Defending Copyright on “A Summer Fling”: Part 3

I’ve written and deleted the opening sentence to this post three times now.

summer_fling-200x300I’m not really sure how to proceed at this point. If you missed the beginning of this story, it starts here and is continued here. The short version, if you prefer, is this: someone sent Amazon a takedown notice for A Summer Fling. Amazon demanded proof that I was the copyright holder. I sent them everything they asked for and more. I sent the original file of the story with the date stamp. I sent the link to the story on Goodreads (if you’re a member of the GR M/M Romance Group, you too can read the original version there) and the free anthology created from the Don’t Read in the Closet fest.

I sent them the Smashwords URL showing the date I first uploaded A Summer Fling in its current form. I sent the registration number for the pending copyright registration I’d filed. Yes, filed belatedly. More on that later.

I expected this to be resolved. After all, I am the legal copyright holder. This is a self-published free story of little value. Why was this even up for debate?

Imagine my surprise when I got an email from Amazon saying that due to the third party dispute that had not been resolved, they would not be re-publishing my story. Surprise is putting it mildly. I was shocked and upset. I got on the phone with Author Central and KDP. I sought advice from authors who’d been in similar situations (though none quite like mine). I tried to get more answers from Amazon, but was stymied at every turn. The young man with KDP was very nice but he could not determine why the story was being blocked, despite my having provided so much information. He advised me to send a detailed email, outlining everything I shared with him and he would do the same from his end.

Later that evening, I got an email from KDP stating flatly that they would not release the third party’s name or what the basis of their complaint was. I was also advised to hire a copyright lawyer if I wanted to pursue the matter further.

My initial reaction to this situation was to suspect that the now-defunct All Romance Ebooks was behind this somehow. I’m still not convinced that they’re not. Their abrupt announcement of closure, along with offering authors only 10 cents on the dollar of owed 4th quarter royalties, as well as preventing authors from removing files from the ARe platform is suspect, to say the least.

But I have also discovered that copyright claim-jumping of self-published authors is apparently a thing, and that Amazon puts the burden of proof on the author, not the accuser. Self-published authors may be at greater risk.

It may be the case that it is a coincidence I happened to get targeted by a scammer the same day ARe acrimoniously closed their doors. But unless I hire a lawyer I will never know. The various articles I’ve linked discuss what you can do to protect yourself from these kinds of attacks, and the most common bit of advice is to register your copyright claims, even though technically the copyright is yours once you put your words to paper unless you sign them away. I haven’t signed mine away, and yet Amazon isn’t accepting my documentation. And frankly, if this IS an attempt by ARe to lay claim to titles that were simply hosted on their former website, then registering your copyright may have little effect on Amazon’s resolution to reinstate your book.

Kind of like how it happened here with me.

I will be registering all my stories from now on, however, as well as retroactively registering my existing ones. It’s an extra layer of insurance that may well protect you in the future from your run-of-the-mill scammer. The link for the US copyright office is here.

This morning I received a very nice email from Amazon stating that after a careful review of my documentation, they have decided to uphold their decision to block the sale of A Summer Fling, but that they look forward to publishing my future stories.

That’s very telling. They are no longer disputing the fact I wrote the story. They are saying someone is claiming I don’t have a right to distribute the story. A story that’s been freely available online for years. You can see why the list of suspects in this case is extremely short.

As for A Summer Fling, I have a couple of choices. I can file a counter-claim. I’m looking into that, but one of my concerns is making personal information available to this unknown third party. Another option is to contact Jeff Bezos directly and lay out my story. He probably gets thousands of emails a day, so I doubt it will get though, but it’s worth a shot. I emailed him this morning, forwarding all the information I’d given to KDP regarding my story. I stated in my email I wasn’t asking him to reverse Amazon’s decision not to publish my story, but I was requesting the name of the third party and the basis of their claims against me. We’ll see what happens.

Late last night, in a last-second cliffhanger twist, I was tagged on Facebook by someone involved with publishing the old DRiTC anthologies. She apologized profusely to me and said it was a possibility her statement to Amazon that no one else was allowed to publish the anthologies except her might have triggered this situation. She’s promised to speak to Amazon on my behalf, and for that, I am deeply grateful. However she did not realize I’d changed the title of my story. Unless she sent in a takedown notice for my story by name, then her blanket statement isn’t behind the complaint. That’s why I need to know who IS behind the complaint before I take further action.

Beyond that, I’m looking into my legal options. But honestly, I can’t afford to spend a lot of money on a free story. Perhaps that’s why it was targeted in the first place. In the meantime, it’s available on Smashwords for free, and it is my intention to send it out to other sites as well. Grab it while you can in its various forms, all linked in this post. Consider leaving me a review on Goodreads or Smashwords, as Amazon is no longer an option. It would be greatly appreciated.

Mostly, be aware. Amazon places the burden of proof on the accused and apparently *anyone* can waltz in and file a complaint. How can I address the complaint when I don’t know who made it or what the basis of their claim might be? Only by hiring a lawyer, and I’d be willing to bet most of us aren’t in a position to do that. My accuser could be someone with an axe to grind, a random scammer, or a former retailer looking to take advantage of the fact they are still holding my files. Amazon has blindfolded me and left me in the ring to duke it out against an unseen opponent who merely has to walk away to win this round.

If it is a certain retailer, then I am not the only person with stories at risk. I also have grounds for going to the people forming a class action lawsuit with additional information. But I can’t move forward without knowing the name of the third party.

If you know of anyone, or if you yourself have recently experienced something similar at the hands of Amazon, I would appreciate you letting me know. If this is not an isolated incident, it gives even more credence to my suspicions as to who the guilty party might be.




8 thoughts on “Defending Copyright on “A Summer Fling”: Part 3

  1. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. It seems every time we turn around, we self-published authors are getting kicked in the teeth.

    Here’s hoping the rest of 2017 will be better.

  2. Absent other info, I would be tempted to suspect the same party.

    But when it happens at the same time as they close, it could easily be the claim jumper you mentioned, one who saw this as a great way to steal multiple stories and upload them for low-risk since the company won’t be around to challenge them and it often isn’t worth it for individuals to challenge stuff with Amazon.

    Yet the woman who contacted you provides the most likely scenario. While you said you changed the name, that doesn’t mean Amazon doesn’t know it isn’t close to the same story. They do additional algorithmic checks on uploads against existing material (i.e. your old story), saw that it was similar or the same, and that the other one had a hold against it.

    Amazon doesn’t particularly care WHO the other party is, they just care that someone is contesting. And they have no legal way to release the other person’s name (it violates privacy laws), or do anything to resolve it. In theory, you could challenge James Patterson or JK Rowling and Amazon might pull the book (obviously with those, they would do a risk analysis and err on the side of profit and leave them alone, but with others, the risk is too high for them to make a decision, and take sides, even if the “ownership” is obvious). If you do have a lawyer contact them, they’ll likely cough up the name. Or depending on how worded, remove the “lien” against your title.

    While everyone assumes Amazon is evil and callous, the simplest explanation is most large retailers are avoiding being sued by someone else if they make the wrong decision. “No” for everyone doesn’t get them sued; choosing one side over the other might. Absent something that changes that risk/benefit analysis, they’ll stay where they are. Giving them more proof of ownership doesn’t change anything because they didn’t decide anything in the first place — they’re avoiding a decision. More proof leaves them in the same spot they are in now — no decision is a good decision legally. However, if your lawyer swats them with a letter, and pushes the risk balance the other way, then “no decision” is higher risk than just letting you “win” and agreeing with your side, and they might side with you.

    However, I still think the most likely trigger was the woman who contacted you, even if the process doesn’t appear as linear…


    • I don’t think Amazon is evil, but I do believe if someone challenges your copyright or your right to publish, you have a right to know who it is and the basis of their claim without having to resort to hiring a lawyer. That puts the burden of proof–and the expense of proving it–on the accused. I completely understand Amazon’s position not to get involved over such disputes–but I was placed in a position of having to pay $500 or more to find out if this was all a simple misunderstanding or a malicious attempt to steal a story.

      As of this evening, however, everything has changed. I received an email from KDP stating that “after further review, we’ve decided to reverse our position.” This was after four emails essentially stating, ‘Sorry, hire a lawyer.’

      I don’t know if it was my persistence (and loud ranting) that made the difference, or the publisher of the anthology contacting Amazon and saying, “Whoops, you’ve made a mistake” or if it was because I forwarded all my communications with KDP to Jeff Bezos (including the agreement with ARe that they did not retain rights to my self-published works) and asked that I at least be given the name of the third party claimant, but *something* made Amazon change their minds. It’s once again available on Amazon. It’s even free–which was not something I’d asked them to reinstate.

      I see your point about making a change that triggered a bot to focus on it, but for two things: Amazon’s first email said the takedown notice came prior to my tweaking the file, and the fact it was an actual takedown notice. Maybe it’s just Amazon’s wording, but that feels more active than a bot noticing similarities when the story has been up for years.

      Or maybe I’m just becoming cynical and jaded after the betrayal of the only other organization that could even remotely have attempted to claim publishing rights. 🙁
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Defending Copyright on “A Summer Fling”: Part 3My Profile

    • Thank you! Truthfully, the whole experience has been exhausting and it is making think very hard about what I’m doing as a writer and where I want to go from here. 🙂

      In a sudden about-face, Amazon reversed their position, and now A Summer Fling is available once more! Is it because the publisher of the anthology contacted them? Is it because I forwarded my entire conversation with KDP and all my documentation to Jeff Bezos? I don’t know. All I know is Amazon sent me an email saying after further consideration, they’ve reversed their decision.

      Amazon giveth and Amazon taketh away. 😉
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Defending Copyright on “A Summer Fling”: Part 3My Profile

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