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What Happened to Amazon’s Bookstore?

“It’s deceptive advertising,” he said. “Why is Amazon, the champion of consumers, allowing this?”

Extraordinary prices for ordinary books have been an Amazon mystery for years, but the backdating of titles to gain a commercial edge appears to be a new phenomenon. A listing with a fake date gets a different Amazon page from a listing with the correct date. In essence, those Boland books were in another virtual aisle of the bookstore. That could power sales.

Last month, a search on the site for paperbacks published before 1800 yielded over 100,000 results. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign tract, “Change We Can Believe In,” was published in 1725, according to a seller charging $45 for it. Elsewhere in the bookstore it sells for as low as 25 cents.

“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.”

Mr. Boland takes the misuse of his name personally. “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,” he said.

Amazon argues in court papers that the same shield that protects Facebook and Twitter from being sued over posts by their users — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — protects it as well, even if the product is a physical item.

Mark Lemley, the director of the Stanford Program in Law, Science and Technology, said the company was probably right. “I don’t think Amazon will be liable for misstatements posted by others, and certainly not if it wasn’t aware of them,” he said.

Mr. Boland, who is acting as his own lawyer, said he made Amazon aware of the problem last spring but got nowhere. Only after his suit was filed did Amazon begin pulling the erroneous listings down. Perfect Crime’s damages, Amazon said in a filing, “if any,” were not caused by Amazon and “are vague, uncertain, imaginary and speculative.”

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