After months of selling a self-published memoir about the effect Star Wars has had on his life, author Gib Van Ert found that Amazon has pulled the title because it references the words “Star Wars” and, presumably, describes some exciting star warring within. Amazon pulled the ebook but, inexplicably, left the paperback version intact.
Until yesterday, Amazon had never raised any sort of complaint about the fact that my book uses the phrase “Star Wars”. Why would it? My book is just a memoir of how Star Wars affected my life as a child and continues to do so today. If I had tried to publish a piece of Star Wars fiction without Lucasfilm’s authorization, such as a novel set in the Star Wars universe, I would understand Amazon’s position. But people are free to write books about how pop culture phenomena affect their lives.
The problem arose when Amazon updated the Kindle store to support Canadian sales. Van Ert submitted his book to the store and waited for approval. The process that usually took 48 hours stretched into two weeks and, in the end, Amazon refused to reinstate the book. Why? Because he referenced “Star Wars” in the title. Their condescending reply:
Your book(s) contains references to the trademarked term, “Star Wars (Trademarked Term)”. We have reviewed the information you provided and have determined that we will not be making the book(s) available for sale in the Kindle store at this time. While we cannot advise you on trademark laws, we encourage you to conduct your own research by possibly going to your local library or using other online resources that may be available to you.
It would be clear to any sane person that this is not a piece of Star Wars fan fiction (“Obi Wan took Spock’s hand and led him to the abyss. ‘This is highly illogical, sir,” said the Vulcan as they watched the captured Darth Lucas fall into the lava.”) but to Amazon’s army of low-paid robots/humans, this is a clear case of “better safe than sorry.” However, if Amazon wants to be the central repository for all paid and unpaid unpublished work, they need more than a Mechanical Turk to kick books into the “potentially infringes” pile.
As a future self-published author, I trust that Amazon’s model will guide the future of publishing. However, Amazon cannot go the route of YouTube and other media sharing systems that are reliant on the good graces of big media and tend to ban first and ask no questions later. Instead, problems like these need a dedicated person with some authority to make the ultimate and intelligent choice. It’s only fair because, after all, this is the future of writing and the growth of human intellect and not a cat video set to a Nickelback song.
I’m sure Amazon will do the right thing in time, but it’s a damn shame that this happened at all.
UPDATE – As expected, the book is back on the virtual shelves. Good for Gib and good for Amazon.