Defending Copyright on “A Summer Fling”, part 2

summer_fling-200x300A lot of people have asked for the details surrounding my current copyright dilemma with Amazon. Here they are to the best of my recollection:

As you can see from the book cover and the banner at the head of this website, there has been a longtime connection between myself and A Summer Fling. It was originally titled Surf’s Up and is part of the 2011 Don’t Read in the Closet fest with the M/M Romance Group on Goodreads. It was a light frothy story written to a photo prompt and included in the anthology produced by the group.

In 2013, I edited the story and bundled it with a short story I’d written for the Just One Bite contest, using the fictional character Mikhail Frost created by my fictional author, Ryan McFarland. I thought it would be fun to put the two stories together–kind of like Rick Castle writing the Nikki Heat stories. I created a cover based on my website’s banner and submitted the new combination to Smashwords on July 28th, 2013. A short while later (the actual date is unclear–I can’t access it any longer on the websites in question), I submitted the story to Amazon and ARe. The story has largely been a permanent freebie ever since.

Over the weekend, I modified my bio within the story to include a link for my website. When I went to upload the new version on Amazon, I could no longer set the price to zero. I didn’t worry too much about it–I’d pulled it from Smashwords and ARe had folded. It was my intention to place it in KU (though in retrospect, its previous incarnations would prevent that) so I left the price as 99 cents and went on with my day.

That evening I received an email from Amazon. At first, I thought it was just a glitch, a red flag triggered by something I did in the update. But here’s the crucial statement that belies that:

“Prior to your submission, we received a notice and takedown for a book that matches to yours, from a third party claiming that the distribution of the book above was not properly authorized due to copyright infringement.”

So someone out there is ACTIVELY claiming this work belongs to them, not me, and though I provided Amazon with all the information they requested, it’s not good enough. Moreover, this attempt to snag the book took place prior to my making changes, so it isn’t that I did something to trigger a red flag. Someone is trying to steal it, but Amazon is laying the burden of proof on me and refusing to publish something that’s been on their website under my name for years. At least they are no longer threatening to ban me for life. I’ve asked for more information, but I have not heard back from them yet.

Process of elimination and the unethical behavior of All Romance Ebooks makes them the most likely suspect in my mind. Not just because they closed their doors with little warning, offering 10 cents on the dollar in owed royalties, but only if we promise not to take legal action. Not just because of the timing–within 24 hours of ARe’s closure. But because whoever this third party is laying claim to my story, they have a strong enough stance that Amazon is taking them seriously–despite my sending them all the information they requested to prove my copyright.

dont-read-in-the-closetMy proof of copyright is sufficient enough that Amazon is no longer threatening to ban me from publishing on their site for life. But it is not sufficient enough to utterly disprove anyone else’s claim? The logical choice here is that someone with power and prestige–not some low level scammer who preys on indie titles–is behind this contested copyright. And since a takedown notice was given, this is either someone with a personal vendetta against me (not a fun thought) or someone with much bigger fish to fry. Because as I’ve said elsewhere, A Summer Fling is a lightweight FREE story. It was never meant to generate tons of sales. So why would anyone contest copyright on it? The Goodreads Group would not. The story has been freely available online in multiple formats for years. Why go after a free story now?

For me, the logical conclusion is that this is a test case on someone’s part. I only have a couple of self-published stories that would be open to such an attack. And since whoever it is has a strong enough stance that Amazon didn’t immediately dismiss their claim, I can only assume it is an entity with more online presence than your typical scammer. As in, someone who can claim they ‘published’ my story when they merely hosted it on their website. Incidentally, A Summer Fling is the first title that comes up on my self-published listings on ARe’s former site.

So, some words of advice here. If you aren’t in the habit of registering copyrights on your creative work, start doing so now. Factor it in as a cost of doing business. I never worried about A Summer Fling because it was never intended to be a big money maker for me. From now on, however, I will be registering copyright on ALL my works.

From the US copyright office:

1. Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship.
2. Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.
3. Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law.
4. The United States has copyright relations with most countries throughout the world, and as a result of these agreements, we honor each other’s citizens’ copyrights. However, the United States does not have such copyright relationships with every country. For a listing of countries and the nature of their copyright relations with the United States, see Circular 38a, International Copyright Relations of the United States.

Here is the link for the US copyright office. Yes, it is an extra step and there is a fee, but that additional layer of protection just may prevent the kind of headache I’m experiencing right now.

In the meantime, I can’t but assume ARe is behind this grab until I have proof otherwise. In part because of the suspicious timing, and in part because Amazon is taking the claim seriously despite my proof of creation. But also because the wording of Amazon’s email and their current stance to the issue suggests that my creative copyright isn’t being questioned as much as my right to distribute the story. I’ve sent Amazon additional information, including this document provided by ARe when I uploaded my story to their site. Pay special attention to the passages 3c and 4b.

All Romance eBooks Publisher’s Agreement

 

This Agreement is entered into on this date (logged as registration date), between All Romance eBooks, LLC, a Florida limited liability company (hereinafter known as “All Romance”), which provides content and services to www.allromanceebooks.com and omnilit.com (hereinafter known as “site”), located at 303 Main Street #186, Safety Harbor FL 34695 with an email address of info@allromanceebooks.com and a fax number of  1-866-844-5457, and the registrant whose details have been accurately entered and attested to upon acceptance of this Agreement (hereinafter known as “Publisher”);

 

In consideration of the foregoing the parties agree as follows:

 

  1. Governing Law

 

This Agreement is legal and binding in all countries. The laws of the State of Florida USA shall apply to the interpretation and enforcement of this Agreement.

 

  1. Non-exclusivity

 

This Agreement is not exclusive and does not impose any obligation or restrictions on either party with respect to competing business relationships or opportunities.

 

  1. Warranties by Publisher

 

(a) Publisher has the full power, right and authority to enter into this Agreement;

 

(b) Publisher has not previously and will not grant any rights to any third party that are inconsistent with the rights granted herein;

 

(c) Each item provided to All Romance by Publisher and any other material including data and images (in each case, collectively the “Work”) are (i) either owned or licensed by Publisher with full right to publish in accordance with this Agreement, and (ii) do not and will not infringe any copyright, patent, trade secret, or other proprietary right held by any third party;

 

(d) Publisher warrants that product or associated marketing data supplied contains no libelous or unlawful statements and does not infringe upon the rights of others;

 

(e) The Publisher agrees that the regular list price of the Work on the All Romance site will not be higher than the regular listed price of this Work on any other site.

 

(f) The Publisher agrees that all data provided to All Romance, including a Work’s categories, heat rating, summary and sample excerpt will all be chosen to honestly and accurately reflect the Work’s content.

 

(g) All Works uploaded by Publisher to the All Romance site shall be subject to this Agreement and additionally eligible for participation in the All Romance “Buy ten, get one free program.”

 

(h) Publisher hereby grants All Romance the rights to reproduce, display, market, and store digital versions of Publisher’s Works on one or more computer facilities of or under the leased or similar control of All Romance on a worldwide basis, and to resell Publisher’s Works directly to consumers;

 

(i) To promote sales for Publisher’s Works, Publisher grants All Romance the right to distribute any and all content electronically including text, cover art, and metadata associated with Publisher’s Works.

 

  1. Warranties by All Romance

 

(a) All Romance warrants and represents, solely for Publisher’s benefit, that All Romance has the full power, right and authority to enter into this Agreement.

 

(b) Except as otherwise set forth in this Agreement, All Romance acknowledges that all rights, title and interest in and to all intellectual property comprising the Works, including copyrights and trademarks used in connection with the Works, are the property of Publisher or its licensor(s), and in no event, including upon the termination of this Agreement, shall All Romance obtain any rights, title or interest in such intellectual property, copyrights or trademarks.

 

(c) All Romance agrees that no changes, additions, deletions, abridgements, or condensations in the text of the Work or changes of title shall be made by All Romance, its agents, or employees, without the expressed, itemized, and specific written consent of Publisher.

 

  1. Warranty Disclaimers and Limitations of Liability

 

All Romance shall not be liable or obligated to Publisher with respect to any breach of this Agreement or otherwise under any contract, negligence, strict liability or other legal or equitable theory for any amounts in excess in the aggregate of the fees paid to All Romance by Publisher during the one year period prior to any such breach with respect to the applicable material. In no event shall All Romance be liable to Publisher for any incidental or consequential damages including, but not limited to, loss of anticipated profits, or benefits of use or loss of business, even if All Romance is apprised of the likelihood of such damages occurring.

 

All Romance shall not be liable for misuse or unlawful distribution of Works by any customer, consumer or other third party.

 

  1. Termination

 

Either party may terminate this Agreement without cause upon not less than ninety (90) days notice to the other party. Any termination of this Agreement or withdrawal by Publisher of specific Works or other materials will be prospective, with respect to future sales only. It is the responsibility of the withdrawing party to remove or de-activate from sale all Works covered under the terms of this Agreement.

 

  1. Restrictions

 

All Romance reserves the right not to accept any particular Work submitted by Publisher at All Romance’s sole discretion, and may remove any particular Work from sale at any time and for any or no reason. Pornographic and obscene Works are restricted and not allowable for upload on the All Romance site, including without limitation, Works depicting sexual acts involving persons under eighteen years of age (exceptions may be made for certain works of literary fiction involving time periods wherein the age of consent was less than 18 and the purpose of the depiction is not for sexual titillation), Works involving any exploitation of minors, sexual or otherwise, Works which contain incest or pseudo-incest themes for the purpose of titillation, Works that are written for or being marketed to the barely legal market, Works that contain rape  or scenes of non-consensual bondage or non-consensual sado-masochistic practices that are for the purposes of titillation, bestiality with naturally occurring animals, sex with non-animated corpses, snuff or scat play.

 

  1. Security and Buyer’s Terms of Use

 

All Romance does not encrypt the Works that it sells, apply DRM technology, or prevent printing or “Read Aloud” or “Text to Speech” functions. All Romance posts a message on its web site indicating the copyrighted nature of all material and the fact that making illicit copies is in violation of copyright law. The Publisher is encouraged to indicate the copyrighted nature of each Work.

 

  1. Reporting and Payment of Sales Commissions

 

(a) Publisher will have access to a Publisher’s Sales Report that details each of their work’s sales activity during the requested period.

 

(b) All Romance will pay Publisher commissions based upon the Sale Price (List Price or Discounted List Price as paid by the buyer, whichever is less) and as reported by All Romance’s Publisher’s Sales Report. This commission shall be sixty percent (60%) of the Sale Price. Payments for sales are made quarterly in US dollars, within 45 days of the close of each calendar quarter, and are net of bad debt and refunds.

 

(c) Once each calendar year, Publisher or their duly appointed representative shall have the right to examine at their own expense the accounts of All Romance pertaining to sales of Publisher’s Works for the twelve months prior to the date of the request for examination. Requests to assert this right must be made by the Publisher in writing and receipt must be acknowledged in writing by All Romance and such records shall be made available by All Romance to the Publisher within thirty (30) days. In the event that discrepancies are found between commissions paid and those owed in the Publisher’s favor, All Romance shall tender such monies due to Publisher within ten (10) days of acknowledgement by All Romance of the discrepancy. In the event that discrepancies are found between commissions paid and those owed in All Romance’s favor, All Romance shall deduct this difference from the next quarterly payment(s) due.

 

  1. Bankruptcy

 

If a petition in bankruptcy is filed by All Romance or against All Romance (and is not dismissed within 90 days), this Agreement shall terminate automatically without notice, effective as of date of All Romance’s filing of a voluntary petition (or the expiration of the 90 day period, as applicable) and all rights granted in this Agreement shall revert to Publisher.

 

  1. Benefit

 

Agreement shall be binding upon and inure to the benefit of the heirs, executors, administrators and assigns of Publisher, and upon and to the successors and assigns of All Romance.

 

  1. Survival

 

All provisions of this Agreement requiring performance after any termination or the breach of which is not discovered until after termination shall survive and apply to the parties with full force and effect notwithstanding any such termination.

 

  1. Force Majeure

 

All Romance is released from partial or complete non-performance of its obligations under this Agreement should force majeure circumstances occur, which prevent the fulfillment of such obligations, including without limitation, fire, flood, earthquake, strikes, labor disturbances, revolutions, embargoes, insurrection, governmental orders or regulations, electrical or computer failure, act of, delays or failure to act by any internet service provider or carrier or agent All Romance may use, systems, telecommunication companies and other entities of similar purpose, or any other conditions beyond the control of All Romance. The time stipulated for the performance and fulfillment of such obligations shall be extended for a period equal to that during which the circumstances of force majeure last.

 

  1. Entire Agreement; Venue.

 

This Agreement constitutes the entire agreement between All Romance and Publisher with respect to the subject matter hereof and supersedes all prior and contemporaneous communications. This Agreement may not be modified or amended except by an instrument accepted by both parties. All Romance and Publisher are and remain independent entities. This Agreement does not create any partnership, joint venture, agency, franchise, sales representative or employment relationship between All Romance and Publisher. Publisher and All Romance agree that any suit or proceeding in connection with this Agreement shall be brought exclusively in the state and federal courts presiding in Pinellas County, Florida USA and that service of process may be made by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the addresses of record for the parties under this Agreement.

 

  1. Electronic Signature

 

A check in the box below by Publisher shall constitute Publisher’s signature signifying acceptance of this Agreement with the intent that it be valid for all purposes and in compliance with the U.S. Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act of 2000 and the laws of any other applicable jurisdiction.

 

Updated: 03/14/12 12:00 Central U.S.

At the moment, my story is still blocked on Amazon and I have not received a response to my additional inquiries. I’ll let you know what happens.

Part Three Here.

8 thoughts on “Defending Copyright on “A Summer Fling”, part 2

  1. Its a very good thing that you have saved all these receipts and conditions. I imagine there are many who have lost these files over the years.

  2. I’m glad you’re planning to copyright your work from now on. It’s important.

    For anyone who writes a series and wants extra protection, you might consider a trademark although it’s more expensive. I trademarked the series name Safe Harbor Medical, which I have used on 17 romances for Harlequin and a spin-off, self-published mystery series. I paid an attorney an agreed-upon fee, plus about $600 to the trademark office to register the name in two categories: print books and downloadable books.

    • Thank you–that’s a great tip! I’ll definitely look into that for my series.

      The latest development is that Amazon believes I wrote the story–but they do not believe I hold clear rights to publish it. This narrows the list of possible third party claimants considerably. Unfortunately, Amazon will not reveal the name of the third party or the basis of their claim, so without hiring a copyright lawyer, I cannot pursue the matter further.

  3. Ugh. So sorry you’re going through this, Sarah. Ordinarily, a contest of someone’s obvious ownership of copyright would go nowhere. Because, I suspect, most individuals wouldn’t bother to dispute a clear claim. Without Amazon’s cooperation, what are you supposed to do? It’s a simple matter of fair play to disclose who your accuser is. Because, whoever it is, they are accusing you of publishing something you don’t have a right to. And without being able to pull the mask off of whoever that is, you’re hamstrung. It’s got to be so frustrating. I hope a resolution to this is achieved quickly. I’m sure you have much better ways in which to spend your time. I know you’re stymied going forward with this right now but good luck anyway. Too many people prey on writers. I’m hoping for a happy ending for you!

    • Thank you. You’ve summed it up nicely. I have emailed Jeff Bezos in the hopes that my story might convince Amazon to release the third party’s name and the basis of their claim, but I doubt this will make a difference. I’m faced with hiring a lawyer, filing a counter claim, or letting it go. Still considering my options.

  4. Hi Sarah–

    (I wasn’t able to post to http://www.thepassivevoice.com.)

    Though writers receive immediate & automatic copyrights the moment they fix an original work of authorship (literary work) on to a tangible medium of expression (writing a story onto paper, saved to a Word document, etc.), authors and other creatives receive other important benefits by “timely” registering their copyrights with the US Copyright Office.

    By registering your creative work BEFORE publication or WITHIN five-years of first-publication, you’re granted presumptive proof (prima facie evidence) that:

    (1) you actually authored the work;
    (2) you have evidence of a valid copyright; and
    (3) and all the information (facts) you included in your copyright registration application is deem valid unless it is refuted (here, the infringer has to go on the offense to disprove your copyright authorship/ownership; see page 7 of http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf. Also see 17 U.S. Code § 410(c)).

    Of importance, when you complete your copyright registration application (using the eCO’s on-line registration process), you’ll have to check a box to “certify” to the best of your knowledge the following:

    “I certify that I am the author, copyright claimant, or owner of exclusive rights, or the authorized agent of the author, copyright claimant, or owner of exclusive rights of this work and that the information given in this application is correct to the best of my knowledge.”

    “Any person who knowingly makes a false representation of a material fact in the application for copyright registration provided by section 409, or in any written statement filed with the application, shall be fined not more than $2500. (17 USC 506(e))”.

    If you (or a third party) lie about creating or owning a particular registered copyright or other material components of your copyright registration application, you’re subject to a $2500 FINE. This is one of the CRIMINAL components of the copyright act. I imagine your copyright registration will also be cancelled if you’re found guilty.

    It gets even better: If you register your copyrights BEFORE the infringement occurs or WITHIN three-months of first-publication, you’re entitled to pursue enhanced statutory money damages plus the ability to pursue your attorney fees against the infringer vs. actual damages (typically your licensing fee, plus the disgorgements of profits, IF ANY!). A timely registered copyright provides your copyright litigator with leverage to push the infringer to settle (quickly) the infringement out of court!

    If you’re a creative who enjoys having problems & headaches in life, skip timely registering your copyrights.

    • Thank you. I appreciate your valuable input here–hopefully it will serve as a source for other authors. I did register the copyright, but after the fact. Here’s the rub, however. After extensive wrangling with Amazon, they no longer dispute that I am the author of A Summer Fling. What they are saying is disputes my right to distribute the story.

      The list of people who could even REMOTELY claim this is small. An earlier version of the story was part of a free anthology in 2011. The anthology people have had nothing to do with this, though they have said they would go to bat with Amazon on my behalf to make sure there is no misunderstanding. But they didn’t even know I’d changed the title of the story and they didn’t file a takedown notice. The story was self-published and placed on three websites: Smashwords, Amazon, and All Romance Ebooks. Amazon didn’t send themselves a takedown notice. Smashwords does not dispute my right to distribute this story. That only leaves one retailer–one that has acted in a manner that eliminates the possibility of trust. I did NOT use ARe’s publishing services. I merely uploaded my files to their website. But I strongly suspect this is the source of the dispute, given the manner in which ARe has shut its doors and is refusing to pay authors the full amount of owed 4th quarter royalties–offering only 10 cents on the dollar but only IF the author refuses to pursue them in a lawsuit.

      Amazon is saying I signed away my rights to distribute this story, which I never did. I can only think of ONE entity who would attempt to claim that I have. Unfortunately, Amazon will not reveal the name of the third party without my hiring a copyright lawyer.

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