amazon kindle dxOn July 17th, 2009, some owners of the Amazon Kindle ebook reader awoke to find out that books they had purchased from the seller had been deleted from their devices, and their accounts credited for the purchase. What followed is a fascinating study in ownership in the digital age.

The story boils down to that an unkown third-party uploaded copies of Animal Farm and 1984 by George Orwell using the self-service platform.  It has now been brough to Amazon’s attention that there were unauthorized copies by the legal owners of the copyrights to those works.  Amazon took the action of remotely deleting the works from each Kindle that had downloaded them, and a $.99 refund (the original purchase price) was placed into each account holders credit.

Amazon has stated they they have now taken steps that will not allow this to happen agaian, but how exactly they can assure that has not been disclosed.

This issue raises some very serious question about ownership in the digital age.  Imagine if Barnes & Noble had bout copies of these books not knowing they were illegal knock offs.  The copyright holder comes to them and informs them of this, are we then to expect employees of the book store coming into our homes in the middle of the night to take the book and leave us a check?  Of course we wouldn’t tolerate that, but in the day and age of downloadable media this seems perfectly okay.

Similiar issues have been raised about people who purchase music with Digital Rights Management (DRM) encoded into it.  Most people do not realize that a signal is occasionally sent back to the companies servers you purchased the song from to verify it.  If that company should go out of business, their servers shut down and your music has no way to verify itself… you now have useless music files.  This is part of the reason people have been calling out for an end to the draconian DRM system, but of course the music industry is fighting this tooth and nail.

Back to the current dilemna of Amazon, basically Amazon has just put all Kindle users on notice that they do not own these books they are purchasing.  Fred Von Lohmann, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, looked into the terms of service Amazon set up for the Kindle, and what he found was that they never say you own your purchases, but they also never state they can take them away. Sure Amazon has said that this won’t happen again, but, really, what is to stop them?

The idea of digital media is very appealing, but until things like this are sorted out 100%, it makes me quite leery of trusting my library of books, movies and music to the concept.

Categories: Opinion   
 

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