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ePublish a Book » Book Promotion, Resources, The Legal Corner » Amazon’s Brand of Censorship – Avoid Getting Banned from Amazon as an Author – Part 3

Amazon’s Brand of Censorship – Avoid Getting Banned from Amazon as an Author – Part 3

Amazon’s Brand of Censorship – Avoid Getting Banned from Amazon as an Author – Part 3
Now, the week-end is over, the full implication of the dangers included in violating Amazon Content Guidelines have fully sunk in, it is time to examine them with total attention. So, without further ado, let’s broach the fifth and last item on the agenda. (please note that the featured image is a Print Screen of these Amazon content guidelines as of 21st of November 2011, so that no-one could claim these were actually made up…)

5. Publishing “inappropriate” content

This is where it gets absurdly tricky. Though Amazon Content Guidelines are artfully vague, failure to comply with these guidelines in the way that matches Amazon’s judgment (see underlined passage underneath) might get you banned from the program (see bold underneath). This is notwithstanding the fact that, as we saw last Thursday, Amazon reserves the right to withhold or keep outstanding due royalties if Amazon Content Guidelines have not been followed to the T.

Content Guidelines

Your books and other content (such as book titles, cover art and product descriptions) must adhere to these content guidelines.  We reserve the right to make judgments about whether or not content is appropriate and to choose not to offer it.  We may also terminate your participation in the KDP program if you don’t adhere to these content guidelines.

So let’s have a look at these five Amazon content guidelines, item by item.

Pornography
We don’t accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts.

Today, the Book-Literature and fiction-Erotica section counts over 41 thousands books. Unless they have a team dedicated to read each and everyone of these books to eliminate all books containing “pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts” these books are actually put on the shelves without prior screening.

Offensive Content
What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect.

Well, with all due respect, the question begs to be asked. Who is the “you” referred to here? A pastor worried about the morality of his flock? A teenager in full blast rebellion for whom any reference to limiting his freedom is perceived as not only offensive but inflammatory? A KKK member unable to accept that colored people have the same rights as white people? An Imam? A schoolgirl? … This has to be one of the vaguest legal sentence ever to appear in the legally binding document issued by a mega-multinational company.

Illegal and Infringing Content
We take violations of laws and proprietary rights very seriously.  It is your responsibility to ensure that your content doesn’t violate laws or copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity, or other rights.  Just because content is freely available does not mean you are free to copy and sell it.

Surprise, surprise, this actually makes sense. Basically, we are reminded that we are obliged to obey the laws and respect existing rights of other rightholders. Straightforward enough.

Public Domain and Other Non-Exclusive Content
Some types of content, such as public domain content, may be free to use by anyone, or may be licensed for use by more than one party.  We may choose not to sell a book if its content is undifferentiated or barely undifferentiated from one or more other books.

Amazon reserves the right to “choose not to sell” according to criterion that they apparently also choose not to divulge. You have been warned, though of what is not entirely clear …

Poor Customer Experience
We don’t accept books that provide a poor customer experience.  Examples include poorly formatted books and books with misleading titles, cover art or product descriptions.  We reserve the right to determine whether content provides a poor customer experience.

Once again, as the publishing process is automated, no-one actually physically check the quality or reliability of the books that make their way to Amazon shelves. So, as with pornography, and offensive content, what it actually means is that , if a customer complains about the content or poor formatting of any book, Amazon will take a closer look and decide unilaterally if the book is in violation of any of their so clearly defined “Content Guidelines.”

In effect, this amounts to a sort of customer driven corporate censorship, and there is no sure way of preventing a ban by adhering to the guidelines as these lines are so thin that they are virtually invisible until they cut through your throat!

How this document can be legally binding is anyone’s guess, but no-one will blame you if it leaves you stumped.

Any lawyer reading this post is cordially invited to comment on the legal validity of these guidelines… and anyone who wishes this blog to continue is welcome to support by shopping through our Amazon astore while appreciating the irony that the more they buy from our shop, the more Amazon is financing this post :-)

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6 Responses to "Amazon’s Brand of Censorship – Avoid Getting Banned from Amazon as an Author – Part 3"

  1. Dave Hill says:

    While I’d love to see clearer guidelines, how is this any different from a more traditional publisher, who might reject a work because the manuscript was badly formatted, or because it was considered offensive by the editor looking at it?

    And if the courts can’t come up with a decent, binding, consistent description of porn, I don’t expect Amazon (who does carry, for example, Penthouse Letters collections) to be able to.

    That spotting potential violations is effectively crowdsourced (relying on complaints) is less worrisome than how Amazon will actually address those complaints. But, again, if folks complain today to Random House about a given book being offensive, the only difference is that they have an editor that they can have a long discussion with before deciding whether to stop publishing the work.

  2. Is it just me, or do these guidelines raise more questions than they answer? I mean, how many romance and erotica books are bought/sold on Amazon each year? Is that offensive content? Where is the line drawn, and who’s drawing it?

    Amazon has opened a lot of doors for authors and is a big part of the reason people can pursue the indie author path. I hope the company continues to be as author-friendly as it seems. (As a disclaimer, I’m currently unpublished, so I haven’t worked with Amazon as an author.)

  3. Deanna says:

    Thanks for all the helpful information about Amazon. Even when you read the fine print, you don’t always grasp all the details because there is so much of it. These articles are a helpful reminder. ?)

  4. june G says:

    Not reading small print for anything can cause BIG PAIN later… so first rule of thumb, read the small stuff first. Good article. As for quality, who wants to buy a written work (electronic or paper) that is laced with typos?

  5. C.D. Reimer says:

    I’ve seen too many poorly formatted ebooks from traditional publishers that fall under the category of Poor Customer Experience. I read elsewhere that the problem is the source file that the traditional publishers use for the ebook is often the original file submitted by the author, which haven’t been spit polished for print publication yet. Sometimes a good enough story will make me blind to the obvious formatting issues, but too often formatting drags the story down.

  6. I am not a U.S. lawyer which makes it difficult for me to comment on specifics, but generally speaking I think there would be a reasonable chance of some provisions being struck out or not upheld by a court for a number of reasons, including vagueness (an obligation that isn’t specific enough cannot be enforced), or for reasons relating to unfair power – i.e. Amazon is basically forcing people to agree, there is no ability to negotiate etc.. Of course, it begs the question – can you afford a protracted legal battle against Amazon? In an overwhelming number of cases the answer will be no and I expect Amazon knows it.

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