On Saturday morning, April 28, 2018, Amazon Associates terminated Legal Insurrection’s participation in the program. It was an important source of income for the website. Amazon closed their account and said the decision was final. There was no appeal. Amazon even held back money owed.
We copied some of the details below but they never gave them a chance to solve this so-called program and the website owners always intended to comply with their rules.
They tried to get reinstated but it’s futile.
Apparently, it’s happening at a different Amazon program with another religious group as well: Prominent Christian Legal Group Barred From Amazon Program While Openly Anti-Semitic Groups Remain.
The reason given in the April 28 termination email was that we violated the Operating Agreement as follows:
“You are promoting your Special Links in an offline manner, such as printed material, mailing, or oral solicitation.”
Over the following weeks I repeatedly explained to Amazon on the phone, through its Amazon Associates portal, and by email, that we did not do any of those things, and that this termination explanation made no sense.
I asked Amazon to provide me with evidence that we did any of those things, but was told they could not tell me because it was proprietary. As I pressed the issue, Amazon began to add new reasons why we were terminated:
“You are incentivizing others to visit the Amazon Site via your Special Links by offering rebates, cashback, discounts, points, donations to charity, or other incentives, or by stating that customers can support you by shopping through your Special Links.”
Again, this was bizarre. We didn’t do any rebates, cashback, discounts, points, donations to charity, or other incentives. Moreover, as I explained in writing to Amazon, stating that a customer can support us does not actually violate the Operating Agreement, which permits disclosure that we earn a fee. I wrote:
We DO NOT offer rebates, cashback, discounts, points, donations to charity, or other incentives. We DO state that readers can help us by using our links, but that is NOT PROHIBITED anywhere in the Operating Agreement. To the contrary, the Operating Agreement, paragraph 5, specifically permits us to inform customers that we are helped by purchases: “As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”
Accordingly, we do not do any of the things of which we have been accused except for indicating that we are helped by purchases, which we are permitted to say under the terms of the Operating Agreement.
Please have this reviewed by a Supervisor since we are not in violation of the Operating Agreement and our account has been incorrectly terminated.
Similar language has been permitted in the prior version of the Operating Agreement as well, which permitted the following:
“We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.”
So we didn’t do any of the things in the termination email, or most of the things in the appeal decision. The one thing we did do, let readers know that purchasing through our links helps us, is expressly permitted under the current and prior versions of the Operating Agreement.
A Supervisor at Amazon did respond further, repeating the same alleged Operating Agreement violations addressed above, and declining to tell me what it was we did that was a violation:
After diving into the account it seems our account specialist with associates has provided you with the correct information. Due to the proprietary nature of the process, we can’t share the criteria by which the process for decision of termination was made.
In another effort to understand what it was we did, I emailed again:
You say that you cannot share the criteria, but can you provide me with any specific examples where we have violated the operating agreement in the manner suggested in the termination emails? I also wonder why if there are such an examples we are not given an opportunity to cure the problem.
I also emailed both Amazon Associates and Amazon media relations seeking comment on this bizarre situation, and asking why we were targeted:
We are a popular conservative politics and law website which has been a participant in Amazon Associates for several years.
On April 28, 2018, we received a notice shutting our account without any advance notice or ability to cure, and most important, without telling us specifically what we did that allegedly violated the Operating Agreement. We have communicated several times (see email chain below) with Amazon Associates, and while they have cited two broad provisions of the Operating Agreement, they refuse to tell us what we did that would be a violation (we deny violating the Operating Agreement).
Given concerns about Amazon and other major internet players shutting down and demonitizing conservative political websites and media properties, and since Amazon will not give us examples of what we allegedly did that violates the Operating Agreement, we find it likely that someone at Amazon determined to shut us down and the citations to broad provisions of the Operating Agreement were just a pretext.
I never heard from Amazon Media Relations, but I did hear from Amazon Associates again, and this time they added a completely new justification for the termination, that we used Amazon links in emails:
As stated in our previous communications, our decision to terminate your Associates account is final. Any further requests to review your account for reinstatement will not receive a response.
Because you are not in compliance with the Operating Agreement, Amazon will not pay you any outstanding fees related to your account. Amazon exercises its right under the terms of the Operating Agreement to withhold fees based on violations, which include the following:
-You are promoting your Special Links by including them in emails to your customers.
-You are incentivizing others to visit the Amazon Site via your Special Links by stating that customers can support you by shopping through your Special Links.
This is the first time during the termination communications that Amazon Associates raised the issue of emails. That was an old issue resolved to Amazon’s satisfaction 5 months ago. We used to include an Amazon link in our Morning Insurrection newsletter. We were contacted by Amazon in early January 2018, and given five days to fix the use of the link in emails, which it claimed violated the Operating Agreement. It’s not clear that that even is a violation, but it didn’t matter, we complied with Amazon’s request, and they were satisfied. I included the screenshot in my response regarding the termination:
Now you are raising the email issue, but this was addressed with Amazon last January. When it was called to our attention, we removed the link and have not included the link in our newsletter since then, and Amazon acknowledged that:
So why has this issue been raiseD now 5 months after it was remedied within the timeline required by Amazon?
We also are permitted, under the express terms of the Operating Agreement, to inform readers that we earn a fee (we don’t go even that far, just say they can help us), so you are inventing an Operating Agreement violation that is not in fact a violation of the Operating Agreement.
You say you will not respond further, but someone at Amazon is not applying the Operating Agreement correctly. You should reinstate us.
No further response from Amazon.