follow the Berne Convention. So in other words, if it went to court it'd be a tricky thing to prove. Not impossible, but so difficult that many wouldn't have the money or time to invest in a lawsuit.
So what can we do about people like this? We do what we can. We comment in their book forums, stating that the book is plagiarized and state the source. We make a point to never purchase their books, not even the ones they actually wrote. (How could you ever know if they weren't ripping off someone else's work?) We tell our friends about it, especially those who are likely to purchase that person's work. Word of mouth can do a lot. And most importantly, we alert the website about the plagiarism. Again, it's not illegal to plagiarize a public domain works but many websites would rather remove the offending work than to keep them available for sale. It gives them a bad image, which is bad for business.
If you're curious, there's a whole thread about this over on Amazon. This is a really good example of how spreading the word about plagiarists can help get their books removed, as this thread was responsible for many of the plagiarized Literotica books getting removed from Amazon. (See the thread here.)
I'm honestly pretty disgusted by this. In my opinion plagiarism is no better than being a pickpocket. In the end you're still stealing something that belongs to someone else, even if it is in the public domain. These authors have to remember that they should treat other people's works the same way they want theirs to be treated: with respect, and passing off someone else work as your own shows a serious lack of respect for not only yourself, but also your readers and literature in general.