When #Cockygate And #Tiffanygate Collide Amazon Bewares

I don’t know about you guys, but recently I’ve found it hard to maintain my membership of Team Hope. Trademark trolls issuing threats, scammers running rampant, clickfarmers hitting #1, innocents getting sanctioned while stuffers receive All Stars, narcissistic boxset promoters throwing lawsuits in every direction, plus Amazon generally acting like an absentee landlord during the Great Famine.

And then Friday happened.

First, a perma-disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I have worked as a paralegal and seen more courtrooms than Lindsay Lohan, but that does not make me a lawyer or legal expert or dispenser of legal advice in any shape or form. And I’m Irish, so that goes double for American law.

I do have a passing familiarity with some legal language and procedures, so I’ll try and give a brief layperson’s summary of what happened yesterday, based on reading the transcript and following commentary from lawyerly types. Really though, I suggest checking out the savvy (actual) lawyers in the romance community who have been all over this from the start. Going through #cockygate on Twitter will lead you to all the right people pretty fast. Start with Courtney Milan if you’re lost.

None of them are providing legal advice on this either, of course, but they are much more knowledgeable than me (lawyers: please tell me if I get anything wrong here and I’ll correct).

#Cockygate Round 1

Short version: the good guys won… the first battle at least.

#Cockygate has been rolling for a month now and is quite multifaceted — touching on some pretty existential issues for writers, and indeed all creatives. This post from lawyer Marc Whipple tracks the beginning, in case you have been in a coma for the last month. The story also broke out into the mainstream briefly where it was covered by Vox and The Guardian, among others.

More recent developments are as follows. Multiple authors made creative stands against Faleena Hopkins’ extremely questionable trademark and even more dubious attempted enforcement of same, in the form of various Cocky-themed books and parodies. Hopkins responded with a video — which she since took down, presumably in case it destroyed her acting career — as well as a series of equally ill-advised posts.

Hopkins then filed suit against three parties: Kevin Kneupper, the author/lawyer who is formally challenging her trademark; Tara Crescent, an author who had published books with Cocky in the title previously; and Jennifer Watson, a publicist for an anthology raising funds to cover legal expenses of authors affected by all this.

Again, Marc Whipple breaks down the issues — of which there are many I barely touched on, including how Hopkins sent legal threats to a variety of authors, forced Amazon to take down various Cocky books, and she generally doubled down wherever possible despite an outcry from the writer community.

In the papers filed, Faleena Hopkins was, among other things, seeking a restraining order against Tara Crescent from publishing anything with Cocky in the title, to have Kevin Kneupper’s trademark challenge stayed, to have her trademark affirmed by the court, as well as damages and attorney’s fees. She also attempted to force the public disclosure of Tara Crescent’s real name, which is a particularly nasty move that needs to be underlined again and again — particularly as that is still a danger here.

Thankfully for the Defendants, they didn’t have to wait too long for the initial hearing, which took place yesterday morning in New York. And the transcript is a delight.

More on that in a moment, we’ll deal with the serious stuff first. Kevin Kneupper was dismissed from the case right away, along with the injunction Hopkins sought against his opposition to the trademark claim. That will now proceed, although it may not be heard for some time. The judge also denied the restraining order against Tara Crescent, meaning that her ability to publish books and earn a living is unimpeded for now (stress and lawyerly dealings aside).

Faleena Hopkins’ trademark was also described by the judge as weak at best and he generally seemed unimpressed with the strength of her case and her lawyer’s arguments. I wasn’t in the court, and perhaps this is an author’s overactive imagination, but the transcript seemed overflowing with judicial shade and side-eye.

The next phase of the case is discovery, where Faleena Hopkins will be persisting with her attempt to force disclosure Tara Crescent’s real name. And it’s hard to view that as anything other than a spiteful move, also designed to intimidate others too. Romance authors have innumerable legitimate reasons for writing under pen names — seriously, check out 99% of media coverage of romance — and everyone is entitled to privacy, of course.

As a romance author herself, Faleena Hopkins will know this as well as anyone. Which makes it particularly dickish. But being Faleena Hopkins cuts both ways, and she continues to be her own worst enemy in this case. As Marc Whipple put it, “Ms. Hopkins is really going to regret some of her posts and that video, in my opinion, because they are going to be used to impeach her affidavit.” Indeed.

Before Discovery takes place, the remaining Defendants have indicated they will seek to get the case dismissed. They seem confident in their chances and I wish them the very best. Although part of me will be disappointed not to get further transcripts like this.

cockygate transcript

#Tiffanygate

The author community — and romance writers in particular — got another piece of promising news last night. Amazon dropped a bomb of their own, one aimed squarely at that slimy circle of All Star book stuffers. KDP has updated the Content Guidelines pertaining to “bonus content” to make the rules against book stuffing — the practice of shoving multiple titles in each ebook file to inflate Kindle Unlimited payouts — even clearer and more unambiguous.

You can peruse it here yourself, but there are four key parts.

  1. Bonus content is now limited to around 10% of the book. If properly enforced, that will punch a giant hole in the book stuffer business model of maxing KU payouts per borrow and rolling that illicit gain back into further ghostwritten content, pushed hard on Facebook.
  2. Bonus content must also be exclusive to Amazon if the title is enrolled in KDP Select. This was always the case but Amazon is just making this even clearer.
  3. Disruptive links are explicitly banned — this is the Click To The End scam I’ve been talking about for a while now. Amazon previously claimed it closed the loophole but testing showed that wasn’t quite true, and there have been variations of the scam in play ever since.
  4. Promises of gifts or rewards are also explicitly banned.

If you missed the beginning of #Tiffanygate the last in particular might puzzle you, but what kicked off the latest focus on the infamous circle of bad boy stuffers was this TOS-breaking, and possibly illegal, review-generating competition from Chance Carter — the unofficial leader of the book stuffers.

The book in question — Mister Diamond — was stuffed to the gills, because of course it was.

As per usual there was a Click To The End inducement, as you can see above. Another author also found instructions to his street team clearly aimed at ensuring that max payout for each stuffed book.

And I also discovered that those other books stuffed inside were breaking Amazon’s exclusivity rules.

That’s almost impressive. Chance Carter is simultaneously breaking rules on stuffing, review incentivizing, gift offering, disruptive linking, and exclusivity.

PSA: Chance Carter also runs the newsletter swap service Bookclicker. This service requires you to give the site the API for your newsletter provider. In case you don’t know, when you grant a site an API that is giving them full admin-level access to your email list. Up to you if you think that is wise…

I’m not linking to Mister Diamond because I don’t want to encourage review bombing — which is inappropriate in any circumstances, even when the author in question is engaging such blatant cheating. But I do want to point out that it is still available for sale. You can check it out yourself. It’s not rank-stripped either. In fact, it’s doing very well on Amazon.

This bonus content clarification from Amazon is welcome, but what change this brings about depends on whether KDP actually bothers enforcing the rules this time — something that has been very patchy to date. My hope is that simplifying the rule will allow ground-level staff, or algos I guess, make an easier determination about is permitted, and that this is the beginning of a wider crackdown. Perhaps that is wishful thinking on my part.

The pressure must be kept on Amazon to actually enforce the rules now, and I strongly recommend that you continue to report authors flouting the guidelines — I haven’t seen any of the bad boy stuffers change tack yet. Perhaps they don’t believe Amazon will follow through.

Let’s make sure that happens, people.

UPDATE: Just going to leave this here for you to ponder.

Update 2 (June 4): Turns out diamonds aren’t forever.

UPDATE 3 (June 6): Aaaaand Chance Carter is back on sale. I make that about 18 hours offline for that one book. It now has the competition and stuffed books removed, but all his other books are still stuffed to the max. Great job Amazon!

85 Replies to “When #Cockygate And #Tiffanygate Collide”

    1. Carter is using an illegal lottery with a prize of diamonds from Tiffany’s (the jeweler) to incentivize reviews.

      1. Really this douche bag should get the whole story before posting excerpts of conversations and posting them out only to bad mouth another author. His readers have been with him for several years some. This was just him being nice to his over 4000 readers. Now this guy is just jealous and being a jerk.

        1. I read “Stranded” by Chance Carter and enjoyed it very much, although it did drag a bit. The “BONUS” stories however were terrible and you could tell there was a writing difference. Shame on him and all the other authors who pad their novels.

          Great article David

        2. You naivity is showing badly Theresa. I am grateful David brought this to light.

          Are you one of Carter’s minions by chance? Because nowhere does anybody who has ethics and morals think what Chance is doing is right. He should be outed and banned from selling books. He is a bookstuffer and scammer.

          Thank you for the article David.

        3. The whole story? Please, enlighten us Theresa? Enlighten me, an author buried by amazon and KU because of deceitful practices like your precious Chance!
          Shame on you, Theresa.

        4. Lol, if he was just being “nice”, he wouldn’t ask his readers to flip to the end. Stop scrambling to smooth over his actions.

    2. Because he is offering your choice of Tiffany jewelry in a drawing if you click all the way through on ku and then purchase the book

    1. Don’t believe everything you hear or see this post is excerpts taken and miss used to suit this authors purpose to defame Chance Carter.

      1. Dude, there’s no way to spin this.

        That author either book stuffed or didn’t, he tried bribing his readers or didn’t and he had hi PA instruct his readers how to ‘KU flip’ or didn’t.

        If you have proof or an explanation otherwise, happy to hear it.

        1. It’s Duddett butthead:
          Chance Carter is not the only author to add extra books that have already been sold in there Books’ try looking sometime. He was trying to be nice to his over 4000 readers and has apologized for his mistake.
          Bet you never made a mistake well trying to be nice and thoughtfully

      2. again the contest was an illegal proof of purchase set up. Chance was *using* his fans, and not thanking them.

      3. Are you paid via Fiverr or some other similar site, Theresa/Dudette, to offer these pro-Chance comments? I suggest you read books by authors other than Chance to, you know, broaden your grammatical horizons. You need help in that area. Although, to give you props, “Miss Used” would make a cool online moniker…or even a book title!

    1. David is a troll hides in chates takes posts and twists them to suit himself he is jealous and a lier

        1. Well, ty hun yet that has nothing to do with anything David is reporting on something he only knows half the story on and using it only for his own gain. Xo

        1. What logic?

          Theresa/Dudette not only can’t spell, can’t punctuate, but also can’t put together any sort of coherent counter to what David has posted.

          Feel free, Theresa/Dudette –not Duddette, although a feminization of “dud” does seem appropriate–to write up a long, comprehensive blog post that takes on each point and refutes each with evidence and sound logic. We will wait, breathlessly, for the link to that apologia.

      1. Chates?
        Were you watching SOLO this weekend?

        I thought trolls hid under bridges, not in SW universe flicks.

        Psst: “liar.”

    1. David is full of crap he’s jealous and hids in chats and takes things and twists them to defame and hurt a nother author

      1. Have you noticed his right hand is bigger than his left hand? At first I thought it was weird but then it became kind of comforting over time.

        1. Wow that is petty. It’s a good thing I don’t read your books. I never will. Jealously is a deadly sin remember that.

    1. Yep he owns BookClicker – for those who don’t know it’s a newsletter swap service, one which requires your mailing list API to sign up. That’s full admin access to your email list. Not advised.

      Also another stuffer owns the Book Boyfriend app – stay away, obviously.

  1. Thanks all!

    For those who scroll down this far, a question: are any of you subscribed to the blog either by email/Wordpress follow/RSS/whatever – as in were subscribed before the move to the new site? Did your subscription port across okay? Any issues?

    Any probs for anyone else subscribing since the move here?

    We had some bugs affecting all that and I THINK we have zapped most of them but some examples of issues *currently happening* would be great – thanks!

    WordPress has rather unhelpfully decided that 42,000 followers are just going to get updates in WordPress Reader instead, which few people ever check. But that’s a problem for another day…

    1. We represent an email subscription to you, arriving via MailChimp in late March, 2018. As the herd follows you on Twitter and risked losing nothing it could not get again later, and knowing migrations are “exciting” times, they deliberately did not, in any way, port or migrate or resubscribe or change anything whatsoever. Also, there was a selection of carrots left untended in a vacationing farmer’s large garden for some while, but I am off our point. As the mules’ feline representative, I am happy to note that we appear to be receiving uninterrupted communications. Anecdotal, but a good sign. You have our email address and should be whitelisted at a domain level—if you need anything else, please feel free to make contact.

    2. I was subscribed by email to the blog before, and continue to get blog updates by email since your move.

  2. Great post as always, David. I went to Amazon to check out the new requirement rules and was surprised by a seeming discrepancy under exclusivity. Can you give any insight into this matter?
    All content enrolled in KDP Select must remain for sale through the Kindle Store only. If the digital version of your book appears to be available for pre-order, for sale, or for free elsewhere (such as on your website or blog, or a third party’s website), then it is not eligible for KDP Select. Adding new content (such as bonus content, author’s commentary section, etc.) to a book that is available elsewhere will not satisfy the exclusivity requirements. See the KDP Select Terms and Conditions for complete exclusivity requirements.

    However, you may choose to make up to 10% of your book available on other sites as a sample, as well as continue to distribute your book in physical format (including print on demand books), or in any format other than digital. 10% is roughly the length of the Kindle Free reading sample.

    1. Not David, but I read it as follows:
      There are three separate rules:
      Rule 1 – 10% of a book may be bonus content.
      Rule 2 – 10% of any KU exclusive may be made available outside of KU as a preview. (This is a different 10% of a different work.)
      Rule 3 – Any work previewed as bonus content must be available in full exclusively from KU.

      It seems to follow that:
      You cannot include as bonus content any work that is available in full outside of KU.
      You can include as bonus content work that is available in preview (up to 10%) outside of KU.
      If you have a 200k word work, you could release up to 20k words outside of KU as a preview (10% of the work being previewed), but you could only include 15k words as bonus content in a 150k word book (10% of the book in which the bonus content appears).

    2. Gordon has the technicalities down, but what I think this rule is doing is trying to figure out how the stuffers will breach things like exclusivity and plug those gaps in advance. For example, if a hypothetical bad boy author called Pants Sharter had stuffed 10 books in one, meaning the 10% sample contained an entire book, he could, in theory, have that book up somewhere like BookFunnel and claim it was permitted because it was part of that 10% sample. So Amazon are saying: (a) bonus content can only be 10%, (b) sample displayed outside Amazon can only be 10%, and (c) any bonus content in KU books must also be exclusive. Heading off future scams at the pass basically.

  3. I was in the court room for #cockygate yesterday, and there was most definitely some low-key judicial side-eye happening. It was glorious.

  4. Finally, Amazon takes action. When I went through having my reviews removed due to “perceived bias” and accidentally sent an email to Bezos, I mentioned specific unethical review practices by authors with whom I had personal experience, but no one, even on the executive level, seemed to care. I’m glad to see an attempt at making things equitable.

  5. Guess None of you ever made a Mistake or Done anything Wrong If you’ve never errored cast the first Stone ……hypocrites all you. Jealous much ? Judgemental? Judge ye least ye be Judged.

      1. You are sinning all right, but I don’t see forgiveness in your future. This is a matter of you being jealous over book your poor book sakes. Also attacking the fan base on your part is also a low blow and shows just how juvenile you really are.

    1. Milli, I make mistakes every day but they do not consist of cheating people.
      But that’s just me.

  6. Thank you so much for the info, David. I had no idea about #tiffanygate; been too caught up in #cockygate.

  7. Where *is* he getting these trolls from? An emporium that specialises in the semi-literate, surely?

  8. I’m so glad I found you! This was better reading than the last two books I read. 🙂 New fan of yours.

  9. Again, great work David. You continue to champion the cause. Thank you.

    I have to ask this question though. While I 100% agree that stuffing and all this trademark nonsense is bogus… My question is…

    Besides Amazon’s rules, does stuffing help or hurt the reader? I suppose it could be argued that getting extra content for the consumer is a good thing. Therefore, as a business, why should Amazon really care as long as their customer, the reader, is ok with it? Even if it conflicts with their own rules?

    More of a devil’s advocate question really.

    1. As a reader I think the harm comes across multiple stuffed books. Most stuffers will have books A, B, C, & D under title A and books B, C, D, & A under title B and so on through all the permutations. They sell the same content repeatedly under different names. An apologist could argue the goods are so cheap it doesn’t matter, but however inexpensive they are, I don’t need multiple copies of each book.

    2. Things like that are easy to judge, if they are bad or good, by a simple question: “Would society/the world be better if everybody was doing it?” or in this case: “Would readers’ reading experience be better if every book in Amazon’s store was stuffed?”

    3. Yes, Jim, even if we leave aside the entire author side of cheating and essentially stealing, it’s still bad. Sometimes the content stuffed in the back is different heat levels, or different tropes. If you are into M/M romance, and then you get some M/F/M menage stuffed in the back, then you might not be too happy. Or if you see a book is 1000 pages and look forward to a big long novel, and it turns out to be a novella with 10 more stuffed in the back, you might not be too happy. Or if you look at the 6MB file size and think a book might be perfect for that camping weekend with no internet, and then you see it’s an 80 page book with all the author’s newsletters stuffed in the back to pad the page count (actual example!), then, yeah, you might not be too happy.

    4. As a reader, I never read the extras because I bought the book for, well, the book. It means much more to me if an author offers an additional book as a gift, exclusive to their newsletter subscribers, fan group, etc. Now that I’m aware of the true intent behind bonus content, I like it even less.

  10. Very informative.
    I’ve largely given up trying to promote my work because the scale of abuse of Amazon’s system makes it pointless. It comes as no surprise that Amazon, being a box shifter, doesn’t care which boxes shift; it gets its cut regardless. If Amazon looks like it’s clamping down, readers (and writers) will imagine it is doing the ‘right thing’. Will the announcement deter abuse? Looks like it won’t. Will Amazon follow through? Doubtless, in some poky little department someone, somewhere is debating the difference between saying you’ll do something and executing.

    1. I was just talking about this with someone by email.

      I think we have a unique window of opportunity right now to affect change IF we can keep the pressure up on Amazon to follow through and actually enforce these new rules.

  11. In case you don’t see the updates to the above post:

    Chance Carter’s book Mister Diamond was removed from sale yesterday. Chance then posted a video saying he would be taking out all his bonus content, and that other authors would be too. His book was already back on sale today – he’s getting the express treatment it seems – and the bonus content and Tiffany competition were removed… from that book. His other ones are all still stuffed.

  12. The one thing I find sad about all this is the number of authors leaving KU. I read a lot, all genres, and KU enables me to be able to afford to do this. As a reader it is great and I am now concerned that good authors will leave it. I do get fed up of book stuffers, i prefer longer stories and it is annoying if the book ends at 17% or whatever when i downloaded it thinking it was 2000 pages. But I would ask authors not to leave as it is us genuine readers that miss out on reading good books that we couldn’t afford if we had to pay for each one!!

    1. A lot of authors can’t afford to stay. If that makes you upset, you need to complain to Amazon, which listens more to readers/consumers than authors.

    2. Dear A Reader,

      As Dan says, PLEASE do complain to Amazon about how stuffers and their unfairly large portion of KU payouts are causing the rest of us authors to leave KU behind. Amazon will listen to you, the consumer! They won’t listen nearly as much to us, the authors.

      I took all my books out of KU because I couldn’t afford to stay.

      Thanks in advance,

  13. I have read tone of authors who have stuffed books but you all haven’t commented on any of them. Why is that? I’ve also seen authors who say hey like, comment and share for a chance to get a Kindle fire and a $50 Amazon card. But are you saying boo to them no! I have read and reviewed for over 50 authors. Yes Chance Carter did the Tiffany’s giveaway but it said that you don’t have to participate to read the book. What I’m saying is I have read Chance Carter’s books and some are great some aren’t like with some of E.L. James or J.K Rolling. I’ve said my piece.

  14. This makes me so mad.
    I’ve published over 15 books in three years (admittedly several of them were already in at least first draft form before I went Indie), all of which are entirely my work and represent a lot of time and effort. I count myself lucky if I break even regarding cost and profit, and if a book has even one review.

    Yet assholes like this run competitions and scams to generate reviews and earn top dollar and hundreds of reviews (and the resulting status) for it.

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