Jane Friedman is somewhat of an expert in the publishing industry.
Over the last 25 years, Friedman authored or contributed to 10 books on the industry, edited multiple newsletters to help writers get published and navigate the business, and held media professor positions at two universities. Last year, Digital Book World even named her Publishing Commentator of the Year.
So when a reader emailed Friedman Sunday night about her latest works on Amazon—which she described as a “very interesting experiment”—alarm bells immediately went off for the author. Because Friedman has not written a new book since 2018.
“The reader indicated she thought maybe I didn’t authorize the books and sent me two of them,” Friedman told The Daily Beast. “But then I jumped over to GoodReads, and I saw that there weren’t just two books written. There were half a dozen books being sold under my name that I did not write or publish. They were AI-generated.”
Friedman says that when she went to Amazon to report the faux titles—which included Publishing Power: Navigating Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and Promote to Prosper: Strategies to Skyrocket Your eBook Sales on Amazon—she was met with alarming resistance.
At first, she was asked for an itemized list of her concerns, including a request to point to “the work that’s being infringed.” Then, according to emails reviewed by The Daily Beast, Amazon refused her request to remove the faux titles from their website, in part because she could not provide “any trademark registration” number associated with her name.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, an Amazon spokesperson stressed that the platform has “clear content guidelines governing which books can be listed for sale and promptly investigate[s] any book when a concern is raised.” As of Tuesday afternoon, after Friedman expressed her dismay over the incident on Twitter and on her blog, the fake titles were no longer available for purchase on Amazon. The books were also no longer listed on Goodreads.
“Someone was trying to profit off my name. It’s a particularly gross violation. But there’s also an industry side of me that’s also kind of fascinated by what’s happening,” Friedman said. “I’ve been following AI-generated books polluting Amazon, generally speaking, with someone’s established name. I did anticipate that it would come to this—but I didn’t think that I would be the first major case that I would discover.”
It is not particularly surprising that generative artificial intelligence—or self-published works bolstered by fake reviews—made it into the mainstream consumer diet. The New York Times reported that shoddy AI-generated guidebooks have flooded Amazon over the last few months. Friedman herself said she has noticed AI-written young adult novels top the Amazon Kindle lists.
But with the rise of generative artificial intelligence in self-publishing platforms like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publish, and with few guardrails, authors are questioning what they might have to do to protect their professional brand.
“What we are seeing is, for authors, the prose equivalent of deep fakes,” Justin Hughes, who teaches intellectual property law at Loyola Law School, told The Daily Beast. “It raises all the same issues. It raises issues of consumer deception, it raises issues of a kind of invasion and violence toward the author, and economic unfairness.”
The literary community has already begun to take steps against artificial intelligence. Last month, about 10,000 writers—including authors Nora Roberts, Michael Chabon, and Jodi Picoult—signed an open letter penned by the Author’s Guild to demand AI industry leaders protect writers. In the letter to CEOs of several prominent AI companies, the Guild stressed the “inherent justice” of building technology that uses copyright works and demanded developments “obtain consent from, credit, and fairly compensate authors.”
The Guild also submitted written testimony to the Senate Intellectual Property Subcommittee for their July 12 hearing on artificial intelligence, underscoring the threat of “the written profession from unregulated use of generative AI technologies that can produce stories, books, and other text-based works and displace the works of human authors in the marketplace.”
“Misappropriating authors’ names to sell scam books through Kindle and Goodreads is not new, but has gotten worse with the advent of AI-generated content an ongoing issue,” an Authors Guild spokesperson told The Daily Beast, urging any members to reach out directly to Amazon to get these sham works removed.
Sarah Rose, a journalist and author of D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis and Helped Win World War II, said she also fell victim to the AI impostures.
While at a reading promoting her book in 2019, she was surprised when a reader informed her that they had “already bought my next book.” Later, she said she was shocked to see on Amazon that there were multiple titles under her author page—even though she had only just completed her second book, which had taken her five years to finish.
“My team tried to take it down. At some point, however, you just give up,” Rose said, adding that the titles were eventually taken down, but she never figured out who was trying to pass off fake works under her name.
Hughes explained that, from Amazon’s perspective, the concept of sham books using the identities of real authors could pose concerns about “contributory” liability. The professor explained that while Amazon is not the direct infringer, since the marketplace is not producing the fake books under Friedman’s name, they are the platform on which the items are being sold for a profit.
“Amazon, as a matter of being a reliable, transparent, and authentic marketplace, needs to be ringing the alarm bells and saying, ‘OK, do we have the tools to make sure that we are not putting on our platform stuff that is generated by AI and is being marketed under real people’s names?’” Hughes said. “So what are Amazon’s duties to stop such bad guys and boot them off the platform?”
“That’s what Amazon needs to figure out—before a court does,” he added.
A major concern for Friedman, however, is the industry implications of forcing authors to trademark their names for brand protection. She said that since her fight to get the fake titles removed, she has been in contact with a trademark lawyer about whether to take that next legal step. But, she stressed, there is a concern about what her decision to potentially trademark her name would mean for other aspiring writers while still protecting the decades-long career she has built around her brand.
“It seems insane to do that. But I am not going to wait around for this same nonsense again,” she said. “But this is about more than AI. It’s mainly about the systems of Amazon and Goodreads not being where they have to be, where they must be, in this conversation. Right now, it’s the wild west out there.”
So for now, Friedman said she is going to focus her efforts on this conversation on what she does best: writing.
“I am revisiting my key book, The Business of Being a Writer, and I am going to have a section on AI. At least now I will have a good story to include.”