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.

 

 

 

All Romance EBooks Pulls a Fast One: What You Can Do To Fight Back

pirates-bill-davenportI was at work yesterday afternoon when I got the email from All Romance Ebooks announcing they were closing their doors effective 12/31 and offering a paltry ten cents on the dollar in royalty payments to authors in lieu of the expected fourth quarter payment.’

Because I was at work, I quickly scanned the email (not noticing a significant typo of a date that gives the company a loophole with regards to making even the minuscule payments offered) and cursed. I immediately pulled my self-published titles from their website, and hurried to my publisher to see what they intended to do, as all of my Dreamspinner titles were posted on ARe as well.

I then made a post spreading the word:

  1. Readers should no longer buy anything from ARe, as authors were not being paid for their works.
  2. I’ve pulled all my titles for sale on the All Romance website in advance of their 48 hour notice of closure. The good news is that currently you can get all my Dreamspinner titles on sale at their own website until 12/30–which includes my new release, Holiday House Swap. As for my non-Dreamspinner titles, Fool’s Gold and A Summer Fling are still available on Amazon. Fool’s Gold is back on Kindle Unlimited, and A Summer Fling is permanently free. I hope to place A Summer Fling into KU once I make sure it is not available in any other markets besides Amazon.

Dreamspinner made the following announcement on Facebook last evening: In response to All Romance eBooks closure notice: If readers pre-ordered Dreamspinner titles on ARe then you will not be able to download them upon release. If rumors are true, ARe will also not refund pre-orders. Therefore, Dreamspinner offers to fulfill readers’ pre-paid Dreamspinner pre-orders from ARe. You need to forward the ARe receipt to contactATdreamspinnerpressDOTcom and the customer service department will be sure you receive the eBook at no additional cost to you. Thank you.

Kudos to Dreamspinner! This is one of the reasons I love working with this press.

But the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. Though ARe called themselves a publisher, they provided no cover art, no editing, no formatting. They were a retailer only and their entire catalog was digital. Where did the money go? They were paying us out of a percentage of books already sold. How could they not pay us what was owed?

Then too was the shady practice of giving no advance warning of impending closure, of failing to notify anyone until the last day of revenue for the quarter had been wrung out of writers, publishers, and readers alike. Why then, were they offering ad space on their website just the week before–and saying it was almost sold out? You don’t just wake up one morning and decide your business is bust. I almost bought one of those pricey ads and I know other people who have. They aren’t being offered any means to get refunds.

Once the news spread, the website kept crashing as writers rushed to remove their titles and reader to download books already purchased before the ‘cloud’ vanished. People were left with ebucks that didn’t work and gift cards they didn’t know if they should spend or not, while the available titles dwindled sharply.

areMore questions have been raised, particularly in light of the extremely poor and insulting offer made to authors to accept a 10 cents on the dollar payout or NOTHING. Meanwhile, ARe posts a business-as-usual Tweet and nothing is said on their Facebook page, either. Most ironically, the banner on their Facebook page, which I saw when I went to leave a review about their shady practices, advertises “No Doors Closed.”

I can tell you, some of the author responses to this tone-deaf and out-of-place Tweet were priceless, even as the anger and worry came through loud and clear. I didn’t have a lot of independent sales on ARe at this time–I’d only recently moved Fool’s Gold off KU and over to wider distribution. But to be paid a handful of dollars when I’m owed hundreds is jaw-dropping. However ALL my Dreamspinner titles were on ARe as of last evening. Every story I’ve ever written. So I can only sit back and hold my breath to see what happens when DSP’s lawyers battle for what we’re owed. At least I have the power of an ethical and reputable publishing company behind me. I can only imagine how terrible it must be for authors who were counting on the fourth quarter royalties to make the mortgage payment or electric bill.

For the most complete summation of the extent of fraud perpetrated by the management of ARe–and more importantly, what you can do to prevent them from getting away with this scott-free, please check out this valuable post: Publisher All Romance: Closing Hits New Low in Stealing from Authors. The details in this post are jaw-dropping. If these allegations are true, then criminal charges need to be filed.

I’ve seen many readers ask what they can do to help. The first is don’t buy any more books from All Romance. Download the purchases you’ve already made. Seek out those real publishers, like Dreamspinner, who’ve offered via proof of receipt, to honor ARe’s fraudulent sales of pre-ordered books. But most importantly–leave book reviews. I don’t think readers have any idea just how much book reviews matter in visibility and discoverability in an increasingly discouraging and hard market. It doesn’t have to be much–but a short piece as to why you loved the story while you rate it is a big, big help.

Thank you.

Authors: Even if you decide to take no further legal action, please consider filing an internet crime report, copying and pasting your email from ARe and any pertinent information.

The Universe has its laugh, interviews, and A Summer Fling on Sale!

Well, just this morning, I was reflecting on the fact that I was finally starting to get a little bit ahead. The economy is improving. Work is picking up. My stories are selling well. Wonderful reviews are coming in for them, especially The Boys of Summer.

Note to self: don’t tempt the Universe into dealing you a smackdown.

On the way home from a routine doctor’s appointment this afternoon, something flew up off the interstate (or maybe off a passing vehicle) and landed in the middle of my rear window. The glass shattered, spiderwebbing across the entire window. It held together long enough for me to get off the highway, but then collapsed inside the car, sending glass everywhere. I’m grateful the dog wasn’t with me: his crate took the worst of the glass. It was everywhere. I was coated in glass dust and slivers, managing to cut myself on glass shards I never even saw as I tried to extricate myself and my belongings from the car.

Broken GlassAfter my initial reaction, which was to call the insurance company and then burst into tears, I realized it could have been much worse. Hell, a piece of road debris caused me to roll my car at 70 mph on the same interstate a few years back. This was nothing.

Except that it is going to cost me a pretty penny to fix. So point to you, Universe! I won’t make the mistake of thinking maybe I can take a deep breath and anticipate making a dent in my debt any time soon. Hah-hah, you’re a funny bastard.

In happier news, I have two new interviews out right now. Both were interesting to participate in: and I think if you read the two side by side, you’d get a very different image of who I am and what I write–and why I write. I find the process of being interviewed fascinating. I hope you’ll check them out and comment on them too–I love hearing what you guys have to say. I have one interview with Fiona Mcvie and another with Nat Wood. Stop by and let me know what you think!

summer_fling--segoe_print_reversed_copySo to acknowledge the Universe’s sense of humor, I’ve decided to reduce the price on A Summer Fling across the board at all of its outlets to just 0.99 cents. Consider it a Broken Glass sale. I would deeply appreciate it if you passed this word on to all your followers and friends. It’s a great way to sample my work without a major investment and it would be great fun for me to see the story rise on the sales list. Thanks!

And last but not least, the BF took me to a women’s soccer game the other night. Soccer is his passion, not mine, but it was a mild summer evening and I thought, hey, why not? Why not indeed? Turns out one of the players had some serious fanboys, all of whom turned up shirtless and painted with the letters of her name. Needless to say, plot bunnies ran rampant that evening…

Soccer Fanboy

New Release: A Summer Fling by Sarah Madison

summer_fling--segoe_print_reversed_copyWell, there you are! Another new release to share. Though technically it’s not *really* new. A Summer Fling combines the short novella Surf’s Up (written for the Goodreads M/M Romance Group’s Don’t Read in the Closet fest) along with the short story Bite the Dust, which features the fictional vampire detective mentioned in Surf’s Up. Bite the Dust was written for the Just One Bite contest, and was one of the 32 finalists in that contest.

The stories have been revised and slightly expanded, and now are available together for the first time in a combined edition. And you can’t beat the price! Just 99 cents on Amazon or Smashwords.

I spent most of the day finalizing the details on getting these stories online today. The weather was lovely: I should have gone out to the barn. It was still quite hot, eighty degrees Fahrenheit, but without the stifling humidity that has been making it miserable to be outside. I took the long-suffering boyfriend to lunch for helping me with the formatting and then took the dog for a nice walk.

Duckpond_resizedI was surprised how empty the park was today. The dog was on his best behavior, despite the occasional small children on bicycles and shirtless joggers who would come up behind us silently and run past without warning. The dog was a perfect gentleman, something that was impossible for him in his youth, as rapid movement has always proven to be too exciting for him. I was patting myself on the back (and praising him for his excellent, pleasant behavior) when we’d almost reached the parking lot where I’d left the car. We’d just safely negotiated a narrow wooden bridge on which a small child had paused in the middle to laboriously turn his bicycle around. I was telling the dog what a good boy he was when he ducked around the end of the bridge and went straight into the muddy water.

Ack. I’m leaning over the edge of the bridge, the dog’s leash threatening to drag me in behind him, while he wallows and plays in the stinking water. Everyone nearby laughed. That’s my boy. The class clown. He was quite pleased with himself as he clambered back up the slippery bank. I only just missed having him shake the dirty water on me as we headed back for the car.

Yellow Tiger Swallowtail_resizedNormally at this time on a Sunday afternoon, I am already becoming grumpy about the coming work week. I’m too conscious of the fact that my weekend is coming to an end and I haven’t done a tenth of the things I wanted or needed to do. But this time, I still have two days off in front of me, and I’ve gotten at least a few important things done today. I am at peace with my world right  now.

I’m sitting on the couch watching the Gold Cup final with the BF. In a bit, we’ll put steaks on the grill and open a bottle of wine. Tomorrow morning, I’ll sleep until I want to get up. And I have the next lovely 48 hours in which to write. Heaven.