It’s a bit old news by now, but perhaps some of you haven’t heard about it. About a week ago the folks at Amazon had a problem with a couple of George Orwell’s novels they were selling in e-book form. News reports vary with some saying the publisher changed it’s mind about letting them be published in that format and others that Amazon had mistakenly assumed they had the rights to do so, but either way they were asked to stop. Amazon immediately removed said novels from their online store and then went a step further and deleted already sold copies from owner’s Kindle devices with no warning they were going to do so. Needless to say this once again spawned a debate over whether or not we actually “own” digital media:
It’s a provocative question explored in an article Thursday by the WSJ’s Geoffrey Fowler. The issue came up last week when Amazon.com reached into customers’ Kindle e-readers and deleted some e-books written — ironically — by George Orwell. Amazon, which returned the cost of the e-books, said it made the move when it realized that the publisher didn’t have the proper rights to sell the books in the U.S.
The move annoyed some consumers. “I love my Kindle, but if they can take back a book after I buy it, that bothers me,” said one. Amazon later promised to change its system and “not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances,” according to a spokesman.
Regardless, according to Fowler, the incident raises some difficult questions about what it means to “own” books in the digital age. Some experts are saying that these matters might best be remedied by passing new laws that clearly define digital ownership.
“What this incident shows is that the law gives radically more control to the company than the system ought to,” says Harvard’s Lawrence Lessig.
It’s bad enough that the books all have DRM on them and there are unspecified limits on how many times you’re allowed to download them to your devices be they your Kindle or your iPhone or PC. Said limits vary from publisher to publisher and book to book and there’s no way to found out what the limits are for a particular book before you buy it because Amazon won’t tell you, but when they also have the ability and right to reach into your collection and remove books you’ve already purchased, well, that’s just beyond the pale. Sure they gave everyone a refund, but this sort of thing would never happen with a paper book and when you’re done reading it you can sell it or give it to a friend.
DRM sucks and it only punishes the legitimate consumers. So long as the Kindle makes use of it I won’t be buying one. No matter how many times Jeff Bezos apologizes.