LATER UPDATE -Amazon says it won’t happen again:
These books were added to our catalog using our self-service platform by a third-party who did not have the rights to the books. When we were notified of this by the rights holder, we removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers’ devices, and refunded customers. We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances.
Is that equivocation?
If Amazon wanted to appease customers worried that digital media they buy from the company might disappear, unannounced, it could do so, very easily. It could just say: “We won’t be taking away stuff we sell you ever again. You buy it, you own it. Doesn’t matter if it’s a book, a CD, or a collection of bytes.”
Because, as I noted before, that’s basically what the Kindle license already says: Amazon says it grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content”. It doesn’t seem to add any caveats that I can see.
I’m hoping Amazon’s language here is just an awkward bit of PRspeak, and not a lawyerly way of reserving rights to pull stuff off Kindles sometime down the road. But I’ve asked, and will let you know if I hear back.
Brad Stone’s NYTimes piece says this isn’t the first book to be pulled back. He also adds this interesting wrinkle:
Justin Gawronski, a 17-year-old from the Detroit area, was reading “1984” on his Kindle for a summer assignment and lost all his notes and annotations when the file vanished. “They didn’t just take a book back, they stole my work,” he said.
So, Amazon has a backdoor that permits them to remove any digital book on your Kindle. They say that NOW they won’t ever do that again but what happens when they change their minds? Ot if the government ‘asks’ them? The telephone companies have done all sorts of questionable things when the government asks.
How about if China does not like a particular book? Could the book be removed while you visited China? Sure, Amazon could give it back to you when you return to America but this whole affair seems to be another reason to keep the paperback around. The digital realm is just too unknown right now.
Particularly when the manufacturers of the portable readers include the ability to take back anything that you have on the reader.
Of course it is ironic that 1984 was one of the books. But the possibilities are closer to Fahrenheit 451, where government firemen destroy books. In a world of digital books, this sort of power, the power to remove works without a trace, is very foreboding. Better to keep things on paper.
This just cripples the idea of digital books. First we can not resell them. Now they can be taken away.
I expect there to be some big lawsuits here. And not only because Amazon apparently went against its own Terms of Service. Or even the tremendous damage done to the whole idea of having books solely in a digital form. There are a wealth of other problems. Particularly things like the boy whose work was also destroyed. It is one thing to remove the book but to also destroy the works of others would seem to be very actionable.
I expect the ramifications from this to last for some time. Even when they say they won’t do it again, the loss of trust makes that hard to believe. Terms of Service are altered all the time without warning. The control still remains in Amazon’s power not the customer’s. New management at Amazon could always change things.
Bradbury imagined a world where firemen burnt books. Little did he know that the real future would simply have companies deleting files remotely. Somehow, evil is much more boring and banal in real life than in books.
At least in paperback books.