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Amazon Caught Selling Counterfeits of Publisher’s Computer Books–Again (arstechnica.com)
282 points by howard941 on Feb 19, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 163 comments

The counterfeit and review manipulation issues have rendered Amazon unpleasant enough for me that buying local is something I've started to enjoy again.

I trust the merchant to have performed some kind of vetting for merchandise sold on premise, and the price is often good or (interestingly enough) even better than on Amazon. Often enough local is still more expensive, but it beats browsing Amazon for an hour, sifting through reviews that can no longer be trusted.

I purchased some wire cutters a year or two ago from Amazon and they were fine for the speaker wire I was cutting... Until this year when I tried to cut a guitar string with them and found a perfect guitar gauged hole in my snips every time I tried to cut.

I was irate, having paid $10 for these. So I go online to leave a review and warn people off... only to find that the seller "no longer existed". They absolutely did, and were selling their awful snips but had changed their name and paid for a bunch of 5 star reviews again.

I've been far more aware as of late that whenever I search for something (say the staple gun I recently got my wife) all I get are offbrand or knockoff results showing for often several pages. I have to go, figure out which brands are reputable and then come back to actually make my purchase.

I'd rather just go to a brick and mortar at this point. I'm definitely not renewing my amazon prime.

I had a similar experience with a cookbook I was gifted that turned out to be fake: the author had impressive credentials (top culinary schools, etc.) but when I went to find more information about her I couldn't - all I could find was the same "author photo" for sale on a stock photo site. The book was a cobbled-together collection of recipes, some incomplete, apparently collected haphazardly from around the web.

I left a review saying this on the book, and Amazon deleted it because they thought my review was fraudulent. Of course, the book at the time had a 5-star rating from fake accounts.

> So I go online to leave a review and warn people off... only to find that the seller "no longer existed". They absolutely did, and were selling their awful snips but had changed their name and paid for a bunch of 5 star reviews again.

I wouldn't be so certain about that. I've found that there are a lot of sellers selling the same things, but they're not the same sellers under different names, they're just getting stuff from the same places. Often, for cheap things, the source is AliExpress (or Alibaba), or potentially cutting out that middleman and just getting them direct from the companies that sell on aliexpress/alibaba.

It's also been my experience that pretty much _anything_ that isn't a big name brand item being sold on Amazon can be found for much much cheaper on Aliexpress. The exact same product, just without the 1000%-2000% markup.

> I purchased some wire cutters a year or two ago from Amazon and they were fine for the speaker wire I was cutting... Until this year when I tried to cut a guitar string with them and found a perfect guitar gauged hole in my snips every time I tried to cut.

This is normal.

For instance, when I work on my bicycle, I have to use a $40 Park Tool to cut brake lines and shifter cables. The $40 tool delivers far better results than you could ever get from a conventional wire cutter.

$10 snips should be better than that!

I replaced them with $5 Stanley wire cutters that had 0 issue dealing with guitar strings.

So what happened is I was given a 10c piece of junk and paid $10 for the privilege of being ripped off.

inexpensive wire snips are usually only good for cutting copper wire, though. they aren't made of hardened steel, which is necessary for cutting the steel guitar strings.

I've trashed a couple of pairs of nice wire cutters by using them on guitar strings; you really need a pair of hard wire cutters rated to cut 2mm piano wire. StewMac sell a perfectly satisfactory pair for $12, but I'd suggest a pair from Knipex or Xuron if you do a lot of string changes.




Yep, came here to say the same thing. "Hard wire cutter" is a tool you need to own apart from "wire cutter."

If you ever try to cut a spring, you will get the same issue.

Yes. Here's a photo of my Lindstrom cutters (good, but for copper) and they show the diameter wire they're rated for. And these were not $10 snips.


$10 is not inexpensive for wire snips though. Which is my complaint.

I worked in electronic sub-contract manufacturing for over ten years. We built products for coal mining, and test equipment for aerospace, and products for a variety of domestic and commercial uses. All of this involved use of a wide range of hand tools.

A few people have told you that wire cutters come in two forms: hardened and not hardened, and that if you wish to cut steel you should buy cutters that are rated for steel. The price does not tell you this information. The data sheet for the tool does.

Here's a pair of snips that cost over £50. I'd be displeased if you borrowed mine and used them to cut guitar wire. https://uk.rs-online.com/web/p/cable-cutters/0614766/

One thing you can't see in the images is that these cutters tell you what wire you can cut on them: https://imgur.com/a/Zk3LBCE

If you want to cut steel you need snips that specifically say they can cut steel. These don't have to be expensive: Here are some for £7. https://uk.rs-online.com/web/p/cable-cutters/0732820/

$10 is nothing compared to the cost of high end, quality hand tools that will last. In the case of a expecting to cut hardened wire, the cutter needs to be of a good alloy and hardened adequately to hold an edge. $10 doesn’t buy anything from the knipex catalog, for instance.

Guitar wire should be perfectly fine to cut with $10 snips. The $5 Stanley brand snips that I got to replace my terrible ones work like a charm.

I recognize I don't have the heaviest duty cut-through-anything shears that I could have with more money, but where I'm mainly doing light jobs like speaker wire and guitar strings it's not a problem... unless the snips themselves are terrible.

I don't expect to have to replace the Stanley set unless they become rusty from disuse.

Guitar strings (or at least the ones I usually buy) tend to be a lot harder/tougher than your typical electrical wire (electrical wire usually ain't designed to be stretched to high tension and strummed/plucked repeatedly). Not that surprising that a $10 tool would have issues with them.

The $5 Stanley snips I bought later have no problem.

It was just me getting ripped off.

Ha ha, I had the exact same experience cutting guitar string with wire cutters from my local dollar store.

This will be your experience 99% of the time using cheap wire cutters on strings. They’re meant for soft copper wire, and strings have steel cores!

The $5 guitar string tool will work every time, though.

A good pair of dikes starts at about $80 and goes up from there. Don't use them to cut anything but copper wire. :)

The third party seller stuff has really killed my faith in Amazon. If I wanted to have to read reviews for the entity selling the good and have some expectation of getting a counterfeit/broken good, I would go to eBay. I used to go to Amazon because I could trust them, but that trust is lonnng gone. These days I'm shopping more and more locally, because I can actually see the thing I'm buying.

Side note: I'm sad to see NewEgg headed in this same eBay-clone direction.

Actually I find ebay to be much better than Amazon for buying. I can read the seller reviews and I know they're generally legitimate. Particularly the negative reviews, which is all I need to see if I want to know what the seller does wrong, if anything.

I can look up a seller to make sure he's sourced an item properly, for example, newegg sells SD cards on ebay so I know newegg is sourcing SD cards properly and I'm good to go. Or I look up a seller and they claim to be a licensed Nikon supplier I know I'm probably ok or I could even call up Nikon to verify they're a licensed supplier.

If I want something fake/cloned I know I can just buy cheap from the chinese supplier and I don't have to pay a markup to a middle man. But if I want it right away, I can order from someone in the same state as me and pay a couple extra bucks, and I know it's the clone cuz the picture is the exact same.

You get a lot of information on ebay that you don't get on Amazon.

The best part about Ebay is that if you do get a fraud item and can prove it Ebay simply refunds you and you can keep whatever you got since it wasn't what was advertised.

Amazon to the best of my knowledge does make you return items for refunds even when they are frauds.

in some jurisdictions it is required to destroy these frauds

Newegg does at least have a 'Newegg only' checkbox so you can avoid the outside sellers. I will still buy electronics from Newegg for that reason. No longer trust Amazon for those.

Newegg is fine as long as you never have to return anything you've purchased.

Which means it's not fine for Electronics. Their returns policy seems to be assuming that everyone attempting a return is malicious and trying to cheat them.

Yeah, I've always wondered why Newegg hasn't changed those unfriendly policies in nearly 15 years. I recall buying exactly 3-4 items from them: a digital camera in 2007, a couple of refurbished monitors in 2016, and a tablet in 2018.

The lack of free shipping seems insane given how much the products already cost, and the "Return minus 15% restocking fee" really doesn't make me want to come back.

Guess I never paid enough attention to the return policy. That does make me less likely to shop there.

Who do you recommend for electronics?

I'm in Canada, so gadget prices are high and Amazon's price competitiveness and selection advantage is close to zero compared to Best Buy. But when I lived in the States, Amazon's no-questions asked return policy won me over.

From the other side of the equation: my grandpa runs the Amazon storefront for a charity for which he volunteers (said charity sells donated books in support of the local library system). He sells the big-ticket stuff on Amazon (usually at a fraction of the lowest price, which still brings in plenty of money given the acquisition cost is effectively zero), and anything not valuable enough to break even on shipping (or otherwise doesn't get sold on Amazon) gets sold in a physical storefront next to one of the libraries (big-ticket books being sold individually, and the other books being sold in bulk by the customer filling a plastic shopping bag full of books at a flat rate).

One of the weird things about Amazon is that it doesn't give you an easy way to provide photos for the item you yourself are selling (e.g. your used copy of a book), and if your item is similar enough to an existing item (e.g. same UPC or ISBN or whatever), Amazon will railroad you toward using the existing listing (but will still put you in the "new and used" list).

In other words: the same Amazon quirks that seem to benefit counterfeiters also seem to benefit my grandpa's charity, so I guess I should be grateful and appreciative when I get a knockoff at my doorstep.

My last two Amazon purchases ended up being counterfit, even after spending a ton of time trying to avoid counterfits. I'm still going to use my fake electric toothbrush heads and fake Apple 5W USB charger, but I'm not using Amazon anymore.

Careful with those fake chargers. They're known to catch fire.

And shock you or destroy your equipment. A lot of what makes real (UL/ETL listed) chargers expensive is making sure that line voltage stays adequately separated from the low voltage side.

I would add "In a small space" Making an larger power supply that keeps the high and low sides adequately separated is pretty easy and cheap as long as you stick to genuine components.

But that then leads onto the whole fake component issue. For example the component will be a optocoupler but the dirt cheap knock off supply may not be using the same level of quality or a knock off component as those found in genuine power supplies which _could_ create a High to Low voltage path if that part failed.

> A lot of what makes real (UL/ETL listed) chargers expensive is making sure that line voltage stays adequately separated from the low voltage side.

Even a very cheap and simplified design can do that. I wouldn't say "a lot" at all, maybe a few percent of the cost at most. It's a corner that could possibly be cut, but it's not one of the bigger corners.

I've done a lot of charger teardowns, and very cheap chargers always violate UL safety rules. It's a combination of cost (e.g. triple-insulated transformers), it's hard to fit clearance distances into a small charger, sloppy manufacturing, and they don't seem to even try.

I respect your superior expertise, of course, but looking through another site that has done systematic teardowns and measurements (https://lygte-info.dk/info/ChargerIndex%20UK.html), it appears to me that this might be too categorical a statement. While counterfeit chargers almost always seem to be dangerous, there seem to be some Chinese brands which produce quite respectable chargers, while still being fairly inexpensive.

The point is that you don't know. A legitimate branded charger will have been tested in a certified test lab, while an off-brand or counterfeit charge is likely to have a counterfeit UL mark. It might be perfectly safe or it might be a complete deathtrap, because nobody has actually tested it for compliance.

I need a bunch of chargers for a sensor network (Right now using Wemos D1 Mini boards). Any advice on optimizing for price without compromising on safety? I don't trust the sellers that sell $2 chargers...

Anker, Aukey and Blitzwolf make reasonably priced and high quality chargers.

This summer I, had a dehumidifier plugged in with a 3-prong connector . . good thing I, checked it shortly after I started the unit ,the adapter was very/warm . . a short in a cheap adapter . . went to electric supply store and made sure I got a high quality UL rated brand.

There was a kid in the news recently who was electrocuted to death because of their fake charger.


That story looks bogus. Snopes [1] says:

> Neither Sinar Harian nor its English-language peer the New Strait Times asserted that the youngster was electrocuted by the earphones he was wearing, but that was the conclusion reached by a number of international publications, including widely-read U.S.-based Vice and Teen Vogue, both of whom aggregated the story.


> As an emergency room doctor, Uren& stopped short of calling the notion impossible because “I have seen some strange things in my career thus far,” but he added the story that the teen died from being electrocuted by earbuds “strains credibility.”

[1] https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/electrocuted-by-earphones/

There's been multiple reports of people dying through headphones. Maybe they're all bogus, but considering an ER doctor presumably knows nothing about electronics, I'll disregard his opinion. Instead I'll listen to what an electronics engineer thinks about counterfeit chargers:


Here's a high profile case from Australia a few years ago.


Amazon now only allows authorized Apple sellers on any Apple products so shouldn't be an issue there

I've noticed that it's all come full-circle for me again too, when it comes to purchasing from Amazon. It seems that I can't even trust the "verified purchase" reviews anymore.

The practice of shipping empty boxes to shill reviewers is fairly widespread


"According to the suit, the site operated by Gentile offers to provide fake “verified reviews” for a premium, telling the sellers that they can ship empty boxes to reviewers involved in the scheme, to trick Amazon into thinking that the product had actually been purchased."

They're not really tricking Amazon when Amazon is giving a conscienscious zero fucks about any of these things. This is all happening at a rate they must find acceptable or they'd be acting to reduce these problems to a level they do find acceptable.

I’m in the US at the moment, road tripping around, never quite sure where I’ll be, even a few days out. Hence why It’s easier to buy local, than via any online store.

But searching for products in the local area / at local stores is nearly impossible.

Using google is useless, everything is e-commerce listings.

And even if you search many local stores directly they make it nearly impossible to determine if the products are actually in stock/in store vs part of their ecommerce offering / available in store in 3-5 days.

Does anyone know any decent options?

Walmart's website will tell you if it's available in their local store. You can also order online and pick up at the store without a delivery fee.

You can also return or exchange items at a different Walmart if you keep your receipt.

Actually that’s cool, in the US they have these features.

The Canadian Wal-Mart website was impossible in this regard, but in the US you can search only in store, today and within xx miles. Appreciate it.

Home Depot and Target support this as well (Home Depot will even tell you the aisle and bin the item is in from their mobile app). Target inventory can be delayed up to 24 hours, so call ahead in case the quantity shown in store is low single digits.

I suppose people just don't want you to know, so you're forced to browse?

At one point I considered doing this as a business - paying people to walk through the store recording video that's then used to fill out a catalogue. Maybe offer it as a service to businesses.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of stuff that simply can't be bought local (even in major cities, let alone small towns). The Internet is necessary in these cases.

The good news is that there are plenty of smaller online stores that tend to be a bit more specialized, and as long as they accept something reasonably secure like PayPal or Bitcoin, I'm a lot less nervous about shopping on those sites instead.

Browsing physical books is a lot more fun, too. Just looking at a shelf and picking something up and flipping through it. That's an experience you could never get on Amazon. Both in the sense of interacting with objects and also the discomfort of knowing that whatever the browse/search interface, the items you see are the results of "optimization".

Agree - except for things that are <~$20 and don’t have a super high confidence of being in stock (random calculator battery or special kitchen utensil etc)

I knew this would blow up. Sadly, Amazon/createspace (now called KDP) apparenty has no mechanism or will to ban users who abuse the system. I am a KDP author myself, with three titles under my belt in the nature/regional category. About three months ago I noticed flagrant copyright infringement of a well-known author in my field. The title had a one star rating, because a number of people had left negative reviews pointing out (in no uncertain terms) that it was not genuine.

I emailed and then called support (twice) and pointed it out. Even after escalating the issue as far as I could, it resulted in no action. Even a cursory review should have stopped the title from being published, since it was of ridiculously poor-quality (analogous to someone publishing a title called "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Legacy by J.K. Rowling" and having an apparently legit front cover but an interior filled with almost nonsensical, semi-autogenerated text). The fact that a title like this can be published on the platform at all indicates that the review process for new titles is sadly lacking any application of common sense.

I'm appreciative that Amazon is pushing the envelope in supporting self-publishers via their print on demand services, but by failing (and actually refusing) to police it they are giving a bad name to the whole enterprise. Through their inaction they are encouraging the copyright infringers and scammers to turn what could/should be a great service into a toxic ecosystem.

There are so many glaring problems.

I don't know why you can't just highlight text in a kindle book and say:

  [x] typo
  [x] mispelling
  [x] grammatical error
  [x] garbage characters
  [x] plagiarized
  [x] missing section separator
  [x] other [______________]
maybe the REAL issue is that all of these are post-sales problems

In the Tweet about one of the counterfeits, Bill Pollock says:

> Images of counterfeit copies of Python for Kids being sold on Amazon. Legit copies are thicker, color, layflat binding, nicer paper

I've noticed on occasion my local Barnes & Noble will have two copies of a book and one will be noticeably thicker than the other. Same edition, same cover art, same number of pages, but one just seems to be on thicker paper.

I've only noticed this in the computer section, but I generally only visit that section, other STEM sections, science fiction, and graphic novels, and of those only the computer section is likely to have multiple copies of books that are thick enough that a difference in thickness would be noticeable while browsing, so there may be selection bias here.

Does this mean counterfeits are even making their way onto bookstore shelves? Or do some publishers have a range of paper sizes they might use for a give book, and what is actually used varies from print run to print run?

No, it's likely to be different legitimate print runs. Sometimes the same paper is unavailable, sometimes a book moves to a different manufacturing method based on demand (e.g., offset to short run to print-on-demand).

The source of Amazon's problem is their third-party marketplace and their practice of "co mingling" third-party stock with their "regular" stock -- this is unlikely to be the case with Barnes & Noble

I ordered a copy of Deep Learning [1] from Amazon last week. On Barnes & Noble [2] the book costs $76.80. On Amazon it is just $28.00. I received the book a couple of days ago. The pages look like it was printed using a low-resolution printer, and the ink color is uneven across pages. I am returning the book. Possible counterfeit, sold by a third party seller. On the other hand this book is also available free online [3]. Maybe it is legal to print it and sell it?

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Learning-Adaptive-Computation-Ma...

[2] https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/deep-learning-ian-goodfello...

[3] https://www.deeplearningbook.org/

I ordered a textbook on control theory from Amazon. It arrived, but the material inside the covers is from a small animal veterinary textbook. Byaa different publisher. I took a closer look at the cover, it was poorly printed and didn't quite fit.

I'm still confused about how the vendor expected to get away with it. Did they just guess that half of people won't bother opening the textbook? And why not fill it with blank pages then?

Might just be that a large-scale counterfeit printing operation mixed up the covers and bound materials. There are probably counterfeit veterinary textbooks floating around that contain control theory materials.

Quite possible. It seems likely that the people assembling the counterfeits don’t even read English, let alone have enough interest in the material to notice.

>On the other hand this book is also available free online [3]. Maybe it is legal to print it and sell it?

No, it's not legal.

I found that Amazon sells what is presumably a genuine edition of the book for $67.

I did not realize that Amazon had started displaying other sellers as the default seller for brand new books that Amazon itself sells. It used to be that Amazon was always the default seller if they carried a book, and the only way you would see other sellers was to click on the link for other sellers. Which is the way it should be. It's insane that they've changed this.

If your price is lower than Amazon by a magic percentage, you have a good sales record, and probably other unknown factors, Amazon will grant the buybox now to other sellers on Amazon carried items.

> Maybe it is legal to print it and sell it?

The first entry in the FAQ doesn't directly address that issue but strongly suggests an answer, morally if not legally:

    Q: Can I get a PDF of this book?
    A: No, our contract with MIT Press forbids distribution of too easily copied electronic formats of the book.
I don't seen any obvious link to a licence that might confirm or contradict this impression, so if you need/want to know for sure you'll have to contact them to ask for clarification if you can't find it elsewhere.

It's likely not really about licensing. They have a contract with the publisher that presumably allows them to do certain things and doesn't allow them to do others. (I know that's been the case when I've signed a book contract.) Presumably, in this case, they're allowed to publish the full contents in web form on their site but not to publish them in a form that would allow someone to easily print the entire contents in book form.

Often these are low cost prints for students in developing countries, for example India. They're not counterfeit as such, but the quality is low to keep the price down. Not sure if that's what you got though, as they're all super cheap on Amazon.com. Normally if it's a marketplace seller it'll say where it ships from. Deep Learning RRPs about £50 in the UK.

I'm not sure what the print status of the book is. There seems to be an official MIT Press print, but my university library struggled to get a copy through the inter-library loan network because the eBook has the same ISBN.

I first heard about counterfeit goods on Amazon from HN, and at the time thought, "Hm, must be a west-coast thing, hasn't happened to me before." In the last year I've received a handful of very obvious fakes and have (thankfully) been able to return them since the items were "fulfilled by Amazon."

It's not surprising that with the volume of items pushed by Amazon there are going to be some fakes. What is surprising is how merchants fulfilled by Amazon lack any incentive AFAIK to ship real goods. For any major purchase from now on, I'm going to buy local or buy direct from the manufacturer. It's just a waste of time to hope that what you get in the mail is what you ordered in the first place.


Well, admitting you have a problem is the first step, so maybe now they'll finally get serious about fixing this shit.

Its hard to admit you have a problem when your problem still brings in buckets of money everyday. I dont think they care, how much can a publisher or author sue amazon for peddling counterfeit wares? That is when it will matter, when they start losing large settlements.

Why hasn't the US Consumer Protection Bureau stepped in at this point?

Isn't this exactly the sort of thing they are suppose to prevent?

> Why hasn't the US Consumer Protection Bureau stepped in at this point?

Because no such bureau exists?

You may be thinking of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (which deals with financial products) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (which deals with physical safety issues), but (while physical safety issues are among the problems produced) neither one is really focussed on these issues.

The kind of fraud at issue is probably more in the bailiwick of the Federal Trade Commission and the International Trade Commission (when the original source is foreign), but probably most people affected by counterfeits are just returning products or eating the cost and not complaining to the FTC or the falsely-purported manufacturer (who, IIRC, would be the party in position to complain to the ITC).

Totally, this. As a case in point, my "Digital Image Processing and Analysis: Human and Computer Vision Applications with CVIPtools, Second Edition" text book stated right on the cover that the book was "Not for sale in the US" (or something to that effect). Seemed odd, then I read the intro in which the author was excited that he finally convinced the publisher to print in color. My book was not in color (super great for an image processing text). Two weeks later, the binding started to come undone - not just a little - literally all of the pages fell out.

Awesome, thanks Bezos!

Your situation has nothing to do with Amazon or counterfeit books.

The "not for sale in US" editions are international editions that are usually made with cheaper materials and sometimes with different graphics to avoid royalties. These books usually have the content and are usually in black and white but sometimes there are slight content changes. It's not usually the best idea to buy one of these unless you know it's identical, check the reviews. You need to use the ISBN to find the US edition if you don't want to gamble on a cheap international edition. Funny story, I bought an international edition once, used it for the semester, then sold it back to the third-party bookstore in town for more than I bought it for.

If it comes in a box that says "Amazon" on the side, then it has everything to do with Amazon.

abebooks (part of amazon) sells a lot of international editions. https://www.abebooks.com/books/Textbooks/international-editi...

It makes sense to sell the same book at lower prices in parts of the world where the regular price is unaffordable. Importing those books back to the US is not what publishers want, but I think isn't illegal.

Yes. It's typically legal as decided by the US Supreme Court in 2013 Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons.

(6-3 decision with a rather atypical split.)

Added: Basically the decision affirmed that first sale doctrine applied.

Wow, that is useful information! Ne'er again will I buy a text without reading the fine print. Lesson learned.

And I've bought an Indian version of a textbook for about 20% of the price of the "regular" edition that was perfectly adequate for my needs. So, if you're implying that Amazon shouldn't sell these, I don't agree. They're legal and they're good enough for a lot of people. (As I recall, in my case, it was obviously not the US version.)

Understanding Digital Signal Processing (3rd ed) arrived with the back cover indicating that it's "authorized for sale only" in six countries south Asian countries listed. I fared better than you, the pages haven't yet fallen out and I beat the hell out of it...

I am currently caught up in an amazon scam. The third party seller listed items, put in fake shipping, item never arrived. It's been over a month and I am still fighting amazon to get my money back. They have an "A to Z guarantee" which doesn't work, at least not in my case.

The seller didn't even need to sell counterfeit items without running off with my money. Amazon customer support has no idea what to do since the third party is supposed to refund me.

I’ve never had success with “A to Z” refunds, to the point it seems designed not to work — and instead, actively use Amazon’s brand loyalty to enable fraud.

I wonder, was my trust as a customer who spends thousands of dollars a year ever worth more than $20 to Amazon?

Because they sure were quick enough to throw it away over $20, when one of their business partners defrauded me via their website.

(PS — if you work at Amazon, and your internal metrics show that customer trust is worth more than 0.005 dollars per customer dollar spent, you have made business decisions WAY out of alignment with your metrics.)

Its ironic as well because the customer service agents kept saying if this was an Amazon purchase they would have refunded me. Kept reassuring me that this wouldn't have been an issue if you purchased with us, we would have taken care of this. But I kept telling them this still IS Amazon. They just deflected like it has nothing to do with them.

I wonder if Amazon bans you if you file a chargeback.

That is what I am really concerned with. Some automatic process that will ban me if I try and fight their system. The only way out is to make enough noise on social media that someone in corporate makes a policy exception.

Why worry about being banned? Why would you want to continue to do business with a company that treats you like this? When I get to the point where I am contemplating a CC chargeback, the bridge is already burned.

Because Amazon is no longer a simple bookseller. It's a diversified mega-corporation that is big enough that the average individual will want to think twice before getting on its bad side.

What if you want to host something on AWS? Stream on Twitch? Shop at an Amazon Go? Keep listening to your Audible library?

What if you're using home automation equipment that's tethered to a cloud service and Amazon acquires the company?

Sure, a simple chargeback probably won't trigger broad spectrum retaliation though all their subsidiaries, but the fact is that Amazon has accrued a lot of power in recent years.

Exactly. I am an amazon affiliate and use other amazon services as my business. The bridge has been burned for me as a consumer to continue shopping with them personally or with my business, but it's too risky to upset the beast if that somehow triggers an impact to my livelihood on the other end. I would love nothing more than to phase Amazon out of my life along with Google but that is increasingly difficult to do.

How many processes are in place at Amazon to fight chargebacks? How do we know it won't trigger anything? How do I know they won't retroactively make a decision months or years later? Thats the risk I can't take.

I didn't consider the case where you're not just a consumer. Will they kill your (presumably totally separate and isolated) business account due to a charge-back on your consumer account? How do they even know it's the same person?

Even if so, I'd argue if your business is so utterly dependent on a single company's service, that's a huge risk and you ought to be be taking steps to diversify or self-host some things. We've all read those "Company X changed algorithm Y and my business is over!" stories.

As a pure consumer, I stand by my statement: If you're going to charge back a credit card transaction, you're past the point of ever wanting to do business with them again, so shouldn't care what they do to your account.

I don't know what Amazon will do now or at any point in the future if I were to do a charge-back or any else they don't agree with. I imagine they could easily link my accounts together. Payee names, IPs, logging out of one account into the next in the same session. Any other meta data like phone, search history, etc. It sounds like a reach right now but the fact is there is no way to know what they do and its the unknown that causes a problem.

I am well aware of the need to diversify. It is something I am actively working towards but there is no path from here to there overnight.

I still partly agree with your consumer stand point. Even if you rule out the business aspect Amazon is pretty entrenched in may ways from purely a consumer standpoint. If I personally don't care what happens to my account, what about my family? Will their kindles stop working, prime video, audible, whole foods, etc? They share some of the prime benefits so they would be affected as well.

Other megacorps like Google have already demonstrated that ability to cancel all your services for violating terms on just one.

And to top it off theres no support channel or humans in the process to "appeal" their decision. The only luck you have is being semi-famous enough to get your experience in the headlines before an exec lets you back in.

Did the fake shipping code have a destination as your house? I'd expect they'd be able to check that.

Nope. The latest seller reviews has 80 other people that also received fake tracking in the last 30 days. Amazon's response is that they asked the seller to prove they shipped it or refunded me. That was 2 weeks ago and apparently Amazon is still "investigating". You would think a quick check of the tracking, look at recent seller reviews, lack of response from the seller would be an open and shut case. Apparently the seller is smarter than we all thought and knows something about this process with Amazon and the effort to get our money back. Can't imagine they don't up with something in the end.

How isnt Amazon liable for this / sued?

If Walmart did the same there would be various lawsuits

More than likely, they can just claim "we're just a platform, someone else uploaded the file". This is the inherent problem with Section 230 immunity for platforms: We've given companies a blank check to be used as part of criminal enterprises, and given them no incentive to police illegal behavior on their networks.

In this scenario, Amazon is able to literally produce, sell, and distribute counterfeit material, keep the profits from doing so, and face no legal repercussions. That is the definition of a broken law.

Does Section 230 apply at all when we're talking about a physically distributed product like this? I get that, even if it doesn't apply, Amazon's defense is probably that they're an intermediary and not the seller, but I thought the DMCA applied pretty strictly to digital copyright violations, and that any lawsuit in this instance would hinge on older laws for physical-good copyright violations.

Well, for one, there is some exception to Section 230 in the realm of intellectual property, which is an angle that could be pursued, but there's been some "conflicting rulings" on it. But I think Amazon would argue that their publishing service is an interactive computer service, and that they are not the providers of the infringing information.

Which is to say, it's possible Section 230 would not apply here, but Amazon's extremely expensive lawyers would probably fight like heck to include it anyways.

But isn’t this case an example of Amazon physically printing and delivering a book? They aren’t just moving bits: they actually printed the book.

This is correct. 230 liability would not protect this case.

In general, physical publishers are always liable for what they print.

It doesn't matter where it came from.

(at least in this context. Things like libel are more interesting)

By not hiring sufficient oversight Amazon is excused for not having sufficient oversight.

They are not just a platform, they also sell on the platform and claim unique advantages.

A platform that will only fix it, if they sell it themselves will likely not fix the general problem.

Even if they could

is eBay getting sued every time a counterfeit good is sold?

eBay has no warehouse. eBay has no printing service. But I'd say that eBay should offer a fake-reporting system (which AFAIK exists) and should report users engaging in such activities to police or other institutions.

The problem with Amazon is that they seem not to take appropriate action. How can you not be held liable for printing books in an unauthorized fashion AND selling it from your warehouse?

As far as I can tell ebay has fake protection for buyers, they hold onto the transaction for a window of time and the buyer can report a fake, etc.

I think it's a case of security being hard and an arms race. Kind of like Google and Facebook have to constantly run faster to stay in the same place against attackers, and sometimes attackers win a little more, and then they again get back on top.

Amazon sells almost 200bn of goods each year. Even if a tiny fraction of those are problematic and slip through the cracks, it'll seem like a lot to observers. Doubt they can get it down to zero, no system is perfect, and there are too many attackers trying to game the system.

It's a price to pay for all the benefits of the open platform model.

In this case amazon produced, stored, and shipped counterfeit goods.

Ebay only allows 3rd parties to have a listing, much like craigslist.

They are probably liable, but it's also not intentional behavior which means less damages - so it's not worth being the first person to sue them.

This is just Amazon being sloppy and not having any reasonable checks or controls on their print service.

The classic "control fraud" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Control_fraud strategy is to incentivise your subordinates to maximise revenues while "neglecting" to check that they aren't engaging in fraud to do it. Then you can protest your innocence when the fraud comes to light.

This is partly why business is done on the golf course. Plausible deniability is quite lucrative.

> This is partly why business is done on the golf course.

What do you mean?

Conversations on a golf course, or over dinner or drinks aren't recorded and auditable so everyone has plausible deniability over what was said or instructed.

I could also see Amazon retaliating by refusing to carry a publisher's book if they sued.

Sued for what damages? They can simply remove the offending titles and carry on. What is the cause of action and harm? "You made the same mistake twice and we lost (how much???) dollars!" [1]

Maybe some kind of class action but that requires an attorney spending money to advertise and collect information from the class of people harmed. Then litigate, settle and what money do you get? [2]

[1] How much did this particular seller lose? No way it's enough to pay any legal fees. Even if it is even if Amazon has to pay the legal fees what do you get in the end? Time trouble etc.

[2] I just got a check for some Verizon class action in the amount of roughly $2.00 this was after so much time I had forgotten about it.

The immediate damage is the unearned income from a lost book sale. But there are statutory damages provided by the Copyright Act that could total $100,000 per infringed work.

Don't be ridiculous. It's better for technical books to be freely available for everyone to read. Think about it, it is more optimal for the world in the long run.

As long as the authors and publishers got paid, sure. But who pays them if the books are free?

For free digital content I have some sympathy with that point of view, but the counterfeit book featured in the article was a paper copy on sale for $48, along with a kindle version for $36.

Amazon has little incentive to stop selling counterfeit goods.

It is simply not reasonable to believe that they are not capable of accurately preventing counterfeit goods from surviving in their site. Remember, this is the same company run by the brilliant micromanaging CEO. Everything that happens within Amazon is known to him.

If an individual setup their own website and sold counterfeit goods, the feds would come down on them hard. So you have to wonder what keeps Amazon immune from being shut down for willfully breaking laws...

It's only their job to attempt to prevent listing and supporting counterfeit products. Every individual is responsible for themselves to not break the law and sell a fake product.

Isn’t it more accurate that a seller is using Amazon’s publishing platform to counterfeit and sell other publishers books?

The title suggests Amazon has wrongdoing here. You could make the case that they need more policing and review but it’s not like Amazon is knowingly selling counterfeit here.

Considering that Amazon fulfills orders using counterfeit items from suppliers that they know have previously provided fakes to customers, and then removes reviews that point out counterfeits, I’d say they’re complicit in it. I’ve personally had a review removed that called out an obviously counterfeit item I received. That was two years ago and the seller is still on Amazon, and Amazon is still removing other reviewers’ bad reviews of them.

This seems like a long-term recipe for disaster for Amazon.

Why do it? Or am I being naive? Or is it too difficult to clamp down on fakes?

Pretty sure selling counterfeit goods, or committing fraud by advertising for them, is illegal. Does hiding behind "but it's not us selling it" work better for stores than for content hosts? What about fraudulent "fulfilled by Amazon" products?

Amazon has a well known history of simply ignoring copyright complaints. We can assume at this point Amazon is the malicious actor here.

Amazon printed, packaged, sorted, shipped and charged the buyer for the book. And it wasn't even the first time. Who is this mysterious third party that should be responsible here?

Why would "we fully automated our counterfeiting process" be an excuse?

Amazon is my site of last resort (read: less that $100 per year). I'll check it for the reviews (but am always mindful they could be bogus), and to get a general sense for price. I purposely us BN.com or just about anywhere else for books.

I can't allow myself to be a regular Amazon customer. Its ethics and practices leave me feeling dirtier than I want to feel.

Surely this should be an easy fix for them to be able to detect counterfeit books being created? If they are anything like other on demand self publishing platforms, you upload a pdf or similar file to create the book, and surely it's not beyond the wit of those at amazon to create an ml based system that would be able to detect similar files to those of legitimate books that they already carry and flag them to the legitimate publisher for manual review (if they can't be bothered to police it themselves as it appears)?

It is not that easy. They need a reliable system to do that. For what can go wrong, see all the hate Youtube's ContentID gets. But, identifying whole books should be simple enough.

If the official book is available on Kindle, then it actually should be quite simple for them to use a locality-sensitive hash to find plagiarized uploads.

For books on Kindle, Amazon at least used to do some degree of checking. I published a book five or six years ago that was based in part on blog posts that I had previously published in a number of different places. They flagged my book and I had to send them a number of links demonstrating that I was the original author.

I can guarantee that Amazon has the brainpower to solve this problem. They just don't have any real incentive to.

3rd person, nearly useless anecdote: I have heard around Seattle that this is “the biggest issue we have” in the minds of Amazon employees.


Amazon is trying hard to keep counterfeits and fake products/reviews under the rugs for as long as possible, so the more publicity to their ignorance - the merrier.

With the prevalence of counterfeits and their push to feature "Sponsored" products in SERPs, the case to ditch Amazon becomes easier every day.

Yup, this happened to me: I saw a very low price on a Chez Scheme book and bought it. I am fairly certain the book was an unauthorized copy. I felt like the author and publisher were cheated, but to be honest I did the simplest thing and just kept the book and I am gentle with it when opening it for reading so it does not fall apart.

In Sweden BBS-lagen is applicable here. That is you run a community service where the users publish works.

5 § "Skyldighet att ta bort vissa meddelanden" The obligation to remove certain messages 2. It is obvious that the user has infringed copyright or rights protected by regulation in Chapter 5. the law (1960: 729) on copyright for literary and artistic works by submitting the message.

Here is the US law https://www.bu.edu/law/journals-archive/scitech/volume1/orou... "contributory infringement"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contributory_copyright_infring... Material contribution "second situation is when the means for facilitating the infringement such as machinery is provided by the defendant"

Providing printing press ability and the electronic means to upload/download without scanning via OCR for copyright infringement of known text and print service and the platform itself

I once ordered a copy of Introduction to Algorithms (CLRS) on Amazon.

I had been a TA for Thomas Cormen at the time, and wanted the author's signature. He took one look at it, compared it to the copies he had in his office and said, "This is a counterfeit copy. Where did you get this?"

The embarrassment haunts me to this day.

Here's a previous discussion when the same publisher was being pirated by Amazon previously.


Another trend I've seen is stores selling international editions. It's not a big issue to me, minus the usually crappier paper and cover. But it does seem shady.

90% of the stuff on Amazon is fake or counterfeit. Why would anyone expect the book division to be different? This is what Amazon has decided to be: a marketplace for garbage products, most fake or extremely low quality. Their strategy is based on the fact that consumers don't know better and if they do and start returning products, shutting those accounts off. Some copyright infringement is perfect for diversifying their business model of selling garbage.

Is the problem affecting all amazon or mainly amazon.com?

I m shopping mostly on amazon.de or .fr and I didn't encounter the problem yet.

Whenever I am buying something I care about I avoid Amazon. I am cancelling prime because of it.

I stopped buying books from Amazon and returned to buying from a local independent bookstore.

Back in the day, when song piracy was hot in the news, you'd hear of people claiming that each song pirated had cost the copyright own over $150K.

Why can't Amazon be sued for $150K per book?

That only really worked because the defendants couldn't afford good counsel. That sort of fraudulent legal claim won't work against Amazon.

Besides which I think the courts did eventually move on to realistically valuing contributory infringement (15¢ perhaps instead of $150k).

Is a book by another spine still a book?

These aren't counterfeit books. They're unlicensed books. You're getting exactly what you order.

Important distinction that some manufacturers intentionally try to cloud in legislation. Counterfeit drugs, for example, are drugs that do not contain the correct chemicals in the correct proportion. It is not drugs that were sold in violation of a patent, or in a country where they aren't licensed.

They are pretty much the definition of counterfeit. The Oxford dictionary defines counterfeit as "Made in exact imitation of something valuable with the intention to deceive or defraud".

There's an implication that you're defrauding the person buying the counterfeit item. That's not true here; the person being "defrauded" is the copyright owner.

The buyer purchased a book that claims to be, and is marketed as, a No Starch Press book. No Starch Press books are known for their physical quality and their lay-flat binding. These books were lower quality and did not have a lay-flat binding.

How is that not defrauding the buyer?

kfwhp is right. It is not even conceivable that anyone is buying a book for the sake of having a No Starch Press book. Everyone buying a book is buying it for the content.

It is conceivable that someone might think that No Starch Press books offer a quality premium that might justify a higher price. In the case where that higher quality is thought to occur in the contents, that's still not relevant. In the case where the higher quality comes from the better physical quality of the book, it is relevant, but that is a negligible part of the market for books of any type, even those that do come in collectible editions.

Consider an example: I own a copy of https://www.eastonpress.com/prod/EB8/2720043/Rudyard-Kipling... .

If someone were selling imitations of this that fell apart after a month or so, I would indeed consider that to be defrauding the buyer. Easton Press' entire reason for being is to sell existing books at a higher physical quality than you can normally get.

But Kipling's work is available in every form factor, from free ebooks at Project Gutenberg through cheap paperbacks to high-end collectibles. If Easton Press were the only party legally allowed to sell this book, I would no longer be willing to say that cheap imitations were defrauding the customer. I'd assume that people buying the cheaper versions were just trying to read the book. With only one vendor, there is no signal that the customer wanted physical quality, and overwhelmingly they don't, so there is no reason to assume that they do.

You are right for the cases where the buyer cares about the quality of the book. But most of the time we only care about the words inside the book.

It's one thing for counterfeits to be found among all of the 3rd party resellers ... but this is just beyond pale.

I think NYC was wrong to kill 25K jobs on the general merits - but - if Bezos wanted the counterfeiting problem solved, it would be solved. Ergo - Bezos is a counterfeiter.

Think of all of the other 'competitive advantages' that Amazon has - now they use their 3rd party an in-house counterfeiters to screw other value chain members as well.

Amazon gets away with this because it's practically impossible for small business owners or authors to police their site. It's similar to Google, where they let counterfeits thrive, but real content creators get fake DMCA notices and shut down.

I really hate to say this, but large companies like this need to be regulated via laws. There's simply no other choice. Having Amazon throw their hands up and say "There's nothing we can do, we have algorithms" or hiding behind the safe-harbor laws is not acceptable.

Having their ability to shut off peoples' incomes or being victimized by counterfeiters, with no human contact and no process, is unacceptable and needs to be changed. They aren't changing fast enough and they don't want to change because it's expensive, and the only solution is to force them via laws, which I'm loathe to support but it's the only way.

large companies like this need to be regulated via laws

They are, and you cited it: the DMCA. You can read it here:


It is mixed bag. One of the effects is that it deters proactive culling of material because once you start doing that, you may become liable for items you miss. It is why we end up up with systems that are driven by external takedown requests.

Why should large companies be regulated on this specific topic but not small companies? It's equally illegal activity.

In this case, the laws probably need to apply universally.

But scale matters.

Systems (even economic systems) at scale have different characteristics than those that are not. Just like you'd implement a massive AWS system differently than you would a little, single Ec2 service - regulations would probably be characterized differently given the scale and power of the entities involved.

One major difference is risk mitigation: individual consumers may have some power to influence a mom and pop shop, especially one that has a physical retail presence. A negative local news highlight could make a big difference. A single legal grievance could have consequences. There's material risk.

At a certain scale, it seems some of these entities simply don't have to worry about fraud, because 'who's gonna do something about it?'. The only public recourse is public institutions.

Small companies are already regulated. If a mom and pop store got caught selling counterfeit goods, they would end up in court or shutdown.



Those warehouse workers will not only need piss jugs, but also poop jars now. Damn government and their regulations. Future headline: "Amazon is now the largest purchaser of Depends."

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