Science fiction thriller writer John C. Boland is suing Amazon for letting copies of over eight of his books be sold on their website for exorbitant prices—and with false publication dates attached. As the New York Times reported in a larger piece, Boland found copies of his book Hominid listed on Amazon as having been published in the seventeenth-century and priced between $907 and $987. (The book’s actual price is $15.) Another book of his was listed on Amazon for $1008, when Boland himself sold the book for $7.
In the suit, Boland says Amazon breached its publishing services agreement with him, and allowed him to be defamed by selling fake editions of his books: “When a seller claims to have a 1602 edition that it’s charging nearly $1,000 for, it’s defaming me by implying that the book existed before I wrote it — i.e., that I’m a plagiarist,” Boland told the Times.
For their part, Amazon has denied responsibility, arguing in court papers that under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, they aren’t responsible for the actions of fraudulent third-party sellers—just like how Facebook and Twitter can’t be sued for posts their users make. But just like Facebook and Twitter, Amazon has struggled with how to police their users: for instance, in 2019, the Wall Street Journal found that Amazon’s marketplace sold 4100 items that had “been declared unsafe by federal agencies,” and this year COVID-skeptical books with false medical claims topped Amazon’s bestseller lists, creating a feedback loop of popularity.
According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which is often critical of Amazon, in 2019 Amazon made $60 billion in fees it charged third-party sellers, and this year it will make $121 billion.
“We do not allow the activity Mr. Boland observed and are working to correct it,” Amazon said in a statement. “It appears only a small number of these books were sold by third-party sellers in our store, and we have no evidence that any were counterfeit. We are investigating how this occurred.”