Another problem AI has created for authors is generating a book and falsely attaching the name of a well-known author. Although Amazon has begun to crack down on this problem, this crackdown also seems to entrap some publishers who are trying to publish the work of real authors. That’s because these publishers now have to produce all kinds of documents to prove the author really has authorized them to publish the book, leading to a struggle to prove they have this permission. Adding to their difficulty in proving they have this right, they can only communicate with the Amazon Content Review team members by email, and they may get a different team member each time they exchange emails. In the meantime, their books remained blocked from publication. Even getting an ISBN from Bowker doesn’t matter. Those books get blocked, too.
That’s what happened to a relatively new publisher – J. Michael Publishing, which was originally founded to published a series of children’s picture books about a duck named Googala Duck who decided to remain home for the winter because he loved the pond.It was written the founder/author John Pluff based on stories he told his children when they were growing up. Then, he decided to expand into publishing other books by an editor he worked with, Gini Graham Scott, who published over 250 books with both traditional publishers and through her own companies, Changemakers Publishing and Changemakers Kids.
Everything was fine when Pluff published Scott’s book Once Upon a Time in Ukraine, which featured over 200 photos she took when she visited Ukraine on a citizen diplomacy trip 35 years ago in 1989, during the Glasnost years. The book even received a glowing testimonial from a Ukrainian-American who settled in California and became a successful businessman.
But about six weeks ago, the publishing nightmare for Pluff began, when he was caught up by what appears to be Amazon’s policy of cracking down on new publishers publishing books by established authors, because maybe the authors didn’t write those books. And it would appear this crackdown started because fraudsters used AI to generate books for sale under the name of the well-known author Jane Friedman, who writes books about writing and publising. After she complained that the titles she didn’t write were falsely listed as being written by her on both Amazon and Amazon’s reviews site Goodreads. Amazon at first refused to remove the books, because she hadn’t trademarked her name. But after Jane Friedman, who wrote several books about the publishing industry, The Business of Being a Writer and Publishing 101, spoke out about what happened to her on the social media, Amazon finally took down five books that she said were falsely attributed to her.
And that’s fine. Amazon should take down AI-generated or any other books falsely attributed to an author to promote sales. And Amazon should have a policy to do so, according to Friedman. According to a Guardian article by Ella Creamer: “Amazon Removes Books ‘Generated by AI’ for Sale Under Author’s name,” Frieman stated: “Unless Amazon puts some sort of policy in place to prevent anyone from just uploading whatever book they want and applying whatever name they want, this will continue. It’s not going to end with me. They have no procedure for reporting this sort of activity where someone’s trying to profit off someone’s name.” And on her blog, she called on Amazon to “create a way to verify authorship.”
Certainly, any author would agree with that request. But the problem is that this requirement to verify authorship can turn into a nightmare for some publishers who suddenly have to verify that they are publishing the work of a real author. Then, to do so, they have to get all kinds of verification that they may not have, including contracts, copyright registrations, and other documents proving that the author assigned the rights to their book to their publishing company.
That’s what happened for J. Michael Publishing, after publisher John Pluff tried to publish three books by Gini Graham Scott, the author of 200 plus books, starting with: Ask AI: An Advice Column with Real Advice for Real Problems from Real People, followed by the books Ask AI: The Game: A Game of Giving Advice for Real Problems, and Ask AI’s Advice: Advice from AI for Real Problems from Real People and a Game of Giving Advice for Real Problems.
Oddly, the paperbacks for the first two books went live without a problem, and they still are live. But then the Kindle editions were blocked, and when the publishing company tried to republish the books with ISBNs, they got blocked because the books were the same as the previously published or blocked books. Then Amazon turned down Ask Ais Advice, a completely different book with a different cover, which was about twice as long, since it combined Ask AI and Ask AI: The Game, was blocked, too, even though it included “Published by J. Michael Publishing” on the cover and title page.
Initially, after the first book was blocked, with no explanation, Pluff, as the publisher, sent a letter to Amazon’s Content Review team on July 12, after Gini Graham Scott’s call as the author wasn’t enough, since the letter about the book had to come from the publisher. But his letter of explanation wasn’t enough. The Review Team needed more documentation and wrote back in part:
“We’ve reviewed the information you provided. Based on our review, we’re unable to confirm that you hold the necessary publishing rights.
The information you provided is insufficient because of the following concerns…
• Documentation has not been provided to confirm that the author granted you rights to publish the content.
• Documentation has not been provided to confirm that rights were reverted to the author from the previous publisher.
In order to publish the book(s), reply to this email within 5 days and provide us with further documentation and/or verification showing you hold rights to the content.
Please reply to confirm your publishing rights within 5 days. Otherwise, the book(s) will be unavailable for sale on Amazon.
So Pluff sent a letter from Scott showing the title page of the book, the copyright notice in her name, and her statement that she had granted the publishing rights to J. Michael Publishing.But that wasn’t good enough, and on July 13, Pluff received a letter from another Content Review Team member, stating that based on the information he provided they were still “unable to confirm that you hold the necessary publishing rights,” because they did not have a contract signed by all the parties.
Initially, he didn’t have a formal contract, since he had worked out the agreement with Scott through emails, phone calls, and a personal meeting. So Scott drafted a contract he could send. But even this wasn’t enough, since the contract lacked a personal signature from Scott assigning the copyright, according to another email from still another Content Review team member. And there was no one that the publisher could talk to personally to straighten everything out.
Eventually, Scott published the books herself under her own publishing company, Changemakers Publishing, with the understanding that any sales would be credited to the J. Michael Publishing Company, once it could publish the three books.
In short, J. Michael Publishing’s exchange with Amazon’s Content Review Team reflects what appears to be a new policy of cracking down to avoid AI-generated content being used to create books falsely attributed to well-known authors. But the policy can also ensnare some publishers, most notably new small publishers, into a confusing trap where they have to provide documentation that they may not initially have to show that they have the rights to publish an author’s work.
Thus, according to author Scott, there is a need to balance out the needed removal falsely attributed AI-generated content when authors protest that they didn’t write those books with the opposite situation where a publisher validly publishes the work of an author.
As Scott states: “If the author is claiming the publisher has the right to publish the work and is not asking Amazon to remove it, that should be enough to show the publisher can publish the book. A publisher shouldn’t have to go through all kinds of legal hoops to affirm the right to publish an author’s book, which could discourage some small independent publishers from publishing the work of outside authors. Or going through an extended verification process could increase their costs of publishing, leading to increased charges to customers or reduced payments to authors they publish. So there should be a balance between cracking down on AI-generated or other books falsely attributed to real authors and not extending this crackdown to publishers trying to publish the work of real authors.”