In today’s episode we are going to out a two-bit huckster who tried to put one over on yours truly, take a quick detour through the verdant fields of copyright law (and the slightly plainer meadows of moral rights), and then end with an example of how to handle a scammer.
Sound fun? Strap yourselves in!
A helpful reader – who will remain nameless for reasons that will become obvious – emailed me yesterday morning. I was just about to start work but the subject line caught my attention: Did You Give Permission For This?
Uh oh. I started reading the message he had forwarded.
It had originated from a domain called IndieWriterSupport.com (you can cut-and-paste that address or Google it, but I’m not linking directly and giving them an SEO boost). And it appeared to be a straight cog from my book Let’s Get Visible.
At the end of this considerable (2,411 word!) chunk from Let’s Get Visible some text had been added promoting a product called KDSPY – which is the new name for what was previously known as Kindle Spy.
There was then a bit.ly link to purchase KDSPY, which suspiciously went direct to a PayPal purchase page rather than the site of KDSPY, followed by another call-to-action asking people to visit IndieWriterSupport.com – the same domain as the one which had sent the email.
To be clear: I have never used Kindle Spy, let alone endorsed it, and I certainly didn’t write about it in Let’s Get Visible – I think the product wasn’t even launched until a year after I published that book – and I hadn’t written about it anywhere else for that matter. I’d also never heard of the website sending the email, nor given them permission to use my work.
Someone had taken a chunk of text from Visible, without permission, and replaced the end of the chapter as I had written it with extra text endorsing Kindle Spy, as well as purchase links, making it look like I was making the endorsement.
You can make these images larger by clicking, but the green line on the left-hand side indicates text lifted from Visible (that’s the very end of over two thousand words nicked from my book), and the red line indicates text added by someone else to promote Kindle Spy.
Needless to say, I was quite unhappy about this.
Here comes the legal bit: I’m not a lawyer, and nothing in this post or elsewhere on this site should be construed as legal advice.
What I do have is a layman’s familiarity with legal concepts pertaining to my profession and knew straight away that this guy was breaching my copyright, and probably my moral rights as an author too. The first should be obvious, although there is an interesting wrinkle worth pointing out in case you find yourself in a similar situation.
When I released Let’s Get Visible, I did a few guest posts to promote the launch. One of those was on the blog of ALLi – the Alliance of Independent Authors. The post was essentially an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Let’s Get Visible, the one dealing with Amazon’s category system and explaining how to optimize your category metadata.
ALLi had permission to run that excerpt, but that doesn’t stop that work (and those words in particular) being protected under copyright, and doesn’t give carte blanche for anyone else to use it either.
And, while the definition of “Fair Use” is regularly debated, and defined differently by different jurisdictions and, it seems, different judges, it’s quite clear that this doesn’t fall under any definition or interpretation of Fair Use, especially given that they excerpted the entire chapter and were using it for clear commercial purposes.
TL;DR for lazy scammers: just because you find it on Google, that doesn’t mean you have the right to use it.
So that’s the copyright angle covered, but what about moral rights? It’s an interesting legal concept. Unlike copyright, the law actually varies significantly from country to country, but the basics are somewhat similar. Moral rights focus on two areas: the right of attribution and the right to integrity – which means that you have the right to be identified as the author of your work, and no one else has the right to chop and change your words.
Moral rights are separate from the economic rights enshrined in copyright law, and one interesting difference is that while copyright expires after a certain period, often moral rights are unlimited (meaning that your work still has to be attributed to you even after the period of copyright expires and your work passes into the public domain).
Anyway, it was clear this idiot was breaching my copyright, and I had a pretty strong argument that he was breaching my moral right to the integrity of my work by making it look like I endorsed this product when my book does no such thing. The next question was who was behind all this.
A quick visit to the site behind the email – IndieWriterSupport.com – raised all sorts of red flags. I could see right away that it was a shady operation, and it seemed to be linked to dodgy looking “publisher” called ParaDon Book Publishing (presumably named so that it might be confused with Dan Poynter’s “Para Publishing” – and considering Dan passed away just two months ago, that’s a particularly classy touch).
This “publisher” appears to have been operating since 2013. I found complaints online dating from then, slamming it for being a crappy vanity press which charges reading fees. I also found promotional videos for ParaDon on YouTube dating back that far. Hilariously, one of the videos literally takes you down a dark alley to tell you more!
This “publisher” also makes a string of claims regarding various partnerships it has.
To the owners of Pixel of Ink, BookBub, Kindle Nation Daily, E-reader News Today, KBoards, Free Kindle Books & Tips, Digital Book Today, World Literary Café (and many more): ParaDon Publishing is pretending to have a relationship with you which I’m presuming it doesn’t.
Back to my situation.
I didn’t know how widely this email had gone out, so my first step was to try and establish same, while putting out a quick statement on Twitter and Facebook to make sure that everyone knew that I didn’t give permission for this and wasn’t endorsing anything.
My next step was to contact the Kindle Spy team to confirm they knew nothing about this, and to – hopefully – get this guy booted from their affiliate program. Usually the best way to deal with scammers is to cut off their oxygen supply, and it seemed like Kindle Spy affiliate income was his main money-maker.
Turned out I was wrong.
The Kindle Spy team were great. I emailed them via their contact page and got a response right away. They were extremely helpful and in a position to confirm two surprising things. First, this guy wasn’t a Kindle Spy affiliate. Second, they reckoned this was the same guy they were already chasing – someone had pirated their software and was selling unauthorized copies of same.
At the same time, another helpful reader (who will also remain nameless) was doing some sleuthing. He followed the cyber-breadcrumbs and uncovered a bevy of potential aliases and false addresses, and indicated what he thought was the scammer’s real name and address – adding that there were already two arrest warrants out for someone of that name.
I won’t get into the weeds of all of that publicly for now, but you can cover much of the same ground by reading this Indies Unlimited investigation from 2013, or chasing down the names Judd Miller, Celina Marka, Artis Reed, and “newspaper mogul” Richard Egland – which all appear to be aliases of author Korede Abayomi – or by wading through this 22-page (!) warning thread on Absolute Write which includes ParaDon Books threatening a cyber-attack on their site (actually true! Plus just making the threat is a felony AFAIK). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg with this guy. Really.
Anyway, I happily passed a fairly thorough set of information to the Kindle Spy team for their own investigations and I plan to do the same with the relevant authorities.
But if you thought the story would end there, you would be wrong!
I made sure to tag the Twitter handle of Indie Writers Support when tweeting the blow-by-blow yesterday. I generally do this for two reasons. First, to try and get a response – often these guys aren’t very smart and will make a slip and/or admit their crimes. Second, so that the followers of that account will see my complaints.
This can usually go either way – total silence, or a hilarious attempt at defending the indefensible. Guess which one this genius chose?
Well thanks for admitting it. That was a real help!
There were lots more of those along the same lines, but my personal favorite where he actually trots out the E word:
So what’s next for this scammer? Who knows, but if it’s the guy I think it is, two arrest warrants were issued in the last few weeks in Great Falls, Montana, so it looks like the walls are closing in. Maybe when he’s doing a stretch he can ponder a little paradox: all this effort he’s putting in scamming people seems to be more trouble than, you know, actually earning your money.
And if you are this terrible at scamming, maybe you should change profession.