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March 8, 2024 | EntertainmentFrom the blogMedia

Scammers and Screenplays: Self-Publishing scams on the internet today

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Joseph Ford

Client and Marketing Coordinator

Scams around the entertainment business are nothing new.  And as the allure of the film industry continues to captivate aspiring filmmakers, writers, and actors, scams have proliferated online.  In this blog we’ll explore the workings of one such scheme targeting authors who self-publish through Amazon.

The Amazon Scam

It all starts above-board. Maybe you’ve been frustrated by major publishers and agents just not “getting” your work.  Maybe you like the speed,  editorial control, and DIY-mcguvery involved.  However you arrived there, you’re now a self-published author at Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/publish).  It’s a great service for many people.  Let’s now follow one such hypothetical author, based on two actual clients who’ve consulted with us at Romano Law over the past few months.

So, you’ve actually had some modest success with your book.  The friends and family you’ve told about it have a copy and a few dozen or maybe hundred strangers have picked it up too.  So it comes as a pleasant surprise when you receive an email from Amazon Prime Studios–a corporate sister of the company that published the book itself–showing interest in your book for a potential motion picture adaptation.  There are standard industry procedures for getting books to the screen, you are told, and the next necessary step for you would be to write a treatment to pitch the project to the various filmmakers with whom Amazon Prime Studios has relationships.  For the modest fee of $1500 they’ll even engage a screenwriter for you, someone with years of industry experience who’s adept at crafting winning–that is selling–treatments.

$1500?  That’s a low bar to entry into the film world!  Of course you pay.  A week or two later you get the treatment via email and it looks great.  The writer really “gets” your story and has actually managed to capture the scope of the whole work in eight or ten pages.  You’re happier still to hear that they’ve taken the liberty of showing the treatment to a few directors–not only at Amazon Prime Studios but also at Netflix!–and you hear that a few are actually interested!

Can Amazon Prime Studios prepare a contract for the full screenplay?  “Of course!” you reply without a moment’s hesitation.

A few days later you receive a contract.  Maybe it’s called a “retainer agreement”.  It’s a dense legal document, five or six pages long, but one thing you can’t help but notice is that the offer for the film rights to your book is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars!  There are now only two things standing now standing between you and fame and fortune and everything that goes with it: On signing this contract “to show good faith in providing an exclusive right to Amazon Prime Studios”, you’ll need to pay a fee of $5,000 via ACH or Western Union, with a promise from them that this payment will be refunded “at the end of the Agreement or completion of services”.

I’ve little doubt that once this $5,000 has been paid there will be another request, probably for an even larger amount.  I don’t know this for certain since I quickly advised the two, otherwise completely unrelated, potential clients who contacted me describing this scenario to close their checkbooks and adjust their expectations:  They’d been scammed.

How had this happened?

It’s easy for potential scammers to find authors who’ve self-published at Kindle Direct Publishing, easy for them to learn enough about the books to pretend to have read it, and easy enough to obtain contact info to pitch a credulous author.

Why do people fall for such scams?

These scammers emotionally manipulate their targets by praising their work (the self-published book) and promising them an easy entrée into the complex and distinctly gatekept entertainment industry, and they manipulate seemingly-familiar internet technology (by phishing emails and spoofing websites) and using AI (to generate the “Treatments” custom-written for their targets).

Protect yourself by looking for key signs an offer isn’t legitimate:

  • Email addresses and URLs: Pay careful attention to the exact spelling and formulation of these. Private domain registries can be used by different entities or individuals for illegitimate reasons. When in doubt check them with a “whois” directly with ICANN here https://lookup.icann.org/en .
  • Company Identification: Amazon’s real, legitimate film production entity is called “Amazon MGM Studios”. So you might well question someone who identifies themselves as working for “Amazon Prime Studios” or “Prime Video Studios”.
  • Offers that are too good or too easy to be true usually aren’t. Old wisdom, still very much applicable here.

Other Scams

The above is only one of sort of scams targeting self-published authors.  Other such scams include:

  1. Vanity Presses that are disguised as Self-Publishing Platforms: These companies often charge authors exorbitant fees for publishing services, but do little to market or distribute their books.
  1. Fake Literary Agents and Editors: Scammers may pose as literary agents or editors offering to represent or edit the author’s book for a fee, without any intention of actually providing these services.
  1. Marketing and Promotion Scams: Scammers might offer marketing and promotion services, charging high fees for services that are ineffective or never actually rendered.
  1. Paid Book Review Scams: Authors may be offered paid book reviews that promise to enhance their book’s visibility and credibility, but these paid reviews can be against the policies of major retailers and might not be from credible sources.
  1. Contest and Award Scams: Some scams involve invitations to enter writing contests or awards that require an entry fee, but the contest or award may lack legitimacy or recognition in the industry.
  1. Rights and Royalty Scams: Scammers might falsely claim that they can sell or license the author’s book rights in foreign countries, often asking for upfront payment for services they cannot deliver.

To avoid such scams, it’s important for self-published authors to research any company or individual offering services, seek recommendations from trusted sources, and be cautious of any service requiring substantial fees upfront.


Unfortunately, such schemes are becoming increasingly prevalent.  Scammers are going to great lengths to offer what seems to be a legitimate opportunity in an attempt to deceive and exploit hopeful creators.  If you find yourself in a similar situation and question the validity of an agreement you’ve received, it is best to consult with an experienced attorney to ensure that your interests are protected.



Photo by Mason Kimbarovsky on Unsplash
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