Amazon and irony

Popular for its massive website which originally provided the world with literature, and now just about everything, Amazon has hit news again today regarding its ebook reader the 'Kindle'. Sadly, not in such a good light.

In an act of bizarre irony Amazon has remotely deleted copies of the George Orwell novels, Animal farm and Nineteen Eighty Four off of an abundance of Kindles last night. This news came with little explanation from Amazon, instead simply refunding the purchase price of the piece of literature. Many people the world over seem to be outraged with this act, which begs Amazon to reevaluate its interpretation of the definition of 'ownership.'

Apart from it being ironically Orwellian not much is known as to the reasoning behind the act, apart from the fact that their publisher for the novels in question a certain, MobileReference, have changed their mind about the supply of this content on the Kindle. Amazon then simply removed all previously purchased copies by remote deletion and those in the middle of getting to grips with these famous pieces of literature could no longer continue the story.

Commenters with Amazon released the following message from their customer service department, along with the inevitable deletion of content:

The Kindle edition books Animal Farm by George Orwell. Published by MobileReference and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) by George Orwell. Also published by MobileReference were removed from the Kindle store and are no longer available for purchase. When this occurred, your purchases were automatically refunded. You can still locate the books in the Kindle store, but each has a status of not yet available. Although a rarity, publishers can decide to pull their content from the Kindle store.

While this publisher's version is obviously no longer, it seems that other versions of the novel are indeed available. Still no news as to the reason why this happened, hopefully I can insert an explanatory update in due course.

This seems to have had a negative impact upon some bloggers, accusing Amazon of essentially book burning and providing a parallel example of this occurrence in a more physical nature, IE: representatives from Amazon ransacking houses and removing these copies of literature. Whichever way you think about this, I do feel that this will likely be a bit of a knock for Amazon. I don't have a Kindle, but I think that perhaps an email to all those who purchased a copy, outlining the intentions of the publishers before the deletion would not have gone amiss, if only just to keep customers informed as to what is happening with goods which have been legally bought.

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51 Comments

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I think this is something governments around the world will need to address one day or another.

I don't think piracy is a good excuse to remove legit customers rights. I'm not a conspiracy type of guy but this is something that bother me a lot.

In the digital world companies definately hold the bigger part of the stick. Customers have next to no right at all.

From the link:

"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," spokesman Drew Herdener said Friday.

"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."

Thanks likeAP for posting a link with an explanation.

Yeah, think I'll stick with my SFBC hardcovers and mainstream paperbacks. Just what I need. $300.... to get the damn thing then have some company delete my purchase off the device. Nice.. Which is exactly why I think Blu Ray will fly far higher than getting hi def movies off the network.

If a publisher illegally published copies of a book and shipped them to a bookstore, the people who bought the books from the bookstore wouldn't have their homes entered and the books taken back, replaced by a mysterious pile of cash matching exactly the amount spent on the book. The publisher is the one who would pay.

With digital content, I'm assuming the publisher didn't get off scot-free, but now consumers have to worry about being inconvenienced remotely because of publisher actions. That's a turn off for digital media - If there's a chance someone is going to take the book I'm reading because someone I've never met screwed up, I'll just buy the paperback, thanks.

The guys at Amazon didn't think this through very well. I wonder if they had lawyers on their back rushing their decisions..

Antaris said,
So this is going to affect the 5 people that own a Kindle?

I Lol'd... It would be different if it were something on the App Store or whatever... Perhaps Amazon should moderate the content going onto the Kindle store? Like Apple do with the App Store?

I wonder if this works the other way round?

I have some old stuff from Amazon and i wonder if i can ship it back to them and automatically deduct what i paid from their account? Seems fair to me

The sad thing is that this book is still not in the public domain even though the author had been dead for over half a century. Well at least it isn't in our screwed up system, but in other countries like Canada it is public domain. They have the full novel on Project Gutenberg Australia by the way, do with that what you will.

TRC said,
The sad thing is that this book is still not in the public domain even though the author had been dead for over half a century. Well at least it isn't in our screwed up system, but in other countries like Canada it is public domain. They have the full novel on Project Gutenberg Australia by the way, do with that what you will.

So it's a US thing? I read once that the intellectual property laws where changed so that disney could retain the rights to mickey mouse and all those old characters after like a century

Pretty much, thanks to the ridiculous Copyright Term Extension Act (aka Mickey Mouse act). It only affected the early animations of Mickey anyway, not the modern version and they also have the trademark which never expires so there was no need for them to do that. It's just pure greed.

Not to mention all the stuff Disney basically took from the public domain like Snow White, Cinderella, etc. They never give anything back though.

Julius Caro said,
So it's a US thing? I read once that the intellectual property laws where changed so that disney could retain the rights to mickey mouse and all those old characters after like a century

Yes, and it stinks. Our copyright law gives people that didn't actually create a work the ability to retain copyright over it, and for a ridiculous time period.

Update 2: Drew Herdener, Amazon.com's Director of Communications, pinged us directly with the following comment, and now things are starting to make a lot more sense. Seems as if the books were added initially by an outfit that didn't even have the rights!

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.

the two books are not in the public domain and are still protected by copyright. the publisher didnt have the right to sell the novels. Amazon deleted illegal copies.

so if you buy a physical copy from the local B&N under the same circumstance, your gonna get the cops on your ass cause you purchased illegal material from a reputable store?

was gonna get one of these things for my wife for her birthday, not now, easier and cheaper to get a library card and head to a book store

Don Matteo said,
the two books are not in the public domain and are still protected by copyright. the publisher didnt have the right to sell the novels. Amazon deleted illegal copies.


No, they deleted what they had previously sold you.
There is a difference.

Don Matteo said,
If you purchase stolen goods from anyone, you aren't entitled to keep it.

It is a Judge who rules about it not the same entity who sold the goods to you.

Disclaimer from http://www.george-orwell.org says

Disclaimer
All of the works and pictures on george-orwell.org are considered to be in the public domain (copyright protection has expired) and, as such, you may freely use the text of the works in any way you see fit. Any original content/images on george-orwell.org are Copyright © 2005 george-orwell.org and may not be reproduced without written permission.
Doesn't this mean it is legal to sell copies as long as you don't include images?

Orwell's books are not public domain in the US, which is where they were sold by Amazon. The publishing rights are held (presumably by Houghton-Mifflin) until 2044. While you are free to get your own copy PD from somewhere it does not give you the right to publish it in the US. That's what MobileReference did.

Don Matteo said,
If you purchase stolen goods from anyone, you aren't entitled to keep it.

so this means that amazon (or the owner of the company) could be convicted of selling unauthorized material? just getting all the ducks in a row, kinda puts the whole "copyright infringment" in a new light, huh? "someone got a song and sold it to this guy for $.00, but its ok he/she just needs to delete it and everything will be fine"

This one actually got used. If either of the kill switches you mentioned ever got used, there would be absolute outrage.

Exactly, if there were "Printed" books (which is what the kindle is trying to emulate/replace) and the customers had purchased them, you could not simply "delete" the books right off thier shelves. Personally I think the fact that Amazon or anyone for that matter has the ability to see, edit, or erase ANY book I'm currently reading is absurd. So can you imagine a world were digital books became "standard" and accepted. How many times people would simply be able to delete books they dont like.. or edit the "facts" of the book to suit thier needs..

Bah, I hate to sound like one of those crazies who hate technology, but if thats how the kindle is gonna work I'll never buy one and I will certainly refuse to let anyone I know buy one without getting an earfull!

Pretty appalling IMHO regardless of whether the content was refunded or not. Once the book is sold the consumer should have the right to retain it, they certainly should not expect it to be remotely deleted. If they want to pull it from the store fine, but let those that own it retain their copy. If there was some violation incurred in publishing the book in the first place then it should be Amazon or the other companies at fault that pay the price...not the consumers that purchased it at no fault of their own.

I'm sure as noted above Amazon/Mobi were in every way legally allowed to do it and there would have been conditions stating such...but I don't agree with the practice nor the clauses used to cover themselves in such a manner.

Perfect.. this is why people refuse to pay for digital content, because of the potential to pull this kind of crap. Whether it be books, or music, you never own it, and it can be taken away from you even if you paid for it. This is exactly why we need laws to protect the consumers.

I generally don't comment about how articles are written, but dang ... this time, it's just downright poor. The problem isn't with Amazon and they sure as heck aren't doing any "book burning". The issue wasn't with Amazon but with the publisher as was said but not at all emphasized, which can be a headache.

As for them just removing content from the Kindle: it was refunded, in full. It's digital content, and I'm sure the fine print that it's very apparent everyone who purchased the book read, says they could possibly remove things if they're required to do so.

I'm sure when the books are available again Amazon will either give a discount on the repurchase or something. They have some of the best customer service. If you want to get angry with anyone, why not take it up with the publishers of the stupid books ... they're the ones that did it... and I'd bet it was for a legality reason, too.

What exactly is wrong with this article? It's totally improper to modify a quote take from another source, and other than that one quote of the Amazon message I see nothing wrong with it. It describes the issue perfectly: Amazon 'recalled' purchased items from its customers without notifying them ahead of time, and more than likely those customers had no idea their purchases could simply be revoked.

As for the irony, it was George Orwell, the creator of Big Brother.

So, if I BUY something from Amazon, I actually don't own the item i pay for? Two days ago I bought a mobile phone from Amazon...does that mean they can take it back whenever they want? I guess I will keep away from them from now on.

Heh, not really. Though this is pretty crazy, since you already got it they shouldn't be able to remotly delete it. That's pretty much the same as coming into your home and taking books out and burning them.

At least you got a refund though. Just think if they didn't at least give you your money back.

Alex_The_Cat said,
So, if I BUY something from Amazon, I actually don't own the item i pay for? Two days ago I bought a mobile phone from Amazon...does that mean they can take it back whenever they want? I guess I will keep away from them from now on.

Where does it say it applies to everything in the Amazon store. It talks about books pulled from Kindle because the publisher didn't have the rights to the books. How you managed to compare this to buying a cellphone I don't know.

Way to overreact.

http://news.cnet.com/8301-13860_3-10290047...torsPicksArea.0

Alex_The_Cat said,
So, if I BUY something from Amazon, I actually don't own the item i pay for? Two days ago I bought a mobile phone from Amazon...does that mean they can take it back whenever they want? I guess I will keep away from them from now on.

The whole owning thing when it comes to digital stuff has been argued to death ever since MP3 started coming out.

So, Amazon doesn't consider the books you purchase from their store for the Kindle as your property? Interesting. That's definitely good to know, as I wouldn't spend money on something that they don't believe I own...

M_Lyons10 said,
So, Amazon doesn't consider the books you purchase from their store for the Kindle as your property? Interesting. That's definitely good to know, as I wouldn't spend money on something that they don't believe I own...

You mean, just like Microsoft doesn't consider you to "own" Windows or Office?

Yeah, like that. ;)

Material goods, like the media, you own. You own the paper and the physical book. You do not own the written content - that is, you are not free to republish and copy.

markjensen is totally correct. Another example is when you purchase a media distribution platform (vinyl, tape, optical disc, etc) containing music or a movie: you do not own the contents. Instead, you have purchased a license to listen to the music or view the movie...that's all.

The issue we should be concerned about is the amount of power publishers have (or governments, for those of you who paid attention during history class in high school...) to suddenly revoke a purchased license without warning and without due cause.

If the agreement (or EULA or whatever) that customers agreed to gives the publisher the right to revoke the license agreement at any time for no reason, then we have no one to blame but ourselves for entering into the agreement in the first place.

But then, we are a generation of Next->Next->Next clickers...

markjensen said,
You mean, just like Microsoft doesn't consider you to "own" Windows or Office?

Yeah, like that. ;)

Material goods, like the media, you own. You own the paper and the physical book. You do not own the written content - that is, you are not free to republish and copy.

Your comment got me thinking. If we own material goods but not the content, then let's ponder this situation. It's inconceivable that someone from Barnes and Nobles would show up at my house and begin to erase the "content" from a book on my bookshelf. Likewise, they couldn't take the book back either, because I own the paper, binging, etc.

Now, let's look at the Kindle situation. I own the device once again, but not the content. Because of its digital format, it has now become convenient for Amazon to remove the content (i.e. they don't have to come to my house), but is it anymore ethical than the situation described above? By removing the content, they have altered, without my permission, the hardware that I actually own.

It doesn't seem ethical. The DMCA needs to be rethought. It doesn't take situations like this one fully into account. At least, for the time being, Amazon refunded the money, so it could be worse.

wakers01 said,
Your comment got me thinking. If we own material goods but not the content, then let's ponder this situation. It's inconceivable that someone from Barnes and Nobles would show up at my house and begin to erase the "content" from a book on my bookshelf. Likewise, they couldn't take the book back either, because I own the paper, binging, etc.

Now, let's look at the Kindle situation. I own the device once again, but not the content. Because of its digital format, it has now become convenient for Amazon to remove the content (i.e. they don't have to come to my house), but is it anymore ethical than the situation described above? By removing the content, they have altered, without my permission, the hardware that I actually own.

It doesn't seem ethical. The DMCA needs to be rethought. It doesn't take situations like this one fully into account. At least, for the time being, Amazon refunded the money, so it could be worse.


You are right in that paper books are treated differently than electronic copies.

I believe that this is because paper books take an effort to print and "revoke". They would also take effort (time and money) for me to try to copy. Electronic copies are much easier to copy and redistribute. And to "revoke" as we see here.

Yes, they are treated differently, only because the technology and ability to do so is available to the electronic copies.

markjensen said,
You are right in that paper books are treated differently than electronic copies.

I believe that this is because paper books take an effort to print and "revoke". They would also take effort (time and money) for me to try to copy. Electronic copies are much easier to copy and redistribute. And to "revoke" as we see here.

Yes, they are treated differently, only because the technology and ability to do so is available to the electronic copies.

This may be all well and true because of the different media outlet on how you have the book purchased makes it easy to do. Though I have to agree with wakers in the sense that it still isn't ethical and in your own companies best interest logical to do this. Not only is it devious to just mass delete it the books without warning. It now also gives you a bad reputation and shows to everyone who thought their purchases were safe are now really just waiting for the next publisher to yank their books off the service.

The problem here is that digital media should be treated like traditional media. Their are laws that say once you buy something even if the content on it is not yours the company can't just come and take it back. Digital Media should be handled the same way that when once you buy something it's yours to keep and can never be deleted or reclaimed by the service or vendor you bought it from. Now the vendor you bought it from could still take it down to where no one else could buy the product. They just wouldn't have this god complex of being able to remotely delete already purchased products.

And on the DMCA lets not full ourselves that thing was written with the companies whispering their likes and dislikes into politicians ears the whole way while slipping cash into their pockets.

wakers01 said,

Your comment got me thinking. If we own material goods but not the content, then let's ponder this situation. It's inconceivable that someone from Barnes and Nobles would show up at my house and begin to erase the "content" from a book on my bookshelf. Likewise, they couldn't take the book back either, because I own the paper, binging, etc.

Now, let's look at the Kindle situation. I own the device once again, but not the content. Because of its digital format, it has now become convenient for Amazon to remove the content (i.e. they don't have to come to my house), but is it anymore ethical than the situation described above? By removing the content, they have altered, without my permission, the hardware that I actually own.

It doesn't seem ethical. The DMCA needs to be rethought. It doesn't take situations like this one fully into account. At least, for the time being, Amazon refunded the money, so it could be worse.

I agree I would be seriously disgusted if Amazon came along and deleted books I had purchased, if, I owned a Kindle. Yes you have a licence to use, but it's not as if MS or Apple (well possibly Apple they own everything even though you paid for the item-[flame wars begin please])would delete an XP, Vista, 7 or for fair's sake OS X, off my PC.

I would seriously consider this a serious breach of my privacy, remotely accessing my hardware and deleting my software. Maybe the EU can do soemthing useful for once and look into this??!?!?!