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Author Topic: Piracy, Use Without Permission, Fake Returns, Over Sharing of Devices: Questions  (Read 7059 times)  

Offline Robert Stanek

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Ive seen a lot of talk about piracy on kboards and much discussion about whether it's worth the effort or whether it's simply whack-a-mole undertaking.

IMHO I think the answer as to whether trying to reduce or eliminate piracy of your work is worth the effort depends on the author and his/her body of work.

For an author starting out or with only a relative few books to his or her credit, piracy likely will not cause harm and may actually be a net benefit.

For other authors, such as those with many works or some modicum of success, some piracy is part and parcel with being an author. However, I believe too much piracy can derail success.

Ive been a professionally published author since 1995 and have over 150 books to my credit (William Stanek for technical works, William Robert Stanek for learning books and compilations, and Robert Stanek for everything else I write). My books have generated well over $100 million in sales at retail. Or put another way over 7.5 million people have purchased my works, $59.99 at retail x 2 million = ~$120 million and the other 5.5 million+ sales at other price points were gravy.

Ive been researching the impact of piracy on sales of my books for many years. Part of this research has been tracking the number of illegal downloads, which runs into millions of copies, and the sites where these downloads are/were available. Many of my most valuable properties were made available for illegal downloading, including audiobook and book products that retailed for $29.99 to $59.99. The total value at retail of the stolen: $100 million+.

I have no illusions that my sales would have been twice what they were if my work hadnt been illegally downloaded by the millions. I do, however, believe a considerable portion would have. The exact portion is unknowable, but even if only 10% thats tens of millions of dollars in sales.

How many content creators have been impacted similarly? My thoughts are that thousands have been. Maybe not as considerably as myself, but certainly collectively this pirating represents billions of lost sales annually.

For authors concerned about piracy, there are an increasing number of tools. You can try sending a DMCA Takedown notice to the site owner, such as the following:

##

DMCA
VIA Email at [[ISPHosting[at]isp.com]]

Re: Copyright Claim

To [[ISP Hosting Company Where Your Work Is Being Infringed]]:


I am the copyright owner of [[BOOK] in contract with [PUBLISHER]] being infringed at:

[[http://www <list the exact link or links to where the infringement is taking place>]]

This letter is official notification under the provisions of Section 512(c) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to effect removal of the above-reported infringements. I request that you immediately issue a cancellation message as specified in RFC 1036 for the specified postings and prevent the infringer, who is identified by its Web address, from posting the infringing photographs to your servers in the future. Please be advised that law requires you, as a service provider, to expeditiously remove or disable access to the infringing book downloads upon receiving this notice. Noncompliance may result in a loss of immunity for liability under the DMCA.

I have a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of here is not authorized by me, the copyright holder, or the law. The information provided here is accurate to the best of my knowledge. I swear under penalty of perjury that I am the copyright holder. Please send me at the address noted below a prompt response indicating the actions you have taken to resolve this matter.


Sincerely,

[[Your Name]]

[[Your Email]]

[[Publisher and Publisher email <if you have a publisher> ]]

##

Several services also have been started recently to help authors fight piracy. One of those services is www.Muso.com. Muso.com offers a free trial period and then acts as a paid monthly service.

Ive tested out the Muso service for some time to see how it worked and whether it was useful to me. For me, the free trial was the most useful aspect of the service as it quickly identified all the locations where my books were being pirated (as opposed to me manually performing searches of all my titles, variations of title names, my name, variations of my name, etc).

If you use the monthly service, you can have them send out takedown notices for you. Once you have these locations, you also can send your own DMCA Takedown Notices where there were instances of actual piracy. However, you still need to check each location. For example, about 1/3 of the sites identified werent actually pirating my work and about 1/3 werent actually full pirate copies of my workthey were simply samples. For those remaining that were actually pirated copies, I could have specified that I wanted the service to send automated take down notices.

A related problem I am seeing increasingly are shared kindles and fake returns. The shared kindle problem relates to Amazon allowing a single account to have multiple devices associated with it, thus allowing a single copy of a book to be used simultaneously on these multiple devices, allows multiple people to simultaneously access the same books across these multiple devices.

The fake returns problem is where someone buys books, downloads them to their kindle (or kindles), turns off the wi-fi connection on the device (or devices) and then returns the books theyve purchased.

Both problems can be mitigated by Amazon.

Amazon knows where devices associated with a single account are being used. When a single account is being used by five different people (one in Miami, one in Bismark, one in Boston, one in Tampa, and one in Los Angeles), theres a problem.

Amazon also knows how many purchased e-items a person has returned and just as Walmart, Kmart or Sears does to prevent fraud, Amazon needs to start tracking fraudulent returns. Occasionally returning an ebook or other e-item is typical. Repeatedly or routinely returning an ebook or other e-items is abuse.

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Offline Betsy the Quilter

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Amazon knows where devices associated with a single account are being used. When a single account is being used by five different people (one in Miami, one in Bismark, one in Boston, one in Tampa, and one in Los Angeles), theres a problem.

One small quibble--I don't think Amazon would use this alone as a basis for intervening with an account.  Many of our members have multiple users on their accounts, to include parents, siblings and children living in different cities.  My brother, who lives in Maryland while I'm in Virginia, is on my account.  Ann's brother lives in New Jersey and is on her account.  We get questions all the time from people who say they've bought their elderly out of town relative a Kindle and are trying to troubleshoot it long distance.  Others have children in college.

Just wanted to point this out. :D

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Offline Speaker-To-Animals

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Quote
A related problem I am seeing increasingly are shared kindles and fake returns. The shared kindle problem relates to Amazon allowing a single account to have multiple devices associated with it, thus allowing a single copy of a book to be used simultaneously on these multiple devices, allows multiple people to simultaneously access the same books across these multiple devices.

I totally approve of shared kindle accounts. There's no way I would buy a book twice, once for myself and once for my spouse. You can argue that you can't both read a physical book at the same time, but realistically, nobody buys two copies. You just squabble over who's turn it is to read and the one who finishes first has to keep their yap shut until the other finishes.

Offline Bards and Sages (Julie)

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If you use the monthly service, you can have them send out takedown notices for you. Once you have these locations, you also can send your own DMCA Takedown Notices where there were instances of actual piracy. However, you still need to check each location. For example, about 1/3 of the sites identified werent actually pirating my work and about 1/3 werent actually full pirate copies of my workthey were simply samples. For those remaining that were actually pirated copies, I could have specified that I wanted the service to send automated take down notices.

Trying to understand why I would pay a service $19 USD a month to basically conduct a Google search for me when I still have to do the research myself to see if the search results are legitimate (and by your own admission, the service is only 33% accurate). The fact is you are still playing Whack-a-mole, only now you are spending $228 USD a year for the privilege.

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Offline Rick Gualtieri

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I have no problems with shared kindles, I do it myself.  It's no different than me reading a paperback and then handing it to my wife.  I've had more than one reader write to let me know they bought a book and then pestered their spouse/child/parent/cousin to borrow and read it.  I'm 100% cool with this.

As for the returns, I would ask what proof you have that these are fake returns?  We hear that a lot on these boards, but the bottom line is that Amazon doesn't share return data so it's all speculation.  


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Offline Robert Stanek

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One small quibble--I don't think Amazon would use this alone as a basis for intervening with an account.  Many of our members have multiple users on their accounts, to include parents, siblings and children living in different cities.  My brother, who lives in Maryland while I'm in Virginia, is on my account.  Ann's brother lives in New Jersey and is on her account.  We get questions all the time from people who say they've bought their elderly out of town relative a Kindle and are trying to troubleshoot it long distance.  Others have children in college.

Just wanted to point this out. :D

Betsy

At some point though, I do believe it becomes abuse. Sharing a single copy of an ebook with your spouse or a child is to be expected. Sharing a single copy of an ebook purchased with five friends is not expected and specifically when the five friends are all reading the work at the same time on five different kindles downloaded through a single shared account.
« Last Edit: December 04, 2013, 01:08:37 PM by Robert Stanek »

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Offline Bards and Sages (Julie)

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I totally approve of shared kindle accounts. There's no way I would buy a book twice, once for myself and once for my spouse. You can argue that you can't both read a physical book at the same time, but realistically, nobody buys two copies. You just squabble over who's turn it is to read and the one who finishes first has to keep their yap shut until the other finishes.

Exactly. The LAST thing in the world I want to do is criminalize the behavior of those who have bought a legal copy of my book. The more restrictions you put on a book's use, the more likely people are to look for workarounds. And when they start looking for workarounds, you drive them into the pirate domain.

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Offline Robert Stanek

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I have no problems with shared kindles, I do it myself.  It's no different than me reading a paperback and then handing it to my wife.  I've had more than one reader write to let me know they bought a book and then pestered their spouse/child/parent/cousin to borrow and read it.  I'm 100% cool with this.

As for the returns, I would ask what proof you have that these are fake returns?  We hear that a lot on these boards, but the bottom line is that Amazon doesn't share return data so it's all speculation.  

As far as I know, Amazon has no program in place to identify return fraud for e-items. A program should be put in place.

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As far as I know, Amazon has no program in place to identify return fraud for e-items. A program should be put in place.

I disagree. I've worked for large retailers and they always have plans in place to deal with return fraud. They just don't publicize them. There's another thread here on kboards where one person outed themselves (in another fora) as a serial returner whose account got whacked by Amazon.  As sellers on Amazon, we are essentially just vendors peddling our goods through their engine. They're under no obligation to give us any details for their 'secret sauce' so to speak.


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As far as I know, Amazon has no program in place to identify return fraud for e-items. A program should be put in place.

Unless you have close contacts in the bowels of Amazon's corporate lairs, I'm not sure why you would expect to be told about their policies. Most retailers have corporate policies regarding shrinkage, but those polices aren't shared with the public. They are internal procedures. You don't advertise to the criminals how you track them.

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Offline Robert Stanek

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Unless you have close contacts in the bowels of Amazon's corporate lairs, I'm not sure why you would expect to be told about their policies. Most retailers have corporate policies regarding shrinkage, but those polices aren't shared with the public. They are internal procedures. You don't advertise to the criminals how you track them.

Well, there are solutions that would prevent a person from turning off their Wi-Fi and then fake returning an item. As an example, Amazon could simply reply with an automated message, that says turn-on the Wi-Fi on your device to complete the return.

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Offline Just Browsing

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I do check some of the main sites where my trad-pubbed books are pirated, like Scribd, and ask my publishers to send take-down notices. I haven't had much of a problem with my ebooks, honestly.

I don't worry about Amazon returns. I'd far, far rather people think that ebooks are easy to use and buy than think it's too much of a hassle and just not bother at all. I've seen how easy it is for new Kindle users to buy a book by accident (especially when on some models the screen savers are ads ... with buy links ...). And you know, if someone reads one of my books and dislikes it so much then want their .99 or 4.99 back, fine. It's not worth stressing over. I get a few returns, but not that many as a percentage. I want the people who buy my books to be people who read them and enjoyed them and felt good about paying what I charged. That's my audience.

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I do check some of the main sites where my trad-pubbed books are pirated, like Scribd, and ask my publishers to send take-down notices. I haven't had much of a problem with my ebooks, honestly.

I don't worry about Amazon returns. I'd far, far rather people think that ebooks are easy to use and buy than think it's too much of a hassle and just not bother at all. I've seen how easy it is for new Kindle users to buy a book by accident (especially when on some models the screen savers are ads ... with buy links ...). And you know, if someone reads one of my books and dislikes it so much then want their .99 or 4.99 back, fine. It's not worth stressing over. I get a few returns, but not that many as a percentage. I want the people who buy my books to be people who read them and enjoyed them and felt good about paying what I charged. That's my audience.

If a person accidentally purchased an ebook, they wouldn't be turning off the Wi-Fi on their device and then fake returning the item. They'd be returning the ebook right there on the device and would have no problem whatsoever with a policy that checked to see if they were attempting a fake return.

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Offline ゴジラ

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Sharing a single copy of an ebook purchased with five friends is not expected and particularly when the five friends are all reading the work at the same time through a single shared account.

But that is typical reader behavior. If I read a good book in high school, that same paperback would make it through the hands of every one of the friends I hung out with in the upstairs cafeteria. I wasn't photocopying and reselling the text of the book, but I was definitely giving it legs. ;D Reading has always been a community activity in that respect.

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First I rolled my eyes at the subject line.  If you're trying to float a business on such a thin wire that someone borrowing a friends Kindle with your book on it is going to bankrupt you then your business model has way bigger problems.

Then I read your post.

First, you're a HUGE outlyer.  Like top one one hundredth 0.0001 of a percent.  Millions of sales with hundreds of millions in revenue.  Yes, I think it would be very much worth it for you to (probably) hire someone to fire off DMCAs once a month or once a quarter.

As far as people sharing Amazon accounts.  Well there isn't anything you can do about that.  Your only option is to choose to use DRM but Amazon's DRM policy still allows for that one purchase to be used on up to five devices.  So when mom and dad send their triplets off to college, they can buy three kindles, link them to the same account and only buy the super expensive text books once and all three kids have them.  You or your publisher has agreed to these terms when you made the digital version of your book available through Amazon.  

The same goes for fake returns.  No giant superstore like Walmart of Amazon is going to punish every shopper by not allowing returns, nor are they going to make them jump through a bunch of hoops to prove innocence.  Walmart fights this by not giving cash back, but reimburses with a gift card.  Once they have your money, you never get it back.  Amazon could do something similar, but for now chooses to refund with cash.  Again, this is completely out of your control and part of the agreement when you let them sell your product.

It's a side effect of a positive customer experience for Amazon customers, not your customers.
   

Offline Betsy the Quilter

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At some point though, I do believe it becomes abuse. Sharing a single copy of an ebook with your spouse or a child is to be expected. Sharing a single copy of an ebook purchased with five friends is not expected and particularly when the five friends are all reading the work at the same time through a single shared account.

If all of those people own Kindles are on my account (which means they can buy books using my account information), yeah, they have access to my books.  Amazon has been very clear on that, and, as a Kindle owner, that's what I want.  That's not an abuse.  Illegally copying books from one device to another, that's abuse.  When someone not on my account wants to borrow a Kindle book, if they are a good enough friend, I loan them one of my backup Kindles. :D  If they are not that good a friend, I recommend the library. ::)

As far as I know, publishers can limit the number of simultaneous uses for a book.  At least they used to be able to.  The default used to be six for books with DRM, but I've seen books with fewer.

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Offline Betsy the Quilter

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Exactly. The LAST thing in the world I want to do is criminalize the behavior of those who have bought a legal copy of my book. The more restrictions you put on a book's use, the more likely people are to look for workarounds. And when they start looking for workarounds, you drive them into the pirate domain.

Julie!!

We were going to send out a search party for you....haven't seen you recently.  We were just discussing it in the smoke-filled Admin caves. (Not as relates to this thread, just in general. :D)

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Not only that, but I have the Kindle app on my desktop and also on my phone. I don't want to be dinged for some kind of "device abuse" if I go overseas and connect my phone to wi-fi.

Going after piracy too excessively, especially by using means that penalize perfectly legitimate customers, actually makes people pirate books and software more.

I know many, many people who have admitted to me to pirating software they would otherwise have bought because the pirated copy didn't have always-online DRM or something else obnoxious. It's hard to compete with free. It's even harder when the free version is actually worth more to the customer.

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First I rolled my eyes at the subject line.  If you're trying to float a business on such a thin wire that someone borrowing a friends Kindle with your book on it is going to bankrupt you then your business model has way bigger problems.

Then I read your post.

First, you're a HUGE outlyer.  Like top one one hundredth 0.0001 of a percent.  Millions of sales with hundreds of millions in revenue.  Yes, I think it would be very much worth it for you to (probably) hire someone to fire off DMCAs once a month or once a quarter.

As far as people sharing Amazon accounts.  Well there isn't anything you can do about that.  Your only option is to choose to use DRM but Amazon's DRM policy still allows for that one purchase to be used on up to five devices.  So when mom and dad send their triplets off to college, they can buy three kindles, link them to the same account and only buy the super expensive text books once and all three kids have them.  You or your publisher has agreed to these terms when you made the digital version of your book available through Amazon.  

The same goes for fake returns.  No giant superstore like Walmart of Amazon is going to punish every shopper by not allowing returns, nor are they going to make them jump through a bunch of hoops to prove innocence.  Walmart fights this by not giving cash back, but reimburses with a gift card.  Once they have your money, you never get it back.  Amazon could do something similar, but for now chooses to refund with cash.  Again, this is completely out of your control and part of the agreement when you let them sell your product.

It's a side effect of a positive customer experience for Amazon customers, not your customers.

In the scenario, I'm discussing the friend is not borrowing a friend's kindle. The 5 friends all have their own kindles, but they share 1 account so that when any one person using the account buy's a book all 5 kindles get that book. The book then exists on all 5 friends kindles where YES the kindle itself can be borrowed out.

I haven't checked recently, but I believe Amazon may actually allow up to 7 devices on 1 account.  

I'm not overly concerned with piracy, borrowing, etc. The post was meant to open discussion on important issues related to use, author rights, piracy, etc.

As I mentioned in my original post, the issue of piracy is one each author must consider for themselves.

The issue of fair use also is an issue each author must consider for themselves. Thanks!






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Offline Betsy the Quilter

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I haven't checked recently, but I believe Amazon may actually allow up to 7 devices on 1 account.  

I don't believe there is a limit.  I currently have on my account:
two Kindle 1s
basic Kindle ($69)
two Paperwhites (one to be given away at Christmas)
a Kindle Touch
an original Fire
two Fire 7" HDXs (one to be given away at Christmas)
a Fire HDX 8.9"

That's nine ten. Forgot my brothers K1, still on my account. So ten. (Yes, I'm a collector. ;D)  And I've downloaded books to all of them in testing.  This is not abuse.

I know members who have more (my co-mod Heather AKA LuvMy5Brats).  And that's not counting my apps.  I'm allowed ten devices to access my music in Amazon's cloud.

What Amazon will limit, if the publisher sets it, is the number of simultaneous devices that a book can be on.  The default used to be six; but DRM-free books don't usually have a limit, and I have seen books limited to one simultaneous use.  But those are set by the publisher, as far as I know.

Betsy

« Last Edit: December 04, 2013, 10:58:51 AM by Betsy the Quilter »
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Offline Just Browsing

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If a person accidentally purchased an ebook, they wouldn't be turning off the Wi-Fi on their device and then fake returning the item. They'd be returning the ebook right there on the device and would have no problem whatsoever with a policy that checked to see if they were attempting a fake return.

Well, in the case of my mother, she didn't even know she'd purchased the books till several days later. And then there was another delay because she couldn't figure out how to return something, and needed my help. So that return came from a different IP address than the initial accidental purchase (which she did in a Starbucks). Would your 'system' flag that as a fraudulent return? What is your definition of a fraudulent return, anyway?

I guess if you want to worry about it, nothing I say will change that. I only meant my comment to mean that I don't consider it something worth worrying about. YMMV.

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Well, in the case of my mother, she didn't even know she'd purchased the books till several days later. And then there was another delay because she couldn't figure out how to return something, and needed my help. So that return came from a different IP address than the initial accidental purchase (which she did in a Starbucks). Would your 'system' flag that as a fraudulent return? What is your definition of a fraudulent return, anyway?

I guess if you want to worry about it, nothing I say will change that. I only meant my comment to mean that I don't consider it something worth worrying about. YMMV.

Good questions. A person like your mother who is returning the item on the device itself would never have a problem with a simple check that looks at whether the Wi-Fi on the device is turned on. She's already on the device itself and doing the return.

As I've mentioned, fake returns involve a person buying e-items, turning off the Wi-Fi on their device or devices, and then returning those items. Because they've purposely turned off the Wi-Fi, the e-items they returned remain available. As a simple solution, Amazon could send an automated message/alert stating to complete the return, turn on the Wi-Fi on the device or devices.

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Offline Boyd

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Hey guys n gals, I finally hit the big time, I've found my works pirated across 3 different sites so far (legit downloads, I checked)... I am dancing with glee!!!

???

Because all of a sudden the folks who downloaded the pirated copy must be buying the others... only thing I can see when #3 in my series or the bundle start outselling the original title in a day ;)

Doin the happy dance!

Boyd Craven

Offline Just Browsing

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Good questions. A person like your mother who is returning the item on the device itself would never have a problem with a simple check that looks at whether the Wi-Fi on the device is turned on. She's already on the device itself and doing the return.

As I've mentioned, fake returns involve a person buying e-items, turning off the Wi-Fi on their device or devices, and then returning those items. Because they've purposely turned off the Wi-Fi, the e-items they returned remain available. As a simple solution, Amazon could send an automated message/alert stating to complete the return, turn on the Wi-Fi on the device or devices.

But we didn't do the return from her device, on wifi. We did it on my desktop computer, at my house, while the wifi on her device was off. She couldn't figure out how to do a return on her actual Kindle (she's 85, and not very tech-y).

The items I helped my husband return we also didn't do on his device but when we got home, on my desktop. His wifi was used in South America--and it was an accidental purchase (he has that same screen saver problem). So it wasn't "fake"--but it sounds like your proposed system would flag it as such. Telling him he can only do the return from that specific device is (to me) getting into the realm of "annoying." Why can't he just do it from his Amazon account? See, I don't want to annoy legitimate customers. Not with my books, not with any books, or they'll stop using ebooks.

I believe Amazon already monitors for serial returners, and will shut down a user's ability to return items if they return too many. Other than going inside someone's head to x-ray their thoughts, I'm not sure how you can really determine whether a review is "fake" or not. Amazon does ask the reason that you are returning an item, but a person could always lie.


Offline Robert Stanek

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I don't believe there is a limit.  I currently have on my account:
two Kindle 1s
basic Kindle ($69)
two Paperwhites (one to be given away at Christmas)
a Kindle Touch
an original Fire
two Fire 7" HDXs (one to be given away at Christmas)
a Fire HDX 8.9"

That's nine ten. Forgot my brothers K1, still on my account. So ten. (Yes, I'm a collector. ;D)  And I've downloaded books to all of them in testing.  This is not abuse.

I know members who have more (my co-mod Heather AKA LuvMy5Brats).  And that's not counting my apps.  I'm allowed ten devices to access my music in Amazon's cloud.

What Amazon will limit, if the publisher sets it, is the number of simultaneous devices that a book can be on.  The default used to be six; but DRM-free books don't usually have a limit, and I have seen books limited to one simultaneous use.  But those are set by the publisher, as far as I know.

Betsy



Yikes, that's a lot of devices. I think if an author has specifically allowed his or her work to be used on that many devices, that would be fine. However, Amazon's KDP program does not provide the tools for anyone using the standard service to control this.

Large publishers with individually negotiated contracts with Amazon can control this setting, but individuals, small publishers and anyone else unable to get a directly negotiated contract (pretty much everyone other than the major publishers) have no control over this setting.

For me personally, I think it would far exceed expected fair use of a work if 10 people with 10 devices had 1 account, such that that 1 account allowed a single purchase to be available to all 10 people simultaneously on all 10 devices. You, on other hand, seem to be using the devices for testing and such, which is a different situation.


Best-selling author of books for young adults and adults.
Robert Stanek | author website | blog | facebook | twitter | google+ | youtube

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