Feeds

Amazon Kindle doomed to repeat Big Brother moment

How it's broke and why it can't be fixed

Boost IT visibility and business value

The Kindle Conundrum

Amazon insists that it is the last time. In a canned statement sent over email, the company says it's changing its systems "so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances." But the law may say otherwise.

Amazon doesn't distribute books to the Kindle over the public internet. Etexts are downloaded via a private wireless network dubbed "Whispernet," and the company has shown it has the technical power to vanish those titles at any time. If a copyright holder sued for the removal of a title, a judge may very well force Amazon to remove it.

"Amazon has the capacity to control the bits after they've left the store," says Santa Clara University law professor and tech law blogger Eric Goldman. "I'm reasonably confident that what promoted Amazon to wipe the bits off of people's devices was them asking themselves 'How are we going to explain to a judge that we have the capacity to wipe bits from the device but we sat back and chose not to use it?'"

If you're running a website and someone posts copyrighted content, you're legally protected if you remove the content on request, thanks to the safe harbor built into the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. You needn't worry about anyone who has already consumed or downloaded the content. But the Kindle isn't a website.

"This is not a classic DMCA environment," says Peter Brantley, director of the Internet Archive, overseeing efforts to scan library texts and put them online with un-Google-like respect for copyright.

"It's not as if Amazon is an internet service provider providing a particular kind of application." Instead, Amazon is licensing content on a private network. You could argue that DMCA rules apply to the end-user device as well.

"Used to be, stuff was on the server or stuff was on the client. Now it's a little bit more complicated. Stuff might be partially on the server and partially on the client, and the server might have the capacity to control what's going on on the client," Goldman says.

"The judge might say that the network is the full bundle - store, wireless network, device. And if that's the case, the full bundle would be governed by standard copyright law."

But there's very little precedent here. Even Goldman and Brantley - both steeped in the vagaries of online law - are at pains to sift through Amazon's position. Which only reinforces the notion that Amazon can't possibly say that its Big Brother moment won't be repeated.

"We're entering these new domains where what acquisition means and what ownership means has not been well demarcated," Brantley says. "Even if Amazon vows to never again under these circumstances grab and delete a book off of a Kindle, there are other circumstances where they might be compelled to do that."

Hold tight to that Orwell paperback. And be careful of the flame. ®

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
BBC goes offline in MASSIVE COCKUP: Stephen Fry partly muzzled
Auntie tight-lipped as major outage rolls on
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
Sonos AXES support for Apple's iOS4 and 5
Want to use your iThing? You can't - it's too old
Stick a 4K in them: Super high-res TVs are DONE
4,000 pixels is niche now... Don't say we didn't warn you
Philip K Dick 'Nazi alternate reality' story to be made into TV series
Amazon Studios, Ridley Scott firm to produce The Man in the High Castle
There's NOTHING on TV in Europe – American video DOMINATES
Even France's mega subsidies don't stop US content onslaught
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
Too many IT conferences to cover? MICROSOFT to the RESCUE!
Yet more word of cuts emerges from Redmond
Joe Average isn't worth $10 a year to Mark Zuckerberg
The Social Network deflates the PC resurgence with mobile-only usage prediction
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.