Authors, beware of Amazon’s Copyright Grab!

My publisher recently received a notice from Amazon suggesting the idea of giving away copies of my two books, Amalfi Blue and Shrouded in Pompei.  Amazon’s angle was to increase sales and allow me to promote my books across social media platforms.  No purchase was necessary by the entrant and it’s not really clear who was paying for the cost of the prizes.  Certainly, I was not going to receive money if nothing was being sold.

OK, the free giveaway sounds good so far, right?  Wrong.  If it sounds too good to be true, it generally is!  Lucky for me, I happen to be a really good lawyer and cherish my creative copyrights because the red siren of doom sounded as soon as I read the fine print in Amazon’s Giveaway Services Agreement.

To the uninitiated laymen…you’re screwed if you use Amazon’s Giveaway…in my humble opinion.  Look at the Definitions section.  Amazon defines “Your Material” as “all Technology, Your Trademarks, Content, information, data, photographs, images, videos and other materials and items provided or made available by you or your Affiliates to Amazon or its Affiliates.”

CopyrightThen scroll up to Paragraph 5 and check what type of license you are granting to Amazon:

“You grant us a royalty-free, non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use, reproduce, perform, display, distribute, adapt, modify, excerpt, analyze, re-format, create derivative works of, and otherwise commercially or non-commercially exploit in any manner, any and all of Your Materials, and to sublicense the foregoing rights; provided that nothing in this Agreement will prevent or impair our right to use Your Materials without your consent to the extent that such use is allowable without a license from you or your Affiliates under applicable Law (e.g., fair use under United States copyright law, referential use under trademark law, or valid license from a third party).”

So why does this scream – “put on the brakes?”

  1. Royalty free – that means they don’t have to pay you to use your creative material or content.
  2. Create derivative works – that means they can make a movie or merchandise your characters when the book is a bestseller…again without paying you any royalties.
  3. Sublicense the foregoing rights – that means they can sell your rights, now their rights, to any third party

It amazes me how Amazon continually tries to exploit independent authors who have become the lifeblood of their Kindle revenue stream.  Writers, always, always read the fine print of any Terms & Conditions before signing up for anything that sounds just too good to be true.  You risk giving away your intellectual property rights for a free book giveaway!

Life After Death through Social Media

Yes, Virginia, there is social media after death.  Almost anything lingers forever in cyberspace, long after you’ve left this earthly plane.  Just check the online “wayback” machines for proof of this.  Yet, many of us don’t think about what happens to our social media connections when setting forth an estate plan but digital asset management is essential.

As we’ve discussed, you cannot leave your digital libraries to anyone per the terms of most online retailers.  So, what happens to your Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and assorted other social media accounts?  The short answer is they linger…forever…sort of like a cyber eternal flame of stupidity.

Image courtesy: Kromkrathog/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy: Kromkrathog/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Everyone needs an estate plan and everyone needs to share our top-secret passwords with someone, preferably our executor, before we go.  It sounds easy but during these days of heightened paranoia, with many of us ultra-vigilant about cyber-security (at least, I hope so), we change passwords frequently.  So, what’s a social butterfly to do?  Leave a “Letter of Instruction” with your attorney and/or executor, or place the letter in a safe place and TELL your executor where to locate it.  Let’s face it, we all should trust at least one other person, right?

More than a dozen states have already implemented digital estate management laws in varying degrees, allowing executors to access online accounts. Yahoo and Google have recently implemented an “after death” policy whereby an authorized party can provide a copy of your death certificate and Google will close your account and delete your Flickr photos.  They even added an “inactive account manager” to their sites so you can determine now, while you’re still breathing, what happens to your “cyber stuff” if there’s been no account activity for a pre-set period of time.  I think that’s the way to go.  Even if you’re still breathing, if there’s been no activity in your account for at least a year, I think the social media sites should delete you anyway.  Can you imagine the costs of server maintenance for all of these “dead accounts,” pun intended.  I expect many other social sites will start to think about the departed, or nearly departed, very soon.

Digital Estate Planning

In death you can only leave so much of what you owned during life.  Basically, if you don’t own it at death then you can’t pass it along to your grateful heirs.  I didn’t really think much about it until today when the lovely Lynda Baquero from News 4NY dropped by to chat about it. (look for the interview on News 4 NY in a few weeks)

So much of our lives are lived online yet rarely do we think about what will happen to our cyber lives once we go to the great social network in the sky.  Do you really own all that you seem to buy?  Not quite.

Illustration courtesy:  Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Illustration courtesy: Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When you purchase and eBook, song or movie from an online provider as a digital download, you DO NOT OWN the book, tune or flick.  You merely pay for a license to use it during your life and are not bestowed with the right to assign/give it to anyone else.  Surprise!  Bet many of you didn’t know that.  It’s not the same as back in the days of the Frick Collection or Rockefeller Library when big collections meant something and were valuable.

The files you download to your device will generally remain with your device, some as long as the account remains viable and others remain on the device indefinitely.  Yet, read the fine print, the terms and conditions of purchase.  You can’t pass that content to anyone else so if you give a fully loaded old Kindle to your niece or friend, it’s questionable whether you have the right to do so.  Sure, you can give them the physical object of the device itself but you probably don’t have the right to pass its contents to anyone else.

Therefore, the short answer is that when you die, so does your right to any of these digital files, meaning you cannot pass them along in your will.  On the other hand, if you owned actual books and discs at your death, you could bequeath those by the truckload.

We live in an electronic age when the only thing that has changed is how we share information.  The actual task of estate planning is still the same and as painful for most people who shudder at facing their own mortality.

So, what do you do with your cyberlife, social connections, photos and more?  We’ll tackle that next week.