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Summary:

Think you own that digital content on your Amazon Kindle, or any other device, for that matter? Think again. Although it appears we follow a “buy to keep” business model, consumers ultimately license most digital content. Not too many years ago, this wasn’t much of a […]

Far less than actual size

Think you own that digital content on your Amazon Kindle, or any other device, for that matter? Think again. Although it appears we follow a “buy to keep” business model, consumers ultimately license most digital content. Not too many years ago, this wasn’t much of a problem because most media was physical — CDs, DVDs, printed books, etc…

Today, it’s a digital world which presents unique problems. Problems like the one that David Pogue shares today at the New York Times:

“This morning, hundreds of Amazon Kindle owners awoke to discover that books by a certain famous author had mysteriously disappeared from their e-book readers. These were books that they had bought and paid for—thought they owned.

But no, apparently the publisher changed its mind about offering an electronic edition, and apparently Amazon, whose business lives and dies by publisher happiness, caved. It electronically deleted all books by this author from people’s Kindles and credited their accounts for the price.”

Although Amazon certainly did the right thing by crediting back the purchase price, what kind of precedent does this set for the future? Can you imagine if this same thing happened with digital files like your music, software, or videos? This situation also shines the ugly spotlight on DRM in general. Had the content not been locked into Amazon’s infrastructure, customers could have maintained control with a backup copy. In reality though, we’re just renting what digital content providers allow us to.

One of our readers tells me via email that his Kindle was hit with this content removal. I feel badly for him and for anyone else that lost their rights to the digital content. Ironically, the content in question was none other than “1984″ and “Animal Farm” from George Orwell. Talk about “big brother” — rather fitting in this case, no?

  1. I wonder if Amazon can remotely delete content from their iPhone Kindle app, or any future mobile Kindle apps they develop. I assume they can as product managers never want to see a feature disappear, though it might have to live within the technical confines of the platform. I.e. iPhone/Kindle might not delete the books until the next time you go to the Kindle store, rather than preemptively like the real Kindle does.

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  2. Well, one thing I know: Sony’s never getting their grubby little DRM fingers on my Sony Readers or its content :)

    Lovely story.

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  3. … which is why I am extremely leery of buying anything with DRM and avoid it to the utmost of my ability. DRM is a consumer-hostile technology and has nothing to do with curbing piracy and everything to do with maintaining control and being able to charge, preferably multiple times, for media.

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  4. Another reason why I still prefer paper books!

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  5. John in Norway Saturday, July 18, 2009

    This is why I’ve never bought into this DRM, cloud thing. I don’t want other people controlling my things. In fact, I’ve just bought, from amazon.co.uk ironically enough, a book and a CD. I’ll scan the book in so I can read it where, when and how I like. I already have the mp3s of the album but at least now I’ll have hardcopy backups which nobody can take away from me.
    Maybe it’s because I read George Orwell as a young lad?

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  6. Well, a follow up email from Amazon informed me that the removed copy of 1984 was an unauthorized self-uploaded copy from a publisher that didnt own the copyright. I understand and can sympathize with that, though the yanking of the “book” from my collection was a bit creepy and irritating. This “solution” is not helping to encourage me to buy things from their kindle store. When companies start brainstorming on ways to prevent and discourage pirating, I would hope they figure out that incidents like these aren’t helping.. at all.. I have a nice new copy of 1984 on my kindle. I didn’t get it from amazon.

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  7. “This situation also shines the ugly spotlight on DRM in general.”

    Well – that is what DRM is all about. SURPRISE!

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  8. They should come right out and say that your purchases are really rentals, just like going to the Video store
    and renting a movie…of course they wouldn’t “sell” as
    many eBooks then

    What happens to your eBooks when Amazon discontinues
    the Kindle program a few years down the road?

    Are all of your books become useless/unreadable?

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  9. I’m surprised the Amazon story didn’t generate more coverage of the problems at Fictionwise earlier this year when the end of some distributor agreements caused some to have to download different alternate formats of book and cause some to lose books when alternate formats weren’t available.

    Another PITA is authorization issues when servers change or firms go out of business.

    As for Amazon, I even read the fine print but was still surprised and frustated by Unbox problems after dealing with how badly DRM handled a simple change in monitors or a repair vs clean install of an OS on another pc. The worst has been the near zero help from Amz customer service since the unbox app is such a black box.

    My last gasp will be to use a drm stripper on newly downloaded unbox vids when I get my next pc. Then I’ll truly be done with Unbox for good.

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  10. I remember when buying a product entitled you to certain rights. Ahhh, the good ol’ days

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