An American company is copying articles directly from Wikipedia and printing them as books to sell to unsuspecting British readers.
Publishing company Books LLC is offering around 315,000 books for sale on Amazon on thousands of popular subjects.
British book lovers have paid up to £20 for the titles only to discover the content is stolen from the free online encyclopaedia Wikipedia.
While the American branch of Amazon explains LLC books only contain Wikipedia extracts, Amazon.co.uk has no such warning.
The company is not breaking the law as there is no copyright on Wikipedia material as long as the author is credited.
But Amazon is now investigating after receiving several complaints and are considering placing an advisory on future Books LLC listings.
One customer, named only as Kevin, thought he had found a rare collection of short stories by his favourite author only to find it was ”useless” Wikipedia extracts.
He said: ”In the run up to Christmas I went on the Amazon website and ordered several Jon Wyndham books.
”One I didn’t recognise, it was a collection of short stories with titles I hadn’t come across before.
”I added it to my other books and it duly arrived. Where as all the others were fine this was a very odd publication with extracts from Wikipedia.
”I couldn’t understand at all why anyone would want to buy that sort of book, it wouldn’t be any use to any one.”
The books produced by LLC cover a wide range of subjects, from study guides to books on the Somerset and Dorset joint railway, supermarkets in the UK and Southend United FC.
Brit Shelagh Watkins was stunned when she found a book on Amazon with her name on the cover after posting her research for free on Wikipedia.
Shelagh said she was astonished to find the 30 page book being sold for £9.93.
She said: ”It seems to be vanity publishing at its worst. I did a search on my name on Amazon and this book appeared with my name on the front.
”I did a search on Books LLC and learned that they publish information gathered from Wikipedia.
”The Shelagh Watkins page on Wikipedia is long gone but the information from that page is now in print.”
Books LLC states on its website that in accordance to copyright law it may use Wikipedia material freely as long as the online encyclopaedia is credited.
It states: ”Our Wiki books are bought mainly by libraries and people who prefer to read a paperback than a computer screen.
”We only charge for compiling, editing, indexing, typesetting, designing, printing, binding and shipping of books – not for the content.”
Articles on Wikipedia are free ”to copy, distribute and transmit” as long as the author or licensor is credited.
There is currently nothing on Amazon to indicate Books LLC publications are compiled from Wikipedia articles.
A spokesperson for Amazon confirmed they are investigating the matter.
I complained vigorously to Amazon about this phenomenon (it was with a differently-named publisher, “Alphascript”), and Amazon was silent — indifferent to the scam being foisted on customers. Then I remembered, Amazon is a $10 million investor in Wikia, Inc., which is the for-profit arm of Wikipedia, both co-founded by the unscrupulous Jimmy Wales. Amazon wouldn’t want to tarnish its $10 million Wikia bankroll, would it?
Wikia is a wiki hosting site, the for-profit arm of Wikipedia.
This is legal, but is a sharp practice when done without a clear disclosure of what the book will consist of. Amazon should probably not even permit such abortions to be sold on its site.
The service is useful for creating a book from related or interesting Wikipedia articles, but not as a surprise foisted off on the unsuspecting.
The Alphascript and Betascript books issue was raised over a year ago on Wikipedia and nothing seems to have been done about it since.
While Wikipedia editors know very well that their contributions may be reused in a form such as this, such practices have been long frowned upon by the community to various degrees (I know I strongly dislike it). Unfortunately, so long as these publishers obey the license agreements, they can carry on publishing, but it would be a very good idea if Amazon would make it clear that the content being published is just a copy/paste of other’s work.