By Harry McCracken | Friday, July 17, 2009 at 1:36 pm
[IMPORTANT UPDATE: The Web is rife with examples of people assuming something unlikely-sounding is true because they read it somewhere. I usually go to pains to avoid doing so–which is why my posts tend to be rife with words like “reportedly” and “allegedly”– but in this post I screwed up. As BetaNews reports–rightly taking me to task–everyone who ranted about this was missing one important detail: The Orwell books that Amazon yanked back were unauthorized copies of copyrighted works. You can argue whether it’s OK to delete even pirated copies–Amazon appears to have done a poor job of communicating what it was doing, and now says it won’t repeat its actions. But this wasn’t about whims; it was about Amazon unwittingly serving as a channel for stolen goods. I now return you to my original post.]
This is hysterical and depressing, all at the same time: Everybody who’d bought George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm for their Amazon Kindle e-book readers have had their copies yanked back by Amazon and received a refund. The books’ publisher decided that it wasn’t so hot on the idea of electronic rights after all. Did you know that Amazon reserved the right to take back books after you’d paid for them? Me neither.
Judging from the chatter in Amazon’s Kindle forum, it didn’t even explain what it was doing: It simply removed books and returned money.
Amazon’s site is full of references to the notion of Kindle owners “buying” books, and if there’s any mention of the purchase actually involving a revokable license, it’s in very fine print indeed.
All this is just the latest proof that when copy protection is involved, there’s no such think as actually buying anything–what you’re really doing is renting for a fix fee. Most other examples of this fact have involved companies giving up on services and shutting down DRM servers. This is the first one I know of that appears to be based on whim rather than economic factors.
Amazon may be a middleman here rather than the capricious copyright owner, but it could be a force for good if it simply required publishers who sell books to Kindle owners to sell them, period. Absent that, how about allowing Kindle owners to return e-books or the e-reader itself for a full refund at any time–no excuse required?
I don’t have 1984 or Animal Farm on my Kindles–but I do own them in good old-fashioned paper form. And nobody short of Big Brother himself can barge into my library and take ’em away…