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Amazon.com aids and abets scammers
by Brenda Grantland 1-12-2011

(c) 2011, Brenda Grantland, Esq.

Copyright notice:  This article may be linked to, emailed, printed, and disseminated to others so long as it is done free of charge, without changes to the text, and with this copyright notice included.  However, this article may not be republished for sale, either by itself or as part of a compilation of other material, without written permission from the author.

The opinions stated in this blog are the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other associate of, or client represented by, the Law Office of Brenda Grantland.

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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 others. 

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.

Garth Skovgard

Copyright/Trademark Agent

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 to a 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 stating:
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 irate.

We demand that you immediately remove all reference to our organization in your listing.
He wrote me back an hour later:
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 datafeed.
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."