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Writer Wednesday: What's In a Name- AI vs Author

Hello! Good Morning Authors and welcome to another #writerwednesday where we talk shop, industry, and more. Today, you guessed it, it's another post on AI and the fresh Hell it's wrecked on the publishing industry. For the past few weeks, Author Jane Friedman has been wading into the debacle of Amazon and AI books. Did I say wading? I mean dragged in by the ankles.

Writer Wednesday: What's in a Name- AI vs Author

The Friedman Fight

That's right. Not only must authors combat such fun tricks of the trade such as piracy and plagiarism, now authors who have begun to gain traction in the market have the chance for AI generated books to latch onto their name/ brand like a digital parasite, scalping their sales and endangering their livelihood. And this person might have gotten away with the scam too if not for an endearing quirk of Goodreads, which was bought and tweaked to hell by Amazon, that automatically generated the titles into Friedman's Author Works on her profile.

A double edged sword, because when Friedman reported the works using her name and reputation without her consent to Amazon, she immediately received pushback.

“Please provide us with any trademark registration numbers that relate to your claim.”

Yes, Amazon really wanted the author to provide a trademark for her very name. When Friedman said she did not have a trademark for her name, Amazon closed the case and told her the books would not be removed from sale.

Now, to pause and play Devil's advocate in trying to understand why Amazon would demand this 'proof' of name ownership, I can think two reasons:

1. A lot of authors publish under pennames and trademarking a pen name is not a bad idea to prevent others from using the same name etc. Though how this applies to an author publishing under their real legal name is questionable.

2. Frustrating as it sounds, they may have been using the trademark logic to protect Jane Friedman, in case the person reporting the books was not the real Jane Friedman.

On August 7th, a day after discovering and failing to have the titles removed, Friedman published a blog post on the incident and talked about it on social media, which, rightfully so, generated quite a buzz in the author community. In reading Friedman's post on the events, there was mention of a report being filed and the brief brusque answer. I did not see any mention of person to person conversation or if Friedman was asked to provide proof of identity and ownership of her Author account. And this is where the Devil's Advocate argument breaks down. Amazon has taken an abysmal plummet in service towards the authors who sell on their platform. Most of their reporting systems are automated, hence why the ban hammer can fall so aggressively and without warning for things like piracy infractions that authors have great difficulty combating and there is little recourse offered to authors when this happens.

The power of recognition and sales does help, as Friedman was able to get the titles scrubbed from her Goodreads and Amazon profile the next day. She does attribute this to her standing in the community, the fact she made enough noise to move the needle, and notes that smaller indie authors would face a much larger struggle.

In reading the X posts on the subject, Friedman spoke about reaching out to lawyers and the Author's Guild to help get the titles taken down. Many indie and newbie authors don't have the funds to pay for a lawyer or be a member of the author's guild.

Friedman went on to publish one of her Hot Sheets on August 16th, to help authors wade through similar situations.

The Upside of this Debacle

There is indeed an upside though it doesn't seem like one at the moment. In Friedman's frequently updated post on the topic, she mentions that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is keeping a close eye on this situation and this predatory practice happening to a larger name author is something that will help push for rules and regulations regarding AI usage in publishing. In a recent article published by the FTC they talk about Digital Ownership and Creation in the Age of AI their opinion on the matter is a mixed bag and although they have yet to step in with any hard hitting regulations, they are now 'vigorously cautioning' businesses to come clean if their products are AI generated.

Friedman also states that laws vary state to state but there is currently a Right to Publicity suit simmering along that took center stage in a Senate Debate on AI. Lawyers are pushing for a Federal Right to Publicity to protect creatives and push the distinction that copyright law does not and should not recognize computer systems as authors. It's another case we shall be keeping a close eye on.

Resources and Further Reading

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