back to article Amazon Kindle doomed to repeat Big Brother moment

Yes, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos has apologized for the Orwellian removal of Orwell from digital book readers tucked inside the pockets of American citizens. And yes, the new-age retailer has promised not to repeat its Big Brother moment. But that's not a promise it can promise to keep. Last week, Bezos and company vanished all …


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  1. Anonymous from Mars
    Thumb Up


    As the husband of a writer, and barring security concerns, I am actually happy to hear this story and that the writer's rights were successfully protected thanks to technology. :)

  2. AndrewG

    Right system wrong use

    I can see such a can of worms in this story.

    Amazon showing the have the ability to "unpublish" a book whenever they want.

    Multiple people that claim to be the rights holders (or know the copyright status of a book) - showing how hard it is to work out what is in public domain these days

    Amazon making grandious statements that they can't possibly keep.

    All of this just proves to me that Kindle should never ever be used for books, or if it is, should have a locked in ability not to allow it to be modified.

    On the other hand...if they can unpublish content, then they can republish it, that would be erfect for things like newspapers and a subscription for a year, and get new issues downloaded automatically over the old one..include a function to allow users to prevent specific articles from undeleting when the next issue comes along and you'd actually have a product thats good for something.

    Kindle just seems like a good idea that isn't goign to work becasue Amazon looks at it and thinks "BOOKS"

  3. mr_chris

    Re: "the writer's rights were successfully protected thanks to technology"

    By any chance, would that be the same technology that caused this problem to exist in the first place?

  4. ZenCoder
    Big Brother

    Almost perfect

    Amazon didn't take this far enough

    Google needs to launch a similar book reader .. and require that all purchases do so using Google Check out and a GMail email address.

    Then they can take it a step further and instead of giving a refund ... edit history so that the purchase never happened.

  5. Dillon Pyron


    "Amazon's terms of service say its ebooks are licensed - not sold. But its marketing boilerplate describes the Kindle as a device for "your library" and "your books." The company didn't break its user contract. But it messed with some peace of mind."

    Okay, I have no problem with the TOS saying that the books are licensed. But when they are marketed as "belonging", I would think that they're committing some sort of fraudulent advertising. When I saw an ad last week for the Kindle on Amazon, there was no mention, anywhere, about the "fact" that the books were licensed.

    Even Microsoft, when it licenses software, doesn't (so far) unilaterally revoke that license.

    IANAL, but I've seen plenty of these "contracts" ruled unenforcable because of the one sided nature of the terms.

    It strikes me that the "purchasers" of these books did so in good faith.

  6. Tony Paulazzo
    Big Brother

    @ anon from mars

    >that the writer's rights were successfully protected thanks to technology<

    This particular writer has been dead since Jan 1950, so I doubt he cares, also, the copyright had finished, so, if anything, Amazon should of let its customers have those titles for free, not charge them - as you can do so here, legally...

    except, of course, you can't read PDFs on the Kindle, it is totally proprietary.

    Epic Fail!

  7. Jerome 0

    The obvious lesson

    Do not buy any hardware or software which gives a third party more control over your system than you. If you do, you should know what to expect.

    Seriously people, this is hardly rocket science.

  8. Anonymous Coward


    "As the husband of a writer, and barring security concerns, I am actually happy to hear this story and that the writer's rights were successfully protected thanks to technology."

    Presumably you also think that your wife's work should parasitically continue to rake in money for you / fund your lifestyle long after she's dead?

    Anyway, this isn't about protecting the rights of authors. It's about when an item you've purchased becomes your property or not. I have to agree with Dillon Pyron - if the EULA is illegal, it doesn't matter what it says, the actions of Amazon were unacceptable.

    I'm not a Kindle fan, I prefer physical books. Would Amazon have broken into my house to retrieve a hookey copy? Of course not. So why did they think that this was okay?

  9. Francis Vaughan

    Most points totally missed.

    I find the commentary on this little saga extraordinary. There seems to be a dominant idea that Amazon are somehow at fault morally, and that overall Amazon should behave exactly as their customers want, and not as the law requires.

    The comment: ""I don't know of any other product anywhere where I can take physical possession after paying in full and still have it repossessed without warning or recourse." exemplifes a number of errors along this line.

    First - you never had physical possession. You had information. There was no a single atom of matter that moved when the rights were revoked. You thought you bought the right to access information.

    Secondly, anything you buy can be repossessed without warning or recourse. The fact that it happens rarely to most people does not mean it does not happen. The best example where people do run afoul of exactly this problem is buying used cars. If you buy a used car from someone, and it turns out that they did not own the car - typically because it was still under finance and legally belonged to the finance company, or the car was stolen, it does not matter if you bought the car in good faith. You lose it. It remains the properly of the real owner. Your only recourse is to try to get your money back from the person you gave the money to. Usually by suing them. It isn't fun. Many countries now institute registers of stolen and cars under lien that prospective buyers can use to discover if the car is encumbered. But if they don't check, they risk losing their money. The second mechanism is to require registered dealers to provide clear title - which means the dealer is legally forced to wear the pain - but this only occurs in some countries, and only applies to cars as a special case. Not to any other goods.

    The point? Amazon, through no clear fault of their own, were selling something that belonged to someone else. They had no right to sell it, and the real owner was fully within their rights to both stop Amazon from selling it, and to have Amazon recover what had been sold. The fact that recovery consisted of invalidating a digital right, as opposed to the repo man putting your car on the back of a truck, is immaterial. If Amazon had sold you a physical copy of the book, and it turned out that the book was stolen, you would not own it. Legal title would reside with from whomever it was stolen. The only reason it might not be repossesed is that it would not be worth the effort. Not that the actual owner did not have a clear legal right to demand it back. If the book was some rare edition of bird prints or similar high value object, you can bet you would be forced to give it back. You would get your money back too, but you never owned the object. Purchasers of the digital rights to 1984 never owned those rights because they were never Amazons to sell. No difference.

    The whole premis of the article is similarly wrong. Amazon did not promise that this will never happen again. Where "this" is revocation of digital rights to a book. So, it isn't that they are setting themselves up to break a promise. All they promised is that next time they do revoke rights they will do it with a more forthright and clear mechanism so that customers understand what is happening. But the rights will go, as they legally must.

  10. Anonymous John

    @ * Hooray!

    But there are no winners here. The rights-holders aren't losing profits, because there are no legal Kindle versions for customers to buy.

    Couldn't they have gone to Amazon and said "Oi! I own the rights. You can carry on selling them as long as I get my share of the profits."? Everyone is happy.

    There was clearly a market for the two ebooks. I have no sympathy with anyone who choses not to market a product, but complains when Amazon publishes an unauthorised version.

    There's a similar issue with territorial restrictions on many Mobipocket books. I wouldn't buy a US paper book if there was a UK version, but this is never the case with ebooks.

    Nobody benefits from these restrictions. And if a book is out of print, nobody loses out if you download a copy from a torrent.

    Rights-holders need to come to terms with the Internet and ebooks.

  11. Richard North

    @ Anonymous from Mars

    I'm afraid I'm going to piss in your chips because you've clearly not stopped and thought about this - it's very dangerous to your livelyhood and you don't see it.

    This is the sort of thing that could easily trigger a huge public backlash, quite possibly a significant boycott of a publisher - maybe 'your' publisher.

    If that happens, your income will plummet - although your 'rights' have been protected, your interests haven't.

    If your publisher has you tied to an exclusive contract - as most do - then you don't have the option of jumping ship to another one as you've already sold your ass to this one and they'll make sure you never write for anybody else until they're sure your rights are worthless.

    'Rights' are all very well, but you can't eat them, or live in them.

    I hope you own a tent.

  12. Boris

    Stolen Goods

    "I don't know of any other product anywhere where I can take physical possession after paying in full and still have it repossessed without warning or recourse.

    In the UK if you buy stolen goods (unknowingly or otherwise) they don't belong to you and can be repossessed by the owner. Any recourse would be with the seller, who is probably in court anyway.

  13. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Wake up call for hoi polloi

    Hopefully people will start to wake up to the real nature of DRMs.

    So far, in the mind of most people DRMs were something that only affects those greedy pirates and nerdy teenagers who want to make illegal copies of songs and movies. They will begin to understand that DRMs are about control, not about stopping copying.

    DRMs mean that the information remains under control of its original vendor and he can modify and withdraw it at his discretion. You only have access to this information by the grace of the publisher and "out of his own hands".

    Not only you need to find what you want and pay for it - you also need to pray daily that your vendor will be in a good mood and not take it all away from you if he feels like that.

    For the first time the information that has been published can be revoked and unpublished. Imagine this could be done to the Guttenberg Bible - where would we be now?

    At the moment only business is playing with this new concept, which is already bad - the IP owners are already in the strong position to manipulate and abuse their respective markets and they are actively doing it (and husbands of writers would be better off directing their wrath at their publishers rather than at the public). But wait till this idea will dawn upon a few governments!

    As far as the person mentioned in the article who professes to not know of any other product that can be repossessed at the whim of its vendor - he should just look at BluRay. Not only your ability to play BD titles you buy can be revoked by spreading revocation codes on subsequently published discs, but even the players themselves can be disabled by the same mechanism.

  14. deshepherd

    "I don't know of any other product ...

    ... anywhere where I can take physical possession after paying in full and still have it repossessed without warning or recourse"

    .... Jeff has clearly never bought a stolen car. Every so often news/documentaries do an item on some car theft ring (imports from Japan are a particular issue) and show people being told that (a) the car they bought was stolen, (b) as such they have no rights to it and (c) its going to be towed away immediately so it can be returned to its rightful owners.

    Actually there is one difference ... the Amazon customers get their money back

  15. Jon Thompson 2


    Isn't this rather lazy journalism? What I mean is, how is protecting the intellectual rights of the copyright owner "Orwellian"? In Nineteen Eighty-Four, that phrase would refer to Winston Smith's job at the Ministry of Truth, re-writing history to make the pronouncements of Big Brother look like they came true.

  16. WillR
    Jobs Horns

    Apple has a similar mechanism for the iPhone

    Steve Jobs admitted that there was a kill switch but that it had not been used yet. If Apple ran into a similar situation, there's every possibility that they could do the same, even though they state that it's just for killing 'malicious or inappropriate' apps.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It seems to me the nub of this story is poor communication

    Amazon could do with have some sort of messaging interface on the Kindle to flag up important messages such as the revocation of a license directly to the user. In every other regard, they've acted entirely correctly: this "I bought this item which was subsequently found to be illegal in good faith so I should be able to keep it" argument just does not wash, I'm afraid, as Amazon sold it in good faith.

    The surprise is that anyone's finding Amazon's communication with its customers to be anything other than piss-poor, or have we all managed to forget the days when they wouldn't even give out a number you could call when they inevitably fucked your order up?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Stolen goods

    Ignoring the technical implications for a moment, There is a parallel between this and stolen goods. Though the buyers acted in good faith, my understanding is if an item you bought is found to have been stolen, you as the subsequent buyer have no rights to it, and can have it taken off you. your only recourse is against the seller/ reseller, which here was also acting in good faith, and has issued refunds. Amazon should not have suffered such bad publicity because of this, as it did everything by the book, and should really have stern words with the publisher that listed it. It should however have explained why.

    I should point out that i do still sympathise as i don't like the idea of anyone having absolute control over a device i bought.

  19. Dan White

    Simple solution?

    Perhaps I'm oversimplifying here, but wouldn't a far more PR friendly move have been for Amazon to:

    1) Stop selling copies of both books on the Kindle store.

    2) Compensate the rights holder in full for every copy that was sold, even if it means paying over the standard rate.

    3) Sue the shit out of the distributor that put it there in the first place, thus retrieving all the money spent at 2).

    4) Tell the world how great you are and how you stood up for your customers.

    Right now the amount of business that they have lost must be way in excess of the cost of compensating the rights holder for a few thousand books.

  20. Steve Foster

    Obvious Question

    is why did Amazon build in an ability to remotely delete content from Kindles?

    For "rental" sales, all that would be required is a simple expiry whereby Kindles would locally auto-delete content, I can't see any justification for this level of control.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Next big merger

    With such levels of control over what a user puts on a Kindle I'm sure those control freaks over at Apple will be thinking hard about a takeover. Apple and Amazon, mmmm what a 'synergy' .

    Bleh, just another good reason not to buy a Kindle, Sony's reader looks better every day.

  22. Charles 9

    If it looks like a duck...

    ...and quacks like a duck, then it's a duck.

    Likewise, if it looks like a sale and transacts like a sale, then it should be considered a sale...and therefore one-way (than again, IANAL). After all, when you obtain books for your Kindle, do you not "buy" those books? If it's not truly buying, then should not Amazon and any other e-tailer whose products can be subject to server-side revocation be barred from using the term "buy" in their shopping pages?

  23. Sim

    Kindle - no thanks.

    I will not be buying one now.

  24. outer

    Beyond Copyright

    This incident goes way beyond copyright. What about "take down" injunctions against Amazon for titles or material that happens to rile or offend particular special interests? For example, how about these: "DIY Abortion"; "Secrets of Scientology"; "Inside Today's MI6"; ... the possibilities are endless.

  25. Greg 10


    I think it is a bit pretentious of you to display your opinion on kindle and magazines like you have an original and interesting idea, and that Amazon is dumb compared to you and that's why they'll fail, because they don't have the same sooo original and clever ideas.

    It shows mainly that:

    - You must be very proud of yourself to state something so obvious to everyone. Sorry, but the magazine subscription idea has been old news ever since day 1 of the Kindle (or even before)

    - You talk about things you know very little about, because if you had followed a tiny weeny bit the kindle news reports, you couldn't have missed the buzz about the possibility of having magazine subscriptions

    - Even when you copy idea and think you invented them, you actually make them worse: why ever would there be a reason to remove the previous issue of a magazine? It should be obvious they have to stay on the kindle so you can go back to previous issues if you want (and then it's only a matter of display that the newest issue is by default the one proposed to you on the screen).

    In the end, you should try to remember that there are generally people thinking hard about the issue, and while there are often blunders or missed ideas, you generally shouldn't assume that's the case and you know better until you know the subject very, very well.

  26. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Get it right!

    "As the husband of a writer, and barring security concerns, I am actually happy to hear this story and that the writer's rights were successfully protected thanks to technology. :)"

    The writer's rights have NOT been protected. He has been dead these 50 years...

    But some faceless company now 'owns' the right to let you see his books. It is THEIR 'rights' that are being protected - their 'right' to tax people for eternity to view something which used to be a free gift from our past to all humankind.

  27. Robert E A Harvey

    text books

    6 months ago various fora were discussing using these things for text books

    Fat chance . I was worried then about how you would sell your books at the end of the course. Here's your answer.

  28. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Will people please stop talk about cars

    Car are altogether different matter. Car market is different from any other markets. The ownership of all cars is required to be registered with a government agency with every buyer of a vehicle being under legal obligation to inform DVLA of the change in ownership.

    On the other hand it is impossible for a buyer to reliably establish provenance of books, kettles, tomatoes, flowers or sausages. Moreover, it is not required to do so and if you buy a sausage, that happens to have been stolen, from Tesco no one can send a bailiff to rip it out of your stomach.

    Equally, if I buy a book from Waterstones and if you are a husband of a writer and if you come to me trying to take that book away - you will end up with a black eye and a law suit for attempted robbery on your hands.

  29. Mike Licht

    We were warned

    Six months ago bloggers (notably Stephanie at UrbZen) warned about this kind of thing.


  30. Dave Bell

    Orwell Copyright

    It used to be that copyright, in Berne Convention countries, lasted for 50 yerars after the author's death.

    And the USA had a different system: registration, a fixed term, and optional extension.

    The USA switched to a Berne Convention system, with some transition arrangements which make some works published in the 1960s, Public Domain in the USA.

    Both the EU and the USA then extended the copyright term. Orwell remains in copyright in these places. In other parts of the world, maybe not. For instance, Orwell is out of copyright in Australia, because of the different transition arrangements, and the date the extension took effect.

    Obviously, with these differences, an international publishing and distribution operation has possible problems. Perhaps Amazon's big mistake was the deletion--what evidence did they need to go beyond a simple halt to sales?

    Perhaps it's lucky that very few books are worth anything to a publisher after about ten years. But perhaps ebooks are one of the few places where some sort of "long tail" might work. And maybe this is driven by illusions of profit that haven't quite crumbled away.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Finding out what books can be sold (or licenced) to Kindle owners (or bearers) in different locations, and when, must be difficult, so Amazon has come up with an ingenious way around the problem. Sell (or licence) *all* books to *anyone*, and wait to see if anything happens. Then at the first hint of trouble BAM! Problem solved.

    I can see how some customers might get the funny idea that this is not so good for them.

  32. Wolf 1

    Amazon are book burners

    Amazon destroyed *books*. The fact they were e-books stored in flash memory is irrelevant. They *destroyed books*.

    The apology was a good start but far from sufficient. Bezos should have publically committed Amazon to never repeating this action, as a corporate promise with legally binding force, and removed the capability from the Kindle.

    Failing that, only complete boycott of Amazon is sufficient response.

    As such, not only will I never buy a Kindle, I will never buy another Amazon product, and I will (and have) told as many people as I know never to buy from Amazon again.

    A small thing, but if enough people do it Amazon can be dealt a groin shot that will bring them crashing to their knees (and their senses).

    Boycott them. Until they learn book burning is going to put them out of business.

  33. Francis Vaughan

    Still not getting it

    "Car are altogether different matter. Car market is different from any other markets. The ownership of all cars is required to be registered with a government agency with every buyer of a vehicle being under legal obligation to inform DVLA of the change in ownership."

    The reason is twofold. 1. To allow the police to find the owners of cars that have been observed breaking the law. 2. To track ownership. Note, in neither case does registration have any control upon who owns the car - that remains exactly the same as any other object that can be bought or sold. Cars have been used as an example of the law, not any different, just something most people can relate to. If you buy a car that is registered in the name of the person you bought it from, but it is still under finance, you still lose the car. Registration does not prove or determine ownership.

    "Equally, if I buy a book from Waterstones and if you are a husband of a writer and if you come to me trying to take that book away - you will end up with a black eye and a law suit for attempted robbery on your hands."

    No, you will end up on an assult charge, and you will find yourself in a very murky world. You own the physical book. But the words in that book you have no right to. The authors of the book could have previously gone to court and obtained a judgement that all illegally published books become their property. Then you would legally have no title to the book. And would have to give it back. Again the point being that just becuse you gave some company money for something does not automatically give you ownership. If I steal your TV, and then sell it to someone else, you stil own it. Or would you prefer it your way?

    The neat thing about the Amazon issue is that it neatly divides the issue of the physical object from the information.

    There is still a stream of idiotic comments above that just don't get it. Boycott Amazon because they obey the law? Great. What Amazon did was a bit ham fisted, but in the end exactly correct. They had no choice. They either invalidated they rights, or they ended up in court, and would most clearly have lost - and then they would have invalidated the rights.

    It doesn't matter how you like to view the world, or how you would like the world to be, it simply isn't that way. If you don't understand how the world works, or would like the laws changed, well there are ways of remedying that which are legal. But it would be a grea idea to get your head around what the fundamentals are. What we see above is an astounding amount of ignorance and rather typical modern self centered opinion.

  34. John Bayly
    Thumb Down

    @Francis Vaughan

    "No, you will end up on an assult charge, and you will find yourself in a very murky world."

    Disagree completely: If I know I bought a NEW book from Waterstones and somebody tells me they own it and try taking it back, it's attempted robbery. Are we now expected to research any court cases surrounding the book we want to buy? The publisher should prevent the retailer from continuing selling the book, and recoup losses from the retailer.

    What's insane (and it's been caught by several people) is that the publisher didn't want the royalties due for the unauthorised sale of the books, but just wanted the books deleted. I thought these companies are in it for the money. Here we are in a recession and they're throwing away potential sales.

    What a fantastic way to piss off your customers. I for one will be buying my copy of 1984 & Animal Farm from a 2nd hand book shop or Oxfam.

  35. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    @Francis Vaughan

    Well, Francis, I don't think you are getting it either.

    The books are sold without recourse as far as the rights of IP owners are concerned. If you buy a book in a book shop and it turns out that the book shop did not have the rights to the sell book you still get to keep the book.

    If the book was stolen, perhaps the previous owner could try to get it back but it will take a legal process to do it. The previous owner will have to prove that it was his property and that this particular book ended up in my possession.

    So, in either case no one can break into my house and repossess the books I have without resorting to proper process - you'll still get that black eye and the law suit.

    With Amazon - they bypassed any legal processes. They became the justices and law enforcement agents at the same time.

    They did not HAVE to design their gadget to allow this to be done, yet they chose to do so. This was done for the specific purpose of changing the rules of the game. This is what is unacceptable and I hope one day you will see why.

  36. Justin Case

    If it had been a small business..

    That is one without the might of Amazon, they would have been forced to swallow the loss, and recompense the copyright owners whilst allowing all happy Kindle holders continued access to 1984 or whatever.

    Why is it that whenever a big corporation makes a "mistake" they get their customers to pay for it?


  37. Anonymous Coward

    What's car theft got do to with it?

    This is not, as regards the copyrigth owner, a case of theft: it's a case of copyright violation. Nothing was initially stolen; the owner was deprived of nothing.

    People need to grasp the idea that just because a lot of big companies say that copyright violation is theft does not make it so.

    In the Kindle case, Amazon should simply have paid the supposed copyright owners (I assume this is just some bunch of parasites) instead of stealing their customers' books. Because that is actually what they did: the book owners WERE deprived of their property, unlike the copyright holders. The Kindle "licence" is a joke that would not hold up in any court for many reasons. The people who bought those representations of 1984 paid for them and the sale was a legal transfer of ownership of that representation; the fact that it was not a transfer of the copyright is irrelevant.

    Havng said all that, the correct solution is to not buy Kindle and to lobby your MP to reform copyright back to a sensible duration; there is no good reason why these books should still be controlled by anyone today.

  38. John Milsap

    Amazon monopoly is dangerous

    The legal issues mentioned in the article show the importance of a splitting between the content provider and the machine itself. Amazon controlling too many pieces in the chain of literary distribution is very dangerous. I read a very interesting discussion on the kindle on Pandalous: .

    They speak both on its possibility for developing new kinds of art, but also the dangers it brings with it.

  39. Jaap stoel
    Thumb Up

    Well-done Amazon

    IANAL but I think that Amazon did the right thing by pulling the content. Like its been said, they didn't have the right to sell it and they'd refund their customers. So there's no loss.

    Okay a few people didn't get what they want. But hey, thats life. You can't always have what you want. ( I can, you can't :p )

    Where I in Amazon's shoes I'd have done exactly the same thing, but not made the promise at the end that it would never happen again.

  40. Wolf 1

    @Francis Vaughan

    "Boycott Amazon because they obey the law?"

    They didn't obey the law. They *extended* the law--without the force of government (do what we say or we kill you) on their side.

    There were any number of legitimate solutions that did not involve book burning. If I own a physical book (even one published without permission) the *publisher* is on the hook, not the customer. I own the book. No one has the right to claim otherwise. (And the "law" of eminent domain does not apply here).

    Boycott *is* the appropriate response. Amazon did an amazing stupid thing. They have to learn that they do not "license" content, they *sell* copies of it. End of story. Copyright is about the right to copy. It does not dictate anything about the illegal copies once made--only the penalty for having made those copies. If you don't believe me read the US Copyright code. (And yes, this is a US matter since Amazon is a US company).

    And no, software EULA's are still a legal gray area that has never been tested. Ever. Like a book, software cannot be controlled by copyright beyond the right to physically copy (and/or distribute) the work.

    And before anyone has the dim-bulb idea that software is different because it copied into memory to execute better think again. A *BOOK* is copied into human memory every time it is read. There is no difference in terms of "copying for use".

    Both a software copied into memory and a book copied into human memory are transient copies, not permanent. Both are encoded representations of instructions. After all, when you read you are translating symbols into meaning. Therefore there is little conceptual difference between computers and brains (in this one limited aspect).

    Since copyright law *requires* the ability to read copies of books (that is, after all, the desired end result of selling a book!) the same is true for software. So don't even bother with EULA arguments please.

    Besides, merely erasing the copies has no effect on Amazon's legal liabilities--they are *STILL* on the hook for those 18,000 copies. Thus it makes no sense to have erased them. The infringment already occurred, erasing existing copies doesn't make it go away.

    Just ask RIAA... :)

  41. Steve Lubman

    Ray Bradbury was right

    Fahrenheit 451 is the story about burning books. Orwell is so passe these days!

    Never could understand the appeal of the Kindle - and I always thought the device would be kindling to start some kind of bonfire. This story simply confirms my worst fears.

    Sure, what they did might have been legal, but that still doesn't make it right.

    Some of us remember when we used to actually visit libraries and flip pages as we read - all without fear of the 'Fire Department' kicking the doors down and torching the greats of literature.

    Perhaps Amazon should stick to selling shoes? No one minds when we walk all over those.

  42. James Henstridge

    Re: Stolen Goods

    This isn't the same as stolen goods though: it is closer to a person buying a CD at a record store, only to get home and find that it is a CD-R rather than an authorised copy.

    It is the person making the copies who is liable here, and they're guilty of copyright infringement even if they come into your home and destroy the CD-R after the fact.

    So if the rights holder was intent on suing, then Amazon's actions wouldn't stop them.

  43. Anonymous Coward

    white noise

    blah blah DRM. blah blah book burning. blah blah big brother blah blah backlash. You really don't get it do you? the public don't give a monkeys. joe public loves the kindle in the states, and when it comes here , it will sell like hot cakes. hasn't the ipod/iphones/itunes store taught you anything ? Market forces will decide this not whining geeks.

  44. Joe Carter

    @Francis Vaughan

    ...copyright infringement is not theft. How many times does it have to be said?

    I'm glad this happened as it's yet another nail in the coffin of DRM. Only the truly naive would touch a kindle.

  45. M man

    phew..neally lost 100% of my 0p profit there

    "DRMs mean that the information remains under control of its original vendor "

    In this case you mean owner since you have to vend somthing to be a vender, which in this case as noted, the rights owner isnt doing.

  46. Tony Hoyle

    They all fail

    They're ripoff expensive..

    Saw some cheap looking elonex things in Borders the other day. I figured they were about £20 of cheap LCD in a plastic box (which is exactly what they looked like). There was no price and the salesdroid didn't know what they cost as they'd just arrived.

    Googled it. £189.. lol. On what planet? Damned thing wasn't even waterproof and reading in the bath is probably where I do most of my reading these days... drop a book you wait for it to dry out and carry on. Drop one of these things and you're out a considerable amount of money, plus all the books you downloaded to the device are lost.

    Probably the kindle solves a lot of this, given that it seems to be popular in the US.. I await the £50 waterproof kindle to appear. Ebooks might become viable then.

  47. Adrian Esdaile
    Black Helicopters

    Shades of Dolmen Saxel?

    Revoked! That's K-I-L-L-E-D; revoked!

  48. Francis Vaughan


    Hmmm, on second thoughts, and perhaps rather unusually for an open forum, I think I am swayed by the above. Wolf 1 - very well put argument second time, terrible the first. (Note - book burning is the province of totalitarian regimes - you were one step away from invoking Godwin's law - as opposed to making sense. Second time makes very good sense.)

  49. Syd

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but...

    "I don't know of any other product anywhere where I can take physical possession after paying in full and still have it repossessed without warning or recourse."

    If you buy a stolen car in this country (UK) is it not the case that the real owner can reclaim it; and if the thief is never caught, you don't even get your money back.

    And this, effectively, is what happened, no? They bought something that was stolen, and when it was discovered that it was stolen, they had to give it back?

    So while it might be a bit naughty of Amazon to try to market 'ownership' when it is actually licensing, the whole episode is hardly without precedent.

  50. Imagus
    Big Brother

    Kindle is evil

    One way to avoid Big Brother is to stop buying his products. Really, I just cannot understand why people still put their trust in these big companies with their "innovative" ideas that promise you heaven on earth, but are in fact just clever traps to take full control over your life as a customer. Even if Amazon promises not to remove content from customer's devices anymore, doesn't it bother anyone that Amazon always knows exactly what you're reading and when you're reading it?

    Please also take a look at this and try to connect the dots:

    "Don't Let Google Close the Book on Reader Privacy!"

  51. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    I own what I buy!

    I will say first, I own what I buy. I refuse to buy DRM-restricted products that I don't have control over. I will not buy BluRay, rights-restricted music, movies, games or books; I've bought DVDs in the distant past, but ripped them so I could play them on my DVD-less computers. I will gleefully break DRM on anything I get that has any, not so I can make improper copies but so I can make my fair use backup copy and play it on whatever device I want.

    @Anonymous from Mars, actually this will hurt your husbands sales. Many many people know DRM=fail, and will not purchase anything with it; if he provides his books only in rights-restricted forms he WILL lose sales. Keep in mind almost every DRM-infected item (books, movies, music, games, etc.) is widely available in an unrestricted form already, you are only hurting your own customers, not pirates.

    Mike Licht is right, people were warned -- I would never consider a Kindle for EXACTLY this reason.

    @Charles9, I agree! Amazon should not be able to say they are "selling" these. Worse, here in the US, Disney has these ads where they will say (about some DVD) "own it on Friday", then turn right around and say "Oh no you don't own it, it's licensed". They should DEFINITELY be barred from saying "own", "buy", or that they are "selling" when it's all licensing.

    @Francis Vaughan:

    "There seems to be a dominant idea that Amazon are somehow at fault morally"

    They are, or at least show no spine in this issue. It was clear over six months ago they could do this though, one reason I'd NEVER buy a Kindle; but that doesn't mean they SHOULD do it.

    "and that overall Amazon should behave exactly as their customers want, and not as the law requires."

    The law is unclear. It's clear they'd have to stop further sales. Revoking people's copies of the book? Unclear at best. If they showed a spine they would fight this.

    "First - you never had physical possession."

    Yes they did. They had a copy of it on their device. This would be an interesting argument for lawyers to make against RIAA, MPAA, and such though wouldn't it? "Oh I can't be copying your movies, I don't even have physical posession to begin with -- look no moved atoms!" It won't fly in that case either.

    "Secondly, anything you buy can be repossessed without warning or recourse."

    Not really, I mean, repo men don't break into houses and such. This really doesn't matter though, repoing is for stuff the purchaser failed to make payments for, or for stolen property. Which this is not. It's fair enough to have Amazon stop selling, but not for them to remove items the customers already own.

    @John Thompson 2

    " Isn't this rather lazy journalism?"


    " What I mean is, how is protecting the intellectual rights of the copyright owner "Orwellian"?

    Because you are changing the contents of a person's device without permission or adequate notice. One of the big things of 1984 was some article could exist one day and not exist the next. Exactly as Amazon is doing.

    "In Nineteen Eighty-Four, that phrase would refer to Winston Smith's job at the Ministry of Truth, re-writing history to make the pronouncements of Big Brother look like they came true."

    And removing unflattering articles, books, and magazines from existence. This is *exactly* 1984-like; what if someone just objected to the content of, say, a single article in a subscription? The Kindle is being marketed like a book, magazine, and newspaper reading device, giving the illusion that what you get on there is immutable, while in reality you could read an article one day, and find out it's been completely changed the next day. EXACTLY like 1984.

  52. Daniel 4

    @Anonymous from Mars

    You CLEARLY haven't followed this story in depth, or thought it through - one or the other.

    You see, when Amazon when and deleted their customer's copies of 1984 and Animal Farm, they didn't only delete the contents of the books - they also deleted any notes the customers had made on these e-books. So tell me - does your husband write in a vacuum? As far as I'm aware, most authors are avid readers, and copious note takers. Would you want your husband's personal work destroyed by Amazon falling all over itself to protect other right holders?

    I can understand the basic issue that Amazon faced here. However, their handling of it was horrible, and if I were one of their customers who lost my own personal work due to their fiasco, I would be seeing them in court. Probably small claims court, but still - they robbed me of my time and effort, and I'd insist on either being compensated, or at least costing them the fees of a paralegal to go argue the case before a judge.


  53. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Amazon, meet bed

    Amazon could tell people that they are buying a device onto which electronic books can be downloaded and read. The books are on an indefinite rental unless some unforseen circumstances, or announced changes in policy, said otherwise. Amazon would then cause the books to be removed and refunded. Otherwise they are yours to keep and read for as long as you want.

    I reckon everyone who bought a Kindle would be happy because they would understand what they were getting. It's all spelled out at the advertising stage. If someone felt they did not want these terms, they wouldn't buy one. That's fine, it's a product which was not for them.

    So let's see how Amazon are positioning the Kindle, the kind of perception they are creating when they encourage you to buy one.

    "Automatic Library Backup: Download Your Books Anytime for Free ... even though you don't see it, you know your books are there"

    "Your books and periodicals are delivered via Whispernet in less than 60 seconds."

    "... and Kindle finds every instance in your book or across your Kindle library."

    Yup, that sure looks like those are my books, all safe and sound in my library. I think Amazon want me to see this device as an electronic alternative to paper books sitting on a bookcase. All those paper books which I possess, all physically there, now replaced by electronic books which I possess and stored in a device instead of shelves.

    Which is very different to the indefinite rental model at the start. In summary, if Amazon want people to see the Kindle package as an alternative to paper books and wooden shelves - and clearly they do - then they better start making it work that way, or else stop making me think that it does.

    Or they could carry on lying and creating a warm, cosy, safe perception of a personal library stocked with my books, as long as they don't mind me naturally extending the feeling to one of being burgled and having them taken from me in the dead of night. It's a strange way to appeal to potential customers for sure.

    I shan't be buying one.

  54. Martin 6 Silver badge

    @Jon Thompson

    Suppose a republican billionaire buys the rights to Obama's book and tells Amazon to delete all the copies of it? Or Mitsubishi don't like the portrayal of their aircraft in a movie about Pearl Harbour and pay netflix to delete everyones copy of it.

    Sufficiently Orwellian ?

  55. Anonymous Coward

    DVLA do NOT need to be informed of ownership changes

    > "The ownership of all cars is required to be registered with a government agency with every buyer of a vehicle being under legal obligation to inform DVLA of the change in ownership."

    This is simply not true. Changes of _Registered Keeper_ need to be notified to DVLA, but there is no requirement (legal or otherwise) to inform DVLA of the change of ownership of a motorised vehicle.

  56. This post has been deleted by its author

  57. Shannon Jacobs

    Why I stopped doing business with Amazon

    I regard Amazon as censorious and invasive of my personal privacy. I won't support a company like that, and especially not in a business where the entire point is NOT censorship. I hope they follow X10 into bankruptcy. That they chose to include such a negative unpublishing feature in their electronic so-called publishing product does not surprise me in the slightest. My main point of curiosity now is if this unpublishing "feature" was explicitly mentioned anywhere in the license or documentation for their device.

    The answer doesn't actually matter. I can't imagine ever doing business with Amazon again. I try to learn from my mistakes.

  58. Winkypop Silver badge
    Big Brother


    Rhymes with "swindle"

  59. Andrew Yeomans

    Stealing content

    Anton Chuvakin makes a good point in :-

    "As a result, I suspect that the more stuff like "KindleGate" happens, the more the following perception (whether true or not!) will grow, strengthen and develop:

    When you "BUY" digital content, you don't really BUY it - it is not really a PURCHASE.


    When you STEAL digital content, you don't really STEAL it - it is not really a CRIME.

  60. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    @M man

    "In this case you mean owner since you have to vend somthing to be a vender"

    I still think it should be the vendor - he is pulling the strings here, not the rights-owner. Just like Steam controls the games you get from it, not the actual developers.

    If that technology becomes ubiquitous there is only one small step before one government or another will decide to nationalize these vendors and take the control in its own hands. As usual, to fight terrorism and to protect children from paedophiles, no doubt. But also to protect the public from undue influence of irresponsible opposition, preserve cultural values and you name what.

    So, imagine you publish a book criticizing the government handling of, say, Iraq war - then a minister decides he does not like it, presses a button and, voila! - your book is no longer published and is neatly deleted from everyone's e-readers.

  61. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    Deletion without deletion

    All that has been promised is books won't be deleted. It seems fairly easy that Amazon can keep this promise while prohibiting breach of copyright ( assuming their reader caters for it ) ...

    If each book includes an associated a 'certificate of validity' they can simply delete that and the book becomes unreadable or inaccessible but without removal. Thus 'the book' paid for is yours to keep, 'the license' to read it which isn't 'owned' by the customer can be retrospectively revoked, refunds sent out.

    The law and morality is on Amazon's side. Just because people can and do get away with it when physical paper is involved or it's unknown who has a copy of an infringing work ( because the process of revocation is so difficult to achieve ) doesn't mean that it is a desirable state of affairs.

  62. lukewarmdog

    Just Wait

    Until Amazon are told the Kindle violates patents held by other companies and remotely disables them all.

  63. Steven Jones

    @ Wolf 1

    Good heavens there are some ridiculous comments here. Amazon did not extend the law. What was done was within the Ts & Cs of the contract which is about protection of copyright. It was the equivalent of an aillegally reproduced CD being provided to a customer. In that case, the intellectual property owner would have the legal right to require it to be returned and the customer's claim would then be against the supplier. Of course this was all done without recourse to the courts, but do we really want to pay yet more lawyers? Provided that Amazon refund their customers, and maybe provide a bit of compensation for inconveniance, then it seems reasonable. If the Ts & Cs are not reasonable in law, then I'm sure somebody will challenge it. As it is, if you don't like the terms, or the idea of a company having remote access to your kit, don't buy the product.

    For those who care about these things, if you are knowingly in receipt of illegally reproduced copies of copyrighted material, then you are on dubious legal and ethical grounds anyway. You certainly do not have the legal right (in most western countries) to retain it once the breach of copyright has come to light, even if it was done in good faith.

    Personally I don't like DRM systems as they are inconvenient, and you are always in danger of losing access to the content you've paid for.

  64. BD 1

    Its free anyway

    Why bother to buy from Amazon? You can get most of Orwell's work free online (except if you are a very honest American).

  65. John Sanders

    Right to read

    MR Stallman saw it coming many years ago:

    now the trolling against the man can begin.

  66. Anonymous Coward

    @Steven Jones

    "Good heavens there are some ridiculous comments here. Amazon did not extend the law. What was done was within the Ts & Cs of the contract "

    Contract? What contract was that? Who from Amazon signed on their behalf? EULA's are not contracts, and in fact are not even licenses. Stop swallowing the bullshit; your live will improve.

    "It was the equivalent of an aillegally reproduced CD being provided to a customer. In that case, the intellectual property owner would have the legal right to require it to be returned"

    Would they? Under what law in what country?

    "Of course this was all done without recourse to the courts, but do we really want to pay yet more lawyers?"

    In this case, yes. Amazon should be legally restrained from stealing its customers goods even if they leave the money on the mantlepiece.

    "You certainly do not have the legal right (in most western countries) to retain it once the breach of copyright has come to light, even if it was done in good faith."

    Do you know of any case where the customer of a fake CD/DVD operation was required to destroy their copies? The sellers are, of course, but the law is not so clear cut on the receiver. Or are you, like so many here, confusing copyright violation (a crime commited by the copier) with theft (a crime which can be transfered via "receiving stolen goods" to the buyer)?

  67. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Copyright Infringement != Theft

    I think a lot of the confusion over "if I steal a book from Waterstones/steal your TV" is down to the RIAA propaganda. IANAL, but I think it is true that if I steal your TV and then sell it it remains your TV.

    However property rights following theft are irrelevant as there is no theft here. Amazon haven't stolen the content of the book from the right's holders, they've (allegedly) copied and sold the content of the book. In theory this leaves them guilty of large scale copyright infringement, which is probably why they went for such a knee jerk reaction, but that's all.

    A better analogy would be buying a £20 Rolex at a market and then being mugged on the way home by three guys with Swiss accents.

  68. Joe Harrison


    I can't seem to find out who initiated this "product recall" (news reports all say "the publisher" or "the rights owner") but I think it was very clever and they did the world a service. As many have noted they were absolutely not interested in profiting via royalties they simply wanted the book destroyed. They must have known that furore would result.

    A "book publisher" presumably owns the rights to a wide range of titles so surely this same copyright situation must have happened many times previously without incident. Is it not interesting that this particular title was selected for high-profile mass deletion? Perhaps someone wanted to draw parallels and wake people up.

  69. Jonathan White
    Big Brother


    Several apps have been withdrawn from the Apple App store due to legal issues - Delicious Library and Pocketpedia because they breached Amazon's new terms for use of their data for example (another example of Amazon doing stuff that pisses off the paying public but anyway) - and in every case so far, those who have already paid for the app retained their copy of it. You can't buy those apps any more but if you already have them they still work.

    I dare say Apple do have that kill switch in the system. Even if they do, they don't have the pervasive wireless network or the level of control that Amazon do over the Kindle. If you had the 'turn my iPhone into a raygun' app and Apple puled it AND issued the killswitch, you'd still retain the app until you did a sync with iTunes, which of course yo don't actually have to do very often. There's no way for Apple to do what Amazon has done, which is pull something from the device with no way for the user to intervene in the process.


  70. Chigaimasmaro

    Give the Kindle and its service the right name

    The Kindle and its service is the same concept as the free libraries that are in the United States. You go into a branch, borrow a book and you have to return that book. The book is not yours from day one. Amazon is doing the same thing, but trying to milk more money out of citizens... I'm sorry.. consumers. More people are willing to spend money on books for the Kindle because they have the wording such as "buy" or "purchase".

    The wording should change to "borrow", "rent" or what you're really doing, "licensing". That would clear them of any problems, because they can revoke a license easier than they can with a book that's said to be "purchased".

    So in this situation, if the book had a license by a third-party vendor, than they can cancel that license and don't even have to give a refund. Although an explanation of why the license was revoked would still be necessary.

  71. Steven Jones

    @Robert Long 1

    Ts & Cs do form part of the contract. Read them first before you sign. As for the right of an Intellectual Property owner to have illegally made copies returned - well that right will apply in pretty well any country where copyright applies. The customer's claim will then be against the supplier. Of course the reason why this doesn't happen much in practice is that it is incredibly difficult to enforce. Hence the copyright holder will invariably go for compensation from the organisation or individual that breached copyright in the first place - it's probably the only practical approach. Of course a court would have to approve it - but there is very little doubt that they would do so.

    There are lots of cases where counterfeit stock bought in good faith has been destroyed. Of course it's generally retailers that are targeted (of course they aren't always innocent buyers).

    I'll repeat again - if you have an illegally copy in breach of copyright, you have no legal right to retain it. The fact you can is very simply that it is very difficult to track down and enforce the copyright in those cases. Nothing more, nothing less.

    I'm always astounded by the number of posters who think the law can just be got round by a narrow reading of law in their interests.

  72. _wtf_

    Anyone want a copy?

    Orwell is out of copyright here in New Zealand (dead more than fifty years) so I guess if anyone wants a copy it is OK for me to make it. Dunno about the legality of sending it to another country of course. I did do the reverse once...I picked up a DVD copy of "Gone with the Wind" in Kuala Lumpur for $5, which is cheap enough to make me wonder if the vendor was actually legitimate. However, once I managed to bring it here, it would seem it is perfectly legitimate since that movie too is now well out of copyright. Incidently my understanding is that the customs folks here will confiscate illegal copies if they find them. I don't know how they would react to one that was actually out of copyright here but not in the country of origin, could be interesting!

  73. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    @Steven Jones

    "I'm always astounded by the number of posters who think the law can just be got round by a narrow reading of law in their interests."

    An it is amazing to me how people think they are entitled to unilaterally widen the interpretation of a law in their own interests, which is what DRM is. No more no less.

    "The fact you can is very simply that it is very difficult to track down and enforce the copyright in those cases."

    That's why some of the provisions of these laws have been tolerated for so long. Things like the illegality of ripping your own CDs to fill up your MP3 player etc. Enforcement of these provisions goes against public interest. So is the abuse of "licensing" provisions as an excuse to wrestle post-sales control over content (Amazon, Apple Store, Steam etc).

    The IP owners can shed crocodile tears over how much money they lose because of piracy but the truth of the matter is they have become parasites. Creating less and less value but trying to claim more and more compensation for their products. The effects of this behaviour range from increase in inflation to suppression of creativity.

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