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1984
July 17, 2009 1:02 PM   Subscribe

Kindle goes all 1984 on Orwell Unbelievably, amazon.com has deleted all copies of 1984 and Animal Farm from the Kindle and other ebook platforms.. How could they not see the irony?
posted by batboy (187 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
They didn't delete it, they just unpublished it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:03 PM on July 17, 2009 [47 favorites]


I worry that this might snowball.
posted by scody at 1:04 PM on July 17, 2009 [11 favorites]


Hey, at least they didn't go all Fahrenheit 451 on him!
posted by tommasz at 1:05 PM on July 17, 2009 [7 favorites]


I was just coming here to post this (I presume batboy follows Wil Wheaton on Twitter just as I do). The ugly truth, AZ, is that they really did delete it. People who had the books on their Kindles no longer have them. The text was there, and now it's gone. All that's left is a 99-cent refund for each book in their Amazon accounts. This is pretty icky, or dare I say... ungood.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:06 PM on July 17, 2009


THOUGHTCRIME ALERT IN SECTOR AMAZON.
posted by zarq at 1:07 PM on July 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


These were books that they had bought and paid for—thought they owned.

This is why I will not be buying a Kindle any time soon.
posted by carmen at 1:07 PM on July 17, 2009 [41 favorites]


I'll supplement with the Amazon forum. Here's the statement, as reposted there, from Amazon customer service:

The Kindle edition books Animal Farm by George Orwell. Published by MobileReference (mobi) & Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) by George Orwell. Published by MobileReference (mobi) were removed from the Kindle store and are no longer available for purchase. When this occured, 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.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:08 PM on July 17, 2009


I suppose that makes it an "Unbook."
posted by zarq at 1:09 PM on July 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


But did you hear? There's an increase in the chocolate ration!
posted by defenestration at 1:09 PM on July 17, 2009 [27 favorites]


They didn't delete it, they just unpublished it.

No, no, no. There was no such thing as Animal Farm or 1984 on the Kindle to begin with. How could there be? Big Brother Amazon & the publisher says so.
posted by neewom at 1:10 PM on July 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is a doubleplusungoodful action.
posted by ALongDecember at 1:10 PM on July 17, 2009


#AmazonUNPASS
posted by defenestration at 1:11 PM on July 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


If there's one lesson Amazon has learned from the music industry, it's that customers love DRM.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:12 PM on July 17, 2009 [17 favorites]


You Are Reading Conservative Manifesto. You Have Always Been Reading Conservative Manifesto.
posted by CynicalKnight at 1:13 PM on July 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


Maybe they mislabeled it as gay or something.

Wouldn't want that vast gay conspiracy to infect us all with gay propaganda, y'know.
posted by yeloson at 1:13 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


1. Buy stock in Barnes and Noble
2. Hack into Amazon
3. Delete all LBGT-related books from all Kindles
4. Wait
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:13 PM on July 17, 2009 [8 favorites]


This is stunning ... I'm pretty sure Amazon just broke irony.

S'cool, though ... now I can recast the fact I can't afford a Kindle into a principled stand against the product. Fie upon thee, Kindle, Fie!
posted by EatTheWeak at 1:13 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't own a Kindle, but how difficult would it be to download 1984 in PDF form to it?
posted by Dr-Baa at 1:13 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Animal Farm and 1984 are available for free online. Don't Kindles have net access?

I think this is a losing battle for the publisher.
posted by zarq at 1:13 PM on July 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


but each has a status of not yet available.

This is awesome.
posted by you at 1:14 PM on July 17, 2009


Oh, I should also mention 1984 is on that site because it is out of copyright in Australia.
posted by Dr-Baa at 1:14 PM on July 17, 2009


You want to know the best part? The juicy, plump, dripping irony?

The author who was the victim of this Big Brotherish plot was none other than George Orwell. And the books were “1984” and “Animal Farm.”


And he's been dead since 1950! He can't complain about some fancy-pants digital editions.


Oddly, Animal Farm is the only Kindle edition of Orwell's works that is not listed with a price/for sale.

The official notice looks something like this:
The Kindle edition books Animal Farm by George Orwell. Published by MobileReference (mobi) & Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) by George Orwell. Published by MobileReference (mobi) were removed from the Kindle store and are no longer available for purchase. When this occured, 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.
>via
posted by filthy light thief at 1:14 PM on July 17, 2009


So, at what point do we start going Luddite? When do we realize this technological "progress" may not be all its cracked up to be? Did we forget about the Segway already?

P.S. Neil Postman was wrong. Huxley and Orwell were right.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 1:15 PM on July 17, 2009


Dammit, you beat me to this. I was working on a post about this. Anyway, here's Amazon's response:

The Kindle edition books Animal Farm by George Orwell. Published by MobileReference (mobi) & Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) by George Orwell. Published by MobileReference (mobi) were removed from the Kindle store and are no longer available for purchase. When this occured, 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.

And here's a link to a recent Slate article, which I think gets to the heart of the matter. Book publishers seem to be making the same mistakes the music industry has made. E books aren't all that popular yet, but I think they're growth is inevitable, so the question is, how do you price them? Too cheap and there's not enough profit, but if they hold them back or make them too expensive, then the pirates will move in, and it's very difficult to compete with free.
posted by dortmunder at 1:17 PM on July 17, 2009


I'm unfamiliar with how the Kindle works in regards to this; if people were actively reading the book at the time, did it just disappear from the screen? Does Amazon only allow one publisher/distributor per book? If not, why didn't they just shift the users' license from one publishers' version to another making the pull invisible to users? Or something.
posted by pyrex at 1:18 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seems odd that the same company that (finally) allows you to by buy mp3s with no DRM, is the most visible provider of completely locked down books, that apparently do not belong to the buyer. I guess you monopolize the markets where you can.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:19 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hey, at least they didn't go all Fahrenheit 451 on him!

At least they didn't go all Handmaid's Tale on him.
posted by munchingzombie at 1:21 PM on July 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


"In a town like London there are always plenty of not quite certifiable lunatics walking the streets, and they tend to gravitate towards bookshops, because a bookshop is one of the few places where you can hang about for a long time without spending any money. In the end one gets to know these people almost at a glance. For all their big talk there is something moth-eaten and aimless about them. Very often, when we were dealing with an obvious paranoiac, we would put aside the books he asked for and then put them back on the shelves the moment he had gone. None of them, I noticed, ever attempted to take books away without paying for them; merely to order them was enough -- it gave them, I suppose, the illusion that they were spending real money." -- George Orwell, "Bookshop Memories," 1936
posted by blucevalo at 1:22 PM on July 17, 2009 [10 favorites]


Animal Farm and 1984 are available for free online.

These books remain copyrighted in the US and UK until 2020. In the US you can thank the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. No doubt there will be another extension before 2020, and so on.

It seems like it may not be copyrighted in Canada, where that site is hosted. I don't know whether it is a crime to read the book on that page. It's certainly a thoughtcrime.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:22 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


This stuff is really depressing. I'd been excited about Amazon's entry into the ebook world, even more when they released Kindle reader for the iPod. I thought that their clout with publishers would do for books what Apple had done for music - bring the big names to the table. And Amazon had never had DRM on their music files, so this should be great!

Instead they have obnoxious DRM. If Amazon closes your account, you lose all your books. The publisher can unpublish the books you 'bought'. It's insane.

So, I keep buying from Fictionwise, on the rare occasion that there actually is an electronic edition of a book I want.

But unpublishing 1984? You just can't make this stuff up.
posted by bitmage at 1:30 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


REAL BOOKS FTW!
posted by chunking express at 1:35 PM on July 17, 2009


Wow. Now I can stop worrying about whether or not I really want a Kindle. Turns out, I really don't. Thanks, Amazon, for clearing that up for me.
posted by threeturtles at 1:44 PM on July 17, 2009 [53 favorites]


Huh, nobody's tried to unpublish any of my physical books, and I bet they won't try, or they'll have a heated exchange with my friend, Mr. Shotgun.
posted by jamstigator at 1:45 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


These books remain copyrighted in the US and UK until 2020. In the US you can thank the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. No doubt there will be another extension before 2020, and so on.

It seems like it may not be copyrighted in Canada, where that site is hosted. I don't know whether it is a crime to read the book on that page. It's certainly a thoughtcrime.


Note to the mods: If this means I just linked to illegal content, I apologize. Don't hesitate to remove it if necessary.
posted by zarq at 1:46 PM on July 17, 2009


Now I have my ultimate answer to my question: Should I buy a Kindle?
posted by zouhair at 1:48 PM on July 17, 2009


East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94, I know someone who did just that when Amazon messed up their catalog. When Amazon's stock price tumbled, he bought, then sold as soon as the price recovered.
posted by mkb at 1:49 PM on July 17, 2009


Although a rarity, publishers can decide to pull their content from the Kindle store.

Haha. Holy shit. I was just thinking of picking up a Kindle too, but I don't want my purchased property to disappear without notice. Fuck the Kindle.
posted by graventy at 1:52 PM on July 17, 2009


For all my reading needs, I carry DeadTree(TM). I've got Chamblin's Bookmine. It's this kind of shit that proves where the real power of all these "technological innovations" really lay. All you really thought you had can simply disappear at the whim of a corporate drone.

Fuck this noise.

Besides... Chamblin's is full of the sweet, sweet musty smell of knowledge. If I wanna stink of plastics and silicon, I'll rub myself up against my server cluster at home.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 1:52 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Um, isn't all this hyperventilating about Amazon's "Orwellian" action rather like the way people cry "censorship" when someone blogs about not liking a movie? I'm sure Amazon were bound by whatever legal contract they entered into with Mobilereference. Non-Kindle copies of Animal Farm remain easily and cheaply available (as far as I can see you can now buy a Kindle copy of 1984 on Amazon), so those who lost their Kindle copies can easily use their refunded purchase-price to order replacements.

That's a drag, yes, but hardly a boot stamping on a human face--forever.

Does anybody have any statement from the actual publisher (which seems to be a solely e-book publisher) why they did this? I'm guessing that they discovered that they didn't actually have the rights to sell Animal Farm in the US. The real "villains" here may turn out to be whoever controls the Orwell literary estate.
posted by yoink at 1:54 PM on July 17, 2009 [7 favorites]


Doctrine of First Sale FAIL
posted by GuyZero at 1:55 PM on July 17, 2009


All books are created equal... just some are created more permanently than others.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:57 PM on July 17, 2009


You can have my real books when you pry them out of my cold, dead, hands.

Real books >>> ebooks
posted by Justinian at 2:03 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Here is where I laugh my arse of at all those snide, "Ew, dead trees you primitive" weenies.

Also, is this where we link to The Right to Read?
posted by rodgerd at 2:05 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know, if the publisher wants to delete my copies of my real books, they at least have to come to my home and dodge the rain of bullets.
posted by dirigibleman at 2:11 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


wht ds bng bng hv t s bt ths?
posted by mwhybark at 2:25 PM on July 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


I had no idea they could remove your books like that.
posted by smackfu at 2:32 PM on July 17, 2009


Hmm, so they recalled books by this guy Orwell, huh? What did he write about? probably just bunnies and stuff.

That's too bad, because if he had written about some kind of totalitarian nightmare future, there'd probably be a lot of really applicable quotes from his books and it'd be all ironic and stuff.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:33 PM on July 17, 2009


Here's the bad scenario: What if a publisher decides to strong-arm Amazon to get a higher price than $9.99? It actually happened with NBC shows on iTunes. In that case, you just couldn't buy new shows, but your existing downloads were fine. But on the Kindle, you could lose all the books you have from a major publisher, without warning or recourse.
posted by smackfu at 2:39 PM on July 17, 2009


The Metafilter edition comments "WhaddaFUCK?" by WCityMike. Published by Metafilter (mefi) & "No, seriously, WHAD-da-FUCK?" by WCityMike. Published by Metafilter (mefi) were removed from the Metafilter website and are no longer available for reading. When this occured, your electrons were automatically returned to you. You can still locate the profile in the Metafilter userbase, but each has a status of doubleplusungood. Although a rarity, commenters can decide to pull their content from the Metafilter commentbase no matter how ironic.
posted by WCityMike at 2:49 PM on July 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


IN SOVIET KINDLE, AMAZON PAYS YOU!
posted by blue_beetle at 2:50 PM on July 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


"How could they not see the irony? "

This has got to be a tone deaf marketing ploy. Right? I mean it is the 50th anniversary of the book being published.
posted by Mitheral at 2:51 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


there is no irony here, at all.
posted by radiosilents at 2:57 PM on July 17, 2009


Doesn't the iPhone have a decent PDF reader?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:00 PM on July 17, 2009


"Congratulations, citizen! The Ministry of Truth has accepted your refund request for 1984! Here are ninety-nine cents for your account."

"I didn't request a refund."

"Yes you did. Look, here, we have a line in our database says so."
posted by adipocere at 3:09 PM on July 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


Fuck the Kindle.

(Before it fucks you like an amnesia inducing Gutenberg press in reverse, sucking knowledge into the void .)
posted by Skygazer at 3:13 PM on July 17, 2009


Yeah I am pretty unfamiliar with how the kindle works, it seems completely insane that something could be deleted off of it after you bought it. Is this akin to apple being able to delete songs from your itunes/ipod?
posted by dead cousin ted at 3:20 PM on July 17, 2009


"there is no irony here, at all."

Agreed! But there's a ton of ignorance and misinformation.

1984 is a book about the evils of government intervention into our private lives. This is a private issue between two individuals that willingly entered a contract to exchange money for services. The Amazon terms and conditions clearly state that Amazon has the right to change the service or terminate it, and has a limited liability clause that prevents the ability for users to sue over issues like this.

There's no Right of First Sale issue, because there is no such thing as a right of first sale for digital objects.

Furthermore, unlike Winston in 1984, there's an easy solution to this issue. Don't buy a Kindle. Don't enter into an agreement with Amazon that allows them to remotely delete content from you. When Big Brother comes into my home, I doubt it will be so easy to opt out.

This is really nothing like 1984. This is like Netflix taking videos off my Instant Watch list on my XBox 360. The more we equate 1984 with private contract issues like this, the more we look like the boy who cried wolf.
posted by TheFlamingoKing at 3:20 PM on July 17, 2009 [23 favorites]


God you people love getting your panties in a wad.
posted by nasreddin at 3:21 PM on July 17, 2009 [8 favorites]


(Checks shelf.)

My copies are still there. Big win for print.
posted by WPW at 3:23 PM on July 17, 2009


Thanks, TheFlamingoKing, for making the point I tried to make earlier, but far more cogently. (And OMG, I just noticed some films have disappeared from my Netlix Watch Instantly queue! Now I see the violence inherent in the system! Help help, I'm being repressed!).
posted by yoink at 3:24 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is like Netflix taking videos off my Instant Watch list on my XBox 360.

This is like Apple deleting songs from your iPod without notice, but giving you your money back.
posted by smackfu at 3:28 PM on July 17, 2009


I wonder how many times this has happened before? Presumably all the other times everyone just shrugged their shoulders because it lacked the sexy "OMG-its-just-like-1984-as-long-as-you-don't-really-think-about-it" irony angle.
posted by yoink at 3:28 PM on July 17, 2009


There have been a bunch of books published for the kindle for $0.00 that I've always suspected weren't properly authorized. If only it were possible to backup to non-drm'd mobi files.
posted by nomisxid at 3:32 PM on July 17, 2009


There's no Right of First Sale issue, because there is no such thing as a right of first sale for digital objects.

Yes, but there should be. Without the right of first sale, Doubleday could go in and raid used book stores and such. Saying that this is a private contract-based transaction is like saying that slavery is a private contract-based transaction in countries that have no law against it. Consumers needs laws to protect their rights to digital assets.
posted by GuyZero at 3:41 PM on July 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


My guess is that the books were less public domain than the publisher originally thought. Mobilereference mostly, if not exclusively, publishes work thought to be in the public domain -- that's why the price point on these books was so low. If I'm right, the publisher removed the books so as not to get sued, and Amazon followed suit. There isn't a good way they could have let customers keep these books, because one of Kindle's selling points is that you can delete a book from your device (if, say, you need to make room for new material) with the expectation of being able to download it again (for free) if you want it back. So even if they had not "unpublished" the books last night, they would in effect have had to do so later unless they kept the books alive in server storage, which (again, my guess) probably would itself constitute a copyright violation. In other words, the ire here is misplaced -- I don't think there was a better way to handle the situation. Quite frankly, anyone who was dying to know what happened next in Animal Farm could probably buy it for a quarter from any used bookstore in America. This is an annoyance, not a tragedy, and certainly not something that should prompt anybody to fantasies of shaving a captive Natalie Portman's head and rocking a Guy Fawkes mask.

There are, to be sure, other issues with the Kindle -- most of them to do with publishers who seem to think that the record industry is a good role model for their place in this kind of thing. The rest of them are to do with publishers who lag far enough behind the tech curve (book people? not tech savvy? why, I can't imagine!) that they fail to release their books in a form that is, seriously, pure profit for them, as it eliminates printing and distribution costs.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:44 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think there was a better way to handle the situation.

Of course there is. The publisher fucked up, they get sued and pay the rights holder. The exact same way it would have happened had these been improperly published physical books. This is the publisher passing the buck to Kindle users who are innocent in the entire affair.
posted by GuyZero at 3:46 PM on July 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


TheFlamingoKing, no one here thinks Amazon is locking people up and torturing them with rats. We understand the difference. Really.

The point, though, is that right now consumers are making decisions about whether that contract Amazon is offering us when it waves it's shiny Kindle under our nose is a great deal or cartload of manure. E-Books are still very much an early-adopter phenomenon, and it's still very much in the air whether Amazon's model for selling books will work at all.

In that context, to have Amazon's control over the books you buy with your Kindle so starkly compared to the control the government has over information in 1984 is a public relations disaster. Even though it is just a metaphor.
posted by straight at 3:49 PM on July 17, 2009 [7 favorites]


This is the publisher passing the buck to Kindle users who are innocent in the entire affair.

Who bought easily replaceable books for under a dollar. And got their under a dollar back. I'm really not seeing the big problem here, other than Amazon should probably keep a closer eye on what's getting put in their store.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:49 PM on July 17, 2009


Why don't they try that shit with the Necronomicon? We'll see who gets "unpublished".
posted by qvantamon at 3:50 PM on July 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


Just adding a "me too" - I've been budgeting for a kindle-DX purchase. I did have some worries about it not having a memory card slot, and had overcome that, but finding out that I, for all intents and purposes, wouldn't even own my Kindle - that Amazon can and does invade and operate people's Kindles, and delete people's data without warning or recourse... that's just a bit too much to swallow. I still want one, but I'll wait for a competitor to make a reader that is less crazy. In the meantime, I have a few other fun things I could spend the $400 on :-D
posted by -harlequin- at 3:51 PM on July 17, 2009


I don't have a Kindle, but I do have the Kindle software for the iPhone, and buy books for it, mainly when I'm waiting for food at restaurants. The retarded thing is that I buy books that I already have in paper, and am currently reading at home, but don't want to carry around everywhere.
posted by qvantamon at 3:55 PM on July 17, 2009


Kindling

.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 3:57 PM on July 17, 2009


TheFlamingoKing while the motivation or even scope of the two aren't the same the mechanism of the removal of the book from user's Kindles is eerily like that of the rewriting of history in 1984. Or at least the parallels seem obvious to me. The fact that the users of the Kindle, in what I'm assuming is some kind of EULA so who knows if it's even enforceable as written, agreed to this unilateral removal of material doesn't change that. Whether it's the government or a huge faceless corporation who deleted the information the information is still gone like it never existed.
posted by Mitheral at 4:01 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, I keep buying from Fictionwise, on the rare occasion that there actually is an electronic edition of a book I want.

Fictionwise is fine if all you want is B-list genre fiction. The thing about the Kindle that makes it enticing is that damn near any book you might read a review of or hear the author interviewed on Dianne Rehm or your favorite podcast or whatever is likely to be available in a Kindle edition.
posted by Creosote at 4:02 PM on July 17, 2009


I'm sure Amazon were bound by whatever legal contract they entered into with Mobilereference.

i'm bound by my contract with common sense to not buy things from people who can change their minds later

---

1984 is a book about the evils of government intervention into our private lives.

while the 21st century is a time about the evils of businesspeople trying to squeeze every bloody dollar they can out of the public while giving them as little as possible

as in "we'll pretend to sell it to you but it's not really yours"

---

God you people love getting your panties in a wad.

i prefer getting my wads into panties
posted by pyramid termite at 4:09 PM on July 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


that they fail to release their books in a form that is, seriously, pure profit for them, as it eliminates printing and distribution costs.

Tell me about it. I love my Kindle DX, but use it 90% of the time for downloaded textbooks or other things I have in PDF form. I subscribe to both the WSJ and the FT, which is a lot of paper daily. Hey wouldn't it be great if I could them over WhisperNet? Yeah but I have to buy them again, at higher cost, to get them on the Kindle. What about my New Left Review (all text, ships from Europe) and London Review of Books? These would be great to get on the Kindle because I'm sure 80% of the cost has to be printing and distribution. Plus I really don't mind paying $6-7 a month so I don't have to worry to make sure my RSS feed is still picking up the torrent tracker. Yeah I'll pay a small fee for the convenience of a managed network ship me the magazine in a known good format. Plus, those publishers would benefit greatly from the long-tail distribution of the Kindle. I might not want to pay the $125 up front for 12 mos. of a foreign magazine I may or may not like. The Barnes & Noble next to me doesn't carry it so it is all risk on my part. But no, only the most mainstream or tech oriented magazines are offered and in the case of my printed papers, even more than to have it delivered to my home.

Kindle is in a great place, they provide a completely vertical experience. No WIFI security codes, no wondering why your signal dropped, it is just there, like magic. Eventually ebook technology will evolve and we'll start seeing widespread pirating like we have of music. What publishers need desperately to avoid is have us get used to not paying for it, to going to pirate sites, to converting it to our reader. If, in the Napster days, the music industry got together and offered a $35 all you can eat service piped over an always on wireless network you can bet that MP3 would have remained an obscure format that only geeks knew about and not something so common every device with the processor power to play them does so, regardless of necessity.

So yes, book publishers have a very, very small window to get consumers to play ball or the Kindle 7 will be mainly used to pull PDFs from my home computer.

NB I do understand that from an organizational perspective, there's heavy resistance to this sort of thing. Try to run a publishing house and tell everyone we need to start deemphasizing our high fixed costs of printing and distribution while moving onto this new technology that employs no one and sees everyones budgets shrink. It may be good for the business but the reality is Joe in Accounting doesn't want this because his friend Jack in Distribution might see pay cuts and hey, for himself it'll mean small department and smaller budgets. So I do see why this is a problem, but unique to these industries is the idea of copyright which just doesn't exist in the same capacity in other competitive industries.
posted by geoff. at 4:09 PM on July 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


Huh, following a link in comment in an article linked in a comment above - apparently this new e-ink reader will be available in three months, it has a micro-SD memory card slot (yay!), wireless etc, and claims to be (the first) truly open reader.

It seems easily worth it to hold off on any kindle purchases for a few weeks, to check this thing out. I'm intrigued by the Kindle's no-fee wireless data subscription thingy, but an open reader that isn't beholden to Amazon and instead behaves as if belongs to me, inside and out... that still sounds better.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:10 PM on July 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


I have been making plans to purchase a Kindle to more easily have books for my frequent travels. This incident makes me stick with paper. How could they not see the irony indeed.
posted by publius at 4:11 PM on July 17, 2009


Forget Kindles, then. Even my rightwing husband is upset about this.

If I buy something I expect it to stay bought.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:15 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Glad I saw this post today - my sister was talking about getting a Kindle - I think I will forward her some of the links in this post. Thanks for the heads up batboy!
posted by garnetgirl at 4:19 PM on July 17, 2009


Yeah, I wanted a Kindle, only because when I travel, I read A LOT, and it's a huge pain in the ass to pack and cart around six or eight books. But, hot damn, I am not going to deal with a device for which I pay for content (and you can say it's paying for access to content all you want, but people were deliberately led to treat this just like they treat purchases from amazonmp3 or the iTunes store) that the seller feels perfectly okay deleting content from. I mean, hell, I pay for access to television via satellite, but you bet I'd be incredibly pissed off if DirecTV came in and deleted crap off my DVR that I wanted to watch. What SHOULD have happened is that people who had those books on their devices should have been able to keep them while access to the book through the store was suspended. If there was a copyright issue with a physical book, that's what would happen, essentially. They sure as hell would not come to your house looking for your physical book.

Someone upthread observed that the book industry is going through the same things that the music industry went through, and really it's a shame that they are going to insist on learning everything the hard way, too. I want to like eBooks and I want to have an eBook reader. But this is not making it look like something I want to do.
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:19 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty happy now that I have stuck to my Palm TX as my ebook reader. It's display may not be as eye-poppingly sharp as the new e-ink readers, but it is perfectly readable and comfortable to my eyes - even in the dark. It also plays music and video and does all the other myriad pda functions. And when I put an ebook on it... it stays there until *I* say otherwise.

rodgerd: "Here is where I laugh my arse of at all those snide, "Ew, dead trees you primitive" weenies.
....

Laugh away, tree boy. :)
posted by John Smallberries at 4:22 PM on July 17, 2009


So is it not possible to pull your purchased files off the Kindle and back them up, or did the people who lost their Orwell just not do it? It sort of sounds as if it isn't possible--otherwise what's the point of "unpublishing" something? But that can't be true because if the thingie can't be backed up, nobody on Earth would have bought one.
posted by jfuller at 4:23 PM on July 17, 2009


I haven't done it myself, but I believe you can back up Kindle files to your hard drive.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:27 PM on July 17, 2009


I have a Kindle2 and love it for reading e-books, this stunt was dumb but hardly enough to make me regret my purchase. I'm pretty sure I have a copy of both of those books in unprotected Mobi format, and I can still read them on my Kindle for free. I can also still read all of my books I buy from Baen on there. So far Amazon hasn't fucked with any of my books I got from them, but if they did I still have my off line copies that I can crack and convert to mobi.

It's a lame DRM issue, and a lame copyright issue. Hardly something unique to Amazon.
posted by MrBobaFett at 4:31 PM on July 17, 2009


jfuller, yes you absolutely can backup your AZW files. If you plug your Kindle in via USB it just looks like thumb drive, and you can copy on or off all those e-book files. Most likely these people just bought them over the air and never copied them off.
posted by MrBobaFett at 4:33 PM on July 17, 2009


People. It's not Amazon's fault. It's the publisher's. Why on earth would Amazon do it? It's in Amazon's best interest to offer as many titles as possible.

Same with DRM. Not Amazon's idea. But the Kindle could not have been created without it, because the publishers required it.

By the way, this is what Cory Doctorow doesn't seem to understand when he goes off on an unhinged rant against Jeff Bezos.
posted by Ratio at 4:35 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ratio: point is, amazon did not handle this in a way that puts customers first, or that handles it in a way that people would ever expect. You back up your kindle or other device to protect against device failure, not to protect against (what is being seen as) provider malfeasance. It's just bad faith with your early adopters, which is a self-administered poison on amazon's part.
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:40 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


This thread is hilarious. Publisher sells an *illegal pirate copy* of 1984 and Amazon refunds your money and takes it back, while making the *legal* copy fully available for purchase. C'mon..who would be upset about Amazon keeping you and them above board and legal? Or do you really want to be a criminal and go to sleep knowing you paid someone for stolen goods? It's like being upset the cops take away the $1000 stereo you just bought from the guy in the WallMart parking lot for $10 (and you get your $10 back thank you).
posted by stbalbach at 4:41 PM on July 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


This situation can be encapsulated in two words: reverse piracy.
posted by LSK at 4:45 PM on July 17, 2009


I can't wait for the twittosphere to freak out like they did last time!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:56 PM on July 17, 2009


By the way, does anyone know if 1984 was actually one of the books involved in this? I did a bit of Googling and saw quite a few people referring to their copy of Animal Farm going missing, but no personal testimony of 1984 being deleted. It's also clear that 1984 is available for Kindle-download right now on Amazon. I suspect that the 1984 thing was just a more lurid reference for blogger outrage-porn.
posted by yoink at 4:56 PM on July 17, 2009


I'm sure Amazon were bound by whatever legal contract they entered into with Mobilereference.

I'm sure they are. But I'm not. Once Amazon sells something to me, I'm only bound by whatever contract I entered with Amazon. And that contract will never, ever say "you can delete stuff from my harddrive and give me $.99 for it."
posted by DU at 5:01 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


There are more and more books on bittorrent, in pdf and rtf files. What happens when bittorrenting for books becomes as prevalent as bittorrenting for music? The publishing industry has had fair warning, by seeing what happened to the music industry. Have they prepared? Or are they going to simply follow in the idiotic footsteps of the other failing industry?
posted by VikingSword at 5:12 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ratio: "It's in Amazon's best interest to offer as many titles as possible. "

So this is why Amazon offers so many books from the public domain for free on Kindle?
posted by mullingitover at 5:13 PM on July 17, 2009


It's not Amazon's fault. It's the publisher's.

Don't care. The fact is that what can be done, will be done. I said it would be last February, which gives me some brief and perverse bragging rights.

Though I'm a little surprised at how quickly it was done
posted by IndigoJones at 5:20 PM on July 17, 2009


The Kindle catalog is still in its infancy and far from complete anyway. In such cases, I find it ridiculous to characterize the selection in their catalog as censorship - to the point where I wonder if you even know what censorship is. In any case, it wasn't Amazon pulling the book because its content might have been politically dissident. Some publishing rights bullshit, the likes of which all new electronic delivery systems are going through.

Thanks for crying wolf though, and making a caricature of free speech. You've got many more important things to be outraged about vis-a-vis the 1st amendment. Go dig one up.
posted by scarabic at 5:22 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Same with DRM. Not Amazon's idea. But the Kindle could not have been created without it, because the publishers required it.

Rubbish. You're confusing the Kindle with the bookstore. Nothing about building or selling an e-ink reader requires DRM or subservience to publisher business interest. Amazon chose to cripple the Kindle in order to lure more contemporary bestsellers into its e-book store, betting that the sales gained from having more titles would be larger than the sales lost by chaining down the Kindle.
Their bet makes sense, and may well still pay off, but let's not pretend that the choice didn't exist, or that it was decided by someone else.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:26 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm sure they are. But I'm not. Once Amazon sells something to me, I'm only bound by whatever contract I entered with Amazon. And that contract will never, ever say "you can delete stuff from my harddrive and give me $.99 for it."

Well, they're deleting stuff from the Kindle (do those things have a "hard drive"--I don't know). Apparently if you downloaded it to your computer, you've got it for life. As to what Amazon's contract says, if Amazon actually broke the terms of their contract in order to do this then they certainly laid themselves open to a lawsuit (the "actual damages" being exactly nil, though, you have to wonder what they'd be being sued for). I've seen stuff predating this latest kerfuffle saying that you don't "own" Kindle books, you effectively only "lease" them, so I suspect that Amazon were well within their contractually established rights here.
posted by yoink at 5:33 PM on July 17, 2009


The hullabaloo is the feeling that many people, including myself, have: that once you buy something, you get to decide whether to return it or not. You go buy a leather jacket made by Eddie Bauer, but sold on ebay, you don't expect to find that Eddie has snuck into your home while you were asleep, taken the jacket, and left you the purchase price. It's like 'the store' has extruded itself into your home, your private space, and removed a small piece of whatever control you thought you had over your life. It's highly offensive. Once I leave the store, the transaction is OVER. And if that's not the case with e-books, then you can have them. I'll let 'the stores' know when I want them assuming control over previous purchases and that day will come...never.
posted by jamstigator at 5:34 PM on July 17, 2009 [11 favorites]


Don't care. The fact is that what can be done, will be done. I said it would be last February, which gives me some brief and perverse bragging rights.

Here's what you predicted back then:
Buy a book and it's yours - discrete, personal, untouchable, unalterable.

Buy this service and who knows what kind of ethereal hooks are still attached to the text. Is the book I read today the same as the book I will read tomorrow? Can I be certain? Oh, sure, it's a nice feature for errata, but I have to be uneasy knowing that that the ethernet gives, the ethernet can take away.

Consider the alarmist implications. Book burning? Too difficult, too dramatic, too public. But if we could just zap the offending texts in question and hey presto all will again be doubleplus unbad.
What part of that prediction do you consider relevant to this event? They didn't alter any copy, so that whole part's irrelevant. "Zapping offending texts"? Ooh, very scary. Only, that's not remotely what happened here. A publisher was offering a book that they didn't have the legal right to sell. They informed Amazon, and Amazon pulled back those copies of the books that they'd illegally sold, recompensing the buyers. If those buyers actually want to read Orwell's works (and boy does it seem they need to, because apparently they all think they're about the awful crushing brutality of living under a regime that honors authors' copyright) then those works remain readily available, utterly uncensored, for low, low prices.
posted by yoink at 5:42 PM on July 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


And if that's not the case with e-books, then you can have them.

But it is the case with e-books, when you have, in fact, purchased the legal right to own that copy. In this case none of these readers had, in fact, purchased the legal right to own a copy because the vendor did not have the legal right to sell you that copy.

You'll find that in the real world with real objects, people will often come and repossess them from you even after you have paid for them if the person selling them had no legal right to do so. The only reason they wouldn't have done so in the past with a physical book is because it would have been impracticable.
posted by yoink at 5:46 PM on July 17, 2009


I find it ridiculous to characterize the selection in their catalog as censorship...

Who called it censorship? That word only appeared here, as a comment about what it isn't.

This reminds me of the GOP defending Sanford abandoning his state and leaving his aides clueless. "We don't want to get into his sex life." Yeah, me neither. Now back to the subject.
posted by DU at 5:49 PM on July 17, 2009


I suspect that Amazon were well within their contractually established rights here.

I don't doubt it. I'm just agreeing with those pointing out that this kind of BS is exactly why I and they won't be buying a Kindle.
posted by DU at 5:51 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


You're right, the OP did not use the word censorship. He said "goes all 1984." Read the book and you'll notice that information suppression, aka censorship, is a huge part of that story, as is attaching rat cages to people's heads. Shall I assume that the OP was accusing Amazon executives of that too? Or shall I apply some common sense?
posted by scarabic at 5:53 PM on July 17, 2009


yoink: "What part of that prediction do you consider relevant to this event? They didn't alter any copy, so that whole part's irrelevant."

Sure they did. They took the original copy, a healthy medley of ones and zeroes, and modified it to be all zeroes.
posted by mullingitover at 5:55 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


For people complaining that they won't buy a Kindle - you're right. Good for you. I won't either. But not out of some kind of "Amazon is evil" freedom-of-information protest. I'm just waiting for the licensing crap to die down. In their enthusiasm to produce this device, they obviously sweet talked some publishers into taking a risk on it. Perhaps some of them are having second thoughts. These and other idiots who are fat on old distribution models simply need to die off before the rest of us can carry on with the way information will be distributed in the future.
posted by scarabic at 5:56 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nothing about building or selling an e-ink reader requires DRM or subservience to publisher business interest.

Well, except the desire to see it succeed. Sure, you can bolt one together. But if you expect any content to be available for it, especially using slick new delivery methods, then, uh, yes, you've got to deal with the content licensors. You aren't in business, are you?
posted by scarabic at 5:58 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


The thing that amazes me the most is that a work that was written 60 years ago, by someone who died before my mother was born, is still under copyright.
posted by dirigibleman at 5:59 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ding dong the Kindle's dead
the Kindle's dead
the Kindle's dead
Ding dong the Kindle's Kindle's
a dead...

posted by Skygazer at 6:03 PM on July 17, 2009


Sure they did. They took the original copy, a healthy medley of ones and zeroes, and modified it to be all zeroes.

It was evidently also an illegal copy. I think this is the relevant issue. Coverless paperback books and magazines that are presumed to have been destroyed/returned to the publisher after failing to legitimately sell are perfectly readable, too. However, reading them means that you are reading something for which neither the publisher nor the author (or the author's estate) of the work has been paid. This healthy medley of ones and zeroes is the same deal. I mean, you wouldn't steal a handbag...would you?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:04 PM on July 17, 2009


I really think the main issue here isn't so much whether Amazon has the legal and/or technical ability to remotely zap your content, it's about whether it should. I really do agree with the analogy of a shop owner walking into your home at night, removing a purchased item and leaving a cheque for the value of the item in its place. If Amazon want people to buy Kindles and by extension take eBook technology seriously, then deleting your books for any reason, whether it's a legally permissible one or just because someone in PR decided the front cover was offensive seriously undermines both wider trust in the technology and their own product.

If Chiquita & Dole decided to sue Andy Warhol's estate because they felt the design on the sleeve of The Velvet Underground & Nico adversely affected their sales of bananas, and Apple deleted the album off my iTunes collection and remotely deleted it from my iPhone lest they get sued, I wouldn't put up with it and neither should anyone else.
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 6:08 PM on July 17, 2009


If Chiquita & Dole decided to sue Andy Warhol's estate because they felt the design on the sleeve of The Velvet Underground & Nico adversely affected their sales of bananas, and Apple deleted the album off my iTunes collection and remotely deleted it from my iPhone lest they get sued, I wouldn't put up with it and neither should anyone else.

Yeah, but the point is, that's not what happened. What happened was, someone thought The Velvet Underground & Nico was free, so they made a copy of it and sold it to you without a sleeve for ninety-nine cents. Then, I don't know, Lou Reed or some record industry asshole who really owns that album found out about it and threatened to punch Steve Jobs in the dick. So Steve Jobs took the album back and gave you back your money. You got mad because your album wasn't there anymore and called Steve Jobs a fascist, but simultaneously your album was back in iTunes, only remastered and with the original sleeve art and at a less unlikely price for an album, and also if you bought it instead then the creators, their survivors, and some record industry asshole would all receive payment.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:17 PM on July 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


A publisher was offering a book that they didn't have the legal right to sell. They informed Amazon, and Amazon pulled back those copies of the books that they'd illegally sold, recompensing the buyers.

The concern is regarding what authority Amazon is using here. Is it a clause that says "we can reverse illegal transactions", which would be fair, or is it the standard e-commerce BS of "we reserve the rights to do whatever we want"?
posted by smackfu at 6:20 PM on July 17, 2009


This will drive a lot of people to Apple's open arms when Steve (you thought he'd take Amazon's threat to the iTunes store lying down?) comes out with his inevitable tablet/ebook reader. You can bet your last dollar that it'll read DRM-free PDFs. Namaste.
posted by mullingitover at 6:21 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


that they fail to release their books in a form that is, seriously, pure profit for them, as it eliminates printing and distribution costs.

Err....printing costs are less than 10% of book price. Distribution is similarly small. Eliminating those costs doesn't even come close to allowing you to release books in a form that is "pure profit". You still have to pay the author. You have to pay the editing staff. You have to pay the pre-production staff, you have to pay the marketing staff, you have to pay Amazon or whatever retailer is selling your book.

Maybe you don't pay the retailer as high a percentage because they don't have to stock physical product. So give them 30%. Now eliminate 20% for printing and distribution. You've just cut roughly 1/3 of the cost of the book.

A new hardcover costs around $20 on Amazon. Are you going to pay $13.50 for the ebook? No? Then you're drastically lowering profit on book sales by selling an ebook instead of a physical book. There seems to be a great misunderstanding of the economics of this.

To make it clear: unless you charge a price no-one is willing to pay for an ebook the profit for the publisher is WAY lower. "Pure profit"? Hardly!
posted by Justinian at 6:23 PM on July 17, 2009


Oh, and I didn't talk about the poor author. How do you think the author feels about receiving a fraction of the royalty he'd get from a real book?

Now, the argument would be that the author will sell more of the ebook and an ebook sale is not a real book loss. And secondarily that people are willing to risk buying books they might otherwise not buy if the price point for an ebook is low enough, and that will translate into a bigger audience in the future and increased real book sales.

That's a popular argument. I think it's probably true... right now. Because people are still mostly accustomed to reading on paper. I don't think it will be true in 20 years or whenever. At some point people will stop buying the paper books in addition to the e-book, which will destroy the business model.
posted by Justinian at 6:28 PM on July 17, 2009


Well, except the desire to see it succeed. Sure, you can bolt one together. But if you expect any content to be available for it, especially using slick new delivery methods, then, uh, yes, you've got to deal with the content licensors. You aren't in business, are you?

Oh be serious. You can't think of myriad successful businesses that made and/or make stand-alone devices? Really?

Amazon is aiming for the book version of the DRM itunes store + ipod combo, which is their prerogative, and likely to be good for them, but to suggest that no other business models are possible, that they have no choice in the matter? Please.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:30 PM on July 17, 2009


The concern is regarding what authority Amazon is using here. Is it a clause that says "we can reverse illegal transactions", which would be fair, or is it the standard e-commerce BS of "we reserve the rights to do whatever we want"?

I presume it's the former, because they do appear to have reversed an illegal transaction. (And the best way to see to it that this never happens again, ironically enough, is for Amazon to be more stringent about what it lets into its store, to be less relaxed about the way it conducts its business.) Amazon has the ability to erase all of your Kindle purchases at a stroke, but I can't imagine why they would, any more than I can imagine my barber spontaneously deciding to cut my throat, though that too is possible. I'm not sure what would happen if, say, a publisher released a new book and then decided a week later to pulp the run for one reason or other, and you had a legally-purchased Kindle version. My guess is, whatever would have happened a week ago, it wouldn't be what'll happen after today's PR nightmare. But I don't know that.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:34 PM on July 17, 2009


I really do agree with the analogy of a shop owner walking into your home at night, removing a purchased item and leaving a cheque for the value of the item in its place.

This is exactly my view. However, if you check the small print of the Amazon shop:

Upon your payment of the applicable fees set by Amazon, 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, solely on the Device or as authorized by Amazon as part of the Service and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content will be deemed licensed to you by Amazon under this Agreement unless otherwise expressly provided by Amazon.

I don't even play a lawyer on TV, but to me this reads like Amazon's customers aren't actually buying copies of the books, they're buying a license to read the book. Presumably this means that the first sale doctrine doesn't apply: the book isn't yours so Amazon can just revoke the license. However, I'm not sure how they square this action with the phrase "...right to keep a permanent copy..." (my emphasis).

This is an example of why DRM'd media gives me the jitters. I don't like the idea that I'm buying a license rather than a copy of the work, especially when that license allows the provider to delete (in this case) or alter (in the case of a pushed, obligatory update to a Stephen King novel) the thing I've bought without my consent. Even in the best case scenario, my ability to use the media is probably limited to the profitable lifespan of the company (e.g. WalMart and MSN switching off their music DRM authentification servers).
posted by metaBugs at 6:36 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


A new hardcover costs around $20 on Amazon. Are you going to pay $13.50 for the ebook? No? Then you're drastically lowering profit on book sales by selling an ebook instead of a physical book. There seems to be a great misunderstanding of the economics of this.

Actually, a lot of books currently in hardcover publication cost upwards of $13.50 in the Kindle store. I was a little appalled.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:38 PM on July 17, 2009


I was pretty mad earlier, but Ars reports that Amazon is claiming this was all a mistake.

And their explanation sort of makes sense. Their system wasn't set up properly to refund money without disabling access to the purchased book (which is perfectly reasonable if the user requests a refund), so it went away when they refunded the user's money.

If they do in fact modify their systems to prevent the removal of the book should these circumstances recur, I will once again find myself ire-less.
posted by wierdo at 6:54 PM on July 17, 2009 [4 favorites]



Actually, a lot of books currently in hardcover publication cost upwards of $13.50 in the Kindle store. I was a little appalled.


Huh, I must have only looked at prices for books out in paperback.

See my breakdown of some of the economics: They can't charge much less than that without taking a major hit. Lots of publishers depend on hardcover sales and the revenue they bring it. It's tough to see how they can charge a significantly lower price and still make money unless sales increase greatly and I am not confident of that at all.

Fortunately for the publishers I think people are wedded to real books in a way they weren't wedded to any particular delivery medium for music. There will be a lot of people who move completely to e-books but there will be a lot who don't; far more than those who stick with, say, vinyl records as a percentage of the market.
posted by Justinian at 7:03 PM on July 17, 2009


I like print more but this solidfies my view.
No kindle for me
posted by Glibpaxman at 7:24 PM on July 17, 2009


Fortunately for the publishers I think people are wedded to real books in a way they weren't wedded to any particular delivery medium for music. There will be a lot of people who move completely to e-books but there will be a lot who don't; far more than those who stick with, say, vinyl records as a percentage of the market.

We-ellll, I don't know...I mean, for me, I was about as resistant to the idea of an e-book reader as someone could be, until I actually had one. The same way that a vinyl LP is just undeniably cooler than a CD (but...), I don't think there's any real question that a book has an aesthetic appeal that something that doesn't exist without electricity, well, can't. I love books, and I love books as objects. However, I have a lot of those objects, I occasionally have piles of those objects for which I have no shelf space and which threaten to take over my apartment, and also one day I'm going to have to move all those objects (unless a stack of them tips over and crushes me under its pulpy weight), and so I turned out to be much more receptive to the Kindle than I ever would have imagined. Different strokes, I guess, but I really am of the opinion that a lot of the die-hard dead tree advocates might be given some food for thought if they were to sit down and play with what is kind of a neat toy. I'm pretty attached to mine, as you might have guessed.

As far as its potential benefits for the publishing industry go, I admit I'm a little more aware of what it's like on the inside of small press ventures, where printing and distribution out-cost everything else by far. But I think there's an overall benefit, too, which basically just boils down to immediacy. A few weeks ago, I was cleaning one morning with Daily Show reruns on in the background, and Stewart was talking to a guy who'd written a book about gangsters in '60s NYC called The Mad Ones that instantly piqued my interest. But it was one of those interest-piques that probably would have vanished in like three minutes had I not been able to zap the book into my Kindle on the spot. Books aren't often impulse buys for most of us, but going forward...
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:25 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


On being wedded to real books, I highly doubt that -- improvements in paper and printing technologies haven't led to markedly improved user satisfaction in the last 10 years, but digital display technologies have and will likely continue to do so.

If copyright is going to continue to be relevant, in music but increasingly in the literary world, copyright protection should reflect the far lower costs in the digital goods marketplace for producers to manufacture and distribute. With digital archiving so cheap and getting cheaper, copyrights properties are disproportionally increasing in value over their analog counterparts, favoring the large publishers with extensive catalogs who are attempting to ride out the tech and regulatory upheavals by basically doing nothing and playing it safe. Shortening the term for digital copyrighted works significantly would act in the public interest by encouraging rightsholders to go for the quick money of lowering prices.
posted by acro at 7:30 PM on July 17, 2009


Applying life of the author plus 70 years copyright for Twitter posts is ridiculous.
posted by acro at 7:42 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


But it was one of those interest-piques that probably would have vanished in like three minutes had I not been able to zap the book into my Kindle on the spot. Books aren't often impulse buys for most of us, but going forward..

Yes, and this is definitely the great hope for ebooks. But it only works if they can keep the price point high enough. If people start demanding $2.99 e-books it all falls apart.

Printing and distributing costs are definitely a different beast for small presses. You can't really look at the economics of a small press and extrapolate to how e-books will work unless one expects all presses to be small presses in the future. And, hey, maybe they will be. But I tend to doubt it.
posted by Justinian at 7:47 PM on July 17, 2009


On being wedded to real books, I highly doubt that -- improvements in paper and printing technologies haven't led to markedly improved user satisfaction in the last 10 years, but digital display technologies have and will likely continue to do so.

I think some types of books will move almost entirely over to e-books. Textbooks, many types of non-fiction, manuals, perhaps even magazines. But I think some types of books, particularly pleasure reading fiction, will always have a strong real book component. Going out at least, say, 75 years. I'd be willing to bet on it if I thought I'd be around to collect.
posted by Justinian at 7:50 PM on July 17, 2009


The problem with this for Amazon is their customers feel betrayed (rightly). Their customers did everything right: bought an expensive new gadget, paid for content from a major retailer.

Amazon informed their customers in the worst possible way that the company has power over them which nobody knew about (the Kindle page doesn't exactly scream "WE CAN DELETE ANY OF YOUR CONTENT ANY TIME WE LIKE!"). The first anyone finds out about this ability of theirs is after it's been used. And for 1984! Could they have found a better book to delete? This is custom made for a media storm. What book could be more embarrassing in this situation?

Companies live and die by their reputations. As soon as people hear of one major incident like this, they start thinking "if they can do that, what else can they do?"

If someone publishes a book and the author gets sued for slander, does Amazon remove the book from all kindles? How about if a book contains information that was classified and the government wants it pulled? Information about Scientology that the church doesn't want published? Books that some judge decides are obscene? Information that might in some way be useful to terrorists?

Seems to me that everyone and their dog can now sue Amazon to get content removed from Kindles. So now on top of the other DRM problems like technical glitches, services ending, devices dying, and non-portability we get to add "Amazon might just remove the content". It doesn't help the value proposition.

I guess I'll have to stick to paper for another 5 years or so.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 8:45 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think some types of books will move almost entirely over to e-books. Textbooks,

As a scientist, I would never trust a DRM system like Kindle's for the books needed to pursue my livelihood.

I realize you were referring more to class textbooks, but then again, several of the books I use were originally class textbooks.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:53 PM on July 17, 2009


Weird, there is a thread on Boing Boing and nobody has, as far as I can tell, made reference to the idea that 1984 wasn't deleted but rather simply unpublished. It is such an obvious and on-point remark that one wonders if the mods are deleting any comments that say such a thing.
posted by Justinian at 9:07 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I guess one guy made an off-hand sort of reference. Sort of.
posted by Justinian at 9:18 PM on July 17, 2009


OMG-its-just-like-1984-as-long-as-you-don't-really-think-about-it

In that context, to have Amazon's control over the books you buy with your Kindle so starkly compared to the control the government has over information in 1984 is a public relations disaster. Even though it is just a metaphor.

Oooooh! A metaphor!

No. Because he said it's like 1984. So that makes it a simile.
posted by jock@law at 9:22 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know, looking at the kinds of settlements the RIAA demands and extrapolating, I think everyone whose Kindle was thus sodomized can pretty much be excused of illegally downloading the entire library of congress.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:24 PM on July 17, 2009


Justinian: out of obscene curiosity, I went to BoingBoing and was surprised by two things:

First, the "OMG AMZAON IS TEH HITLAR!!!11!!" post was written by Mark Frauenfelder and not Cory Doctorow.

Second, the following comment had not been disemvoweled (or ampu-texted or de-wordified or whatever the mods are calling it these days) and allowed to stand uncensored among the predictable chorus of uninformed jack-assery: "AFAIC, if Amazon wants to unpublish some e-books they sold, it's jake with me."
posted by Ratio at 9:25 PM on July 17, 2009


This was easy to fix without a PR disaster. Amazon could stop selling it. They could have removed it from the store. They could have given the profits to the rightful copyright owner. They could have gone to court and paid any damages awarded.

What they can't do without sinking to evil is retroactively un-sell it and remove it from the storage devices of people who "bought" it. This doesn't just make the book feel like fake property, it proves that the Kindle you bought isn't really yours, since Amazon can disable or cripple it whenever they feel like it.

We can debate the "right to use" issues until we're blue in the face (or even gray, once it turns to insults), but this remains: consumers won't stand for that.

Amazon spends millions convincing me that these eBooks are "just like real books from Amazon", but if Amazon sells me a real book by mistake, they don't drive to my house and steal it back when I'm not looking!

I bought it, I need to at least feel as if I own it.
posted by rokusan at 9:30 PM on July 17, 2009 [7 favorites]


Also, I can't wait for the first Kindle virus.

I'm hoping it's a system-wide disemvoweler.
posted by rokusan at 9:32 PM on July 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty used to having library books recalled out from under me. Better to think of Amazon as offering a library service than being a bookstore, I guess. As long as I get to read the books I download, that doesn't bother me at all. (I'll grumble at the occasional "recall", but if there's a good reason for it, such as the fact that a publisher is pumping out e-texts illegally, so be it.)

Discussions about the Kindle always remind me of Walter Benjamin.

"From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the “authentic” print makes no sense. But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice – politics."

Benjamin was totally wrong about the reproducability of film destroying art's authenticity or aura. Mass production didn't eradicate aura---it reappeared in the guise of the physical medium of the reproduction, such as fancy trade paperbacks and opening-night screenings, director's cuts, and Criterion Collection stamps of approval. But the digital age is making his essay more highly relevant than ever. Digital reproduction, in which even the medium of the information isn't sold, will really be the nail in the coffin for the aura of art. I know that everyone wants to perpetually own books, and everyone likes paper books more than e-texts because they have a nice heft and smell. I'm not insensitive to those features; I feel the pull too. But I do think we'd be better off if we didn't care about that stuff. What matters is the information, and I have no qualms in principle about renting that through a library-like service, if that is the only societal model that will make sense in a digital world. Wanting to own either the information or the physical substrate encoding that information strikes me as needlessly bourgeois.

None of this is to say that there's anything cool about Amazon being the only library in town or the particularities of their business model. I dislike DRM not in principle, but because of the way the music industry handles it. But people in this thread, and pretty much every other thread, are freaking out mostly because their concept of ownership is being stepped on. It's going to happen sooner or later.

(I just surprised myself by writing something so totally Marxist. That's what happens when you quote Benjamin, I guess. My Canadian blood is pulsing. Maybe I'm just trying to do penance for the fact that I went a little crazy and bought nearly 300 dollars worth of Criterion Collection DVDs tonight.)
posted by painquale at 9:37 PM on July 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


"AFAIC, if Amazon wants to unpublish some e-books they sold, it's jake with me."

Eh. Woulda been better as something more like: "At first I was violet-faced with rage over this, but I realized it was just a little unpublishing and now I'm a little blue."
posted by Justinian at 9:49 PM on July 17, 2009


This is what I see is the core issue/question: who should have legal control of the bits/content/movies/books/music that I purchase and store on some electronic medium that I own, be it a CD, DVD, hard drive, or kindle? I think I should; and from that perspective, I am opposed to Amazon deleting the files. It is likely perfectly legal for them to do so now and I think that should change. If content needs to be revoked for any reason, the most Amazon (or any other content seller) should be allowed to legally do is notify me of this and let me know that I am required to delete the files. It is my sole responsibility and right to perform the deletion and at that point if I don't, I'd be the one in noncompliance of the law. I should still be entitled to the refund. Regardless of whether I delete the content or not, be assured that most will not. This will result in practically no recalls (as a company will lose money for no benefit).
posted by Bort at 10:28 PM on July 17, 2009


What matters is the information, and I have no qualms in principle about renting that through a library-like service.

Unfortunately, that's not how Amazon promotes itself, or the Kindle. They have gained a high adoption rate by convincing everyone that "they're just like your other books." But they are not.

So until they change their slogan to "The World's Biggest Library" and the button says "1-Click Rental", this practice is wrong.
posted by rokusan at 10:28 PM on July 17, 2009


Whatever the reason (and legitimate reasons could exist), Amazon faces two major problems with the approach they took:

1) Users suddenly found they did not have a book that they once had. There's no way around this. From a user experience perspective, this is just amazingly bad. "Hey, I had this. Bang, I don't." People do not like this. Saying, "Well, maybe there was a legitimate reason, so people should not bitch" does not work. People are accustomed to a business model with books (now called e-books, so they're working the angle that it's just like a book) where they pay money for a book, and it stays with them. Nobody comes to their house and takes their paperbacks away. Maybe you could eventually break people to this, but now? No. No warning, no advance notice, just gone.

2) Even given a legitimate legal reason where they had to pull the license, could not have Amazon said "Oh, and for your inconvenience, here's the link where you can download a properly licensed copy. It's on us."? I understand it may not have been possible with current software to replace the book. They could have set up a book coupon, but they failed to do so. The message received by users is "we screwed up, so we took your stuff away. *throws change on floor* here you go."

One of the things about a physical copy of a book is that I do not have to worry about it vanishing. Yes, I must find storage space for it and whatnot, but I do not worry about it mysteriously going *bamf* off into the ether, as other books settle on top of the scattering of coins teleported into the place where the book once was. It's mine, that's the end of the rights management on it.

Despite the name, e-books are not the books you're expecting. The name tries to sell you, but there's some differences.
posted by adipocere at 10:39 PM on July 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


One thing that has not been brought up:

People bought these books in good faith, with no reason to believe that what they bought was illegal. This wasn't a "fell off the truck" purchase.

In the software industry, vendors quite often indemnify their customers from negative consequences due to patent and copyright disputes. Why can't that be done here?
posted by dirigibleman at 10:59 PM on July 17, 2009


I have a Kindle1, with an SD card. When ever I get anything from Whispernet (which I mostly do not), I move it to my SD card. I happen to have those particular publisher's Orwell books on the card. They have not been removed. This leads me to believe that Amazon can remove things from the Kindle itself, but may not have the ability to access peripheral data. Which might explain why the Kindle2 doesn't include a card slot.
posted by dejah420 at 11:44 PM on July 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


the marxist part I can accept, it's the orwellian angle that twists my panties
posted by yesster at 11:57 PM on July 17, 2009


"I don't think it will be true in 20 years or whenever. At some point people will stop buying the paper books in addition to the e-book, which will destroy the business model."

My bet is people stop buying paper books well after the majority of e-books are DRM free.

One other thing occurs to me. Does this work the other way? IE: if I "buy" a Kindle ebook from Amazon and it doesn't live up to its Amazon review do I get to return it no questions asked for a full refund?
posted by Mitheral at 12:00 AM on July 18, 2009


For better or worse, acting first and dealing with the consequences later is Amazon's modus operandi. Buyer beware.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:54 AM on July 18, 2009


If you purchased a stolen book from someone, even in paper, the police could remove it. It happens all the time with stolen cars. Defending your stolen property with a "rain of bullets" would be unwise.
posted by Lame_username at 1:17 AM on July 18, 2009


Wow. Aside from the straighforward marketing/PR fiasco end of it, I find DrumsIntheDeep's comments particularly interesting. This just seems like such a horribly, horribly bad precedent - forgetting the customers for the moment - for Amazon itself. I can't imagine how their lawyers would have failed to put a quick veto on this way of handling the problem... so I wonder if they were even consulted.

Lawyers? Your thoughts? Doesn't this seem to open them up to all sorts of demands (justified or not) to rescind material that is being legally challenged for any reason?
posted by taz at 4:34 AM on July 18, 2009


There's an article in the NY Times that gives more information. A few interesting clips (the first good news, the second an unforeseen (and interesting) consequence):

Amazon effectively acknowledged that the deletions were a bad idea. “We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances,” Mr. Herdener said.
...
Justin Gawronski, a 17-year-old from the Detroit area, was reading “1984” on his Kindle for a summer assignment and lost all his notes and annotations when the file vanished. “They didn’t just take a book back, they stole my work,” he said.
posted by cider at 7:24 AM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


We owe you nothing
You have no control
posted by effwerd at 8:11 AM on July 18, 2009


If you purchased a stolen book from someone, even in paper, the police could remove it. It happens all the time with stolen cars. Defending your stolen property with a "rain of bullets" would be unwise.

You would, however, be within your rights to be pissed off at the car dealer you bought it from. You wouldn't treat them to a rain of bullets, but you'd never want to buy a car from them again. The issue is not that theft is good, but that a major weakness in the Kindle is that books going poof make people feel violated (just like if the cops arrived at my door and demanded I give them a hard copy of Animal Farm would make me uncomfortable), and that people trusted Amazon not to provide them with stolen goods.

That and having a product yanked makes them worry that the yank feature could be abused. For example lets say those new blasphemy laws make Rushdie's 'Satanic Verses' verbotten or my particular brand of porn suddenly violates the 'no violence in porn!' laws places sometimes consider. Right now I have the option of squirreling away illegal copies. This is pretty important for information preservation, and I'd rather not lose the ability to hide objectionable, illegal material.
posted by Phalene at 8:39 AM on July 18, 2009


BTW for those of you who don't own a Kindle, it is really a trivial thing to turn off the wireless. Once the wireless is off Amazon can not touch your Kindle via remote. You can buy Kindle books and have them e-mailed to you then you can copy them manually onto the Kindle and read them. You can also load other mobi formatted content on from other publishers.

If you don't like the idea of e-books, fine. If you like the idea of e-books the Kindle is still a nice option, and you can use it totally off the wireless grid as a standalone device if you want. Tho I prefer having the convenience of always on wireless in a format beside my smartphone. I'll still just back up my files to my computer as well.

I really think this was mostly a non-event. Sure it's worth looking at and discussing, but it's not that big of a deal.
posted by MrBobaFett at 8:42 AM on July 18, 2009


Right now I have the option of squirreling away illegal copies. This is pretty important for information preservation, and I'd rather not lose the ability to hide objectionable, illegal material.

Phalene, you do have that option, and will likely continue to have that option. But might I suggest that you don't squirrel away your illegal material onto network attached storage devices. The Kindle isn't a secure storage platform. It's an e-book reader.

Store that shit off-line.
posted by MrBobaFett at 8:46 AM on July 18, 2009


Actually, a lot of books currently in hardcover publication cost upwards of $13.50 in the Kindle store. I was a little appalled.
posted by kittens for breakfast


Most people don't know that the printing cost of a book is about 5 or 10% of the books price, and that Amazon's 9.99 kindle books are being sold at a loss to promote the Kindle. 13.50 sounds like reality, even a little low.
posted by stbalbach at 9:30 AM on July 18, 2009


An interesting article on the Kindle economics.

Note that the shipping and printing costs are 12.5% of the full retail price. The publishers are selling the books to the retailers at 50% off the retail price -- Amazon is then selling them at 40-45% off retail. So the shipping costs are really more like 25% of their selling price.

$27 x 50% = $13.50 * 75% = $10.12. So $9.99 is actually pretty close. Amazon only has to sell them a loss because they are still paying the book publisher $13.50.
posted by smackfu at 9:42 AM on July 18, 2009


What this is, is your typical hardware/service bundled boondoggle. Kindle sucks precisely because you don't control it after "purchase" and it is never yours. Windows sucks because ditto. Gmail sucks etc etc... iPhone sucks etc... game consoles... BlueRay... and on and on and on. Like clueless natives eager to trade their land for mirrors and shiny baubles, people eagerly grease up and bend over for the corporate colonialists.
posted by Hovercraft Eel at 9:53 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


What this is, is your typical hardware/service bundled boondoggle. Kindle sucks precisely because you don't control it after "purchase" and it is never yours. Windows sucks because ditto. Gmail sucks etc etc... iPhone sucks etc... game consoles... BlueRay... and on and on and on. Like clueless natives eager to trade their land for mirrors and shiny baubles, people eagerly grease up and bend over for the corporate colonialists.

Luckily, we can build all of these things out of simple coconuts ourselves, and power them on clean and efficient pelican farts.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:00 AM on July 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


TheFlamingoKing, no one here thinks Amazon is locking people up and torturing them with rats

Speak for yourself.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:09 AM on July 18, 2009


This will drive a lot of people to Apple's open arms when Steve (you thought he'd take Amazon's threat to the iTunes store lying down?) comes out with his inevitable tablet/ebook reader. You can bet your last dollar that it'll read DRM-free PDFs. Namaste.

Uh, the Kindle DX does that now, so do the Sony readers. The vast majority of stuff I use on both are DRM-free PDFs. I bought a DX specifically to use as a classroom aide for myself. Amazon doesn't distribute these PDFs from their online store, but the Kindle itself is just like any other USB mass storage device - plug it into your computer, and copy from one place to another.

And Apple would, at least initially, have to put up with the publishers' restrictions just like Amazon.

The Kindle isn't a secure storage platform. It's an e-book reader. Store that shit off-line.

Exactly. Unfortunately, most people won't know how to do this. But if you do, you don't really have anything to fear from the Kindle's DRM.
posted by me & my monkey at 11:11 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


How the hell is it a Kindle's business deleting files from its storage without the owner's say-so? Who is the device's master here? THAT is the issue here; this isn't unpublishing, it's digital property seizure.

I'm surprised that so many people are trying to make hay about the difference between government and corporations about whether this is ironic or not. The plain fact is that corporations are the new government, and one we have a whole lot less say over than our elected officials. I'm perfectly happy with the comparison.
posted by JHarris at 11:32 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


My theory is that someone at MobileReference just thought that this would be hilarious.
posted by delmoi at 1:31 PM on July 18, 2009


If you purchased a stolen book from someone, even in paper, the police could remove it. It happens all the time with stolen cars. Defending your stolen property with a "rain of bullets" would be unwise.

WTF are you talking about? No one stole anything, they sold something and then they decided they wanted to unsell it. And by the way, copyright infringement isn't theft, it's copyright infringement. Police have no right to go into your home and confiscate pirated books and movies.
posted by delmoi at 1:36 PM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


No one stole anything, they sold something and then they decided they wanted to unsell it.

Not true, someone sold something they didn't have rights to and Amazon removed it. The original stories were based on conjecture, if you read the follow-ups the original sale was offered by a company that did so illegally, so Amazon removed the material. Legally at least it's the same as buying stolen property (although I realize many people on here will argue that digital information is different, blah blah).
posted by wildcrdj at 2:37 PM on July 18, 2009


I'm defending my books with a Shogun.

By James Clavell. Even in paperback, it's got a heft.
posted by ovvl at 2:47 PM on July 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Police have no right to go into your home and confiscate pirated books and movies.

Hmmm, interesting question. Police, obviously, have no right to go into your home and look for anything at all without probable cause, but if police enter your home with a legal search warrant and come accross, say, a stash of pirated DVDs, do you have any legal right to prevent them removing those items? You have no legal right to possess them, after all, and the police can always argue that they could prove to be useful evidence should they wish to pursue the distributor (who as the copyright infringer is, in fact, guilty of a federal felony).

Any lawyers in the house?
posted by yoink at 2:51 PM on July 18, 2009


You have no legal right to possess them, after all

That's not how copyright works. You have no legal right to copy them. Copyright law governs the copying of works.
posted by delmoi at 1:33 PM on July 19, 2009


That's not how copyright works. You have no legal right to copy them. Copyright law governs the copying of works.

And again I ask: "any lawyers in the house?"

My guess is if US Customs finds 1000 pirated DVDs in my suitcase as I enter the country from, say, Hong Kong, they can impound them and I have no legal recourse. I've tried googling on the relevant statute law, but can find nothing that determines this either way. There are lots of People On The Internet who agree with you Delmoi, but none of the ones I have found appear to actually know anything about the law (they just own a lot of pirated stuff and don't want anybody harshing their mellow about it). I have a friend who is an expert in copyright law, actually. Maybe I'll email her and report back.
posted by yoink at 1:39 PM on July 19, 2009


The Police may well be able to go into your home and remove stolen property.

Amazon is not the Police.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:03 PM on July 19, 2009


The Police may well be able to go into your home and remove stolen property.

Amazon is not the Police.


Nope. And that's why they didn't enter your home and remove stolen property.
posted by yoink at 5:09 PM on July 19, 2009


Yet they took action that amounts to computer trespass in an attempt to reduce their own liability under copyright laws for distributing infringing material.
posted by acro at 5:19 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


What part of that prediction do you consider relevant to this event? They didn't alter any copy, so that whole part's irrelevant. "Zapping offending texts"?

They did indeed zap texts, and yes, it is scary that they can. That these particular texts can be had elsewhere is irrelevant.

(That is was an illegal ecopy is not in the original FPP. To the extent that they were honoring copyright, fine, and very foolish of them not to clear that before hand. That said, it hardly instills a whole lot of confidence in either the publisher or Amazon as guardians of the printed word.)

But I think you're a little naive about what publishers are willing to do with controversial texts. When Booth Tarkington's Penrod fell a little too far from prevailing mores, one publisher at least was happy to airbrush the offending bits. Without bothering to tell the reader, of course. If, as is predicted, more text goes straight to electrons, what kind of record other than human memory do we have catch this kind of foolishness?

And if publishers are willing to fiddle texts on whim, do you honestly think governments are going to be more forebearing? May I suggest not?

Sure I sound alarmist. I read a lot of history. Amazing what people are capable of, given half a chance.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:27 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


They did indeed zap texts, and yes, it is scary that they can. That these particular texts can be had elsewhere is irrelevant.

You referred to "zapping offending texts"--not simply "zapping texts." The "offensiveness" of these texts played no part whatsoever in Amazon's action. This is adequately proven by the fact that they continue to sell these texts. This desperate attempt to misconstrue this action as "censorship" of any kind whatsoever is simply crying wolf. There are enough real acts of government censorship in the world to complain about.
posted by yoink at 6:10 PM on July 19, 2009


This new ereader has a comparable screen to the Kindle 2, is smaller overall and only 2/3 the weight, due to no wifi and no keypad, and is priced at $250. Their corresponding ebook store uses the "Adobe Digital Editions" format, presumably DRM-ed, but they're disappointingly mum on the subject.

Though I've no plans to buy DRM-ed ebooks, it gets ever more tempting to get a reader. Another $50 in price drops, and I'll probably give in.
posted by Zed at 12:09 AM on July 20, 2009


Second, the following comment had not been disemvoweled (or ampu-texted or de-wordified or whatever the mods are calling it these days) and allowed to stand uncensored among the predictable chorus of uninformed jack-assery: "AFAIC, if Amazon wants to unpublish some e-books they sold, it's jake with me."

That was me. And, actually, in the post Cory wrote about Amazon's unpublishing of the books, they did not let a similar comment (one with more substance than snark) stand. They just deleted it outright. No disemvowelling for me. I wish I could say I was surprised.
posted by hades at 11:16 PM on July 20, 2009


Yoink - They didn't alter any copy, so that whole part's irrelevant. "Zapping offending texts"? Ooh, very scary. Only, that's not remotely what happened here.

This event wasn't censorship. But it isn't crazy to be disturbed by this. Amazon is able to edit or delete books after they're bought; in the case of editing, there's no way to prove it's happened unless you periodically diff the Kindle books against offline backups (so far, edits have been to fix formatting and typographical errors; users get emails about it, but the device itself didn't show any message). They've shown that they're willing to do this for a breach in copyright law, so what happens if the decency laws change and e.g. Lady Chatterly's Lover gets banned again? Or if a book that's highly critical of some future govt gets declared subversive? The books will be deleted, or the author's words changed. So you're right that this example wasn't censorship, but if Amazon's model is the future of publishing it sets a really scary precedent.

History has plenty of examples of governments turning sour and deciding that certain texts shouldn't be allowed. Forget the Nazis, in the UK books have been banned thanks to unfair cases under our crazy libel laws. Worse, our recent anti-terror laws created a new criminal offence of "possess[ing] information likely to be useful to a terrorist", which could mean almost anything the police want it to. So far it has included photos of a train station and a teenager's downloaded copy of "The Anarchist's Cookbook".

Even if you think that could never happen where you live, newspapers routinely lie about their past stances (claiming to have supported someone they wrongly condemned, etc) and deletion or redaction of offending articles from their websites is already becoming a common tactic. Frankly, the idea of a service like Amazon's becoming dominant, in which someone can simply press a button to remove or edit any book, newspaper, etc. in general circulation, scares the crap out of me.

Zed- The "Cool-er" reader supports DRM'd Adobe files (both .pdf and the newer .epub), which is becoming a popular format. It also supports DRM-free PDF, EPUB, FB2, RTF, TXT, HTML, PRC (the mobipocket format) & JPG, so it'll read pretty much any DRM-free book you can throw at it. I'm actually tempted to get one, I'm just held back by all the logos plastered on it and that ghastly "making reading cool again" slogan plastered across the back. I'd be embarrassed to hold it up in public.

Mobipocket (and therefore Kindle*) DRM is easy to remove from legally purchased books, provided you know the username and credit card that were used to buy it. It's probably not legal, but I don't see any moral problem with buying .mobi books and stripping the DRM for personal use, as long as you don't distribute them. Microsoft's old .LIT format can be treated the same, and easily converted to a format that a given reader can handle.

The adobe formats have not been cracked and probably won't be any time soon, so while it's not a great format to buy it's probably the best format for a device to support.

People from the mobileread fora maintain a detailed and comprehensive comparison of all eBook readers, available or just announced. Well worth a look if you're interested in buying an eInk device.

*Amazon bought Mobipocket and used the Mobipocket format to encrypt Kindle books. So the Kindle format is identical to the mobi format, just with an extra bit in the header that signals "this is a kindle book".

The Mobi reader software hasn't been updted since Amazon bought the company. The release of a Kindle reader on the iPhone without the simultaneous release of a new Mobipocket reader (it would be identical code, just with different branding) has some suspicious types complaining that Amazon wants to kill off the Mobi brand -- and therefore possibly its users' amassed mobipocket format books -- in favour of the Kindle.

posted by metaBugs at 7:30 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Or if a book that's highly critical of some future govt gets declared subversive? The books will be deleted, or the author's words changed. So you're right that this example wasn't censorship, but if Amazon's model is the future of publishing it sets a really scary precedent.

If the above situation happened, almost the very last thing on my mind would be "OMG, what will the consequences be for Kindle readers!?!" Slippery slope arguments are rarely valid; this one is no exception.

In fact, this one is simply self-contradictory. You're imagining some future totalitarian US government which has no qualms at all about declaring certain political arguments verboten, and yet you're suggesting that the great bulwark of liberty against which this totalitarian regime will founder would be a law preventing Amazon from dicking around with people's Kindle-content. If the government has gone so far off track as to be censoring political criticism, why won't it simply change or ignore the Kindle-protection laws?
posted by yoink at 9:33 AM on July 21, 2009


Sorry, I wasn't clear. I'm not worrying about Amazon specifically, but its publishing model in general. The idea of buying media and media players that we don't actually control (Kindle, iPhone, Blu-Ray to some extent) is becoming more and more pervasive. People are getting used to the idea that an external entity has ultimate control over their devices.

If Amazon's publishing model becomes dominant (not necessarily just Amazon, but the general concept of always-connected DRMd content that's licensed instead of bought), we're headed toward a scenario where a comprehensive book recall or edit could be achieved very easily. And the increasing acceptance that we're licensing books instead of buying them means that people won't worry too much about their books and devices being meddled with. Escpecially when combined with the gradual acceptance of civil liberties losses that we're suffering in the UK under the banner of "anti-terrorism".

Perhaps this is less plausible in the USA where free speech is so strongly protected. But after a massive expansion of anti-terrorism laws in the UK we already have laws against mocking religions (under hate speech laws) and "possessing information likely to be useful to terrorists", and books are occasionally ordered to be banned after libel cases. The USA might never outlaw certain materials but the UK already has and, without a major change in govt culture, will continue to expand the scope. If a similar service came to the UK (or any other less free countries) with those capabilities and a willingness to use them for copyright law, you can bet that the govt would try to make them use it under the auspices of anti-terrorist laws.

A law against this would help -- because at least the govt would have to repeal that law first, which would generate some press -- but it's people's acceptance that Amazon had a right to do this that scares me.
posted by metaBugs at 10:09 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


A law against this would help -- because at least the govt would have to repeal that law first, which would generate some press -- but it's people's acceptance that Amazon had a right to do this that scares me.

People accept that Amazon has a right to do this (at least, those who do accept that they do; myself I think that they probably do, and that it will all come down to the specifics of their contract with customers) because they think that this is a pretty straightforward case of a bookseller righting a wrong. They should never have sold those copies in the first place, because they had no legal right to do so.

If the evil future government starts reaching out to people's Kindles to delete content, I imagine that canny future citizens will take to downloading a backup copy to their laptops. Problem solved (insofar as it relates to this particular scenario).
posted by yoink at 10:52 AM on July 21, 2009


"People accept that Amazon has a right to do this (at least, those who do accept that they do; myself I think that they probably do, and that it will all come down to the specifics of their contract with customers) because they think that this is a pretty straightforward case of a bookseller righting a wrong. "

I wonder how many people who think that realize Amazon also zapped any notes and mark up the people who had the books had added. Amazon didn't just right a perceived wrong; they also inflicted direct harm on some "owners" of the book. I wonder if their license actually allows for that.
posted by Mitheral at 12:24 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hah. I just noticed that my account at BoingBoing has been banned, almost certainly because of my (unpublished) comment in their thread about this. Irony overload.
posted by hades at 1:29 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wonder how many people who think that realize Amazon also zapped any notes and mark up the people who had the books had added. Amazon didn't just right a perceived wrong; they also inflicted direct harm on some "owners" of the book. I wonder if their license actually allows for that.

Yeah, I agree that that really sucks--I think that kid should look into suing. I'm guessing that when you really look into the Kindle user agreement Amazon will have basically told users that they (Amazon) can do whatever the hell they want, up to and including talking smack about them at their high school reunions, but I'd be interested to see this tested in a court of law.

I mean, if the kid had been able to retrieve his notes, sans-text, he'd have been able to apply them to some legally acquired copy of the text.

This does, however, seem to me to be an entirely separate issue.
posted by yoink at 1:58 PM on July 21, 2009


A slate article on The danger of tethered devices. Via gizmodo.
posted by shothotbot at 6:25 AM on July 22, 2009


Yoink - I think we'll have to agree to disagree on this.

I know I sound like I'm being unduly paranoid, but I've been watching the erosion of civil liberties in my country (the UK) over the past few years, with amazingly little public opposition. It's already a criminal offence to own literature or information "likely to be useful to a terrorist", which the police can interpret as meaning anything they can get through the courts. If it were possible to delete, edit or prevent distribution of books without much physical disruption to people's lives, I'm convinced that our govt would try it in the name of security. I'm equally convinced that the people wouldn't complain much, thanks to the attitude of "I'm not a terrorist, so why should I worry?".

Unfortunately the official definition of "terrorism" has expanded to include peaceful protests, and anti-terrorism laws are frequently invoked when no suspicion of terrorism exists (e.g. to randomly stop and search Londoners on the street, or arrest anyone who photographs a police officer). It's a pretty safe bet that the power to control terrorist literature would slowly be expanded as people get used to the idea. Again, I know it probably sounds implausible to an American, but we don't have constitutionally protected free speech and certain types of literature have already been declared illegal here.

So the growing acceptance that I don't get to control my device or the media on it, coupled with the growing acceptance of our govt's reduction of our liberties in the name of "anti-terrorism" (which, by definition, will last forever because there will always be people who dislike us and it'd be political suicide to lower the alert status) freaks me the hell out.

If you say this would be a crazy concern in the USA I'll believe you, because you know your culture much better than I do. But I've been astonished here about how little people complain about their rights being taken away, and can only really see it getting worse.
posted by metaBugs at 7:27 AM on July 23, 2009


Hey, Amazon apologized:
This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our "solution" to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,

Jeff Bezos
Founder & CEO
Amazon.com
Good on them.
posted by smackfu at 8:16 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Very well done on the apology.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 4:51 PM on July 27, 2009


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