“Nothing is forever, especially with Internet services. There may not even be a tomorrow.”
When you use a service on the Internet, do you know what you can and cannot do? Do you know what rights you have? Do you know what the site’s rules are?
Can your account be cancelled, simply because you do not know that you have broken the rules?
Even though you do not know what the new rules are because no one notified you of the change? You are subject to change without notice.
Even if you think you can answer these questions, you are probably basing your answers on out of date information, or more than likely, on guesswork, as you have never read the terms and conditions of use.
The terms and conditions that you agree to when you first register with a service on the Internet can and do change, but you are rarely if ever, notified of these changes.
However, by agreeing in the first instance, you have agreed to accept all future changes, without notification.
I looked at the terms and conditions today of four sites that I have used for years, to see what has changed since I agreed to each site’s conditions. But first, one of my favourite quotes about access to important information.
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”Douglas Adams – Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
Kindle Direct Publishing
Up first, I checked the KDP site, and here is an excerpt of what is posted on their terms and condition page.
I have included an image of the URL link to the page because it was too long to post as a hyperlink, only because it bears a remarkable resemblance to Arthur Dent’s hidden notice.
If you look closely, it has the words ‘agreement token’ embedded in the link. I assume this is a digital record for Amazon, but not for me of course, of my agreement to be subject to change without notice all those years ago.
I do know though that Amazon regularly updates its terms and conditions, so should I be concerned?
To continue to use Kindle Direct Publishing, we need you to accept our Terms and Conditions. By clicking Agree, you confirm you have read and agree to these Terms and Conditions.
Last Updated: August 14, 2014 This agreement changed on the date listed above. See an explanation of the changes at the end of this document. Kindle Direct Publishing Terms and Conditions
When I dug a little deeper, looking for what had been changed since I agreed some years ago, it was difficult to tell what had changed because there was no date record for individual clauses.
There was this in the middle of the document, however.
This was contrary to what was stated at the beginning of the document, which stated that an explanation of the changes could be found at the end of the document.
Instead, the notice of changes was hidden in the middle of a long page of legalese. Beware of the Leopard?
- We updated Section 4.1
- We added the Terms and Conditions for KDP Pre-Orders
- We added Section 1.E to the Pricing Page.
So what’s changed since I agreed five years ago? I have no idea at all, as I did not think to print a copy of the original agreement that I agreed to.
So, how could I know now?
Smashwords are a little more transparent in that, at least, their link makes sense and it is a lot shorter than KDP. They seem to update a little less frequently too. But their terms say pretty much the same thing. We are right and you can’t argue.
However, Smashwords DO state clearly what terms they have updated recently.
Smashwords TERMS OF SERVICE updated February 18, 2014
Most recent updates: Clarified policy about generic, undifferentiated content (such as 101 Household Cleaning Tips), clarified prohibition against works where the primary purpose is to advertise or upsell other products or services. Clarified requirement that book descriptions must make accurate claims about the book’s content, and cannot be used to advertise other products or services. Relaxed restrictions on serialized works. Short serials are now allowed. Please make sure they’re linked via the Smashwords Series Manager feature so customers can easily identify all the episodes.
PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING CAREFULLY. THESE TERMS OF SERVICE, AS AMENDED FROM TIME TO TIME (“Terms”), ARE A BINDING AGREEMENT (“Agreement”) BETWEEN YOU (“End Users”, “Authors”, “Author Agents”, and “Publishers” as defined below) AND SMASHWORDS, INC. (“Smashwords”).
Amazingly, Twitter has not updated their terms for quite some time, but their terms of service page is easy to find. Mind you, understanding the Twitter rules is an art that no one breathing has yet mastered.
Effective: June 25, 2012
It took me a little while to find the Facebook terms of service page. While it was not, ‘stuck in a disused lavatory’, it was necessary to go out of my profile page, find the help section, and then guess that ‘Statement of Rights and Responsibilities’ meant terms of service or terms and conditions.
Statement of Rights and Responsibilities
This agreement was written in English (US). To the extent any translated version of this agreement conflicts with the English version, the English version controls. Please note that Section 17 contains certain changes to the general terms for users outside the United States.
Date of Last Revision: November 15, 2013. Statement of Rights and Responsibilities This Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (“Statement,” “Terms,” or “SRR”) derives from the Facebook Principles, and is our terms of service that governs our relationship with users and others who interact with Facebook. By using or accessing Facebook, you agree to this Statement, as updated from time to time in accordance with Section 14 below. Additionally, you will find resources at the end of this document that help you understand how Facebook works.
At least, there was a mention of recent changes on Facebook. One step ahead of Amazon at least.
I can only say that I have no idea whatsoever which legal changes I have agreed to without knowing since I originally agreed to join these four services.
In fact, like you I guess, I lazily clicked ‘Agree’ on them all, all those years ago, without even glancing at the legal mumbo-jumbo.
Anyway, if ever it came to a disagreement, I know who would win, so why bother?
It is simply worth knowing that whenever you agree to use a service on the Internet, you use it at the provider’s whim, whose decision will always be final in any dispute or change of service.
This is why it is very important to use alternative providers where possible to guard against any nasty surprises that may arise in the future.
Use multiple platforms to publish and promote your books where possible, so you can protect yourself from any future changes to a service that may negatively affect you and your income.