I pride myself on being a pretty straightforward, tell-it-like-it-is sort of person. That’s my self-image anyway. And I can normally spot a skunk when I see one.

I was recently somewhat stunned, however, to discover the depths to which some people will stoop to scavenge for a living. Back in December, I had self-published a book (Little Green Lies and Other BS) under an exclusive contract with Amazon. I own the copyright and Amazon takes the orders from readers worldwide and sends on the paperback or e-book (Kindle) version of it. The arrangement has been working well.

Little Green Lies exposes skunks

As part of my promotional efforts, I wrote an excerpt from the book (“Sorry, folks, but there’s no such thing as an ‘ancient’ forest”) for US-based Greenbiz magazine. Greenbiz acknowledged me as the author, even printed my mugshot, and provided links to my Amazon author’s page. Greenbiz did all that they are meant to do.

Then in stepped the scammers. I quickly became aware of at least six websites using the excerpted article for their own purposes. Three of them were especially brazen. Each of the three claimed that “their” (ahem) article was reproduced with permission of the author. Excuse me! In no case, was this true. I had never even heard of them before!

But what really offended me were the major word changes that these shameless scammers made to my text, while at the same time claiming it was my work, and that I had given them permission to reproduce it.  BS! I am not going to repeat what they wrote (I can feel the anger rising again!) but they changed words so much that basically anyone with an ounce of sense reading the stuff would conclude that I was stupid and totally uninformed. For example, one website replaced the word “ancient” in my article with “historical” and then proceeded to explain the change by saying that “historical” means “previous,” as in “actually previous.” And Canada’s forests are usually not previous.”

This makes absolutely no sense, and yet it’s under my name! They also altered some basic facts in the article, and even managed to mangle direct quotes from other people in my text as well. I don’t mind legitimate reviews of my work (in fact, I encourage them) but to substantially alter and falsify my work while claiming that I had approved the changes is really beyond the pale.   

I sought legal advice. Which needless to say, was not cheap. And fired off letters to the three worst offenders, pointing out their flagrant breach of copyright law and demanding that they immediately remove the offending pieces from their websites. The good news is that they did so, although none offered any apologies.

I had hoped that would be the end of the matter, but no, I then discovered another website openly soliciting readers to download a PDF version of my book. There was an image of my front cover there, but one notable omission, my name. When you clicked on the link there was somebody else’s name there, the obvious implication being that this was the author. (At least I was in good company! Sapiens, A Brief History of Mankind by Yuval Noah Hariri was also available through the same person).

I checked with Amazon and was told it frequently encountered websites claiming to have Amazon-published books. It doubted this was so in my case, and suggested the site was a scam to glean credit card numbers from unsuspecting readers.

I had also by this time read some copyright protection literature, and followed its advice. I first wrote to the supposed owner or editor of the website (no luck); then to the hosts of the website (no response); and finally, to the registrar of the domain name. The latter directed me back to the website owners who eventually promised they would “look at it” (spurred no doubt when they spotted the email trail that I had deliberately left back to the owner of the domain name they operated through).

They did look at it, proudly informing me that readers could no longer download the book. I checked their website, and it was true. It now carried a message saying the download was not available any more. That was it. They completely avoided saying it should never have been available in the first place; that there was no consent from the copyright owner; or that the supposed author of the book was not, in fact, the author.

At my snarky best, I suggested to them that their effort seemed nothing but a scam to glean a credit card number, and said I would be interested in what sanctions the company had imposed (if any) on the person(s) responsible.

To which “Lucy” cheerily responded: “Hey there. Users receive a strike when content is removed from their account after their content is reported for infringement.”

Well, big whoopee to that! One strike, eh? You shamelessly rip off someone else’s work and need three strikes before you’re out? What a scam! Buyer beware!

(You can get the real book via my website www.johnmullinder.ca or more directly through Amazon (author’s page).