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Amazon Punishes Authors Whose Work Is Pirated, Due to Aggressive Exclusivity Clause

Kindle lying on a desk

How well is Amazon actually taking care of the indie authors who contribute to its Kindle Unlimited (KU) platform? On the surface, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program seems like a game-changer in the world of self-publishing. Countless indie authors found that they could self-publish their books with little hassle via Amazon and have them made accessible to large audiences. Additionally, authors get to choose payment plans that range from 35-70% royalties. KDP has granted opportunities to many indie authors and offers greater visibility to their work.

However, Amazon certainly has its flaws and has been known to do little to stop fraud and abuse taking place on its platform, harming both sellers and consumers. Just as Amazon refused to combat unethical third-party-selling, it is now failing to use its resources to combat piracy, letting writers take the brunt of the negative effects instead.

Now, authors are finding themselves in danger of being punished by Amazon due to piracy. Essentially, Amazon has a strict exclusivity agreement for those choosing to self-publish their books digitally via KU. In order for those in the KDP to make their self-published books available digitally via KU, they must enroll in KDP Select. KU has a lot of advantages for writers, including the opportunity to be paid based on pages read and to have their book readily available to readers worldwide. Hence, it isn’t difficult to see why many would opt in to the KDP Select program.

What the program demands, though, is that authors remain exclusive to KU. When you enroll in KDP Select, you cannot digitally distribute your book anywhere aside from KU for 90 days. Meanwhile, after the 90 days are up, you are automatically re-enrolled in the program and the 90-day exclusivity period starts over. When a new 90-day period is initiated, you have only three days to un-enroll. So, essentially, as long as your books are available to read on KU you cannot distribute them digitally anywhere else. This rule has long made authors hesitate, as it bars them from capitalizing on other platforms like Apple Books or Kobo. However, what writers are now also having to anticipate is being in violation of the rule due to piracy.

Amazon punishes indie authors for piracy

Several authors have begun speaking out about the harsh nature of Amazon’s exclusivity rules. Authors like Carissa Broadbent have reported having their KU books taken down with no warning or notice due to being victims of piracy. Broadbent reiterated that she had no control over the piracy of her work, but Amazon’s “extreme reactions” to any violations of the exclusivity agreement took no notice of this fact. Instead, she received a vague e-mail stating her book had been taken down and realized her monthly income had been snatched away with no notice.

Raven Kennedy, the author of Gild and Glint, was caught in a similar situation to Broadbent. She also reiterated the lack of control over piracy that writers have. However, despite receiving little aid from Amazon, Kennedy made a valiant effort to protect her work. She even detailed spending her own income to pay companies to issue “takedown notices” and constantly combed the web for pirated versions of her books. Despite her efforts, she continued to receive warnings from Amazon about her book being found elsewhere on the web. The situation became so stressful that she ended up removing her books temporarily because she felt she had no other choice. Upon re-enrolling them in KDP Select in hopes of making them affordable to her readers, she was notified by Amazon that they had removed two of her books and that a third was under threat of being removed.

The issue has gained enough recognition to spark a petition on calling for Amazon to revise its policy. The petition has almost 25k signatures so far and outlines the unfairness of Amazon’s aggressive enforcement of its policy. What is especially unfair is that pirates are getting copies to place on free websites from Amazon. These individuals have automated systems that can comb through Amazon and copy their e-files. Keep in mind, Amazon is an e-commerce company that brings in hundreds of billions in revenue yearly. It would make more sense for the pressure to be on Amazon to update their security systems and better combat piracy than to try to punish individual writers for something many don’t have the resources to combat.

What needs to change for Amazon’s KDP Select?

The issue has become significant enough that some are questioning if a KU strike is warranted. While it’s true that many great alternatives to KU can be found and that some should consider distancing themselves from Amazon, it is also important to consider the impact that it would have on the many indie writers who have already been drawn into the company. Some writers are still depending on that platform and income for their livelihood.

However, it is quite clear that Amazon needs to change its KDP Select policy. The first thing that Amazon needs to do is to double down on piracy. Right now, they are opting to punish their writers rather than deal with an actual issue that is threatening their contributors and their business. As said above, Amazon needs to revitalize its security system, put more research/resources into anti-piracy measures, and work with law enforcement to double down on piracy. Next, instead of just giving warnings and then abruptly banning authors, they need to assist writers experiencing this. Most indie authors do not have the legal knowledge and resources to know how to take steps to fight piracy.

If Amazon detects violations of the exclusivity policy, in addition to issuing warnings, they should provide resources and steps that the writer can take if they are a victim of piracy and didn’t mean to violate the policy. Likewise, there should be a fast-track solution for writers to get their books back up if they are wrongfully taken down for piracy. Additionally, piracy should be considered an exception to the exclusivity policy altogether. Writers whose work is pirated are victims who need to be assisted, not violators who need to be published and stripped of opportunities and incomes.

(featured image: @felipepelaquim on Unsplash)

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Rachel Ulatowski is an SEO writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, YA literature, celebrity news, and coming-of-age films. She has over two years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.