Amazon Sues People who Charge $5 for Fake Reviews

Have you ever found yourself annoyed with glowing online reviews that don’t seem real?

Amazon is, too. And now the retailers is taking the extraordinary step of suing the users who post them.

In a lawsuit filed on Friday, Amazon asked a Washington state court to grant damages against a group of people who it says posted phony 5-star reviews in exchange for $5. In some cases, the company used undercover agents to conduct transactions with the fake reviewers.

As the Amazon complaint explains, the fake reviewers ran their scheme through a work-for-site site called Fiverr. They allegedly used hundreds of fake Amazon account names and IP addresses in order to pepper the site with fake reviews. The text of the reviews are typically supplied by the people who hired them.

“You know the your [sic] product better than me. So please provide your product review, it will be better,” said one such reviewer cited in the complaint.

Amazon also claims that some defendants abused its “Amazon Verified Purchaser” program, which displays a tag to show a reviewer has actually purchased the product in question:

“[They] provide these “Verified Reviews” only if the reviewers obtain the product for free, in addition to receiving payment for the “review.” In at least one instance, the seller of a “Verified Review” was willing to receive an empty envelope …simply to create a shipping record to .. avoid detection by Amazon.”

The lawsuit comes after Amazon filed a similar complaint in April against a website called “buyamazonreviews.com” that offered fake endorsements.

The new case, however, does not specify the identities of the defendants, but instead names anonymous individuals known as “John Does 1-1114.” Amazon tells the court it will add their names at a later date once the company identifies who they are (presumably by asking internet providers to identify their IP addresses).

So why does Amazon claim it’s not lawful to post fake reviews in the first place? According to the complaint, the reviewers are liable for breach of contract since, as Amazon customers, they are bound by the company’s terms of service. Amazon also claims the fake reviews are unfair and deceptive under Washington law, and amount to unlawful interference with third-party contracts.

While the company is seeking damages and an injunction against the fake reviewers, it’s unclear if Amazon will actually see this through to the end–or if it’s just a salvo to suggest that the reviewers to knock it off. Notably, the company did not name the Amazon sellers who hired them in the first place. Under the company’s legal arguments, those sellers would be liable, too.

Here’s a copy of the complaint, which was first reported by Geekwire. I’ve underlined some of the relevant bits.

Amazon Complaint Re Reviews

[This article, by Jeff John Roberts, appeared in Fortune’s Tech section on 10/19/15]

This Week’s Bestsellers

It’s a big week for old favorites, especially among children’s authors. Twilight/Life and Death pairs the 10th anniversary edition of Stephenie Meyer’s vampiric blockbuster with a gender-flipped version, in which ingenue Bella becomes Beau and sparkly immortal Edward is now Edyth. With 66K print units sold, it’s #2 in children’s frontlist fiction, and #3 overall.

At #3 in children’s fiction and #5 overall, with 44K print units sold, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling features new color illustrations by Kate Greenaway Medalist Jim Kay, whom Rowling selected to do new art for all seven novels in the series.

And at #5 with 12K print units sold, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell grew out of the fan-fiction sections of 2013’s Fangirl, which imagine a Harry Potter–esque character falling for his Draco-like roommate, who is a vampire.

On the adult side, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin, #2 in hardcover fiction and #7 overall, sold 33K print units this week. The volume packages three previously published novellas set a century before the events of A Game of Thrones.

On the Right Track

Patti Smith reflects on her life and her art in the new M Train, the follow-up to her 2010 memoir Just Kids, which won that year’s National Book Award for nonfiction. Kids debuted with 6,685 print units sold and to date has topped 440K units in hardcover and paperback. M Train is building on that success, debuting at #6 in hardcover nonfiction with almost 16K sold. Another musical memoir, Sounds like Me by Sara Bareilles, lands at #19 with 6,484 print units sold. The books arrive on the heels of Chrissie Hynde’s controversial Reckless; for more of the season’s musician-authored books, go to publishersweekly.com/music1516.

Kennedy Compound

A pair of books on the Kennedy clan debut on our hardcover nonfiction list this week. In A Common Struggle by Patrick J. Kennedy and Stephen Fried, Kennedy—a former Rhode Island congressman and the youngest child of Ted—recounts, in the words of the subtitle, his “personal journey through the past and future of mental illness and addiction.” It’s at #7 with almost 15K sold.

Rosemary by Kate Cifford Larson, at #15 with 8,279 print units sold, details the tragic life of the oldest daughter of Joe and Rose Kennedy, who suffered a failed lobotomy at age 23 and remained isolated from her family for much of her life.

Notables

A More Perfect Union Ben Carson #2 Hardcover Nonfiction; #6 overall 37.9K print units The 2016 presidential hopeful has put his campaign on hold for two weeks while on tour for his new book, which, according to the subtitle, explains “what we the people can do to reclaim our constitutional liberties.”

The Survivor Vince Flynn and Kyle Mills #1 Hardcover Fiction; #4 overall 49.8K print units Flynn died in 2013, before finishing the 14th of his Mitch Rapp political thrillers; Mills completed Flynn’s work and plans to write two more in the series.

The Courage to Act Ben S. Bernanke #13 Hardcover Nonfiction 9,357 print units The former chairman of the Federal Reserve—who started his 12-year tenure in 2006, shortly before the housing bubble burst—offers an insider’s perspective on the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

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All unit sales per Nielsen BookScan except where noted.

[This article, written by Carolyn Juris, appeared in the 10/19/2015 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: This Week’s Bestsellers: October 19, 2015]