jessicasteiner: (I Write Therefore I Am)
After I made my last post, I received a rather interesting private message on another social networking site.

Someone I don't know apparently saw my post about how Amazon had blocked my book to question whether or not it had been plagiarized from someone else's content on the web, and wanted to commiserate. S/he linked me to a blog post of their own in which they reported on the same thing happening to their book, and their response to Amazon.

In response to Amazon questioning their book, they sent back an angry letter filled with exclamation points, outlining that they had simply been promoting their book, and declaring that they had done nothing wrong. They accused the email writer of being rude. The email they received from Amazon was identical to the one I received, and honestly I didn't find it rude at all - professional, not rude.

Professional in the manner the person who contacted me was not.

The main thing that the author seemed to be upset about was a 'guilty until proven innocent' policy of blocking the book until it was proven that it was not plagiarized. Amazon cleared their book for release quickly, and so far as I was able to tell from the vitriol-filled blog post, their book release was only delayed by two days.

I was left pretty bemused, to be honest. Amazon is far from a perfect company and there is a lot to get up in arms about when it comes to business practices. But this?

Amazon gets millions of self-published books. To automatically approve them and then investigate plagiarism, would allow many to slip through for days or weeks before action could be taken. They would have to detect the possible plagiarism and contact the author while the book was available for sale, and selling copies to unwitting readers, earning money. Anyone who put up a plagiarized book would simply ignore the questioning email for as long as possible, before Amazon finally pulled it, and then would move on to another attempt.

The advantage of the current procedure is that authors who are innocent are motivated to respond quickly and to give them the information they need. Those who don't respond are likely the ones with plagiarized books, and their books will never be approved for sale.

Personally, I do think that given the practical issues and the number of scammers out there, Amazon is doing the right thing. Even if I'm wrong, I found the author's response to be over the top and reactionary. To me, it's never worthwhile to react to someone doing their job with anger and unprofessionalism. If the author does see this post as well, I hope they reconsider their reaction the next time someone doing a job contacts them with some bad news.
jessicasteiner: (Bad Writing Day)
From Opening Action to Zee EndI have spent the last week or so preparing a book version of my April's A to Z Challenge posts. The book is compiled, and I've expanded on the posts, cleaned them up, and changed the titles on quite a few.

If you followed my blog through April, there won't be much that's new to you, but it is a new format and I worked hard on it. I hope that some people will find the format useful, with a table of contents that'll take you straight to the topic you're most interested in, and a Createspace version to put on the shelf for reference.

When I uploaded my book to Amazon for the Kindle, I got a rather strange email:

Hello,

We are writing to you regarding the following book(s):

From Opening Action to Zee End by Steiner, Jessica (AUTHOR) (ID:3617383)

During a review of your KDP submission(s), we found content that is widely available on the web. You can do an online search for the content inside your book(s) to discover which sites are offering the content for free. Copyright is important to us – we want to make sure that no author or other copyright holder has their work claimed and sold by anyone else.

To confirm you have publishing rights to and control where you distribute the book(s), please provide all of the following information:

1. The URLs for all websites where this content is published
2. An explanation as to why the content is available online


I got confused for a second, then I had a good laugh. Of course it was available online - it was from my own blog. I sent them an email with an explanation about the blog challenge and confirming that - so far as I knew - my posts weren't available anywhere else on the internet, and it was all cleared up within a day or so.

I have to say that for all that I was taken aback at first, I'm glad that Amazon is checking to make sure that books that are uploaded to their store aren't simply plagiarized material. There wasn't any question or argument once I had explained that it was my own words - they don't seem to be policing beyond that. Overall, I thought it was a good experience, and reassuring to at least some extent.
jessicasteiner: (Constructive Criticism)
Today Amazon announced the newest expansion on the self-publishing-on-the-Kindle landscape - Kindle Worlds. In a nutshell, Kindle Worlds will allow fanfiction authors to publish their fanfiction on the Kindle, and sell it. Any sales will pay royalties both to the copyright holder of the original property, and to the fanfic author.

Now, for full disclosure, I have been writing fanfiction as long as I've been writing, which is a damn long time. I am also on staff for the Organization for Transformative Works, which not only runs one of the most popular fanworks archives on the web, but is a non-profit which in part deals with the legitimacy of fanworks from a legal standpoint. I'm also an author with properties of my own.

Personally, I'm for fanfiction in a general sense. If anyone ever writes fanfiction or creates fan works about my own properties, I will count that a positive thing. In my opinion, fanfiction does great things for copyright. But this post isn't about that - it's about Kindle Worlds. From the perspective of people involved in the creation of fanworks, it has always been the cardinal rule - Thou Shalt Not Sell Thine Fanfiction, Lest Thou Incur the Wrath of the Author. Kindle Worlds seems poised to change all that.

Based on my reading of the limited information on the Amazon site, there are some big caveats.

Firstly, you can only publish fanfiction in the fandoms that are allowed - presumably Amazon will need to negotiate with each copyright holder for the right to include them in the program. I think that's really key. If someone is going to profit by their fanfiction, it should be with the blessing of the one who created the world. I think that this could create a wonderful symbiotic relationship, even more than fanfiction already does, without forcing any copyright holders into a situation where they feel threatened by the - shall we say - legitimized fanfiction.

Secondly, they won't allow any porn, offensive material, bad fanfiction, crossovers, or "illegal or infringing content". Setting aside the last one, it makes me wonder if there will actually be any fanfiction that qualifies for the program. Most importantly, they really don't say what's illegal or infringing. Isn't all fanfiction sort of illegal and infringing at this point? No one really knows, which has always been the problem.

I truly hope there will be some really clear guidelines about that, or I seriously doubt this will take off. Fanfiction authors are already inclined to batten down the hatches at any hint that their hobby is being noticed by the mainstream world at large. To violate the cardinal rule and risk being sued is something I think few people will be willing to do, unless they can trust that the risk is minimal enough to be worth it.

As a final point, a Forbes article on the announcement has a quote in there saying that the contract will give Amazon full rights to the fanfic, and the writer will not retain any publication rights over the work. According to John Scalzi (President of SFWA and all around intelligent dude), this clause makes this into a "Work for Hire" sort of contract where you are literally giving your fanfic away in return for royalties on the sale, for the full term of copyright - which would be your life plus 75 years I do believe (thanks, Disney).

This is a huge deal, and one I hope they remove from the final contract. I didn't see any hint of that on the Amazon site so far, but Amazon is only giving generalized information at the moment.

I don't write in any of the fandoms that will be offered upon original launch, and I'm also concerned about Amazon having the right to republish and profit from any fanfic I did publish in the program if I chose to do so, so at this point I'm very much in "wait and see" mode. Other people have tried to profit off of fanfiction in the past, and it has always met with an extreme negative backlash. But none of those people have been Amazon, so we'll see where this goes.

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Jessica Steiner

February 2016

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