|Amazon.com aids and abets scammers
by Brenda Grantland 1-12-2011
(c) 2011, Brenda Grantland, Esq.
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It may not be full-blown fraud, but I think just about everybody would call this a scam.
As some of you know, I am the president of the board of Forfeiture
Endangers American Rights ("FEAR"). Judy Osburn, my paralegal and
FEAR's webmaster, was searching Amazon last week and came across this
title listed for sale:
Asset Forfeiture: Usa V. $124,700,
Nicholas L. Bissell, Jr., Forfeiture Endangers American Rights
Anyone reading the listing would naturally assume that Nicholas L.
Bissell, Jr. was the author and that Forfeiture Endangers American
Rights was the publisher, or somehow authorized the publication.
Neither was true. Nicholas
Bissell, Jr. was a New Jersey forfeiture prosecutor in the mid-1990s
who corruptly abused his position to obtain forfeited property through
extortion, was federally indicted and convicted of multiple counts, cut
his ankle bracelet off, became a fugitive, and killed himself when
apprehended. He has been dead since November 26, 1996, and
probably didn't write this book. I knew for sure that FEAR had
nothing to do with this publication, and did not give permission to
anyone to use its name in the listing or title of the book.
When we discovered this unauthorized listing on January 6, there were
nine sellers listed who offered the book through Amazon, including
Amazon itself. I immediately wrote every one of them, telling
them that FEAR did not authorize the use of its name, and asking them
to remove the title. I also told them that I had not read the
book but that it appeared to be articles downloaded from the FEAR
website, as both the Nicholas Bissell story and U.S. v. $124,700 are
the subjects of articles on our website. I also asked the sellers
to tell me who was supplying them with the book. The same day,
two sellers wrote back saying they would immediately remove the
listing, and telling me their supplier was Ingram Books.
I contacted Ingram Books and learned about "print on demand"
titles. Apparently there are a huge number of them listed on
Amazon. What this means is, there is no actual book in print and
bound form sitting in a warehouse waiting to be sent out when the book
sells. Instead, the POD seller has a data file containing the
entire "book" on a computer hard drive, and when they have a purchase
from Amazon they print out one copy and send it to the buyer.
Many of the POD book listings on Amazon.com list "Books LLC" as the
publisher, including the forfeiture book I was complaining about.
Ingram's legal department (a paralegal, actually) told me that the book
was probably not plagarized from the FEAR website, because the Amazon
listing showed Wikipedia as the source. There it was in small
print on the listing "source: Wikipedia" with no further
explanation. Also in the small print was a notation "26
pages". How could that be right -- a book with only 26 pages,
selling for $14 - $22.30 plus $3.99 shipping? Yep, Ingram's
paralegal confirmed it, it's 26 pages long. And "source:
Wikipedia" means the "publisher" downloaded the content entirely from
Wikipedia, which is legal, he assured me, because of Wikipedia's
special license which allows its articles to be republished by
I contacted Amazon.com's customer service on January 6 through their
on-line chat feature and chatted with them at length. The
rep saved the chat session to their complaint system said someone would
call me back. No one did. I called Amazon again on January
10, and they pulled up my registered complaint and added further
comments to it while I was talking to them. Customer service then
sent me an email telling me how to file a complaint of copyright
infringement with Amazon's legal department. I wrote Amazon's legal department on January 11
and demanded that they take the listing down because it infringes
FEAR's right to publicity, portrays FEAR in a false light (a form of
defamation), and constitutes false advertising and a scam to potential
buyers. This morning I had the following email from them:
Dear Ms. Grantland:
Thank you for your message. Please be advised that we are in the process of removing "Asset Forfeiture: Usa V. $124,700, Nicholas L. Bissell, Jr., Forfeiture Endangers American Rights [Paperback]" ISBN-10: 1158552653 from Amazon.com. It typically takes 2-3 days for a listing to disappear once it has been removed from our catalog. We trust this will bring this matter to a close.
This morning, five sellers still list this title with FEAR's name still
in it, including Amazon itself. Why does it take 2-3 days to
remove the listing? Since it is in the Amazon computer database,
it could be removed in a minute or less by an IT employee. It
appears to me that Amazon doesn't want to lose any potential sales of
the "book". Here's why I think so:
First, when I clicked the "be the first one to review this title"
button and entered a book review pointing out that this book was a
scam, not published by FEAR, and that it was only 26 pages long, my
review was sent in for processing and never appeared on the Amazon
listing. I did it again a day or two later, and a third
time. All of the "reviews" were blocked.
Secondly, when I asked Amazon's customer service representative for the phone
number of Books LLC, she searched (or pretended to search) their
database and said she could not find it. I googled "Books LLC"
and found their website had no address and no contact information other
than an email form on their cryptic website, which notes that they are
a "book club." The second entry in Google for "Books LLC" leads
question on Yahoo Answers, asking what Books LLC is, and whether its
republication of material downloaded from Wikipedia is legal. The answer given is that it is legal under Wikipedia's "Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License"
which allows anyone to "copy, distribute and transmit" material posted
on Wikipedia. That answers only one question -- whether Wikipedia
would sue for copyright infringement if Books LLC sells material from
Wikipedia as a "book" on Amazon. That doesn't mean this scam is
legal. Even with the cryptic notation "source: Wikipedia" the
listings for these "books" rely for their successful sales on
misleading the public. If a buyer knew that this meant that the
material in the book they were about to purchase (for almost $1 per
page in the case of the forfeiture book) could be found in its entirety
by just clicking over to Wikipedia, where it could be obtained for
free, no one would bother spending good money to buy the "book" --
which, in addition to the cost, would take a week or more to
arrive. Apparently a lot of disgruntled victims agree, as there
are many such stories listed in a google search for "Books LLC scam."
In response to my complaint to Ingram Books' legal department, I got an email on the 11th from "Thomas" at Books LLC,
glossing over and not responding to my complaint that the listing
falsely suggests that FEAR is the publisher, and telling me that what
they are doing is completely legal, and that if I want to take out
anything that offended our copyrights, we can edit the listing on
Wikipedia, whereupon Books LLC would "immediately re-typeset,
design and print the booklet". I immediately wrote him back
Your listing and the cover of your so-called "book"
infringes the right of publicity of Forfeiture Endangers American
Rights, Inc. and Forfeiture Endangers American Rights Foundation and
falsely suggests that FEAR is the publisher. This is false
advertising and it portrays FEAR in a false light (a form of
defamation) particularly since your 26 page "book" of material
downloadable for free from the internet is certainly not worth $15 -
$20, and any customers who are tricked into buying it will no doubt be
He wrote me back an hour later:
We demand that you immediately remove all reference to our organization in your listing.
I understand you are upset because the book's subtitle
mentions your organization. I'm pleased to let you know that our
editorial department has approved your request
and removed the name of your organization. You can see the change on
our website immediately and at Amazon as soon as they process our xml
Obviously they don't intend to quit selling the 26 page book for
roughly $1 per page - they will just take FEAR's name off the listing
when they get around to it. I just went to Amazon and searched
for "Books LLC" - which turns up an amazing 1,467,604 results!!!
Can that be true? Today, January 12, the book is still listed
with the infringing title in the search results for Books LLC on
Amazon. On the Books LLC website, the title is now listed as
"Asset Forfeiture" and under "chapters" it says "Usa V. $124,700,
Nicholas L. Bissell, Jr., Treasury Executive Office
for Asset Forfeiture, Innocent Owner Defense. Source: Wikipedia. Not
illustrated." It appears they have substituted "Treasury
Executive Office for Asset Forfeiture" for FEAR's name in the
subtitle. Depending how Amazon lists this in their "xml datafeed"
this could falsely suggest that the Treasury Office is the
authoritative source of the publication.
The long and short of it is that, today, six days after I wrote all
nine of the listed sellers, five sellers still advertise this title,
with its infringing, false advertising attributing the book to FEAR --
the most prominent seller being Amazon itself. Neither Amazon's
legal department nor Ingram's legal department even mentioned the
unfairness to the consumer of allowing Books LLC to sell 26 page
"books" comprised wholly of material downloaded for free from Wikipedia.
I just thought of a good product recommendation for the Amazon
"Customers Who Bought Items in Your Recent History Also Bought"
feature. Anyone gullible enough to purchase POD books from Books
LLC might be interested in purchasing a box of air. Not
compressed air, just plain air that was in the box when it was boxed up
and shipped. The listing on Amazon for such a box of air might
say something like "source: Mother Nature."