Proof of rights ownership is actually more straightforward for indie authors than almost anyone else in publishing. Today, the Alliance of Independent Authors AskALLi team looks at what you should do if Amazon KDP, ACX, or any other third party should ask you to prove your publishing rights.
The first thing is: don't panic if you receive a litter questioning your rights ownership. It may be framed in scary-sounding legal language but if you have self-published, and no third party is involved, you are indisputably the rights holder. You just have to show that.
Sometimes requests from rights buyers or self-publishing platforms are framed in ways that confuse an author. The rights buyer is probably more used to dealing with third-party publishers, and may ask for proofs that you don't have, or don't even understand, while failing to ask for things that would easily establish proof, because they are not used to dealing with authors.
A simple declaration of ownership, with links to your website, particularly your sales pages and bio, is usually sufficient proof for rights buyers like an overseas publisher, TV or film agent, or suchlike, particularly if you write from an email address that has the same name as your official author website.
Occasionally, ALLi Members have run into rights buyers who want more. In the absence of registered copyright documentation (which most authors outside the US don’t have), the best option is your ISBN record.
If you’ve purchased your own ISBNs (ALLi’s recommendation) a screenshot of your ISBN account showing your name as owner, your imprint name and your books' ISBNs displayed should suffice.
Other “proofs” include:
- Invoices and bank statements for editing, design, promotion and other publishing costs from both your end as the publisher and from the supplier side
- Affidavits from distributors like IngramSpark, Draft2Digital, PublishDrive or StreetLib
Any of these should be enough.
Proving Rights Ownership to Amazon KDP or ACX
When you receive a warning from Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) or Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) about having your publishing account closed, or your affiliate account shut, or your book pulled, unless you can prove you own the rights to one of your books, it's scary.
Don't take it personally. Yes, we know it's framed in threatening language, and promises dire consequences, but it's triggered by a bot and is not personal. What you've received is a standard, pre-written email that's triggered by a variety of different circumstances.
There's a huge amount of plagiarism and piracy out there and Amazon is fighting a constant battle against scammers and cheats. Neither KDP nor ACX have any interest in punishing legitimate rights holders. Once you can prove that you are not only the publisher, but also the author, all will be well.
The challenge for most of us is knowing what triggered the email and what kind of proof they are looking for, as communications with Amazon support desks are not always clear, and can sometimes go round in circles for a long time.
Time you may feel you don't have, with a five-day deadline looming over you.
Why Does Amazon Ask You to Prove Your Publishing Rights?
Here are some typical reasons why Amazon can ask you to prove you are the rights-holder of a book you've written and published:
- You are using two different ISBNs for the same book i.e., one ISBN on IngramSpark and one on KDP Print (which you shouldn't do, only use one ISBN per format. See our ultimate guide on ISBNs for information on how to use them correctly or download our short guide)
- Rights have reverted to you from a previous publisher but not been cleared
- You've had some other metadata change that implies a change in rights ownership
- You've changed your imprint name — this is something that can happen when you add an imprint name to your IngramSpark dashboard. You need to check it for each book you're publishing as it can default to the wrong one. If this happens, contact IngramSpark to change for you.
- Someone else reports you to KDP or ACX for a copyright infringement. Even if it isn't valid, it will likely prompt a shut down while Amazon considers your case
- A bot error
And, alas, it may just be some other unnamed and unexplained reason.
The Proof Requested
Depending on the type of alleged infringement, you're likely to receive an email with wording that goes something like this:
Thanks for using Amazon KDP. Copyright is important to us — we want to make sure that no author or other copyright holder has his or her books sold by anyone else. To publish your book, please respond with documentation confirming your publishing rights within five days. If you publish books for which you do not hold the electronic publishing rights, your account may be terminated [or some other dire consequences].
It will also suggest “acceptable documentation”, which may include:
- A letter from a previous publisher reverting rights back to the author
- A signed copy of the agreement between you and the author
- A signed copy of the agreement between the author and the previous publisher
- A signed letter from the previous publisher indicating that they do not object to your edition
- Documentation showing the previous publisher holds nonexclusive rights
- If previously published through KDP or CreateSpace; an email from the address listed in the previous KDP/CreateSpace publisher's account indicating that they do not object to your edition
- If the author has an official website, an email from the address listed on the author’s official website indicating that they do not object to your edition
And it may outline examples of documentation they cannot accept including (but not limited to):
- A personal statement by you that you have the publishing rights
- A copyright application for which registration has not been confirmed
- Contracts that have not been signed by all parties
- Ghostwriter agreements or contracts
- Private Label Rights documents
Proving Your Publishing Rights to Amazon
Again, the way KDP or ACX frame their requests leaves authors puzzled and confused. The problem is that many indie authors don't have many of those suggested proofs, which are really aimed at third-party publishers. We are publisher and author. Why would we sign a contract with ourselves?
While many US authors register copyright, most of those based outside the US do not, so sending copyright proof isn't a viable option for most of us.
And to add to the confusion, indie authors submitting some of the suggested proofs have met with varying responses from KDP and ACX support desks.
Proof Submitted with Mixed Success
Many ALLi members report submitting a range of evidence that has had mixed responses including:
- Invoices and bank statements for editing costs from both your end as the publisher and from the editor's end
- Similar invoices and statements for cover design invoices
- Strongly worded emails with website links, showing that they are the author
- Affidavits from distributors
- Approved copyright documentation
- Emails from an email address with the same name as your official author website
Proof Submitted with Consistently Positive Success Rates
- A screenshot of your ISBN account showing your name as owner and the imprint name. Ideally with your book's ISBN displayed also.
While ISBNs (depending on the country you reside) can be expensive, encounters like these with Amazon provide even more reason to purchase your own ISBNs, if you haven't already.
ALLi blog manager Sacha Black recently had “the email”.
The most frustrating thing was not knowing exactly what the issue was and having to guess. I tried submitting invoices and bank statements after reading threads in the member forum. But that was to no avail.
Thankfully, I remembered changing my imprint name and saw that the book metadata had defaulted to my author name instead of imprint.
I screenshot the processing information in my Ingram dashboard showing the date and time of metadata revision and then paired it with a screenshot of my Nielsen ISBN account. That seemed to do the job. But it was nerve-wracking not knowing exactly what the issue was, nor if I had any evidence that would be accepted.
If I didn't own my own ISBNs I'm not sure what would have happened. I suspect my preorder would have been cancelled and my book deleted.
Points to Note
- Expect at least 24 hours between emails from Amazon—something that adds to the stress of only having five days to sort the evidence.
- If you're finding your evidence is being rejected and you're a current member of the Alliance of Independent Authors, contact member support for help.
- Don't lose your temper with the support desk people. The help they can give is limited and you will not help your case by giving them a hard time.
In summary, one of the outstanding advantages of self-publishing is being able to reach your readers without having to license your rights to a third-party.
As you mature as a writer and publisher, your rights become ever more valuable. When somebody asks you to prove them, they will be relieved to know you are both author and publisher and that there is no complicated rights or permissions trail to get lost in.
Just tell them who you are, what you do, and point them to your website. Unless it's Amazon in picky mode, or a rights' buyer with a particular process, nine times out of ten, that will be more than enough.