A few months back Amazon said they were planning to get serious about banning junk ebooks from the Kindle Store, including public domain ebooks, spam, and content scraped off of websites. Recent events suggest they are following through with that promise – though without the nuance that they should be using.
Yesterday I came acrossby Dusty Phillips. This software developer is closely associated with the Arch Linux project, one of the numerous versions of Linux you can download and install on your computer.
Dusty had been getting a few requests from users who wanted to read the Arch Linux support docs as an ebook. The content is freely available online, but for obvious reasons some users wanted an offline copy as well. So Dusty took some time to clean up the content, formatted it as an ebook, and submitted it to the Kindle Store. And that’s where things went downhill.
Amazon rejected the ebook. The rejection email pointed out, quite correctly:
During a review of your KDP submission(s), we found content that is freely 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.
As you can see in Amazon’s response, they’re now checking newly submitted ebooks against web searches. Good. In this case Amazon found the online documentation that Dusty worked from when he made the ebook. Amazon then asked Dusty to list the sites where the content was posted and then explain why it was online. They were probably expecting a response like “I’m the author and that’s my blog”, but instea.d Dusty sent an explanation that the content was freely distributable under the Free Documentation License (a sister license to the GPL). Needless to say, it is legal to bundle FDL licensed content into an ebook and upload it to the Kindle Store.
Just try explaining that to Amazon. They’ve banned the books because, as they put it in the rejection email:
We’ve reviewed the information you provided and have decided to block these books from being sold in the Kindle Store. The books closely match content that is freely available on the web and we are not confident that you hold exclusive publishing rights. This type of content can create a poor customer experience, and is not accepted. As a result, we have blocked the books listed below from being sold in the Kindle Store.
Arch Linux Handbook 3.0 by Phillips, Dusty (EDITOR) (ID: 2884216)
Please be advised that you must hold exclusive publishing rights for books that closely match content that is freely available on the web. If your catalog continues to contain books that fail to comply with these conditions or do not meet our Content Guidelines, your account may be terminated.
And that’s pretty much the end of the story, because there’s almost no chance that any single person can get the publication rights.
The thing about open documentation is that, like Wikipedia, support docs for topics like Linux can have literally dozens of authors. Any of the core developers might contribute an explanation to the support docs, and the docs themselves are usually actively maintained by several volunteers. All this work is contributed under an open license like CC, GPL, and FDL, so there is pretty much no way that any single person can get “exclusive publication rights”. In fact, that very concept is antithetical to the very idea of the license itself.
So basically Amazon has said that they don’t want to handle support docs. Never mind that people actually want to to get an offline copy; Amazon doesn’t care. Admittedly, this policy grew out of a need to filter out relatively worthless Wikipedia generated ebooks from the Kindle Store (it uses the FDL license, BTW) but this is an example of how one shouldn’t apply a policy across the board. You’re not supposed to throw out the wheat with the chaff.
P.S. If you’d like to get the ebook, you can download it direct from the Arch Linux website.
image by bmills