Looks like Amazon has decided to do something about people who snag free content from the internet, format it as an ebook and sell it for Kindle. I blogged about this awhile back (http://raw-dog.livejournal.com/245555.html). I figured this kind of thing was behind the email we recently got explaining what type of content is acceptable for publishing on Kindle: content that you have the sole right to publish or content that is in the public domain. We don't steal content so I didn't think we'd have any problems. Today we got an email saying that one of our titles contains content that is freely available on the web and we need to verify our right to publish it. The letter says:

"…please provide the URLs for all websites where you have previously published this or any other Kindle content. Please respond within five business days with the requested URLs so we can verify you have the sole publishing rights, or the books will be removed from sale in the Kindle Store."

I'm a bit mystified about what to do here. The book happens to be a collection of essays, articles and reviews. Many of the pieces have appeared elsewhere on the web and in print. While we don't have sole publishing rights to the material we do have rights to publish the book as a collection of articles. I'm not sure how sending links will verify this right.

And now I am starting to wonder about all the free excerpts that we've published online over the years. We often make the first chapter of a book available to the public to promote it. Will that set off Amazon's content sensors?

I'm pretty sure that no real human being has reviewed our particular case yet because the book is clearly not a rip-off, Wikipedia article posing as someone's official autobiography.

Again, I'm happy that Amazon has decided to protect their customers by preventing the sale of free content. However, I'm not sure this is the way to go about it. I plan to write back to them but don't feel too confident that someone will actually pay attention and understand the situation. Publishing rights can be quite complicated and it doesn't seem as though Amazon realizes that. Did they consider that something can be published on the web legally by one venue and then published again, still legally, in a different format? Their letter doesn't indicate that they understand this possibility and doesn't give any information about a way to explain it. If we don't comply they have threatened to shut down our account. I feel as though I may have to remove the book from sale just to make sure they don't do that. But, obviously, that will hurt sales of that particular title.

This reminds me again why it is so scary to have one, primary place for ebooks. Even a temporary shut down is the kind of thing that could really hurt a small business, particularly the ones that are ebook only. Amazon is truly a sleeping giant that could roll over and squash many struggling publishers in its sleep.