It’s been a while since I posted about the technical side of things, but I felt this was important enough to discuss – so people are aware of what can happen and how to deal with it.
So… yesterday, a reader posted a comment to the blog asking about Clarity (Cursed #2). Turned out the book’s product page on all of the Amazon stores was unavailable. I obviously hadn’t noticed, so when it was brought to my attention, I contacted Amazon thinking it was another one of the recent errors that people (including me) have been experiencing when uploading or editing.
Amazon responded that a copyright infringement claim had been made. The email was full of scary terms such as account suspension, compensation, etc., and I had a mini panic attack in my head as I tried to figure out what it meant for me. For one, Clarity was the second in a series, so if someone claimed I didn’t own the copyright, then would that apply to the rest of my series?
There were no real details of the claim in the email. No background, only a demand that I supply proof and documentation stating I owned the rights on Clarity, and also, that I declare I owned copyright on all of my books. In fact, the only real information was that the claim had come from Scholastic UK.
I replied to Amazon, and I sent an email to the person who had contacted Amazon. She contacted me almost immediately and was extremely apologetic, assuring me she had sent out the form to Amazon a week ago in error, but that she had immediately retracted the claim – even forwarding me the email she sent to Amazon. So an accidental claim was made and retracted, but an entire week later, Amazon saw fit to remove my book from all of its stores. They didn’t contact me or warn me. They received no evidence that I was in the wrong. Yet my book was removed, and I had to contact them to find out what was going on. In fact, in the end, I had to contact the third party to really discover what had happened. As of this posting, my book is still unavailable, and I have not received further correspondence from Amazon, but I’m not overly concerned at this point – I don’t expect immediate replies. I’ve had issues with lost cheques and missing books before, but they always sort out the situation in the end – even if it can sometimes take a little time.
The reason I’m posting this is not because I’m annoyed by what happened. I don’t blame anyone at Scholastic at all, and I’m now only slightly irritated by the way Amazon have dealt with it. I’m posting this because I am not the only person this has happened to, and many people are in the same situation as myself – they have to deal with these issues alone and with no previous experience. Agents have come calling before, and I haven’t been receptive for a number of reasons I won’t go into here, but there was a panicked moment this morning when I wished I had someone else to deal with these issues on my behalf. I have a whole social anxiety thing going on that makes it hard for me to deal with people in general, even online, but letting panic make decisions is not a great move. (And sometimes people sign bad contracts in a panic).
If anything, this is a lesson in the danger of exclusivity. I’ve advised against exclusive contracts such as Select before, and in this case, it’s a huge relief not to rely on Amazon. If they decided to flip the switch, the writer is screwed, basically. I’m lucky enough that I’m not relying on Amazon sales, or Clarity sales, to get by. Smashwords distribution has worked out well for me, and I am not dependent on any one retailer or one book. But others are. Others have less books than I do. Others could be hugely affected by this.
My point is this. Amazon has done great things for writers. A whole new world has been opened up for us. But never forget that we are not in total control, we are not the centre of anyone’s universe, and while I commend Amazon for taking quick(ish) action on copyright infringement claims, their system works against us as well. No warning, no information, only a silent removal. They automatically take the other side to protect themselves, but if something like this happens to you, don’t panic. Don’t rant, just calmly state your case, and try to get to the heart of the matter. They will respond, although it may take some time. These kinds of issues, new problems, all sorts of things will pop up in the future, publishing (both trade and self) are changing too rapidly for them not to, so be prepared.