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Amazon Now Rejecting GPL Licensed eBooks From the Kindle Store

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 across a blog post by 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

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Maria (BearMountainBooks) September 11, 2012 um 10:22 am

He could sell it from his own website (or as the link provided, download the formatted files.) There are other distributors where he could offer it as well (smashwords for example.) Although as far as eyeballs go, Amazon is the biggest. And downloading from them is the easiest too. People go there when they are looking for books!

Luqman September 11, 2012 um 11:23 am FTW!

Robert Nagle September 11, 2012 um 12:20 pm

Amazon doesn’t like to distribute free things… They really make authors and publishers go through hoops to have free things on the Kindle. Business interests aside, when a site like is distributing free books, it really clutters search results on the bookseller site.

The problem starts when Amazon requires a minimum price of 99 cents for an ebook. That means you are making commercial use of this material. If they allowed free ebooks to be uploaded, they wouldn’t need to be an conscientious. As someone who publishes a lot of free content and fiction online under CC, I guess I do worry about a person distributing my works commercially.

I’m sure that Cory and company will be yelling about this though (if he hasn’t already). This could just be an isolated example.

Nate Hoffelder September 11, 2012 um 1:01 pm

Except they do distribute free content. You can find all types of free apps, music, and even free ebooks – just only on Amazon’s terms, not generally free.

Paul Durrant September 11, 2012 um 5:48 pm

It seems like a good decision to me. The ebook version could be made freely available for download alongside the web version.

Or is the editor expecting to make money from the ebook on Amazon? In which case, he needs to add some original content, not just clean up the content freely provided by others.

Chris Meadows September 12, 2012 um 12:41 am

It puzzles me why this would be seen as a good fit for Amazon anyway. I mean, if I’m looking for documentation for an open source project, I look on the site where the project is, not Amazon.

Xyzzy September 12, 2012 um 5:39 am

In the case of Arch, it’s the build-it-yourself kit of the Linux world, and virtually everyone evidently runs into *some* kind of weird problem the first few times they set it up or at some point later on. Most of the initial work with Arch is done at the text command prompt, so having a reference/how-to guide logically is going to be helpful, and not everyone will think of putting it on their e-reader (or updating their copy) in advance.

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Fish September 11, 2012 um 10:39 pm

Breaking News: is a store. They sell things. I wouldn’t expect the kindle store to house the PDF manual for my toaster, either.

Angela Booth September 12, 2012 um 3:32 am

I can see Amazon’s point. They sell stuff. Anything free is there to promote the stuff they sell.

Amazon isn’t Project Gutenberg; they’re not asking for donations to fund what they do, they just ask people to spend money. Eventually.

They do have LOTS of free ebooks, so you don’t have to spend money if you don’t want to.

On the other hand, I feel sorry for people who post stuff and then get rejected.

Elizabeth Iglesias September 12, 2012 um 4:11 am

I can’t understand why Amazon is doing this since the support docs are under the General Public License (GPL) and is a free software authorized by the Free Software Foundation (FSF). Probably Amazon only takes in documents made by single authors under a copyrighted specific license. GPL can somehow be complicated due to its availability to anyone and everyone.

tony marsh October 30, 2012 um 4:01 am

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