Recently, a blurb circulated the social media networks and blogs, purporting to contain details about recent changes to Amazon’s policy on erotica book covers. It was identified as being a fake. However, here’s a story which is 100% factual.

I’m a director of the Erotic Authors Guild, and also run a collection of Facebook groups designed to assist the erotica genre. Recently, I became aware of a website called “tuebl.ca” which allows its members to share and download copyrighted material… including hundreds of books by erotica authors.  As a Guild director, I e-mailed the offending website’s ISP to file DMCA complaints about the pirated books. I also noted several ad sponsors on the pirate’s website, including major brand names such as Allstate, Zipcar and Legalzoom. I notified these companies via social media that their ads were running on a site which was showcasing stolen ebooks. Many of them pulled their ads and blacklisted the site.

In retaliation, the site owner, Travis Mccrea filed a false complaint against me with Amazon. He claimed that he was the owner of the cover art for one of my books. (He is not… the work was obtained under a Creative Commons license, and Mr. Mccrea has no affiliation with it whatsoever.) However, rather than attempting to ascertain the facts, Amazon blocked my book. They told me they would not restore it until Mr. Mccrea confirmed that the matter had been resolved. (As he doesn’t own the book cover, and made the false complaint out of malice, it’s unlikely that he’d provide such a confirmation.)

I requested that Amazon provide details to back up the claim of licensing violation. They provided nothing other than repeating Mr. Mccrea’s name and address. At one point, they even suggested that I owe Mr. Mccrea “restitution” of some sort.

Ironically, Mr. Mccrea and his website probably cost Amazon tens of thousands of dollars in unseen revenue. People frequent his website and download books for free rather than purchasing them from outlets such as Amazon. These stolen ebooks are from all genres, not just erotica. My work with the Guild, on the other hand, has called attention to this issue and has enabled dozens of authors to get their stolen works taken off the site, thus benefitting the bookselling sites including Amazon.

Yet, they took Mr. Mccrea at his word when he claimed to own my book cover, with no substantiation whatsoever, and treated me like a criminal. My inquiries were met with canned responses from “Lou,” a service rep who seems to have no common sense whatsoever. My demands to speak with a supervisor to date have been ignored.

Then, I checked my email and found that my Amazon KDP account has been suspended:  “It has come to our attention that you have uploaded material through your account for which you did not have the necessary rights.” At no point, despite my repeated requests, was I ever presented with any evidence that I had uploaded any such material.

I have written to the Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, as his e-mail address is the only point of contact for a person that I could find at Amazon.

What’s the moral of this story? From where I’m sitting, it seems to be that Amazon has a system which could be used to enable bullying to a frightening degree. If someone wants to bully an author whom they dislike, they merely have to send a complaint to Amazon, making up a claim of plagiarism or licensing infringement. By Amazon’s own admission in their e-mail to me, “We don’t involve ourselves in third party disputes and therefore have removed the availability of the book through our systems until this matter is resolved.”

How do they define “resolved”? From the same e-mail:

“[A]ll involved parties must contact us via ip-inquiries@amazon.com.”

In other words, they will consider the complaint to be substantiated until the bully retracts his or her frivolous statement. As the bully’s action is designed to be malicious, this would equate to “never” in the vast majority of cases. Thus, any author’s books (and entire account) can be pulled at any time, for any made-up reason, resulting in lost revenue, reviews and ranking while the author has to jump through numerous hoops (and deal with Amazon’s pathetic excuse for a customer service team) to get the matter resolved.

Authors who write for a living, and who are foolish enough to put all their eggs in the Amazon basket, tread with caution. The moral of the story here is, all it takes is one single hater to interfere with your entire livelihood. And Amazon obviously doesn’t care as long as the revenue keeps coming in.

Dylan Cross