Help! Someone else is selling my book!

Dont-Panic1While taking a short break from obsessively Googling your name and checking your KDP dashboard, you wander over to search for your book on Amazon. Imagine your surprise when – gasp – you see two listings. Or three listings. Or even more! Someone named IHeartBooks is selling your paperback on Amazon! Not only that, but – horror of horrors – they’re charging more than you are. Or maybe less than you are. Or maybe you’re one of those authors who’s stumbled across a copy of your paperback selling on Amazon for $6,789 or some such outrageous price.

The stinkin’ pirates! You should immediately fire off a DMCA takedown notice to have your book removed. Shouldn’t you?

Well … no, actually.

Why not, you ask?

Because your book hasn’t been pirated, and no one has violated your copyright.

I’ll give you a minute to catch your breath.

Here’s the deal:  if someone is selling your paperback, they got it from somewhere, right? Maybe it’s a used copy. The first sale doctrine, “…codified at 17 U.S.C. § 109, provides that an individual who knowingly purchases a copy of a copyrighted work from the copyright holder receives the right to sell, display or otherwise dispose of that particular copy, notwithstanding the interests of the copyright owner. The right to distribute ends, however, once the owner has sold that particular copy.”  [Italics theirs.]

That’s right; sellers have every right to sell a used copy of your book. This is how we’re able to buy used books, DVDs, and CDs.

But this is a new copy, you say? You haven’t even sold a copy yet, but someone is selling new copies on Amazon?

Third-party sellers often advertise books they don’t yet have. Why? Beats me. Maybe to increase their inventory and make their online store look bigger. At any rate, if someone wanders along and decides to buy your book from one of them, they have to provide a copy of your book. Where do they get it? Most likely, if you’re using CreateSpace Expanded Distribution, from CreateSpace Direct.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at your sales channels on CreateSpace. See CreateSpace Direct in the screenshot below? When you click on the blue “What’s this?” link underneath, this is the popup you get.

CreateSpace Direct

That’s right. If that option is checked, you’ve given permission for independent and used bookstores to buy your books at wholesale prices. Eligible buyers can buy your book at a wholesale price from CreateSpace, and sell it for a profit on Amazon. You still get paid for these sales, by the way.

Smart shoppers will search for the lowest price. That might be the sales price you’ve listed it for through CreateSpace, or that might be a lower price offered by a reseller who purchased it at a wholesale price directly from CreateSpace.

Those outrageously priced books? Again, a smart shopper will look for the best price. If a third-party seller can pay me – via CreateSpace – the wholesale price and then turn around and sell my book on Amazon for $6,789, I seriously need to take some lessons from that person.

Either way, you get paid for the book. If it’s a used copy, you were at one time paid for a new purchase. If it’s a new copy, the seller has to buy it before they can sell it, at which time you’ll be paid.

Now, having said all that, there could be a couple of exceptions, particularly for bigger publishers.

1. If you or your publisher have sent out ARCs (advanced review copies), those sometimes get sold as “new” on places such as Amazon, even though it’s against their rules.

2. Likewise, if you or your publisher choose to have stores return or destroy unsold copies, those remaindered copies may end up being sold as new instead of being returned or destroyed, which is also against Amazon’s rules.

If that happens, the seller really is making money from a book for which you were never paid, which while not necessarily illegal (I’m not an attorney, and copyright law is full of gray areas), is against Amazon’s rules. Still, it’s doubtful these two scenarios have much impact on indie authors and small presses simply because we don’t tend to send out many paperback ARCs, and our paperbacks (sadly) don’t tend to be on a high number of brick-and-mortar bookstore shelves from which they might be returned/destroyed. But it’s worth noting.

I suppose, worst case scenario, I’d probably just be grateful someone bought one of my books and might enjoy it enough to buy another one – preferably from me next time.

Author: Melinda Clayton

Melinda Clayton is the author of the Cedar Hollow series, as well as a self-publishing guide. Clayton has published numerous articles and short stories in various print and online magazines. She has an Ed.D. in Special Education Administration and is a licensed psychotherapist in the states of Florida and Colorado. Lear more about Melinda at her Amazon author page

19 thoughts on “Help! Someone else is selling my book!”

    1. Yep, I saw that. I think – hopefully – the impact on indie authors and publishers will be minimal, if for no other reason than we typically don’t send out paperback ARCs, and – regrettably – don’t have tons of books on store shelves. I think those two situations will cause the biggest impact to be on the Big 5 publishers. I could be wrong, but I’m hopelessly optimistic.

  1. My problem is someone giving my book away for free. I think a lot of people have that problem. I found out about it through “Google Alerts.” I have all my titles listed there.
    However, in order to send a DMCA takedown notice, I have to find my book on their site, and get a bunch of data. In order to do that, I have to join, and give my credit card number! Catch 22. No way am I giving them my credit card number, because I can tell you from bitter personal experience that VISA considers giving someone your credit card number to be giving them permission to bill you just about anything they like, and VISA will not protect you.
    So I just listed my book (it’s the first in the series) as free, myself, and let it go at that.

  2. I have a similar situation: I made a few changes to a couple of book covers and a manuscript, a few days later, I noticed some additional book editions showing up at ridiculous prices, but attributed to my amazon author page. On contacting amazon, I was told those were amazon database errors and ghost books and would be removed on their next database update, well they are still out there as are some of my older covers. At some point you just throw your hands up and give up trying to reason with the amazon dinosaur.

  3. Melinda, Dailymotion is a video sharing company from France. My book appears with a group of others as a brief clip of pdf content when I Google it. I was quite alarmed that this could be a copyright violation, since I noted on Wikipedia there is a history of such claims. I wrote and was warned that if I am wrong making the report, I can be sued. Troubling, but reported anyway, and received an email reply directly, that the user was asked to take it down. It’s back up. Can you tell if there is any reason for concern? Or should I consider it free advertising? Thanks, and sorry for the long entry!

    1. Hi Mary – it must be down again, because when I click to play I get an “Oh, no!” screen saying there was an error. Honestly, if it’s just a snippet – 10% or so, I’d probably consider it free advertising. Someone once created their own book trailer for my first novel, Appalachian Justice, and put it on YouTube (where I already have a trailer, lol). At first I was a little shocked, but then realized that could actually be a very good thing!

      1. I couldn’t even get the page to load. I’ve seen some of my books in the same types of videos – and there’s a link beneath to take to a fake pirate site. So I wouldn’t even worry about it.

    1. Hi Karen – thanks for the question. I read the Huffington Post article about/around the same time I read the one on IBPA (linked to above by Mr. Cohen – if you scroll to comments on the IBPA article, you’ll see a left one – and I’m clearly in the minority there!). In fact, those articles are part of what spurred this post. I saw authors in various discussion boards panicking about Amazon’s new policy. On one discussion board, an author sent DMCA notices to third-party sellers and had them banned from Amazon, presumably while Amazon did an investigation. This particular author was recommending other authors do the same.

      But that’s not the appropriate course of action. Third-party sellers have a legal right to sell our books. That’s how some of them make a living; sending DMCA notices based on a misunderstanding of copyright law – or a misunderstanding of our own CreateSpace settings – isn’t the way to go. In fact, that’s precisely the message authors who began to follow the original poster’s advice began to receive from Amazon.

      I do understand the concern that there may be third-party sellers selling used books and listing them as new. I also believe the seller hurts him/herself by deceiving customers, and this will eventually be evident to customers via negative seller reviews. (One author complained that a third-party seller’s bad review ended up on the book’s product page, bringing down her ratings average. That’s obviously not the correct place for that review, but that situation isn’t specific to third-party sellers. Many authors have received reviews on the book page for issue related to Kindles, related to stores, related to Amazon’s customer service, etc. Customers are sometimes confused as to where to leave which review, but again, that issue isn’t specific to third-party sellers.)

      I also understand the fear that paperback ARCs and remaindered books might be sold as new on Amazon (even though it’s against Amazon’s policy), for a lower price than our own listing, meaning – since those books weren’t sold to begin with – authors never receive a royalty from the sale of those books. But as I discussed above, this is much more likely to be an issue for big publishers than it is for indie authors, simply because we don’t tend to send out paperback ARCs, and unfortunately don’t tend to have a lot of books on brick-and-mortar store shelves. Seal Press, discussed in the Huffington Post article, is an imprint of Hatchette. Spark Press, while not one of the Big New York 5, is still a good-sized publishing house that, according to their website, has access to “traditional channels” used by the Big 5. In other words, the issue of paperback ARCs and remaindered copies is very much an issue for them, while it likely isn’t for an indie author.

      All of this isn’t to say an indie author will never face any of the issues listed above. We well might, just as every so often we find our ebooks listed on pirate sites. I’ve also written a few articles about that: http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2015/06/08/my-book-is-being-pirated-what-can-i-do/ But after a few years in this business, I’ve learned when the sky is falling in Indieland, I need to step back and take a deep breath and think through potential scenarios before panicking.

      I don’t *like* Amazon’s policy change in regards to the “Buy” button, but at the same time, I realize indie authors and small presses aren’t likely to be impacted by it in a significant way – ironically, because we don’t have access to the resources that will cause bigger publishers to feel the negative effects.

    1. My case is a little different, in that I use CreateSpace for publication to Amazon, and IngramSpark for publication to other outlets (This explains why: http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2016/12/14/moving-print-book-files-from-createspace-to-ingramspark/). Before moving to IngramSpark, I did use Expanded Distribution with CreateSpace, and was happy anytime I found out (twice, if I remember correctly) that someone found a book of mine in an indie bookstore.

      Anytime a reader finds a book of mine – in an online store, a library, or a brick-and-mortar store – I have a shot at gaining a fan. I like fans. 🙂 Someone once remarked to me that it was interesting that many indie authors will actually pay to give away books, but become upset when they find a book on a pirate site or with a third-party seller. It was an interesting point.

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