I'm re-posting here this comment that came in a bit earlier, because it was a bit hidden in the contest posts, and I'd really like everyone to read it and think about what has happened to this person. I'll just take out his last name to try to keep him "everyman". His second question (which I've taken out for now) I'll get to another day.
My name is Michael and while looking for some writer support groups I came across your profile on Windows Live. Your profile mentions that part of your life’s work is helping writers avoid bad publishing behavior. Unfortunately, I have already started down the path of bad publishing choices. I had a short story called “XXXXX” that was part of the now defunct Amazon Shorts downloadable offerings. Although I know people who downloaded my work, I never received any compensation.
This is a very serious problem, though fortunately for Michael's sake it seems, so far, to affect him only with regard to one short story. Not that that makes it unimportant in any way, just, "whew", think if it had been a whole novel!
I am not a lawyer, and laws of different countries vary. However, most civilized countries in the world have signed the same International Copyright Agreement, which means the publishers of Canada, USA, Britain, and all others that I know of whose people speak English as you do, have to follow their country's signed agreements with other countries. These agreements are limited, but they do help keep a publisher under control, and in this case, Michael, Amazon is your publisher. When I answer questions on contracts and copyrights and dealing with publishers or stores that publish, please be aware that I speak from my own experiences only. This will protect both me and you. I do not want to be sued by anyone, and you don't want to take my words as Absolute Truth. They will be as close to the truth as I know, and will reflect what I now realize is a pretty vast set of experiences with trouble that I've encountered, and that's all I can do.
Before I can answer you, Michael, I would need to know a few things. First, did you ever get a written contract in the mail that you had to sign? I would imagine it didn't work like that, but I'd like to be sure. Places like an online store that publishes other peoples' original work usually get your permission and give your their offer by means of a "Membership Agreement" of some sort that is published on their site online. You're supposed to click on the Agreement to open it, and then, read it very carefully, and make sure you click on any links within the agreement to read them very carefully as well. The best procedure is always to print out that agreement, then go back to the online one and print out every single linked document, and if there are links within those links, continue printing until you have in your hand a completely exposed set of clauses in what would be called a contract, in any normal world. Once it's in print, where you can scrawl things and put question marks in and so on, it's a really good idea to read that "contract" at least half a dozen times, looking for problem areas. I can tell you about dozens of problem areas that might crop up, but I don't want to get into that until I know how you and Amazon came to agree to Amazon's publishing your story. If you clicked "I Agree," whether or not you read what you were agreeing to, you are committed to everything that was in Amazon's online Agreement. It's a very unfair way of negotiating a contract, since it's a "Take it or Leave it" proposition that is being offered to you. Sometimes, though, it really is better to leave it.
This clicking "I Agree" to let Amazon publish your work isn't like downloading something from say, Microsoft, where you have to agree to their pages and pages of legal terms in order to get what you know you want and you've heard is pretty safe so you think it is probably not going to fry your hard drive. Most people, faced with these kinds of "Do you agree ?" buttons, do not read the online agreement. Most people just click on "I agree". We know we shouldn't. But we do it anyway. And, let's face it, it gets to be a habit.
In this case, you are not dealing with a download that could simply ruin your computer. (And I mean that word "simply"). By agreeing with one click to a document that deals with the publication of your writing, you could, for example, lose possession of your own story for the rest of your life. Because the Shorts program came to an end, I think we can get you back any previously doubtful ownership of your story. But whether we can get you fair payment for the downloads that Amazon did of your work is entirely dependent on the agreement you have with them. And so it's really important for me to know some things:
(1) Did you print out your Agreement with Amazon, with all links printed too?
(2) Do you still have that Agreement, if so?
(3) Did you, instead, click on "I Agree" after maybe just reading it online, without printing it? If so, did you make notes or do you have an excellent memory of what you read?
(4) Finally, if this is indeed a button click agreement, did you just click on "I Agree" without reading or printing what you were agreeing to?
(5) If you got a written contract, which means 1-4 above don't apply, did you keep it?
Please write back with the answers to these questions, and if you have anything written down, could you have it handy to answer my next questions, after you write back?
Talk to you again soon, I hope.