It was right out of Orwell’s novel 1984, when Big Brother (aka Amazon.com in this instance) without warning its customers, erased the books Animal Farm and 1984 from its Kindle ebook inventory. And from the Kindle devices of those who’d paid for the books as well.
Oh, didn’t you know? They can do that. (Continues below image.)
The problem stemmed from the fact that one of Amazon’s digital publishers, a company called MobileReference, had placed the two books for sale on Amazon, without actually owning the rights to do so. When they were notified of the copyright violation, Amazon took the extreme action of deleting the ebooks from Amazon’s inventory, and remotely deleting all purchased copies from users’ Kindles.
It should be noted here that Amazon refunded all monies used by readers to buy the deleted books. But to exercise such unilateral power over a product that’s already been purchased and owned by a customer, isn’t just overkill — it’s against Amazon’s Kindle terms of service, which does not grant Amazon the right to remove purchased ebooks from a reader’s hardware. What’s more, according to the New York Times, there have been similar transgressions reported by Kindle users recently, when copies of Ayn Rand books and some Harry Potter books vanished due to similar copyright disputes.
I’ve always been intrigued by the Kindle, and I still think it could represent the future of book reading. But at the very least, this incident demonstrates poor form on Amazon’s part — to take such profound action without alerting users ahead of time. And clearly, Amazon needs a better screening process for the books publishers are able to sell for the Kindle.
But stepping back to take in the big picture, there’s a much more troubling issue here. Why did Amazon retain so much control over a manufactured device after users have bought it, enabling it to manipulate the owner’s personal inventory at will? One wonders how long Amazon has had this little capability hidden in its back pocket, waiting to pull it out “in case of emergency.” It’s like they have their own key to enter your home and violate your personal library. Why would they build such a powerful function into their device — and not tell anyone about it? What gives Big Brother the right to hold onto so much power?
Amazon says that it’s changing its systems “so that in the future, we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances.” But I can’t help wondering… is the idea of “personal property” becoming a misnomer?
George Orwell must be rolling in his grave.
Image: Zuma Press.