Home » Amazon, Contracts, Copyright/Intellectual Property » Content duplication issue briefly keeps self-published chapbooks off Amazon

Content duplication issue briefly keeps self-published chapbooks off Amazon

4 December 2017

From TeleRead:

Authors Sharon Lee and Steve Miller are running into a little static when trying to publish some of their short stories via Amazon—thanks at least in part to the automation by which Amazon has to run its self-publishing operation.

Lee and Miller have been self-publishing some of their short stories in chapbook form since long before self-publishing became the monster that it is today. They started back in the 1990s, publishing actual paper chapbooks, but in recent years closed down the paper operation and switched to electronic versions.

. . . .

Lately, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have republished four of their previously-published short stories in e-chapbook form. The stories were and remain available as part of a larger Liaden short story collection from Baen.

. . . .

They published these stories as a pair of e-chapbooks to Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Baen without any problem—but the trouble came in when it came time to place them on Amazon.

. . . .

When it comes to ensuring that someone isn’t trying to pull a fast one by republishing someone else’s content, [Amazon’s] automation effectively takes a similar form to plagiarism-checker Turn It In: if previously-published content appears in a new form, this calls for some special attention.

. . . .

Amazon wanted to see reversion letters to the stories, signifying that Baen returned their publication rights to Lee and Miller after their contract expired. However, those stories were never fully sold to Baen to begin with. They sold Baen anthology rights, for the purpose of that anthology, while keeping for themselves the rights to place the stories again elsewhere or self-publish them.

. . . .

Sharon Lee explains that, “in the Normal World of Publishing” this sort of thing simply isn’t done. When an author places a work with a new publisher, they sign a contract in which they agree they have the rights to do so. If it later turns out they don’t have those rights, the lawyers come out to play. But never does any publisher require or expect authors to provide a copy of their previous contract with another publisher. Lee writes:

Now, Amazon is in a strange situation; it cannot itself decide if it’s a publisher or a distributor, but in either case the demand for a copy of our contract with our publisher is out of line, and Steve and I will not comply.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

In an update to the OP, TeleRead says Amazon customer service solved the problem. PG is happy to hear that in part because the authors seem like nice people.

PG is usually on the little guy’s/gal’s side in these kind of disputes, but in this case, he understands Amazon’s concerns:

–  The plagiarism/copyright infringement checker shows that someone is submitting material that has already been published by another publisher.

–  The authors say they have the right to self-publish this material themselves.

–  When Amazon asks for a reversion letter from the authors to document their right to self-publish, the authors say they don’t have/need such a letter.

–  Amazon understands that if the authors are not telling the truth and the real rights-holder is upset, Amazon will probably be sued for copyright infringement along with the authors.

–  Zillions of people are trying to pull some sort of scam on Amazon each day.

What exclusive rights does the owner of a copyright have under US copyright law? (Note that an author typically passes these rights to a commercial publisher under a typical publishing contract.)

17 U.S. Code § 106 provides a summary. PG highlights some language that would reasonably concern Amazon:

Subject to sections 107 through 122, the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:

(1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;
(2) to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;
(3) to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
(4) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;
(5) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly; and
(6) in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

KDP ebooks are certainly reproductions of copyrighted material. When someone pays Amazon for an ebook, Amazon is certainly reproducing and distributing a copy of the copyrighted ebook to a member of the public.

Under Paragraph 1 of the Kindle Store Terms of Use (the agreement which governs the relationship between Amazon and a customer with respect to ebooks) “Kindle Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider.” In Paragraph 3 of the Kindle Store TOU, in the event of any violation of the TOU, Amazon is free to revoke a user’s access to the its Service, which, by definition, includes Kindle Content.

Although licensing is not expressly mentioned as an exclusive right under 17 U.S. Code § 106, it is difficult for PG to believe that a court would not find licensing to part of the exclusive rights of a copyright owner to control the “rental, lease, or lending” of an ebook.

Considering the above, is it unreasonable for Amazon to ask for a copy of the publishing contract between the authors mentioned in the OP and Amazon?

PG thinks it’s entirely reasonable and would almost certainly would have recommended reviewing the contract between Baen and the authors if Amazon had asked him what it should do.

He probably would have also recommended contacting Baen to confirm that it only had the limited rights the authors claimed to have granted.

The fact that this “isn’t done” in the publishing business will be no help to Amazon if it is sued by someone who has exclusive rights to publish a literary work that appears on Amazon despite what the authors have told Amazon.

Generally speaking, under most commercial publishing contracts, the publisher grabs every right its attorneys can think of from authors whose work is being published. “Anthology only” rights that apply to only a single edition of an anthology are rare birds indeed.

PG says there are a lot of things that “aren’t done” and a lot more things that “are done” in the traditional publishing business that are really bad ideas.

As far as “the Normal World of Publishing” is concerned, that world is what indie authors are fleeing from when they self-publish with Amazon. Amazon is disrupting “the Normal World of Publishing” to the benefit of both authors and readers.

If you want to decrease your chances of ever making a decent living from your books, stick with “the Normal World of Publishing” and the “rules” that apply to that world.



Amazon, Contracts, Copyright/Intellectual Property

8 Comments to “Content duplication issue briefly keeps self-published chapbooks off Amazon”

  1. Can’t really blame Amazon, they don’t want to have to pull sold books away from the buyers like they did 1984 and animal farm.

  2. I recently had one of my books suspended for duplication of content when I attempted to combine two novellas into one omnibus larger edition to allow a print run.
    Totally reasonable query from Amazon in my opinion although they did nothing to let me know it happened. I just stumbled over the ‘suspended’ annotation and had to query them to see what was going on. Gods alone know how many days I was off the list before noticing it.
    Once I sent them a simple email stating that I was the author and owned all rights I was back in business.
    If they would just let people know of the problem so it could be handled that would be nice but (so far) my experience with this sort of thing is a reasonable and fast response from the ‘Zon and I really don’t see how this could be a bad knee jerk reaction for duplicate works so long as they allow a fast remedy for the innocent.

  3. If you want to decrease your chances of ever making a decent living from your books, stick with “the Normal World of Publishing” and the “rules” that apply to that world.

    Independent authors don’t get to pick and choose among the results of the disruption. There will be things they like, and things they don’t like. They don’t have a choice.

  4. This happened to me recently when I wanted to change the price of my novella “Looking Through Lace,” which has been published on Amazon since 2011. I got a canned notification of copyright infringement, and the same demand to see a reversion. I wrote several times, explaining the publication history (Asimov’s ages ago) and asking why they were suddenly objecting, after all these years? Every time, I got pretty much the same letter, no explanation, no clue.

    With no help from Amazon, it finally occurred to me that “Looking Through Lace” had recently been reprinted in an anthology, Galactic Empires. I sent them a copy of the contract that stated they were buying non-exclusive rights, and Amazon finally shut up and gave me my novella back.

    But what I really can’t stand is that they are no longer responding to specific questions. I was given absolutely no indication as to why they suddenly thought I no longer had the rights to my work, when it had been published with them for years. Every response was almost exactly the same as the last letter, no answers, only threats.

  5. I am getting ready to publish a book soon, and within it, I have several people who have given me permission to use pieces of work as long as they are credited. I was always taught that the phrase, “used with permission” was enough for photographs. Some of these photographs were given as gifts to do with as I please, but I have chosen to credit the photographer.

    For two pieces of poetry, I have written confirmation in texts on Facebook that says it was alright to use the work as long as they were credited. Not only credited – but the work is linked back to their website so that people can purchase his artwork etc.

    Is this enough? Or is Amazon likely to throw a hissy fit? Any insights would be helpful.

    • > texts on Facebook

      Paper is the gold standard for legal documents, and that’s what a notice of permission is.

    • In the game today, we are dealing with computers, not people. Computers will not act like we think people should. A simple test is to ask, “How will the computer deal with this?”

      Then ask, “How will I deal with what the computer did?”

      Being right doesn’t matter. Getting the right results does.

      This is one of those results of the disruption.

      And computers don’t throw hissy fits. They don’t care. That’s what people do.

  6. This is akin to the issue I had with SC’s teacher certification agency. I’d held a license in OH for many years. When I submitted the paperwork, it took forever for them to OK the certificate.

    I called and asked, and was told that they had to communicate with EVERY college or agency in the process. They said it was possible that the documents were faked.

    I was skeptical, and asked how often that happened.

    “You wouldn’t believe,” she replied. Apparently, there are many who rely on the laziness or sloppiness – or, worse, collusion – with those who would falsify their background and educaiton.

    Similar to this situation – I’d be willing to bet that people have already tried falsifying a rights letter from a publisher. It’s really CYA – Amazon wants to be able to prove that they exercised due diligence in those instances.

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