Arch Linux Handbook for Kindle

I have had a handful of requests that the Arch Linux Handbook be made available for the Kindle platform. It seemed like an odd request, given that the latest version of the Beginners’ Guide is already freely available in electronic format online. However, I had some free time this week and tried the conversion. It wasn’t difficult and I uploaded a version of the Handbook to the Kindle app store. I’ve helped publish other books to Kindle, so I already knew the process.

I received an e-mail from Amazon Customer Service to the following effect:

During a review of your KDP submission(s), we found content that is freely available on the web. You can do an online search for the content inside your book(s) to discover which sites are offering the content for free. Copyright is important to us – we want to make sure that no author or other copyright holder has their work claimed and sold by anyone else.

To confirm you have publishing rights to and control where you distribute the book(s), please provide all of the following information:

1. The URLs for all websites where this content is published
2. An explanation as to why the content is available online

If the books are in the public domain, please confirm this and include the information you used to make this determination. We may request additional information to confirm the public domain status.

Please respond within 5 days to title-submission@amazon.com, and include the title and ID of your books in your reply. Your book has been moved to a blocked status on your bookshelf and will not be available for sale in the Kindle store until we receive the documentation requested.

Sure, no problem. I responded to explain that it was freely redistributable under the Free Documentation License:

This content is indeed freely available on the web at https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Beginners%27_Guide although I have done a certain amount of editing to get it into its current format.

However, this freely available content is published under the GNU Free Documentation License 1.3 or later. (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) which explicitly states:

“The purpose of this License is to make a manual, textbook, or other functional and useful document “free” in the sense of freedom: to assure everyone the effective freedom to copy and redistribute it, with or without modifying it, either commercially or noncommercially. Secondarily, this License preserves for the author and publisher a way to get credit for their work, while not being considered responsible for modifications made by others.”

Their response makes me sound like some kind of criminal:

Hello,

We’ve reviewed the information you provided and have decided to block these books from being sold in the Kindle Store. The books closely match content that is freely available on the web and we are not confident that you hold exclusive publishing rights. This type of content can create a poor customer experience, and is not accepted. As a result, we have blocked the books listed below from being sold in the Kindle Store.

Arch Linux Handbook 3.0 by Phillips, Dusty (EDITOR) (ID: 2884216)

Please be advised that you must hold exclusive publishing rights for books that closely match content that is freely available on the web. If your catalog continues to contain books that fail to comply with these conditions or do not meet our Content Guidelines, your account may be terminated.

The content guidelines applicable to all Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) publishers can be found here: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A2TOZW0SV7IR1U

Best regards,

Megan B.
Amazon.com
Your feedback is helping us build Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.

I was insulted and hurt by this message. It’s arrogant and it is confrontational. It makes no effort to address the specifics of the e-mail. But I cheered up at the end, or at least I laughed, “Customer-Centric Company”? Don’t advertise what you aren’t.

The original message made no mention of the fact that I should have “exclusive” publishing rights. It even said public domain work was acceptable. I have published Creative Commons books that are freely available online on the Kindle before (although they are a non-commercial creative commons license, so we still have “exclusive” rights to publish on Kindle).

In other news, the Arch Linux Handbook can be downloaded in .mobi format, free of charge, from http://archlinux.ca/arch_linux_handbook_3.mobi.

UPDATE:

After this article unexpectedly hit Reddit and Hacker News (my target audience was the Arch Linux Community), Amazon let the title go through and it is now available from http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0098R71V2. They have been in contact with me but have not been able to explain why the book has been allowed to be published! The best explanation I got was:

We’ve re-reviewed your content and have determined it may be published to the Kindle Store. We generally can’t accept content that closely matches content that is freely available on the web, for which you do not hold the sole publishing rights, or that which is not in the public domain. For example, content from Wikipedia and content with private label rights are not allowed since it disappoints our customers to pay for content that is freely available on the web.

Since the Arch Linux Beginners’ Guide is a wiki-developed article no different from Wikipedia, I’m not certain why the Handbook is now allowed.

I originally posted this article to explain why the handbook is not available in the Kindle store. My intent was not to complain about Amazon’s policies (although I was not happy with the suggestion that I am prone to criminal activity). The new purpose is to mention it’s availability through the store, although you can still download my quick one-off conversion if it suits you as well. In all honesty, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to purchase something that is already freely available in electronic format, but at least now that choice is open.

37 Comments

  1. anonymity is great says:

    Is mobi the format of Amazon? If so, stop supporting it! Stop supporting a company that doesn’t allow you to exercise your rights. If I were in your place, I would terminate my account myself and move to another platform and thank Amazon for their “customer-centric behavior” which allows the customers to exercise their full rights (you can also tell them to read and reread the FDL until they actually understand it). Explain to your users why you don’t support Amazon (say that according to Amazon, content on archlinux.org is violating their Content Guidelines).

  2. Hussam Al-Tayeb says:

    If I understand correctly, they feel it’s not fair that you are selling a document other people contributed to because there is no mention of copyright in the .mobi file but instead just a link to the wiki article where people can view the contributors by clicking on the revision history tab. This is regardless of what the FDL says. Keep in mind that not every commercial entity is comfortable with every free software license.

  3. [...] the original post:  Arch Linux Handbook for Kindle – Arch Linux User Blogs Tags: Amazon, arch-linux-handbook, Book, Books, Canada, Content, conversion, Copyright, Kindle, [...]

  4. cra says:

    Strangely, I’m on Amazon side here.
    The precedent might be have really weird consequences

  5. Signor D says:

    I am sorry about that, particularly because it hurt your feelings. On the other hand, the news of this rejection was useful and led me to discover the book: I was just searching for information to move to Arch Linux!
    Thank you!

    D

  6. What Haveyou says:

    Amazon is clearly out to drive people away. First they’re shoving ads down people’s throats on devices they PAID FOR, and now offensive treatment like this.

    Piss off, Amazon.

  7. The rules do say that, however.

    They’re trying to prevent being overrun by thousands of poor copies of Shakespeare from Project Gutenberg, as happened in the past.

    It’s really very easy to get around this. Write a custom introduction chapter as a preface to the kindle edition, then contact customer support non-confrontationally, explain the situation, and ask for help.

    “Hi. I maintain a community manual. Several members of the community are fond of their Kindle, and have requested a Kindle edition of our manual. I tried to submit and was rejected, based on what seems to me like a genuine misunderstanding of the situation. My reading of Amazon’s intent is to prevent mass content duplication, not to prevent legitimate single-source free content from entering the platform. Will you please help me straighten this situation out?”

    Not every minor problem needs a screaming tantrum to Reddit. Try working it out politely, with the understanding that sometimes people make honest mistakes, instead of getting indignant and butthurt.

  8. Mafia says:

    That’s complete bull, I have noticed that it is seeming more and more like customer service has completley gone automated. The best you can do is call the big wigs and make a complaint, that usually settles things.

  9. qk4l says:

    Hi, thank you for great work!
    I had pushed book to my Kindle. At first view it looks good =) but context (links) do not work correctly. Any link in context forward me at first page.

  10. Antony says:

    Even for a free book, I have to complain to you that Kindle does not even display the title of your book correctly. It is rather an annoyance to see a book titled “handbook interior” than “Arch Linux Handbook 3″

  11. [...] news from the land of DRM today, as author and developer Dusty Phillips has announced via his blog that Amazon has blocked him from publishing the Arch Linux Handbook on the [...]

  12. Pedro says:

    Probably an almost-automated answer from a burnt out employee? Wouldn’t take it too personally

  13. Joe Somebody says:

    There’s some discussion of this here: http://www.reddit.com/r/linux/comments/zm9yw/arch_linux_handbook_for_kindle_rejected_by_amazon/

    Amazon’s content guidelines actually require that you have copyright ownership of the document
    >Public Domain and Other Non-Exclusive Content
    >Some types of content, such as public domain content, may be free to use by anyone, or may be licensed for use by more than one party. We will not accept content that is freely available on the web unless you are the copyright owner of that content. For example, if you received your book content from a source that allows you and others to re-distribute it, and the content is freely available on the web, we will not accept it for sale on the Kindle store. We do accept public domain content, however we may choose to not sell a public domain book if its content is undifferentiated or barely differentiated from one or more other books.

    It seems they’re under the impression that you’re just some guy who found the Handbook, saw it was a free license, and tried to send it to Amazon. Now I do think Amazon should have a system in place allowing for common licenses of collaborative documents (GFDL, etc.), and they should have made it clearer in their original e-mail that they’re looking for copyright ownership, but ultimately it’s just a miscommunication that can easily be resolved.

  14. Nate says:

    It looks like Amazon is targeting the GNU License. It is specifically using that the license is not owned by a specific individual rather than the community to deny publishing.

  15. elliott says:

    That’s too bad, but it doesn’t really matter since you’re giving away the .mobi.

  16. A says:

    You have to agree with Amazon to some extent, GPL sucks and is different from Public Domain(all said and done).

  17. Craig L says:

    I am a little confused by this. People publish public domain works for Kindle all of the time.

    This is from one of their self publishing pages:

    “You can publish content that is in the public domain. We may request additional documentation to confirm that it is not under copyright. Titles which consist entirely or primarily of public domain content are not eligible for the 70 percent royalty option at this time (see the Pricing Page for more details).”

    So, you can’t do their 70% royalty option, but you should still be able to publish.

  18. phooey says:

    Ironic as they rely on copyleft and “crowdsourced” works for their infrastructure.

  19. [...] news from the land of DRM today, as author and developer Dusty Phillips has announced via his blog that Amazon has blocked him from publishing the Arch Linux Handbook on the [...]

  20. Matt says:

    Were you offering the book for free or charging? I note the direct url is free download but just wondering about your official Amazon submission

  21. Jordan says:

    They are doing this because of the whole “1984″ incident. Google for Kindle +1984 to see what went down.

  22. [...] des angehenden digitalen Gutsherren Amazon nicht auf diese Entrechtungs-Kindle-Dinger draufdarf: Das unter GNU Free Documentation License lizenzierte Handbuch zu Arch Linux. Weil Amazon keine Werke mit freien Lizenzen vertreibt, sondern nur solche, an denen eine [...]

  23. Dave says:

    Oh, okay.

  24. Princess Jetbeard says:

    Doesn’t the GNU FDL mean that everybody has publishing rights, and therefore *nobody* has exclusive publishing rights (not even the original creators)?

    I’ll definitely be putting the .mobi file on my Kindle. Having the documentation on a secondary computer (one you’re not fiddling with and restarting) is always very useful. Thanks for doing this!

  25. [...] el creador del Arch Linux Handbook, un manual para aprender a usar esta fantástica distribución, trató de publicar dicho texto en formato electrónico para usuarios del Kindle, pero al intentarlo recibió una negativa de [...]

  26. George Toledo says:

    You didn’t make it clear that you actually are the author of the book in your response to them. I think I would have tried that before giving up.

  27. Miloskov says:

    People dont get it, This have been talked over and over but I will repeat again. Corporations and Companies just care about one thing and that is Money, “Show me the Money”.

    Corps or Companies they are not charity foundations. Microsoft, IBM, Apple, Amazon, Google, Sony, etc etc they just care about Money and keep happy their investors that’s all.

    So Please Stop thinking companies will care about you and your open source or open ideas, They don’t give a $hit about it.

    If Amazon said this way or the high way you have to choose and STFU. Welcome to Capitalism!.

  28. Anto says:

    I wouldn’t be “insulted and hurt” if I were you. I feel your frustration but this situation because not because of you personally, but because you haven’t demonstrated “exclusive rights” to Amazon’s satisfaction, probably because they don’t understand the GFDL or the way you have articulated your position to them.

  29. Baka no Kami says:

    Public Domain works become copyrightable if you make derivatives of them. For example I can’t have a copyright on Huck Finn, but I can produce an edition of it that contains several critical essays I wrote about the time period or on Mark Twain and copyright that derivative work. I can translate it to another language or give it a Pride & Prejudice & Zombies treatment.

    Amazon seems to be taking the stance that it will only accept books where there is no copyright holder for the original material (public domain) or where the rightsholder has ‘authorized’ your version. If the rightsholder can’t specifically give permission because of a license that allows anyone to produce a derivative work (GNU FDL) they won’t sell it.

    This sort of reminds me of an article the other day about an Wikipedia refusing to change incorrect statements about an authors motivation for writing a book *at the request of that author* because they required secondary sources. The author had to write an article about his motivation, get it published, and then cite it on the Wiki page to get it approved.

  30. cupantae says:

    Many other people have mentioned it above, but you’re being ridiculous.

    It’s not a human right to have your book published by a company. They are trying to prevent the situation where somebody buys something that looks like a manual when it’s actually just copy & paste from a wiki. I’m not saying that’s what your handbook is, but it’s clear that there’s enough copying & pasting for an automatic search to catch it.

    What’s more, I’ve actually contributed a fair amount to the wiki myself. As someone who contributed in the spirit of sharing knowledge, if you were trying to turn a profit on this, I’m glad you failed. If you want to sell an Arch manual, don’t be lazy – write it from scratch. You can reference the wiki in the book.

  31. Snoops says:

    Why did you not simply make the text available on the website in the first place, in one of the many formats compatible with E-Readers? Why would you wish to place it in the Amazon store, of all places?

    People in FOSS should make a stand on sharing documents in a non-proprietary format, through non-proprietary sources.

    Above all, they should also correctly attribute authorship – perhaps your biggest error in this instance.

  32. Anthony (no, really) says:

    Thank you, Dusty, for giving the book away. I can’t help but wonder if Amazon got confused by the following wording in the Forward:

    Thank you for your purchase of this third edition
    of the Arch Linux Handbook. Over 800 copies of
    the Handbook have been sold since I first printed
    Edition One in 2009.

  33. Chris says:

    Somebody has published it on Amazon and is charging $3.00 for it.

    http://www.amazon.com/Arch-Linux-Handbook-3-0-ebook/dp/B0098R71V2/

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