Is Piracy the sincerest form of flattery?

I just discovered that Amazon is offering electronic versions of two of my books: The KGB Bar Reader and The Kind I'm Likely to Get. This is the kind of thing that should be exciting, particularly since the publisher, HarperCollins, stopped bothering with both titles a while ago. But...I own the electronic rights to both books and no one has ever approached me about digital distribution. So, I'll not be seeing a penny for this. Not that Harper ever kept count of my sales. More annoying to me is the fact that they are also violating the rights of the 28 contributers to the KGB book.

Who do I contact about this? Harper doesn't respond to emails. The Author's Guild never got back to me when I inquired about some other copyright infractions a few years ago. And, for the most part, people in publishing likely think I should be happy to have the distribution at all, even if I am the only one not making money on it.

Do I sound bitter?

Time to get back to the writing.


Betsy said…
Oh my god, Ken, do not give up this fight. That's so wrong on nineteen different levels. You should seriously talk to a lawyer. I would think this would be exactly the kind of case that would get a good bit of attention. And trust me when I say I am not the litigious sort, but if it were mine, I'd want to kick some ass!
Hey Ken, I went to SoMiss and I think we have some friends in common, certain tattooed friends. Anyway, I'm a literary agent now and I might be able to help. Look at your contract with HC. Electronic rights are kinda tricky. That'll tell you what they can and can't do. As for your contributors, most likely they waived all subsidiary rights to their work, depending on their contributor contracts, especially if they were paid a fee for the work. Do they get royalties? If not, they probably waived all their rights. That doesn't mean amazon can do what they're doing, though. If you need anymore help, you can email me at kmckean at dystel dot com. As for HC, call your editor over there, or their assistant, and bug the heck out of them. That's what they're there for. --kate
kfoz said…
Hey Kate,

Actually, I struck electronic rights from all of my contracts, and, even worse, Harper no longer has the rights to even PRINT the anthology much less create an electronic edition. They returned the copyright to me at my request after they violated my contract by transferring the title to Print On Demand. At the time, I suggested they simply retain the book as a standard print title, since it was being used as a text book. They responded by taking out of print. Yet, new copies are always available at

My editor is no longer with the company, and the assigned contact refuses to respond to my inquiries regarding the story collection, which was also transferred to print on demand. At the time, I contacted her and the sales department about buying the existing stock, but they again ignored my contract and refused to sell copies of the book to me.

I think the main problem is that it was a Quill title under Morrow which was sold to Harper and it is likely they don't even have a file on the books or my contracts.
Case said…
Plus, everything sucks and he's poor.
The only thing I can suggest is you keep demanding to speak to peoples' bosses. Get to the head of royalties or subrights. Then, when that doesn't work, get a lawyer friend to write a nice little letter on their firm's stationary suggesting they make things right or things could get ugly. I'm impressed you got them to strike electronic rights from your contracts. Publishers usually hold on to them and then do nothing with them.
If you want more help, just let me know.
kfoz said…
I actually bought a digital copy from Amazon over the weekend, and then wrote to them to tell them they shouldn't be selling it. The access to the file is definately provided through a Harper system, but Amazon seems to be the only place offering them. So far, no response from the Amazonians. And...they still list the title as having no sales. So much for the validity of those sales rankings!
Anonymous said…
Ken, Amazon is apparently being haunted by an ebook-creating poltergeist; what happened to you might just be part of that horror. The same thing happened to my book too and to many other listings: a few days ago I noticed an ebook listing suddenly showed up, listed at $15.95, the same price as the paperback version. I was like, WTF?!? My contract with iUniverse covered a print version only. I figured something was wrong so I emailed them. They confirmed that the listing's an Amazon screw-up, and they had been working to get the glitch fixed, which was taking Amazon some time (think they have to fix it book-by-book--this is being discussed elsewhere). Just looked at my listing today and the ebook one has been removed. You might want to contact Amazon directly. Also, maybe you should keep an eye on your other Amazon entries--they could get screwed up while Amazon attempts to fix the ebook mistake....
Rebecca Skloot said…
This is a monumental crock. You should contact the American Society of Journalists and Authors about this. They were the main muscle behind the NYTimes suit over electronic rights (which they won for good $$), and they're not looking into this whole amazon situation. There's a discussion about this in their online forum (which you can access if you're a member) where they've asked writers whose rights are being violated by amazon to contact them. If you like, I can give you the name and email address of the guy to contact directly ... (I don't know if he'd want me posting it -- you can contact me through my site, and I'll be happy to help)
Rebecca Skloot said…
Make that they're NOW looking into this whole amazon situation ... that's what I get for typing too fast!
Robert Preskill said…
I recently reported on the exact phenomenon that you describe for the American Bar Association, Entertainment and Sports Lawyer. There are many serious concerns I have about Google Print, but essentially the publishers have the ultimately responsibility here. Your have contracted with them directly. Their programs that allow authors to "opt out" once a book is being distributed electronically do not justify the serious concerns regarding (1)piracy and the protection of your work, (2)the posting of your work with advertising, which your contract may not allow, and (3)good old fashioned copyright infringement which only requires one wrongful publication. The wholesale release of rights which the publisher has reason to know is reserved for the author is not a matter of mere negligence. The collective damages in a class action law suit against publishers could be absolutely devistating. So, I cannot understand why it is being allowed and even endorsed when it would not be difficult to get a consent from many authors up front.

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