Have you looked at your Amazon Kindle recently, well if you purchased the book 1984 by Orwell on it, it’s no longer there. That is right, Amazon removed it remotely at the bequest of the publisher. This was first reported by David Pogue of the NY Times in his article Some E-Books Are More Equal Than Others. This isn’t a book that people downloaded illegally from bittorent, no they purchased it on the Amazon site legally. It seems that the publisher of the book decided that they didn’t want to be on the Kindle anymore, so Amazon removed all books by that publisher from the Kindle. Including those that Kindle owners had already purchased. Amazon did refund the money, but that is really not the point. If it had happen to me I would feel like I had been violated and my house had been broken into. I think that Amazon is too willing to give into the publishers, and that this will hurt them in the long run.
The question this brings up is who really owns an electronic book or any book for that matter. Many authors and publishers would say that they own the rights to their works, and that they should decide what the consumer can and can’t do with their works. Most consumer on the other hand believe that once they buy a book it is theirs to do as they please. They can lend it to a friend, sell it at a used book store, give it to charity etc. However if you brought that same book on a Kindle, there is no mechanism to lend it to a friend or to sell it. There is certainly no reason technologically speaking that sharing couldn’t be allowed. The reason it is not is that the publisher don’t want it, they are afraid of loosing money and control. Most people accept this as a limitation of the Kindle, and are willing to live with it. However, I doubt that most consumer, think that the publisher’s right should extend to them having the right to remove a book that the consumer brought legally. Whether the publisher has their work on the Kindle is up to them, just as they have the right choose which brick and mortar bookstore they sell it at. Therefore they have the right to remove their books from the Kindle store just as they would from a brick and mortar store. That is where their rights should end though, they should not have the right to take that book from me once I brought it. Whether I purchased the book electronically or in the real world. However, the rights of consumers, publishers, and authors have not been fully determined in the digital age. It may take years for the law to catchup with the technology. In the mean time though it maybe a good idea to keep that real world copy of your favorite book, just in case. Clearly this will not be the last time a situation like this comes up.
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