Amazon vs. Piracy: Who’s Winning?

Amazon vs. Piracy: Who’s Winning?

by: Michael Clark

My novel Hell on High was pirated this week, one day before launch, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around Amazon’s blunder. Here’s what I think I know:

Brigids Gate Press uploaded the eBook in mid-January for a 99-cent presale. The official launch date was set to March 9. The listing had a nice bright blue thumbnail of what I consider to be a gorgeous cover. Once that was done, we sent out over one hundred advanced reader copies in exchange for reviews and also listed it on NetGalley, which does the same thing. 

For seven weeks, we pushed the sale, not for money, but for the reviews. These are free books, after all—one hundred to two hundred people that won’t have to buy it. I’m a new author, and attention is what I need most.  

On Sunday, March 5, Brigids Gate Press tried to upload the paperback and was flagged for copyright infringement. You read that right. Brigids Gate Press was flagged for copyright infringement against Brigids Gate Press. What did this mean? Brigids Gate contacted me and asked if I knew or could think of anything that might constitute copyright infringement. I opened my PDF and went through it page by page. No photos were used. I had a song title or two but no lyrics, which is allowed. We wondered if Amazon found the cover image on the artist’s website—did we have to prove he was paid? So we dug out the contract and sent it in.

Meanwhile, Amazon said they could not provide specifics, only that the book was flagged for “possible copyright infringement.” Thanks, Amazon. I mean, really. Ingram Spark and Draft2Digital, two alternatives to Amazon, were all clear, with no issues.  

On Monday, March 6, with the launch date fast approaching, Amazon sent an email saying they needed five more days to review the situation. Brigids Gate asked about the existing preorders and release date and received no response.

On Wednesday, March 8, the “Content Review Team” took down the Hell on High eBook and canceled all the preorders (we will never know how many). KDP (Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing) says the manuscript was not uploaded in time. Later they realized their coworkers at Content Review were the reason. One hand doesn’t know what the other is doing.

KDP lifted the suspension/cancelation a day late and a dollar short, BUT Brigids Gate can’t re-upload until Content Review finishes its investigation. So one of my many questions is, why didn’t Content Review suspend the book and contact Brigids Gate? Amazon is a massive website, after all. Can’t they create a “suspend” button? 

With the speed of a turtle, Amazon eventually revealed that an “outside platform” uploaded the book (it wasn’t through KDP). Unfortunately, neither KDP nor Content Review can see who it was. In my mind, somebody created an account similar or identical to Brigids Gate’s, with the exception being the routing number. Who at Amazon can look that up? “The Retail Team,” that’s who. So now we have two hands and a foot waving wildly like a zombie in a blender.   

The kicker is you can still click on the pirated paperback (with no cover art) and “add to cart,” but I don’t care to test if Amazon will pay the pirate. After that, I went to Amazon’s Author Central to request the pirated paperback be removed. “How would you like to contact us,” the page says, and offers an “email” button and a “phone” button—but you can’t click on the phone button. There’s also a little green information circle, but you can’t click that either. Then I found: “Our phone service is temporarily disabled. Please send us an email, and we will reply within 24 hours.” I ask myself: Am I dealing with the third largest company in the world or a fly-by-night VoIP phone company?

This Amazon page also says, “We do not remove books from the Author Page unless they were wrongly assigned to you. We intentionally list all book editions. Used copies, out-of-print books, and unpublished books may still be available if someone lists them for sale.” Great. That doesn’t sound promising, does it? Wish me luck. I “should expect a response within 24 hours. In some cases (their) reply may take longer as (they) research (my) inquiry.” 

If I’m the pirate, I’m laughing, but as the author, I wonder if Amazon is broken.

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