Amazon kicks self-published Star Wars memoir out of the Kindle store on nebulous and nonsensical trademark grounds

Update: The Kindle edition is back. Amazon PR person Brittany Turner wrote, "Wanted to let you know that this book is now available in the Kindle Store." Ms Turner didn't offer any further explanation.

Gib Van Ert sez,

Amazon has decided to remove the book I self-published on Kindle, "A Long Time Ago: Growing up with and out of Star Wars", from their store for an unspecified trademark issue. Their emails are vague, but they seems to being saying that I have to have Lucasfilm's permission before selling on their store a book that talks about Star Wars. It's a crazy position--Star Wars is a massive pop cultural and generational phenomenon, as my book tries to explain through a personal narrative.

No one has a right to have their book sold on Amazon, of course. It's their store and they can decline to sell things if they like. But given how they dominate the book marketplace, being banned from Amazon is a major problem for an independent author. And when it is done on a spurious ground--Amazon has never said that Lucasfilm themselves have complained, and why would they?--it verges on a free speech issue.

"A Long Time Ago" is in my review pile, and has survived several purges of books of similar vintage (I've had it there for a long time!), because it looks awfully good, and got a great review from Wired's GeekDad. I hope that this is just some junior functionary at Amazon having a freakout and that someone higher up will see sense and realize that there's no reason in the world not to carry Van Ert's book.

Weirdly, Amazon is still carrying the print edition of the book, which makes things even more inexplicable. If Amazon faces some risk from selling an ebook, it faces the same risk from selling the print edition.

Amazon removes A Long Time Ago from Kindle for supposed trademark infringement


  1. I’m curious if Amazon has removed the eBook from paying customers ^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H licensees this time, as they have been known to in the past

  2. There is actually a history of Lucasfilm having problems with meta works for Star Wars. Stefan Thiesen wrote a book where he explored the real-world roots of the jedi found in japanese samurai and medieval knights – and then found himself on the receiving end of a copyright enforcement stick because he used words and images that were too close to Lucasfilms intellectual property.

    (link follows, alas, only in german)

    1. By the way, German trademark law is kinda insane, which much less room for artistic license than in most neighboring countries and courts regularly side with the rightholders out of principle. 

      One of the reasons Apple like to sue in Germany for stuff affecting the rest of the EU.

  3. If I had the $12, I’d buy the book right now. Actually, I’d rather buy it directly from the author, so Amazon loses its cut.

    1. Thing is, too many publishers take the easy route.  I generally prefer to buy DRM-free and not at Amazon and Apple, but somtimes the alternatives are so mind-boddingly cumbersome, that after 10 minutes I go „screw this, I’ll buy at Amazon and remove the DRM, if any“.

      1.  I am pretty good about not pirating books since I’m a writer myself. However, I ALWAYS strip the DRM from e-books and make a back-up copy on a hard drive and a cloud-based storage locker. I consider it the 21st Century equivalent to putting a cover on a book I wish to keep.

  4. The author recommends buying the physical copy from Amazon in order to show Amazon there is interest in the book.

    I’m not sure this will change their position on the use of trademark issue, but it does fund the author. Unfortunately, it also funds Amazon.

  5. it verges on a free speech issue
    Why does it “verge on” a free speech issue? I think it lands squarely in the middle of a free speech issue. We’re so accustomed to giving corporations the benefit of the doubt because they’re not  governments- I guess because the constitution isn’t supposed to protect us from our legal peers,  only our governmental masters.

     Yet corporations are moving in to all sorts of areas where government used to have the last word. I sure hope civil society can learn to adapt. So far it doesn’t look good.

    1. It’s not a free speech issue per se, because Amazon is not a government. We have other publishing and purchasing options.

      That other options are not as appealing is unfortunate, but it’s not like Amazon has an army and is raiding your house for typewriters. It’s a lot easier (relatively speaking) to boycott Amazon and promote other publishers, than to rebel against a government.

      (In other words, if Amazon’s behavior bothers you, you’re still *free* to go elsewhere and do other things. It’s just inconvenient, is all. It’s not up to corporations like Amazon to make free speech convenient.)

      1. There isn’t a world government with a monopoly on free speech, either. If a book is banned in China, it can get published in the US. There are always other options. Does this make censorship in China bearable?
        I don’t want to be too glib about it, but Amazon has no business deciding what gets published.

        1. Deciding what gets published (by Amazon) is *by definition* Amazon’s business. Seriously, it is.

          The difference is you might get shot or jailed in China for publishing that book in the US. Amazon can’t do a thing to you if you self-publish an ePub on your own web site in the US (presumably not hosted with AWS)

          The point is mere inconvenience versus real oppression.

          1. Suppose the government doesn’t shoot anyone — suppose it’s Singapore or Great Britain or India or France. Suppose they allow me to publish a book abroad, but forbid me from importing it. Anyone who really wants to read it can do so, but it’s inconvenient, because they have to go abroad to buy it. Something like this happened with “Ulysses”, as far as I know.
            Is this not censorship?

          2. Yes. If governments are involved, it’s censorship. If it’s against the law, they will compel you to pay a fine (or go straight to jail). If you refuse to pay the fine, you’re compelled to go to jail. If you refuse to go to jail or try to escape, they shoot you.

            None of the above is the case here with Amazon.

          3. Yes, “Yet.” is kind of my point: Save the word “censorship” for when it really matters and your choices are really taken away. If/when Amazon has governments preventing you from going elsewhere to buy or sell books, then it’s time to worry.

          4. Yes, “Yet.” is kind of my point:

            Because waiting until things are irredeemably bad has worked so well in the past?

          5. [In reply to Les Orchard above]:
            “If governments are involved, it’s censorship.”
            My point is that, since Amazon is not a government, it cannot practice censorship if your definition requires it to be a government for what it does to be called censorship.
            However, by a different definition, this may still be called censorship.
            And, by the way, its actions, no matter how you call them, are also ultimately backed by the legal threat of force, including guns, prison, and whatnot.

      2. I disagree. It’s an issue if someone takes issue with it. It may not be a legal issue or a constitutional issue until a lawsuit is filed or a government gets involved. But it’s an issue involving free speech if someone’s being shut down based on the content of their speech.

        1. Who’s shut down? Buy & sell elsewhere – that’s the point. And that’s why it’s not censorship. Free speech doesn’t imply any private company has to publish your speech. When no company (not even your own) can publish your speech – that’s censorship.

          1. If antitrust legislation actually worked, then you’d have a point. This thriving marketplace of competing outlets that you invoke, I don’t see it.

            Free speech issues are much broader than censorship. The Streisand effect  means you’ve got to look a little deeper than crossed out words to see if a forum is being biased.

  6. A private company can decide to sell anything they like. The fact that they are big (they far from “dominate the book marketplace”) or that the author feels this creates a “major problem” for him does not make it a legal, much less a constitutional, issue.

    1. Anti-monopoly laws and anti-cartel laws were created for the very reason that a private company (or group) can disrupt the basic functioning of the nation.

  7. I was drinking a Coca-cola mixed with Southern Comfort, smoking Marlboro cigarettes, eating McDonald’s french fries and wearing Ralph Lauren sunglasses while reading this post on my Apple computer. Sorry mods, you’ll have to delete this comment, or it might create a major problem for you. Where is the line? Let’s find it.

      1. I haven’t read the book (can’t get it online, you know), so I can’t say whether he’s trying to monetize his way through a massive pop cultural and generational phenomenon, or whether he’s just telling us the story of his life, which happens to have been structured by a massive pop cultural and generational phenomenon. But I suppose, I should be able to tell my story however I like, and if I happened to be drinking Southern Comfort during a momentous event in my life, I should be able to say so, without worrying that the makers of that fine product will come after me for their cut.

        1. well, bob, the guy is SELLING the book, not giving it away. it can’t be clearer than that. nothing wrong with it, but, i see clearly a search for profit. I can’t believe he didn’t see that one coming, given Lucas’s reputation on the matter.

  8. poor guy… now he can’t monetize his way through a “massive pop cultural and generational phenomenon”. 

      1. i fail to see direct references to a copyrighted material in the cover of that documentary film. I think it’s a matter of IP and there is no such thing on food, unless the film publishes secret recipes (!?). and well, while both did it for profit, at least the documentary seems to convey a message about the health risks of a poor diet.

        1. The book is also relating its subject matter to a health topic, so the difference in the two products is the medium used and the addition of the word “documentary”.
          Looks like Amazon has done the right thing IMO, which could also imply Lucas has no grounds either.

          Here is a side thought I had…What about a professional book reviewer? They rely 100% on the original product, to then produce their own work.

  9. Back on a different BoingBoing thread, I asked if I was being a goofball by resisting getting into the Kindle ecosystem. I guess I have my answer now.

  10. Consider me the odd man out, but I don’t see what Amazon did wrong here.

    Amazon isn’t your traditional publisher, but that’s why this (and many other authors) have them publish their ebooks.  Amazon doesn’t select or invest in your book – they just sell it for you, and consequentally pass on a much larger share of the book sales on to you.

    This also means – they are not your lawyer.  If someone comes to them and says there’s a trademark or copyright issue for a book they’re publishing on your behalf, it isn’t their responsability to accept legal liability for you.  By deciding to cut-out the middleman, this has become the author’s responsability.

  11. Yes, it looks like the Kindle version of my book is back in the store. I haven’t had an e-mail from Amazon yet but it does appear to be back. I am grateful to Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow and dozens of retweeters on Twitter for their support. I think they made the difference.

  12. Amazon is selling – in paper and electronic formats – Star Wars On Trial, which is basically an essay collection in which successful Sci-Fi authors discuss their reactions to the Star Wars movies and other products. I suppose the (established) publisher might have gotten special permission from Lucasarts for the book, but I don’t know; the book is entirely commentary, of a sort requiring no permission at least in the US.

    I can certainly understand how automated filters could have tripped on a book with “Star Wars” in the title, but you’d think a human intervention and consideration would see sense prevail.

  13. I wondered at first if the problem had to do with the stylized Death Star, but then I looked up Phil Farrand’s Star Trek “Nitpicker’s Guide” series, and although he doesn’t use the two words “Star Trek” in the title, he’s got pretty accurate depictions of the different series’ starships on the covers. Maybe Lucasfilms is more vigilant WRT spamming C&D notices than Paramount?

  14. Cory, I do think there’s a difference between the Kindle book and the physical book.  Kindle book is a hosted file, basically, right?  Like a YouTube video?  So the Kindle book could be DMCA’ed, while the physical book is not covered there.  (I don’t know if Kindle books actually fall under the safe harbor clause, since they might be curated; but given all the self published whatnot and the AI-generated wikipedia books, I suspect Kindle books aren’t meaningfully curated at least.)

    Beyond that, it could be simply different departments – a content curator in the Kindle department decided it was not acceptable and deleted it, and nobody in the physical book side made the same decision (or there is no equivalent person – after all, on the physical book side of things, publishers usually handle that part, and nobody would go after Amazon in any event, but rather the publisher, if there were infringement of trademark or copyright).

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