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Why the Kindle Shouldn’t be Trusted

Turns out that the only way to really own a book is to . . . well, actually own a book. Farhad Manjoo has a good article in Slate about the recent debacle regarding Kindle users who had purchased 1984 and then subsequently had their book deleted when it came out that it was in violation of a copyright:

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.


  1. roger flyer wrote:

    Blowup your tv
    Eat a lot peaches
    Try to find Jesus
    on your own.

    -John Prine

    Tuesday, July 21, 2009 at 2:34 pm | Permalink
  2. Nathan Smith wrote:

    “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.”

    The only risk of digital conversion is if we cede control to third parties like Amazon. Proprietary systems cannot be trusted, but there are alternatives (like open source software).

    Wednesday, July 22, 2009 at 6:11 am | Permalink
  3. The irony.

    Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 10:06 am | Permalink
  4. j. wrote:

    Thanks for the reminder that we shouldn’t be too dazzled by convenience. If I understand correctly, the ownership issue is a big one in the move to cloud computing as well. Still, I do love me my Google apps. :P

    Thursday, July 30, 2009 at 10:05 am | Permalink
  5. Dom wrote:

    Farenheit 451. I guess it turns out that the firemen are actually the Kindle. He got pretty much everything else right…

    Thursday, August 20, 2009 at 6:06 am | Permalink

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