Do You Own Your Ebooks? An Amazon Odyssey

Posted: Jul 18 2009, 12:25pm CDT | by , Updated: Aug 11 2010, 3:23pm CDT , in Technology News


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Amazon wants people to think of buying E-Books for the Kindle as just like buying physical books in the real world. In fact, E-Books even have some advantages over real books! They're cheaper, for one, and you can't accidentally lose pages when the binding dries out and loses adhesion. E-Books seem like a great deal...until you realize that you don't actually own them.

This comes as a bit of a surprise to most Kindle owners. After all, the Kindle license agreement reads, “"Amazon grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content and to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times..."

Between 'permanent' and 'unlimited' I'd say Amazon sets up a reasonable expectation that any E-Book purchases are as permanent as real book purchases. Apparently though that is not the case, and Amazon reserves the right to delete your E-Books at will.

Here's the story; some 3rd party went in and added the George Orwell books 1984 and Animal Farm to the Kindle store. It turns out this party was not the legitimate publisher, and the real one requested the removal of the books. Amazon complied and deleted the novels from every Kindle reader who had downloaded them, and refunded their money.

This act shocked many people and may have permanently damaged the reputation of the Kindle. People now have a solid reason to view E-Books as fundamentally 'different' and 'less theirs' then a 'real' book. That's why Amazon moved so quickly to do damage control. Shortly after the news broke they made this emailed announcement;

"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."

Whether or not this change in policy comes in time to save the Kindle's reputation remains to be seen. I have to say, it's appropriate that this whole brouhaha started over the deletion of two of the world's best known books about censorship and oppression.

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