The recent suspensions of authors from Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing for “copyright infringement”’ provide a powerful lesson on the importance of protecting one’s work. During this year’s BookLife Indie Author Forum, I took part in a panel discussion devoted to copyright issues. Last year, I also facilitated a roundtable discussion by the Independent Book Publishers Association, during which we talked about the hot topic of KDP suspensions for copyright infringement.
Case in point: I have an author-publisher friend who had a book on Amazon since the CreateSpace days without incident. For years, this book had been in publication, and the author owned the copyright. Several months ago, the author received an email from KDP saying that the book included copyright or trademark infringement and that their entire account would be suspended. For a publisher, this is a major problem.
The author’s inquiries about the reason and requests for further documentation and resolution were ignored. He contacted KDP on a regular basis, and, because of his persistence, the account was magically restored, and the book is live again. Compared with some of the other horror stories I’ve heard, my friend should be happy.
Another author told me he spent over $20,000 in legal fees for two books after KDP suspended his account for “copyright infringement.” His requests for clarification were ignored, and no resolution has been provided. Is anyone safe?
If you’re anything like me, you might think that the solution is simply to use publishing sites such as IngramSpark (my favorite), Draft2Digital, or Kobo, which also distribute your title to Amazon. Wrong. One author used one of these providers and shared that Amazon said that the company would have to contact the publisher, which was him, and then the distributor. When he contacted the distributor, the distributor contacted Amazon, which responded that there were no problems with the book and that it was available for purchase. When the author checked, it was not. This problem has still not been resolved.
As problematic as this is, just imagine if you had multiple books. All of your titles can be suspended if your KDP account is frozen. What happens to your royalties during this time? And if you spent money on Amazon ads, you would be paying the same entity that is holding your royalties during the suspension. If you were to continue advertising, on or outside of Amazon, you could lose money indefinitely.
The terms and conditions say Amazon can terminate without cause and keep the royalties owed, including any sales of inventory on hand. The terms only permit dispute resolution through the American Arbitration Association. Ever call the American Arbitration Association? One person was quoted an arbitration fee of $1,725 plus legal fees and an estimate of five to 10 months for resolution. Ouch! This amount is cheaper than the $20,000 I quoted earlier, but many authors cannot afford $1,725 in legal fees.
Here are some of the things that can get your KDP account suspended: using two different ISBNs for the same book format—i.e., one ISBN on IngramSpark and one on KDP (but using separate ISBNs for the paperback, hardcover, and e-book versions is fine); rights reverting to you from a previous publisher but have not been cleared by KDP; having a metadata change that implies a change in rights ownership; changing your imprint name (If you use a publishing provider such as IngramSpark, you can add an imprint name to your dashboard. This means that you need to check which one you use for each book you publish to avoid it defaulting to the wrong one); someone reports you for copyright infringement (even if the claim is not valid); or a bot error that is beyond an author’s control.
What can you do once your account is suspended? The answer varies depending on what triggered your suspension, which, according to some of those affected, is hard to get a clear answer from Amazon about. Here are a few things you can provide:
1. A screenshot of your ISBN account showing your name as owner and the imprint name with your book’s ISBN displayed
2. Approved copyright documentation from copyright.gov, not just the application (which can take up to eight months to receive)
3. Invoices and bank statements for editing costs from both your end as the publisher and from the editor’s end
4. Similar invoices and statements for cover design
5. Strongly worded emails with website links showing that you are the author
6. Affidavits from distributors
7. Your letter of proof/ownership if you have purchased the rights to something (e.g., an English translation)
8. For a book previously published through KDP or CreateSpace, an email from the address listed in the previous publisher’s account indicating that the company does not object to your edition
If you need outside help, I suggest contacting industry organizations such as the Independent Book Publishers Association, Authors Guild, Authors Alliance, Copyright Alliance, International Intellectual Property Alliance, or Authors Coalition of America.
I always strongly advise authors and publishers alike to copyright their manuscripts to have a stronger position in court. Fighting a corporate giant such as Amazon is challenging at best. But you never know what difference that $65 at copyright.gov can make when you stand your ground.
Alesha Brown is an entrepreneur, a book and magazine publisher, a consultant, and the CEO of Fruition Publishing Concierge Service.