I had no intention of making a part 2 to my last post but when the Becca Mills story hit the internet, I felt I needed to go further with the series. For those who don’t know, Becca Mills is an indie author, whose book was removed from Amazon by a false DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) compliant. As the drama unfolded, many indie authors, including myself, learned several surprising things about the role retailers play in copyright disputes. Because what seemed to be an easy open and shut case turned into weeks of back and forth between the author, Amazon and a con-artist pretending to be the author. Now here’s the kicker, even though the author had a registered copyright, Amazon would not get involved in a third party dispute.
Long story short, Ms. Mills was finally able to get her book out of KDP purgatory by filing her own counter DMCA and by shooting off an email to Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon. Though the odds of this happening again are astronomical, I still think we indie authors need to know our legal rights in the event someone tries to hijack our work.
*Disclaimer* I am in no way a lawyer, and cannot give you legal advice. I can only educate you about the resources and institutions that are available to you.
Lesson 1: Don’t Go Looking For Prince Charming To Rescue You
According to Amazon’s own policy once a DMCA compliant has been filed, they must legally take the book down from their site. I recently emailed KDP and asked about the Becca Mills case and here’s their response:
As you can see, it is up to the real copyright owner to fight the con-artist. In Becca Mills’ case things were resolved but what if one day, an imposter decides to press their luck and comes after your copyright? Would you know how to fight back?
Why File a Counter DMCA?
On most retail sites, once a DMCA complaint is filed, the identity of the person stealing the work along with their contact info is revealed in good faith. This way all the cards are on the table, and once you have this person’s identity, you can give it to the authorities which leads me to my next point…
Filing Criminal Charges
What if a thief ignores you and continues to make your life hell? In Becca Mills’ story, the person went to both Amazon and Smashwords to get her work taken down. If this continues to happen, you’ll have no option but to file criminal charges against them. In most parts of the world, law enforcement institutions have a fraud and cyber crimes department so it would be wise to start there.
But what if you want restitution? In that case, you’ll need to take it to the next level and file a civil suit in court.
You Have A Copyright, Don’t You?
As I stated in part one of this series, you’ll NEED a government copyright. There is no way around this, because according to the U.S. Copyright office: “Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U.S. origins.” You can read the entire PDF file here.
Another reason why it’s smart to get a copyright is because in the U.S., if you file your copyright before publishing, you can get more in damages and even recoup your legal fees. Yes, you can get a copyright after your book has been officially published in the U.S., but you won’t be able to claim the full legal benefits of a copyright owner who registered before they published.
Lesson 2: Authors & Journalists Get Sued All The Time
It’s not uncommon for a mega bestselling author to get sued by someone claiming to be the genuine author of a given work. For example, J.K. Rowling has been sued multiple times over her Harry Potter books. However, none of the plaintiffs have been successful in proving J.K. Rowling ripped them off. Nevertheless, there are thousands of copyright infringement cases filed in the U.S. every year.
Most major publishing companies have liability insurance which protects them against libel as well as copyright infringement lawsuits. Unfortunately, most indie authors cannot afford it because the premiums are often very high. Luckily though, there are guilds and organization that offer protection or legal advice with membership.
Organizations that offer liability insurance or legal information:
- Independent Book Publisher’s Association (IBPA): offers liability insurance with a $129 per year membership.
- The Author’s Guild: offers the same deal with their $125 membership.
- Axis Pro (Write Insure): is a discount perk offered by Media Bistro to its members which includes liability insurance to writers for about $450. The price of a yearly MB membership is about $55 a year.
- National Writer’s Union: offers grievance assistance with their membership which is based upon income. ($10 – $340 per month)
- National Association of Independent Writers & Editors (NAIWE): Offers free legal information, (not representation) to authors with membership dues of $99 per year.
- Blogger Shield: Offers liability insurance for as low as $250 a year if your book is based on work from your blog.
The purpose of this article is to inform authors that they don’t have to go it alone when defending their copyright. Help is out there, all we need to do is reach out and ask. And hopefully, the Becca Mills story will inspire us to take charge of our publishing businesses whether that means getting liability insurance or registering our copyright with a government office. We indies need to know what’s available to us and how to proceed in the event of a lawsuit or copyright hijacking, because as you can see, the waters are treacherous in the publishing world.
*Stepping off soapbox*
Update: According to Becca Mills, once an author sends a counter DMCA their policy is not inclined to restore a book. And she’s right, I reread Amazon’s KDP Terms Of Service and it doesn’t mention counter DMCAs or who to contact in the event a false complaint. I’m left to assume that they take this on a case by case basis but nonetheless, author beware!