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Amazon Beautiful Disaster Emails

4 March 2013

From author Jamie McGuire:

It appears that Amazon has sent a mass email to everyone who’s ever purchased the self-published version of Beautiful Disaster. They are encouraging readers to request a refund. When asked why they are offering this refund, Amazon customer service has given several different reasons, the most common is problems with content. THERE IS NO PROBLEM WITH THE CONTENT OF BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, and it makes no sense for them to encourage a refund for a book that has already been read and enjoyed 6+ months later, but that is the only information I have for now.

Customer service admits that if you do NOT get the refund, your copy of BD will NOT be affected. If you get a refund, they are offering to reimburse the $4+ difference it costs to purchase the $7.99 version, but what they aren’t telling you is that **I** am paying for every refund.

Last week, I sent an email to Amazon asking why the self-published version of my book is still experiencing returns. Returns are only allowed for up to 7 days after purchase. 6 months after the self-published version of Beautiful Disaster went off-sale my account was still seeing negative amounts for returns. I’m not going to assume the reasons behind this mass email, but it appears that Amazon customer service is now encouraging these returns.

Link to the rest at Jamie McGuire and thanks to Becca and many others for the tip.

Passive Guy will not that he has taken a book off sale at Amazon and nothing like this occured. In PG’s case, the book disappeared and that was that.

He will note that there are two versions of this book, Beautiful Disaster. The first was self-pubbed and is the one that was taken down. The second was published by Simon & Schuster and is currently available. One possibility that occurs to PG is that the S&S version was substantially edited/modified and is much different from the original indie version but he doesn’t understand why Amazon would feel it necessary to offer a refund to those who bought the indie version.

UPDATE: PG received the following from Amazon’s PR department: “I wanted to let you know that the initial email sent to customers re: the availability of “Beautiful Disaster” was an error. We’ve since sent a follow-up email to those customers to clarify that there’s no action required for them to continue enjoying the book.”

Amazon, Self-Publishing

59 Comments to “Amazon Beautiful Disaster Emails”

  1. The problem appears to be that the self-published edition included the lyrics of the Rolling Stones song, Satisfaction, so the in caps denial of any problem with content would appear to be inaccurate. These lyrics were edited down in the S&S version to a single line. I’m sure more will emerge and given how many copies of the self-pubbed version were sold there could be further action. Important for writers, perhaps especially those self-publishing, to be at least vaguely aware of copyright law.

    • I read an article a while back about the pitfalls of authors assuming “fair use” for song lyrics. The person writing the article – an attorney specializing in copyright law – specifically cited that particular Rolling Stones song.

      I think I recall that his point was that while song titles themselves are usually not protected, they may be anyway when the title itself is recognizable as part of the lyrics and identifiable with a particular artist. So even quoting the title “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” might be a violation, depending on how it was used and the way a legal challenge might play out.

      There isn’t a lot of flex-room on citing song lyrics and most discussions or articles I’ve ever seen on the subject recommend either not doing so at all, or else going through the tedious process of tracking down rights-holders and paying for the rights as Stephen King’s publisher has always done (his common use of lyrics brought a lot of emulators).

      Author Blake Morrison wrote an article a few years ago in the Guardian about having to pay for a single line from the Rolling Stones song “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”:


      I believe I’ve also heard that some licenses may depend on number of sales and scale upward if more books are sold than were licensed for.

      • Dear Author has covered it very nicely. Will be interesting to see what the Stones and their attorneys decide to do. Link to Dear Author coverage here.


        I think there has been an unfortunate tendency with the 50 Shades fan fiction crowd and their fans (don’t know if this author falls into that category) to take a rather cavalier approach to other people’s intellectual property.

        • Oh wow. She used a *lot* of lyrics.

          She may have believed that by wrapping a different context around them (rather than simply quoting them outright) would constitute some kind of fair use.

          The fact that the publisher stripped it all out indicates their legal counsel may have felt otherwise.

        • Her book was not fan fiction, but I see your point. A lot of fan fiction writers do use songs in their stories.

      • It is ironic that Morrison doesn’t seem to understand what it is he was paying all that money *for.* He complains that you can’t hear music in books and so it’s only free advertising and not competition for the musicians.

        He was paying for the right to quote the lyrics which were copyrighted by the *songwriters.* (The invoices basically hit him with a clue-by-four in that he paid Marley, not Clapton, for “I Shot The Sheriff,” but it appears to have bounced off. He complains that he wasn’t thinking of Marley’s version anyway.) Basically, he’s paying to license lines of poetry. Later he points out that “poets and novelists” have a living to make – but apparently lyricists can go and whistle (although if they could whistle, they’d be musicians.) As far as I can tell even though he finds the songs moving enough and culturally important enough to quote, he thinks that they aren’t worth much unless you’re hearing them through a sound system.


        • I sincerely hope that you aren’t a journalist since you seem to have a bad habit of seeing only what you want to see to justify a stance that it seems you had before even reading.

          Yes, he messed up a few things, but he seems to know a bit more about what he paid for than you give him credit for. The most telling point of the entire article is that songwriters don’t seem to believe that fair use rules apply to them.

          I do question his assertion though that intellectual property rights are somehow a universal thing. There are more cultures in the world today that don’t culturally embrace IP rights than those that do. Heck, it was close that this country even had IP in the Constitution since the Founding Fathers saw its abuse in Europe.

          • Interestingly, what I got from the article is the impression that the author thinks fair use doesn’t apply to songwriters.

            As in, he shouldn’t have to prove fair use when he uses their IP. Or perhaps they should have to prove it wasn’t fair use.


    • This is why I’m using only public domain songs in my current novel. I’m pretty sure “What can you do with a drunken sailor” is safe for use.

    • This could definitely explain Amazon’s actions.

  2. Is it possible that S&S does not want a compare and contrast to show that they really didn’t that much by way of editing or anything else and by removing the earlier, self-pubbed version they are insuring their own contractual and/or digital controls? Maybe Jamie McGuire needs to chat with her publisher and agent and they can give or get her a straight answer.

    I have no idea. I am just speculating at this point. It does not make a lot of sense to me, and just underscores yet another reason not to go anywhere near a legacy publisher.

    • Interesting leap of logic. You throw out a hypotheses followed by “I have no idea. I am just speculating at this point.” and then proceed to a firm, pre-determined conclusion based on this complete (and most likely completely incorrect) conjecture.

      If you have issues with publishers, by all means share your thoughts, but this appears to be nothing more than an attempt to hijack a legitimate story with an unrelated agenda.

      • @ Dan – Really?

        You think that the possiblity of Publishers screwing this up is hijacking the thread?

        I think it’s a legitimate point, especially given that this is a site frequented by many self-published authors who may be facing this same issue one day.

        However, I will add that you have a point. I’ll repeat your words back to you: if you have issues with self-publishers, please don’t attempt to hijack a thread with that unrelated agenda.

        • But I don’t have an issue with self-publishers. I also don’t have a problem with speculation. I do have an issue with pure speculation being cited as a concrete reason to do or not do something. It’s fine to speculate, but that last sentence was a complete left turn into a separate agenda. If you fail to see the disconnect there, we’ll have to leave it as agreeing to disagree which is fine.

  3. I don’t know that the email is “encouraging” returns – but the one thing McGuire’s explanation above doesn’t mention is that the refund is HER responsibility, not S&S’s.

    • The quotation doesn’t, but her post makes it quite clear that she is paying the refunds out of her own pocket (via debits against sales of her remaining self-published books.)

      Why Amazon is accepting returns against sales six months old is a mystery – at least if you rule out deliberate malfeasance. They are in a bit of a bind if the problem is potential copyright infringement, though – if they admit that that is the problem, it makes the whole affair even more lawyer-bait than it already is.

      ETA: Dear Author seems to make a pretty good argument that copyright issues may have been behind it, but due to the bind I mention above if Amazon is unwilling to say so (and pull a 1984 on the extant sold copies) they come across looking pretty bad. It’s kind of no-win for them. However, I suspect they shall weather the storm.

  4. I wonder if Amazon is not responding because they got a take-down notice even though it was already “taken” down. Considering music publishers might have a little more sway with Amazon overall than an individual self-pubbed author, I could see Amazon offering a refund to appease a large publisher of content elsewhere. I could also see that Amazon customer service might have nothing in their computer files to say why, hence asking them will get nada that is useful.


  5. [Alert!: I am not a lawyer. I am not running Amazon.]

    Idle speculation:

    An author publishes an ebook through KDP. Said ebook includes copyrighted song lyrics to which said author does not have permission to use. Subsequently, ebook is picked up by major publisher. Major publisher’s normal processes alert copyright holder to use of said song lyrics. Copyright holder approaches Amazon and claims that because ebooks aren’t sold, but licensed, Amazon is on the hook for each copy of self-pubbed book still in customers’ ebook collections. Negotiation ensue. Agreement is reached that Amazon will attempt to cajole customers into returning self-pubbed book and pay copyright holder only for those copies not returned.

    Moral of the story: Author of self-pubbed book should seriously consider keeping mouth shut to avoid entanglement with lawyers for song lyrics copyright holder.

    • William,

      You hit the nail square on the head re why Amazon is urging returns of her SP version. I don’t know whether or not Amazon and the music lawyers have spoken or not, but I do know that S&S’s legal team did alert Amazon to the lyric copyright infringement in the SP version. They discovered it during the publisher’s review and alerted Amazon to avoid being pulled into any potential infringement suits.

      As an author I’m always amazed how so many of my fellow writers infringe upon other artists’ IP rights and then try to put themselves out as victims when they get caught and have to face the consequences. As writers we scream bloody murder when other folks pirate our material. Yet, we have a habit of not thinking that artists in other media (and their lawyers) wouldn’t have the same response if we do the same thing to them.

      • As a radio playwright for many years, I was always told that quoting songs – even when you didn’t include the music – was an expensive business and always involved permissions, which is why I’ve only ever used traditional songs in my plays and novels. But there are pitfalls even with traditional music. I seem to remember somebody running into trouble with the beautiful She Moved Through the Fair, not realizing that although the melody and a few fragments were ‘collected’ by Padraig Colum, he actually wrote most of the words as we know them, himself. Our very own Robert Burns did much the same thing rewriting, embellishing and in many cases wholly reinventing songs and setting them to traditional melodies. He didn’t get any money for this work, so died in poverty!

        • When I worked on indie movies, particularly short ones, sometimes 80+% of the budget was spent on music rights. I never understood it myself when so many composers were eager to write movie music for free, but some directors were convinced they absolutely must have their favorite song in their movie even if they had to cut out almost everything else to stay on budget.

    • Ironically*, not long ago I was inspired to write a short story about vampires which was based on the lyrics of the song “Because the Night” by 10,000 Maniacs. Silly as it sounds, the events of the book track line-by-line the lyrics of the song.

      I had to write it to get it out of my head, but I will never, ever publish it. Unless I somehow go all E.L. James and can be assured that anything I post will generate thousands of dollars in revenue and then I might consider seeking a license.

      *For those of you following along at home, it’s ironic because I’m an intellectual property attorney and should, in theory, know how silly this is.

  6. On the author’s Facebook page she has removed comments and banned commenters who have mentioned the song lyrics issue. From looking at Goodreads and Amazon, she seems to have previous for getting into it with anyone who is negative about her work. It’s a shame because she’s obviously doing something right in terms of her work. Y’know most times the best thing to say is nothing.

    • It’s speculation that it’s a copyright issue, David. Jamie McGuire is a professional and is probably just dismissing rumours about what is happening with this whole ordeal. Her banning commenters who would try to spread these rumours makes sense.

      • Her banning such commenters would only make sense if she addressed their allegation and said, “No more on the subject.” Banning them with no response, given that the allegation is not outrageous on its face, is not the act of a “professional.”

        • Fully agreed. She exponentially compounded this mess and then tried to make the viral chaos she created go away when it didn’t play on her terms. Unimpressed.

          Let this be a lesson, authors. Professionalism is an attitude and set of behaviors, not an income level. Any chance of solving all this peacefully and calmly is now out the window. No matter how awful the problem, a better approach is to go right to the source instead of to the Internet rumor mill.

          Unfortunately, you can be pretty sure Amazon will be forced to respond to this negative PR with some sort of “action,” likely adding new restrictions, reviews, and delays on KDP uploading by indie authors. Just as happened with the Fake Review mess, the squeaky wheels will get the grease–right down their throats.

          • Dawn is right. All you have to do is a little digging to find out what’s really going on here.

            • What is really going on here, please?

              • And you call yourself an attorney, and therefore presumably a man capable of following complex matters of law.

                Allow me to summarize for you, Marc, as best I can.

                It seems that Katiebabs told Jayne that Jamie said that OMG that Dawn said that you said that someone on GR, who’s like such a b****, said that Jayne said that yeah but no but that Sarah, who’s like a smart b**** said that Jeff Bezos said that the Dalai Lama said that Keith Richards said that like this is SO unfair, and it’s all Amazon’s fault anyway so shut up!

                Happy to help 😉

              • Marc, take a look at my comment at the bottom of this comment thread and you’ll see the history Jane Litte has with Jamie McGuire. Jane Litte is a master of social manipulation and the art of spreading rumors. She writes posts on her blog that she knows will set off a chain reaction just so she can sit back and eat popcorn and watch the author squirm. I’ve seen her do this on more than one occasion. She knew what she was doing when she wrote that post about Jamie. She did it on purpose and just by reading this comment on thread on PG’s blog post, you can see how many people fell for it. You see how many people jumped to conclusions and were so quick to blame Jamie for the email that Amazon sent out? A good manipulator with a popular blog has the power to set these things in motion and she does. All. The. Time.

                So be sure to do a little research before you believe something you read. The person who wrote whatever you’re reading could be completely wrong.

                • Good context, Jesse, and, for everyone, I don’t agree with everything I post here. One of the purposes for some of my posts is to keep visitors informed of what’s floating around the indie and trad publishing worlds.

                • Without in the slightest disagreeing about the importance of context and reporting not implying endorsement, we have here an alleged dispute between two parties, one of whom is accused second-hand (at least) of being a manipulative so-and-so, and the other of whom is a proven thief.

                  I’m not sure there is a good side in this argument.

                • Jesse – amen! I’ve got her number, too, and that is exactly what she does. I consider Jane to be one of the biggest vipers in the book community.

                  PG – your blog is great. You have done what so many could not – create a blog where everyone can talk on issues (good or bad) and disagree with one another but still remain courteous and respectful. I read this blog everyday to keep up on the news. Thanks so much!

                  Marc – oh, no. There’s no speculation about Jane. She *is* a social manipulator who uses her blog frequently to smear her enemies. Also, Jane Litte is not her real name. That’s a pseudonym. So that should tell you something about Jane. As far as I know, Jamie McGuire is Jamie’s real name. And you don’t know that she didn’t have permission to use lyrics. Who knows, maybe she has connections through friends or something and got the band’s approval. Who knows? No one does but Jamie and her publisher. And you don’t know why her publisher decided to remove the lyrics in their edition of her book. There are so many assumptions being made here: 1) that Jamie didn’t have permission, 2) that her publisher removed the lyrics because they were put there illegally, and 3) that Amazon called for a refund because of it.

                  Never, never, never assume. When you do, you make an a** of u and me.

                • Thanks, Jen.

                • Right, Jen. No one knows what really happened, do they? Here’s a plausible scenario: Jamie writes a book and knows a friend who knows a friend who knows a member in the band. That friend or Jamie asks if Jamie can use the lyrics. The band member says yes thinking that an SP book is not going to make too much money anyway. Then the book becomes huge, gets picked up by a publisher and will probably become a movie. The band decides they want to cash in and insists that they be paid for the lyrics. The publisher doesn’t want to pay the money and removes the lyrics.

                  I’m not saying this happened, but I am saying that it’s plausible. The point is no one really knows what happened other than Jamie and her publisher. End of story.

                • Here is where I found out that Jane’s name is a pseudonym:

                • IIRC, Jane Little is a lawyer in real life. She probably uses a pseudonym for a similar reason to Passive Guy (surely none of us think that’s his real name).

                • Passive Guy revealed his real identity last year. Did you miss it?

                  Jane Litte has a law degree but she doesn’t practice law. PG is a retired attorney who has practiced law his entire life. There is a BIG difference between the two.

                • For a little clarification, Samantha, I practiced law for many years, took a sojourn as an executive in a number of technology companies for several years and am practicing law again.

                • Oops, sorry, PG! Thanks for clarifying.

                • No apology necessary.

        • It makes sense because the people leaving these messages on her facebook page were the same trolls who bullied her on Goodreads a while back. I was just pointed by a friend to katiebabs and Jane Litte’s twitter where they were talking about being blocked by Jamie and having their comments deleted. Jamie is blocking them because she doesn’t want to be harassed by them again. That’s why. Not because Jamie’s secretly trying to hide the “truth”. The truth is that Jamie wasn’t at fault and Jane and her lot were trying to start damaging rumours about her:

      • It’s not speculation that she included the lyrics of the Stones song Satisfaction in the self-pubbed version of the book, that’s fact, as evidenced by Dear Author. Whether Amazon responded in this way because of that is however speculation, you’re quite correct. However as speculation goes it is far more credible than many of the conspiracy theories that have been advanced widely both on her FB page and elsewhere, and which she elected not to correct (censor?) in a similar fashion.

        • It’s still not proving or disproving the speculation about the song lyrics. It just seems to me that people want to blame Jamie McGuire for the whole thing. Not Amazon. They should be blaming Amazon. Sending out an email to encourage refunds for her book is not okay. If it is indeed a copyright issue, it has already been resolved in that the self-pubbed book has already been taken down.

          By the way, I never read Dear Author. I don’t put too much trust in Jane Litte and her lot. They always seem to have an agenda of their own.

          • As a IP attorney, I assure you that the matter has NOT been “resolved” in that the self-pubbed book has already been taken down. At best that means the situation will not get any worse from a liability standpoint. It does absolutely nothing to address the potential liability already incurred.

            What, exactly, has Amazon done wrong? And how does whatever they did absolve the author of her alleged liability for copyright infringement? If Amazon did something wrong then perhaps people should be blaming both of them, but I see no action on the part of Amazon which diminishes the author’s alleged misconduct in the slightest.

            And everyone has an agenda. Everyone.

            • It is still speculation that this whole thing is because of a copyright issue. I think people are jumping to conclusions.

          • Dawn, As much as it would be nice if a copyright issue was resolved when the material is taken down, if money has been made previously then that may not be the end of the matter. Marc and PG would be much more qualified than I on this issue.

            I don’t know what you mean by your first sentence. I think people are probably seeking clarity. If a self-published author does what Jamie clearly did, they are placing Amazon in a very difficult situation so I’m not sure how Amazon can be blamed. They appear to be (speculation alert) trying to clean up a mess not of their own making. Could they have tried to handle it differently? Perhaps, but it seems however Amazon tries to deal with these types of situations (cajole was a fitting description) they appear to get it in the neck. The author’s initial tirade was at best ill-judged and does no one in the self-publishing community any favors.

            • An apology letter was sent out by Amazon saying it was all a big mistake:

              I knew people were jumping to conclusions. Jamie was not at fault here and I’m really upset with people that they automatically blamed her.

              • That letter doesn’t say what you said it says. It is quite the masterpiece of weaseling, and says essentially “never mind what we said before, carry on, nothing to see here.”

                It is at this point, to the best of my knowledge and belief, totally unknown as to what caused Amazon to send the initial emails. Speculation, as usual, is rampant. The most likely explanation given the publicly available information is that there was a copyright issue. What it was, and how it was decided and/or reversed, none who can say have said.

                • Yeah, it did, Marc. It said this:

                  “You may have received an e-mail from us yesterday stating that the edition of “A Beautiful Disaster” you purchased is no longer available. This e-mail was incorrect, and there is no action required to continue enjoying the book.”

                  Amazon made a mistake. Jamie was not at fault.

                • That just means some people (mistakenly) thought the book was already 1984’d and getting refunded by default. It does nothing to explain why Amazon sent the e-mail encouraging returns, and accepting said returns months past the return period.

                  Amazon seems to be stuck between an attempt to pull a book, and adhering to their pledge to no longer delete books for you. So now it’s a voluntary refund. That’s all fine and good, but Amazon needs a way to communicate *why* they are trying to re-claim a book.

                • That doesn’t make sense, Rashkae. It is obviously saying that no further action need be done, including refunding it. They made a mistake and Jamie got blamed for it.

          • Merely taking down the offending book is not a legal remedy. Many thousands of books were sold. Someone will be paying and it won’t be S&S or Amazon. Other KDP authors will now have their books inspected, that is for sure.

          • Dawn is right about Jane Litte and her friends having an agenda. A little over a year ago, Jamie McGuire defended herself against a group of miscreant Goodreaders (Jane Litte, katiebabs, and others among them) and was labeled a badly behaving author for it. Then, this group of hooligans, doing what they do best, went to town on her book. Long story short, they bullied her as they do to so many authors on that site. But Jamie’s book was still hugely successful and oh how that rankled them.

            Now, fast forward to a year later. They catch wind of this problem on Amazon and decide to use it to their advantage. How cleverly Jane and her band of disgruntled grudge-holders started the rumor that this whole brouhaha with Amazon was Jamie’s fault. And as it turns out, it wasn’t. Go figure.

            Moral of the story:
            Take anything you read on Dear Author with a grain of salt because Jane Litte has her own agenda… and it’s usually not a good one.

  7. It seems to have been appropriately named. What a beautiful disaster!

  8. Self-published authors need to be aware of the consequences of going beyond fair usage. As a paralegal by day, I had enough sense to know what to do when I wanted to print song lyrics in one of my non-fiction books. I had 16 lyrics from Andrew Lloyd Webbers’s Phantom of the Opera. After contacting his company in the UK and being directed to their licensing agent in the US, I went through the process of getting permission. Yes, it takes time. They wanted to read the book before approving. Depending on the artist, the fees can be astronomical. I was lucky $800 for 16 lines, and after a bit of negotiation, they dropped it in half. However, usage was only for 1,000 copies. Upon publication, they gave me language that I had to use to give proper credit to the songs, composers, and two lyricists. The agent told me had I wanted to quote the Beatles, I probably would have had to get a second mortgage. I can’t imagine what the Stones would cost.

    It was a fun project, but at least I didn’t get sued. I’ve surpassed the 1,000 copies and am now stripping the lyrics. I just don’t want to go through it again.

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