Hold onto your hats… this is gonna be a wild ride.
Miranda Devine, author of a book exposing Hunter Biden's laptop contents, discovered that a complete counterfeit of her book — cover and all — had been listed for sale on Amazon and had, as a counterfeit, apparently reached #9 as a paperback bestseller in its genre.
It's not clear when she discovered it (the internal evidence of the articles suggests 11/30), but this article covers the issue as of 12/3/2021. To add insult to injury, the counterfeit claims a publication date one day earlier than the real book. It also states that it was released one day before the official version, contains 124 pages, compared to 224 in the real version, and is “independently published,” as opposed to being published through the Post Hill Press.
Amazon did not immediately take the counterfeit down. Devine says her publisher sent a legal letter but apparently there was no action for several days. (This presumably was issued 11/30, with the flurry of articles following on 12/3.) By the afternoon of 12/3, the counterfeit had been removed from Amazon. Devine says, as of 12/12/2021, that Amazon has made refunds to its buyers.
As you might imagine, the flurry of articles on 12/3 brought the issue into public view, with some claiming this was politically (not just monetarily) motivated. It's hard to tell, of course, but I am struck by the number of remora-like attachments parasiting off the original work to take advantage of its topical interest.
Note that some of these have a publication date before the original work's date. I'm especially impressed by that famous author, Sam Summary, in the middle above. Do these summaries, parasitical though they are, accurately portray the work (highly doubtful, don't you think) or just screen-scrape media entries about the book prior to publication (in other words, shoddy work), or do they, more sinisterly, try to change the original work's content to deceive? In other words, are they monetary frauds or attempts to smother political speech?
Counterfeiting products on Amazon is nothing new, of course, nor is fraud in general. What's troubling here, though, is the fruitful ground for free speech abuse.
In this case, the counterfeit seems to be much shorter than the original, so it's unlikely to be a subtly modified version of the original's presentation and arguments — it was probably created out of raw materials with the usual haste and errors. But, really, it's just not that hard to take a published ebook, strip off the copy protection, modify its content, and then publish it as a counterfeit under a fake identity. The same resulting ebook is also an adequate source to back-create the print version of a counterfeit. This particular instance seems to be a clumsy counterfeit, but — as many hands-on technical self-publishers know — it could as easily have been a very clever version, and much much harder to detect, until someone realized there were two.
For that matter, does anyone look at the “Summary” books to see if they do accurately summarize their original or not? I wouldn't think anyone bothers with that — caveat emptor.
Protecting against a counterfeit created for monetary goals is one thing. Subverting the arguments of a non-fiction book? If this wasn't an instance of that, it makes it clear just what that danger might be. I would think that penetrating the fake identity of the counterfeiter wouldn't be that hard for Amazon, but will it do so? Can we expect it to?