Amazon Kindle doomed to repeat Big Brother moment
How it's broke and why it can't be fixed
Yes, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos has apologized for the Orwellian removal of Orwell from digital book readers tucked inside the pockets of American citizens. And yes, the new-age retailer has promised not to repeat its Big Brother moment. But that's not a promise it can promise to keep.
Last week, Bezos and company vanished all copies of both 1984 and Animal Farm from citizen Kindles after the rights holder complained those books had been sold without its permission. A third-party publisher had uploaded the digital texts to Amazon's online Kindle store, claiming - perhaps out of ignorance, perhaps not - that the titles were in the public domain.
It's no surprise that Amazon is obligated to remove pirated titles from its online store. But in rescinding the texts from the readers themselves - texts already paid for and downloaded - the web giant ventured into new territory, undermining the reasonable expectations of all those Orwell-reading Kindle owners. Amazon's terms of service say its ebooks are licensed - not sold. But its marketing boilerplate describes the Kindle as a device for "your library" and "your books." The company didn't break its user contract. But it messed with some peace of mind.
"Amazon is morally obligated to make the possibility of revocation clear to buyers," one Kindle buyer tells The Reg. "I don't know of any other product anywhere where I can take physical possession after paying in full and still have it repossessed without warning or recourse.
"Customers are accustomed to the concept of 'buying' as being permanent. And if it's not permanent, why can't I force them to refund it if I don't like the book? How come the ability to revoke the sale is unilateral, one-sided, asymmetric?"
This uneasy feeling was only exacerbated by the fact that Amazon removed the books out from under Orwell lovers without explicitly telling them it was doing so. There were refund notices sent via email, but nothing more. Many Kindlers were left to wonder why their books had disappeared - while others wondered why there was a refund.
To his credit, Jeff Bezos acknowledged that Amazon's Big Brother moment was ill-conceived. "Our 'solution' to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles," read his online apology. "It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission."
But that doesn't mean this is the last time Amazon will remove books from citizen Kindles.
Next page: The Kindle Conundrum
"I'm always astounded by the number of posters who think the law can just be got round by a narrow reading of law in their interests."
An it is amazing to me how people think they are entitled to unilaterally widen the interpretation of a law in their own interests, which is what DRM is. No more no less.
"The fact you can is very simply that it is very difficult to track down and enforce the copyright in those cases."
That's why some of the provisions of these laws have been tolerated for so long. Things like the illegality of ripping your own CDs to fill up your MP3 player etc. Enforcement of these provisions goes against public interest. So is the abuse of "licensing" provisions as an excuse to wrestle post-sales control over content (Amazon, Apple Store, Steam etc).
The IP owners can shed crocodile tears over how much money they lose because of piracy but the truth of the matter is they have become parasites. Creating less and less value but trying to claim more and more compensation for their products. The effects of this behaviour range from increase in inflation to suppression of creativity.
@Robert Long 1
Ts & Cs do form part of the contract. Read them first before you sign. As for the right of an Intellectual Property owner to have illegally made copies returned - well that right will apply in pretty well any country where copyright applies. The customer's claim will then be against the supplier. Of course the reason why this doesn't happen much in practice is that it is incredibly difficult to enforce. Hence the copyright holder will invariably go for compensation from the organisation or individual that breached copyright in the first place - it's probably the only practical approach. Of course a court would have to approve it - but there is very little doubt that they would do so.
There are lots of cases where counterfeit stock bought in good faith has been destroyed. Of course it's generally retailers that are targeted (of course they aren't always innocent buyers).
I'll repeat again - if you have an illegally copy in breach of copyright, you have no legal right to retain it. The fact you can is very simply that it is very difficult to track down and enforce the copyright in those cases. Nothing more, nothing less.
I'm always astounded by the number of posters who think the law can just be got round by a narrow reading of law in their interests.
Anyone want a copy?
Orwell is out of copyright here in New Zealand (dead more than fifty years) so I guess if anyone wants a copy it is OK for me to make it. Dunno about the legality of sending it to another country of course. I did do the reverse once...I picked up a DVD copy of "Gone with the Wind" in Kuala Lumpur for $5, which is cheap enough to make me wonder if the vendor was actually legitimate. However, once I managed to bring it here, it would seem it is perfectly legitimate since that movie too is now well out of copyright. Incidently my understanding is that the customs folks here will confiscate illegal copies if they find them. I don't know how they would react to one that was actually out of copyright here but not in the country of origin, could be interesting!