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Kindle - Amazon Remote Deletion of E-Books

TheYeti1775

Adventurer
Interesting article of Amazon remote deleting purchased E-Books.
Without going into pirates good/bad debate, lets discuss is it right that Amazon could do this?
What's to stop WOTC from taking the same stance if they are to sell E-Books again?



How Amazon's remote deletion of e-books from the Kindle paves the way for book-banning's digital future. - By Farhad Manjoo - Slate Magazine

Why 2024 Will Be Like Nineteen Eighty-FourHow Amazon's remote deletion of e-books from the Kindle paves the way for book-banning's digital future.

By Farhad ManjooPosted Monday, July 20, 2009, at 5:53 PM ET

Let's give Amazon the benefit of the doubt—its explanation for why it deleted some books from customers' Kindles actually sounds halfway defensible. Last week a few Kindle owners awoke to discover that the company had reached into their devices and remotely removed copies of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm. Amazon explained that the books had been mistakenly published, and it gave customers a full refund. It turns out that Orwell wasn't the first author to get flushed down the Kindle's memory hole. In June, fans of Ayn Rand suffered the same fate—Amazon removed Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, and The Virtue of Selfishness, with an explanation that it had "recently discovered a problem" with the titles. And some customers have complained of the same experience with Harry Potter books. Amazon says the Kindle versions of all these books were illegal. Someone uploaded bootlegged copies using the Kindle Store's self-publishing system, and Amazon was only trying to look after publishers' intellectual property. The Orwell incident was too rich with irony to escape criticism, however. Amazon was forced to promise that it will no longer delete its customers' books.

Don't put too much stock in that promise. The worst thing about this story isn't Amazon's conduct; it's the company's technical capabilities. Now we know that Amazon can delete anything it wants from your electronic reader. That's an awesome power, and Amazon's justification in this instance is beside the point. As our media libraries get converted to 1's and 0's, we are at risk of losing what we take for granted today: full ownership of our book and music and movie collections.

Farhad Manjoo previously wrote about why book publishers should fear the Kindle and why newsprint still beats the Kindle. Jacob Weisberg predicted the Kindle will change the world. Jack Shafer debated the economics of e-book pricing. Plus, Inigo Thomas on the adjective Orwellian.

Most of the e-books, videos, video games, and mobile apps that we buy these days day aren't really ours. They come to us with digital strings that stretch back to a single decider—Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, or whomever else. Steve Jobs has confirmed that every iPhone routinely checks back with Apple to make sure the apps you've purchased are still kosher; Apple reserves the right to kill any app at any time for any reason. But why stop there? If Apple or Amazon can decide to delete stuff you've bought, then surely a court—or, to channel Orwell, perhaps even a totalitarian regime—could force them to do the same. Like a lot of others, I've predicted the Kindle is the future of publishing. Now we know what the future of book banning looks like, too.

Consider the legal difference between purchasing a physical book and buying one for your Kindle. When you walk into your local Barnes & Noble to pick up a paperback of Animal Farm, the store doesn't force you to sign a contract limiting your rights. If the Barnes & Noble later realizes that it accidentally sold you a bootlegged copy, it can't compel you to give up the book—after all, it's your property. The rules are completely different online. When you buy a Kindle a book, you're implicitly agreeing to Amazon's Kindle terms of service. The contract gives the company "the right to modify, suspend, or discontinue the Service at any time, and Amazon will not be liable to you should it exercise such right." In Amazon's view, the books you buy aren't your property—they're part of a "service," and Amazon maintains complete control of that service at all times. Amazon has similar terms covering downloadable movies and TV shows, as does Apple for stuff you buy from iTunes.

In The Future of the Internet and How To Stop It, Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain argues that such "tethered" appliances give the government unprecedented power to reach into our homes and change how our devices function. In 2004, TiVo sued Echostar (which runs Dish Network) for giving its customers DVR set-top boxes that TiVo alleged infringed on its software patents. A federal district judge agreed. As a remedy, the judge didn't simply force Dish to stop selling new devices containing the infringing software—the judge also ordered Dish to electronically disable the 192,000 devices that it had already installed in people's homes. (An appeals court later stayed the order; the legal battle is ongoing.) In 2001, a company called Playmedia sued AOL for including a version of the company's MP3 player in its software. A federal court agreed and ordered AOL to remove Playmedia's software from its customers' computers through a "live update."

The digitization of media doesn't necessarily make it more likely for books to get banned. Art is banned across the world for all kinds of reasons. In the United States, the usual justification is copyright infringement. Earlier this month, for instance, a judge issued an injunction against the publication of a Swedish author's unauthorized "sequel" to J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. For other examples, take a look at Stay Free! magazine's collection of "illegal art": You'll find Todd Haynes' 1987 film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, which played at several film festivals before all copies were ordered recalled and destroyed (Haynes hadn't obtained legal clearance for the music in the film); a CD's worth of songs shot down due to allegations of unlicensed sampling; and lots of parody comics—including of Family Circus and Mickey Mouse—that never saw the light of day.

The difference between today's Kindle deletions and yesteryear's banning is that the earlier prohibitions weren't perfectly enforceable. At best, publishers that found their books banned by courts could try to recall all books in circulation. In 2007, Cambridge University Press settled a lawsuit with Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi Arabian banker who sued for libel over a book that alleged he'd funded terrorism. Cambridge agreed to ask libraries across the world to remove books from their shelves. But the libraries were free to refuse. If bin Mahfouz had sued over a Kindle book, on the other hand, he could ask the court not only to stop sales but also to delete all copies that had already been sold. As Zittrain points out, courts might consider such a request a logical way to enforce a ban—if they can order Dish Network to disable your DVR, they can also tell Amazon or Apple to disable a certain book, movie, or song.

But that sets up a terrible precedent. Amazon deleted books that were already available in print, but in our paperless future—when all books exist as files on servers—courts would have the power to make works vanish completely. Zittrain writes: "Imagine a world in which all copies of once-censored books like Candide, The Call of the Wild, and Ulysses had been permanently destroyed at the time of the censoring and could not be studied or enjoyed after subsequent decision-makers lifted the ban." This may sound like an exaggeration; after all, we'll surely always have file-sharing networks and other online repositories for works that have been decreed illegal. But it seems like small comfort to rely on BitTorrent to save banned art. The anonymous underground movements that have long sustained banned works will be a lot harder to keep up in the world of the Kindle and the iPhone.

The power to delete your books, movies, and music remotely is a power no one should have. Here's one way around this: Don't buy a Kindle until Amazon updates its terms of service to prohibit remote deletions. Even better, the company ought to remove the technical capability to do so, making such a mass evisceration impossible in the event that a government compels it. (Sony and Interead—makers of rival e-book readers—didn't immediately respond to my inquiries about whether their devices allow the same functions. As far as I can tell, their terms of service don't give the companies the same blanket right to modify their services at will, though.)

But these problems are bigger than a few select companies. As Zittrain points out, they come about because of the law's inability to deal with tethered technology—devices that are both yours and not yours, in your possession but under the orders of companies far away. Amazon's promise to do better next time is going to be pretty hard to keep. The company says it won't delete any more books—but it hasn't said what it will do when someone alleges that one of its titles is libelous or violates someone else's copyright. This is bound to happen sooner or later, and the company might find itself deleting books once more. To solve this problem, what we really need are new laws.
 

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an_idol_mind

Explorer
While I think Amazon is jerks for how it deals with Kindle deletions, I think the article pasted has the major flaw of assuming that no hard copies of books, movies, et cetera will exist twenty years from now.
 

Whimsical

Explorer
When you buy a regular book, you don't own it. You own one licensed copy of the book.

You only completely own books you write that isn't a copy of other works.
 

Nikosandros

Golden Procrastinator
When you buy a regular book, you don't own it. You own one licensed copy of the book.
Huh, what? I don't own the rights to the work, but I do in fact own the book. There is no license, the book is mine for good. I can sell it and no one can terminate the license.
 

Drkfathr1

First Post
Yeah, probably not within the next 20 years, but what about in the next 200?

I'm not a fan of "tethered" electronics at all. If I buy something, I want it to be mine.
 

TheYeti1775

Adventurer
When you buy a regular book, you don't own it. You own one licensed copy of the book.

You only completely own books you write that isn't a copy of other works.
By that logic, WoTC could simply decide to revoke the licensing of all your hard copy OE/1E/2E/3E books and demand them back.
It doesn't really fly right does it.
 

Dykstrav

Adventurer
Huh, what? I don't own the rights to the work, but I do in fact own the book. There is no license, the book is mine for good. I can sell it and no one can terminate the license.

Yeah, you do own a physical copy of the book in question. You can go sell it to a used bookstore, give it to a friend to read, whatever. This is fine because inherently, the media is fixed to a dead tree format. This is one of the big reasons that I prefer my D&D material in dead trees rather than pixels (besides the logistics of hauling around my laptop or getting a new device just to read books).

Does anyone remember the 1E Deities and Demigods with the Cthulhu and Melnibonean mythos? TSR discovered that Chaosium actually had the license to publish materials from both sources through the IP owners after they had already published the book. After the second printing, they stopped using the material, but many players already had it. TSR didn't come around to your house ordering you to surrender your old copy and offering you a refund. Now that book is a collector's item.

On the other hand, it'd be a quite different story if you took a copy of a book you owned and started photocopying entire copies of it and handing them out to your friends. Or, for that matter, scanning it into a PDF. You do own a single, physical copy of the book. You don't own the right to copy it as much as you want, which is far more difficult to enforce in digital spheres than the physical world.
 
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wedgeski

Adventurer
I think more people should read the T&C's when they buy their Kindle. It doesn't sound like they're buying property or licenses, they're buying a managed service, with everything that entails.

Good article though. I must admit that the concept of an organization deleting a book or other work -- not just removing from circulation, but actually *expunging* from existence -- is a chilling prospect, but one where the precedent is already being set. Something to think very hard about.
 

BryonD

Hero
I think more people should read the T&C's when they buy their Kindle. It doesn't sound like they're buying property or licenses, they're buying a managed service, with everything that entails.
Exactly.
The author jumps from the legal (if annoying) actions between two private parties to a presumption of universal government mandate on all media. Have we leapt to the conclusion that paper is fully gone and every digital media item everywhere is tapped into the government?

If one party in a private exchange did not understand the terms of the deal they choose to enter, then that is an example of not using your power of choice wisely.

Yes, the circumstance described in the article is very very scary.
So is being chased by Michael Meyers.

This situation is not completely impossible. But I think it is very unlikely. Or at least if circumstances became such that it was reasonably possible, this would be far far down our list of things to worry about at that point. Seriously, if you assume that the government has that much control over communication, is your first concern that they might delete your copy of Atlas Shrugged? Regardless of you political stance, it is very easy to think of vastly more scary implications of things that would happen along the way to making this particular result. So either it never happens or the game is already over before we get there. Either way, it isn't a meaningful battle.

But in any society that more or less resembles today's society, writing off alternative media as bittorrent is far from the mark. More and more alternative options are out there and one copy of anything on one flash drive can be six-degreed to the whole world in an afternoon.

Don't get me wrong. The prospect of what is presented is very concerning. And even at the private level, my recent consideration of picking up a kindle just went into reconsider mode. (though it may survive the further review)

And I know there are many people who would be thrilled to censor all kinds of things and would not hesitate to do so.

But I think the article ignores to much of the big picture to provide an realistic assessment of the threats and alternatives.
 

Mustrum_Ridcully

Adventurer
Interesting article of Amazon remote deleting purchased E-Books.
Without going into pirates good/bad debate, lets discuss is it right that Amazon could do this?
What's to stop WOTC from taking the same stance if they are to sell E-Books again?
Well, if they sell it via Kindle, they could do it. If they create their own infrastructure for selling and viewing e-books, they could, too.

But that's not really WotC primary concern. They want to deal with illegal copies, not retract legally acquired PDFs. Of course, they could theoretically want to do that when 5E comes around. But there are always other considerations - if they would take away your 4E rulebooks this easily, wouldn't you want some compensation? Amazon refunds its customers. They are still annoyed. If WotC does not refund you, what would you do? WOuld you really pick up the 5E eBooks? Or would you rather have them in print?


The anonymous underground movements that have long sustained banned works will be a lot harder to keep up in the world of the Kindle and the iPhone.
I think they will just use different methods. Which might have some considerable advantages, too. Digital Data can be far easier transfered, copied or hidden then a physical book or a painting.
 

Halivar

First Post
As it turns out, Amazon didn't actually have the right to put the books on the Kindle in the first place. Because of our (as in, US) convoluted copyright system, the books were thought to have been in public domain since 1978, but because of various copyright extension acts that do funky math with publish dates and author death dates, the actual copyright on them does not expire until 2044. Amazon was liable for triple damages (and may still be), so the decision to remove the books was logical.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member

This was not really a gaming discussion, so I have moved it to Off-Topic.

Do remember that the "no politics" rule still applies. Thank you.
 

Asmor

First Post
What's to stop WOTC from taking the same stance if they are to sell E-Books again?

Well, first and foremost, the fact that you should be buying PDFs with no DRM, so they don't even have the capability.

As a general rule, DRM is a completely bad thing and you should only accept it if you're getting something to make up for its significant and real drawbacks. For example, I'm okay with Steam's DRM because it's relatively benign (e.g. allows me to install on as many computers as I want), because I have a high opinion of the company behind it (Valve), and because it offers some significant bonuses (e.g. keeping track of my games so I don't have to keep track of discs and/or codes).

That said, I understand that in the end Valve has me by the short-and-curlies and could elect to screw me over at any time. There aren't many companies for whom I'd have the good will to accept such an arrangement. Blizzard and Google are the only other two that come to mind.

I'm lucky enough to be well-informed in the choice as to whether I will purchase something encumbered with DRM or not, however, and the vast majority of consumers are not. Thus, I'm a strong opponent of all forms of DRM. At the very least, I think any sort of DRM whatsoever should require clear, up-front communication with the purchaser and all encryption keys and such should legally be required to be held in escrow by a third party in the event something happens to the company in question.
 

S'mon

Legend
Does anyone remember the 1E Deities and Demigods with the Cthulhu and Melnibonean mythos? TSR discovered that Chaosium actually had the license to publish materials from both sources through the IP owners after they had already published the book.

This is actually highly dubious:

1. Moorcock has said he never intended to give Chaosium an exclusive license to his work, and was very annoyed they claimed to have one. He did give TSR permission to use his stuff.

2. Cthulu is (a) mostly public domain and (b) there is no clear licensing paper trail of any non-PD stuff to Chaosium, from what I can ascertain.
 

tmatk

First Post
The anonymous underground movements that have long sustained banned works will be a lot harder to keep up in the world of the Kindle and the iPhone.

No it won't, not a chance. It's still digital, they'll get it off the device to a PC, strip the DRM, and get it on the file sharing networks.
 

Asmor

First Post
2. Cthulu is (a) mostly public domain and (b) there is no clear licensing paper trail of any non-PD stuff to Chaosium, from what I can ascertain.

The stuff created by Lovecraft is in the public domain. I'm no Cthulhu scholar or even enthusiast, but my understanding is that Chaosium's added some of their own original works to the mythos, turning it into a veritable mine field where you've got to be careful which parts you use and which you don't...

Which is pretty sad, actually. From what I've read (i.e. Wikipedia), it seems Lovecraft would be turning in his grave at that. He was very happy to see other people use and expand the Cthulhu mythos, and actively encouraged them to do so.
 

Whimsical

Explorer
An apology from Jeff Bezos

An apology from Amazon.com
Jeff Bezos said:
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
 

Mathew_Freeman

First Post
There is a story going round today that an American user is suing Amazon over this.

He'd made some annotations to his copy of 1984 to assist him in his class, and now that it's gone all that work is gone with it. It's going to be used as a class action.

Personally, I wish him the best of luck.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
If Kindle had, instead, become obsolete that day, and was no longer supported, the Kindle users would have been just as out of luck as they are under the deletion, because there is no obligation for them to keep supporting old tech.

Otherwise, we'd have had successful consumer lawsuits over continued support of 8-tracks, reel-to-reel, Beta and other now-defunct media tech.

And I'd have been able to sue Microsoft when they stopped supporting a particular spreadsheet/WP program in favor of what is now known as Office...and didn't provide any way to convert the data into the new format. I lost years of personally generated data and my Father had to spend thousands in order to convert files for his business.

But no such victories exist.

While the impetus is different, the outcome is likely to be the same.

Amazon remotely deleted Kindle files of books they shouldn't have in the first place, and in at least most cases, refunded the money.

Look at it this way- if you bought a book that turned out to be stolen from a bookstore, that could be confiscated without recompense. Your only viable lawsuit would be against the thief. If you won, you'd get your money back...and nothing else.

Here, the Kindle users got their money back in exchange for their deleted files...the identical legal position to the person who successfully sued the thief over the confiscated stolen property they purchased from him.

My guess is that the lawsuits will go nowhere. They have no more recourse than I would if the Mods here deleted all the threads I've subscribed to...some of which contain my original creative work that I have never published anywhere else, nor copied onto my own hard drive via Word or a similar program.

The public relations nightmare, OTOH, may have longer legs.

IMHO, Amazon erred by doing what they did the way they did. They should have notified potentially affected customers ahead of time- ideally at least a month in advance- in order to let them make whatever adjustments they needed to before the deletion. Adjustments like transferring one's cribnotes to a physical copy, for instance.
 
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