Amazon. A new level of LOW.

Amazon.  A new level of LOW.

Amazon’s Packaging Feedback Content Submission Agreement

Please note: I’m not a lawyer so everything I’m saying here is as a layperson with references to Amazon’s webpages, portions of which have been copied and pasted here.  Before taking any action, SEEK LEGAL ADVICE.  Dark Matter does not take responsibility, yadda yadda, see Dark Matter’s disclaimer

I recently purchased some books through Amazon because I haven’t seen them in bookstores and Book Depository didn’t stock them.  Although advertised as new, the books arrived damaged in second-hand condition because they were chucked in a pile, wrapped in plastic and then dumped in an overly large box with no padding.  The books obviously shifted A LOT during transit, tearing the plastic wrapping, plus the box was crushed.  Upon arrival at Australia Post’s Cranbourne depot, the parcel was in such poor condition that Australia Post put it in a plastic bag after tagging the parcel as damaged.

condition upon arrival

condition upon arrival

delivery condition complete with ALL packaging provided.

delivery condition complete with ALL packaging provided by Amazon

I didn’t learn about Amazon’s appalling terms and conditions for complaints until I made a complaint about this parcel, and even then I had to follow extra links to learn what I supposedly agreed to after submitting a complaint.

Amazon’s terms and conditions (from their website):
1) Eligibility.

You may only submit Materials to the Service for which you hold all intellectual property rights. In other words, if you submit a digital image to us, you must own all rights to such image or you must have the authorization of the person who does own those rights.

So according to Amazon’s terms and conditions you are not permitted to send a photograph of the entire damaged parcel (as I did) because it includes two labels (one from Amazon and one from Australia Post), both of which include business names and logos to which I do not have the rights. Furthermore, according to Amazon’s terms and conditions I also should not have submitted photos of the poor packaging and damaged books because I don’t own the rights to the damaged items nor do I own the rights to Amazon’s logo, business name and text in the label photographed on the top of the pile of damaged books.

In contrast, it’s lawful for me to publish this photograph here because it comes under ‘fair use’ for copyright.  It appears Amazon is actively preventing submission of legitimate proof of evidence for complaints while seeking to grab ownership of personal information, business names, logos and more.

You think I’m a conspiracy nut and my allegations are unfounded?  Read on…

2) Definitions.

As used in this Agreement, (a) “Affiliates” means any entity controlled by, in control of, or under common control with Amazon, (b) “Materials” means all content that you submit to Amazon, including all photographs, illustrations, graphics, and text, and (c) “Media” means any means of conveying information, whether now known or hereafter devised.

By this definition Amazon is deeming your name, address and all content of your complaint as ‘materials’ and claiming copyright over all photographs.  This is especially insidious if you’ve made a purchase as a business because Amazon is also claiming the business name as a ‘material’ AND the logo if that’s included anywhere in the complaint.

3) License Grant for Materials.

You hereby grant to Amazon and its Affiliates a worldwide, nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual right and license to (a) reproduce, distribute, transmit, publicly perform and publicly display the Materials, in whole or in part, in any manner and Media, (b) modify, adapt, translate and create derivative works from the Materials, in whole or in part, in any manner and Media, and (c) sublicense the foregoing rights, in whole or in part, to any third party, with or without a fee.

So if you make a complaint, you’re agreeing to Amazon using and/or sublicensing your name, address, business name and logo if applicable, along with all text, photos, EVERYTHING you send Amazon to support your complaint.

5) License for Name, Trademarks and Likenesses.

You hereby grant to Amazon, its Affiliates and sublicensees a nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free license to use all trademarks, trade names, and the names and likenesses of any individuals that appear in the Materials. You grant Amazon, its Affiliates and sublicensees the right to use the name that you submit in connection with the Materials.

 As I said, your name, your business name, your logo, EVERYTHING sent to Amazon to substantiate your complaint, is suddenly OWNED BY AMAZON and why? Because you purchased some books retail and AMAZON DID THE WRONG THING by inadequately packaging said books, so you complained.  The moral of this story?  Suck it up and DON’T YOU DARE TO COMPLAIN or AMAZON WILL OWN YOU.

Amazon’s returns policy

If you DARE to return goods and seek a replacement, WATCH OUT.

Amazon’s stated returns policy reads thus:

Replacement Terms
If you choose replacement, you’ll be required to return the damaged item within 30 days to avoid being charged for both the replacement and the original.


Shipping Method for these Item(s):
 (Learn more)

 Self Return: Take package to post office or other mailing service.You will need to pay return shipping charges directly to the carrier. Because your return is the result of our error, estimated return shipping costs of up to $15.00 associated with your return will be refunded to you.

Because the option(s) you requested requires the return of the item(s), you must return the original item(s) within 30 days. If you do not, your credit card will be charged for the amount of the original item(s).

Prior to me sending a strongly worded complaint to Amazon, the website specifically stated that the items must be received BY THE WAREHOUSE within 30 days.  Even though that little bit of information has now been removed thus apparently softening their stance, Amazon’s policy appears to remain the same.  Basically, they will not mail out replacement products until the originals are received (fair enough) BUT they allow 30 days for the products to arrive then if the books haven’t been received Amazon charges customers a second time REGARDLESS OF WHETHER THERE IS PROOF OF POSTAGE.

Shipping Method for these Item(s): (Learn more)

I will send the original item(s) back to Amazon.com. If Amazon.com does not receive the item(s) within 30 days, it may charge me at the price originally paid for the item(s),

 Self Return: Take package to post office or other mailing service.You will need to pay return shipping charges directly to the carrier. Because your return is the result of our error, estimated return shipping costs of up to $15.00 associated with your return will be refunded to you.

So I could go to GREAT EXPENSE to return KILOS of books to the US and if those books are lost in transit or held up in customs, Amazon will charge me a second time for the books.  YAY.

And finally, something else I just realised, my package was probably delivered via a ‘freight forwarder

Using a freight forwarder to ship items internationally circumvents the AmazonGlobal program and may result in complications not covered by Amazon. If a freight forwarder is used, the following terms will apply:

  • Amazon will not be responsible for damage or loss that occurs to goods after they are delivered to the freight forwarder. This means that Amazon is not able to provide a replacement of, or refund for, any goods delivered to a freight forwarder. You should instruct freight forwarders to refuse goods that arrive damaged, and goods lost after being received by the freight forwarder will be your responsibility.

Which seems like a really cute way of Amazon saying ‘We can make a joke of packaging your purchase and then we’ll wash our hands of the situation because FREIGHT FORWARDER.  That inadequate packaging wasn’t damaged until AFTER we sent it on.’

Complaints process

My joy with Amazon finished with Amazon sending me an email in response to a strongly worded complaint, asking me to RESUBMIT my complaint.  I figured that if I resubmitted my complaint having learnt about Amazon’s Terms and Conditions, then they could claim that I knowingly agreed to their T&Cs, thus entitling them to claim copyright and licensing to my name, address, photos and be able to accuse me of violating their requirement that I own copyright to all content in all photos used to support my complaint.  It’s a no-win situation for me.

On Friday I spent about twenty minutes on the phone to Consumer Affairs Victoria.  I’d have a legitimate complaint about Amazon if it was based in Australia, but a Consumer Affairs staff member said she could not help me in this situation because the transaction is deemed to be located in the USA.  I’m not sufficiently familiar with US law to know if Amazon’s Terms & Conditions exceed their lawful rights other than knowing that photographing damaged books for evidence is legitimate as it should come under ‘fair use’ of copyright law in the US.

The romance is OVER

Back in the 1990s I discovered Amazon.  It was this AWESOME online bookstore that sold books not available in Tasmania (where I was living), and sold them cheaply.  Since then Amazon has put a firewall around Australia in order to charge Australians more for books than people in some other countries and even to deny Australians the opportunity to purchase some books at all.  Over the years I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with Amazon.

In the past year or so, this disillusionment has extended well beyond the personal into the professional realm.  For example, Amazon as a middle-man has dictated how much Amazon will pay for products*, Random Penguins have been blamed on Amazon (the merger of Random House and Penguin), and Amazon coming to Australia by stealth, Amazon initially denying the move then claiming that it’s just to offer cloud services.  My consolation with the prospect of Amazon coming to Australia is that their terms & conditions will have to change here, bringing a more balanced focus between supplier and customer.

* it’d take time to do a detailed search and I’ve already spent HOURS researching this blog post.  Last year there were LOTS of articles, LOTS of ranting, but this came up very high on my search.  And, basically, Jim C. Hines.

At the end of the day, I want to totally boycott Amazon.  Kickstarter needs to find an alternative to using Amazon payments.  In the future I will purchase paper books from the local book-store even if it means placing a special order when I can’t source those ‘other’ books from Book Depository or somewhere equally reputable.  I’m bitterly disappointed that I purchased a kindle; I did so because the large kindle didn’t have an equivalent in an alternative brand.  Now I’m thinking about getting a tablet to avoid those problems, but tablets cost money so it’s not on my short-list of expenses.

I’m boycotting Amazon.  Will you join me?

UPDATE: people are having problems logging in to comment.  A user-friendly login and registration guide is here.

Anita Bell briefly messaged me including this link to the United States Department of Justice website commentary on copyright laws.

In brief the website says:

The Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101, et seq., essentially grants the holder of a copyright an exclusive right to reproduce and distribute copies of his work. See17 U.S.C. § 106. Under the Act as revised in 1976, this protection attaches automatically as soon as the work is “fixed” in any tangible medium; neither registration nor any type of designation or notice is necessary to trigger it. See 17 U.S.C. §§ 102, 405, 408. Thus, the potential for copyright protection exists in virtually every original work of authorship. Despite this sweeping grant of copyright entitlement, however, the revised Copyright Act specifically codifies the common law doctrine of “fair use,” which permits the reproduction of copyrighted materials “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching . . . scholarship, or research” without liability for infringement. 17 U.S.C. § 107.

The Department of Justice says a lot more on the topic but it appears to me that Amazon is seeking to violate copyright law with its terms & conditions as it appears Amazon is seeking to own copyright without lawful entitlement well beyond allowances for fair use.  Are there any lawyers out there willing to comment?  How about laypeople who have some experience and research in this area? 

9 Comments

  1. I am absolutely with you on a boycott. I have only bought from Amazon where, like you, I haven’t been able to source it elsewhere. Often this is to buy debut books of new authors.

    The shipping alone has stopped me buying books and I have talked to many authors whose books haven’t appeared elsewhere when they’ve published through CreateSpace because they didn’t pay the additional $25 to get full distribution.

    If you have Amazon in your country – good and well for you… but for the rest of us, Amazon couldn’t give a toss.

    We have published all our eMergent titles through Lightning Source. I’m told they are more expensive with their title set ups compared to CreateSpace and you have to have bought your own ISBNs…. BUT, own your ISBN and you are certain to own your title. LSI has offices in Victoria, you can buy your books for cost of print via them. As part of the LSI title set up, you get full distribution as part of the service. You can publish paperbacks AND ebooks through them (though we have only published paperbacks through them – we do our own eBooks).

    Amazon, to my mind, have too much power and every dollar we spend with them is a vote of “you’re okay”. But how do we get overseas publishers and authors to understand that there is a world beyond their shores and beyond the tentacles of Amazon?

    1. Thanks for that very informative post Jodi. In response to your concluding query I guess people in the know such as yourself just have to keep on telling everyone, over and over like a broken record. Eventually you’ll spread the word. Thank you for sharing here 🙂

  2. I’ve been boycotting Amazon for years. Going a bit further back than what you mentioned, there was also that scandal where they hid all the LGBT books by classifying ALL of them as inappropriate for general consumption (basically, gave them a rating so they didn’t show up in ordinary searches or suggestions). The only thing I’ve bought from Amazon recently is camera parts from .co.uk because I couldn’t find any other vendor outside of the US (in English that would ship to Europe). Before that, only a few undergrad text books because they were twice the price in Australia.

    I was very sad when they bought Book Depository and even though there doesn’t seem to have been any disruption to BD services, I did notice a lot of books shifted up in price by a few dollars shortly after the acquisition. :-/ (On a side note, I’ve heard that BD has really appalling service to Central and South America, definitely since the acquisition but I don’t know if that was applicable before or not.)

    Down with Amazon! They definitely have too much power, especially now in the ebook world. I have never bought an ebook from them and never will.

      1. Yes, Amazon acquired Book Depository toward the end of 2011 I think it was. There was a huge uproar and it was investigated internally in the UK, for an anti-competitive move on Amazon’s part. However the judge decided that as BD only represented around 10% of the market in the UK for books, then it wasn’t considered an anti-competitive move on Amazon’s part WITHIN the UK.

        What the judge failed to grasp was that BD was Amazon’s direct competitor internationally and the sale went through to the dismay of many. One of the growing number of cases where national laws and legal precendents are unable to cope with a global marketplace.

        I haven’t noticed any difference in their service since acquisition, but part of me is just waiting. And the other part of me pretends Amazon didn’t buy them (nothing like sticking your head in the sand, eh!?

        1. After reading Tsana’s comment I’ve been wondering… I think I did hear that Amazon bought out Book Depository but I think I refused to process it. Cognitive dissonance, especially after a Melbourne bookstore charged me about $40 profit per volume of Sandman when I could have got it myself on BD.

          Then Notions Unlimited opened. I <3 Notions.

  3. I’ll raise my hand and say yep, rarely buy from Amazon. No pbooks since 2009 and only ebooks on the rare occasion i can’t get them elsewhere. I will go BD occasionally when the price is really good. Mostly I get my ebooks through kobo or from the pubs themselves.

  4. I rarely ever bought anything from Amazon to begin with, since I often found that by the time it added postage, items were as expensive as they’d be if I bought them in Australia anyway. Also, it would always wait til I’d put the item in my cart, gone through the checkout and put all my details etc in before telling me that item/seller won’t ship to Australia; a few times after I’d completed the transaction, I’d get an email a day or two later cancelling it because they wouldn’t ship to me. Such a waste of time. Since I was already logged in as an Australian user, would it have been that difficult to notify me on the item page or when I added it to my cart that it couldn’t be sent to me?

    1. I’ve had that too. When I first got my kindle I actually gave up on buying ebooks for a while because Amazon regularly barred Australians from purchasing ebooks available elsewhere. NOT IMPRESSED. I’m thinking a local bookstore that charges reasonable prices is an essential part of the genre community networks. 🙂

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