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.
Even worse, this is not the first time this has happened: the New York Times reports other Kindle deletions: Harry Potter books and Ayn Rand.
I’ve told Mr. Beale I want a Kindle reader for my birthday next year but now I’m rethinking the idea. I loved the idea of a device that can hold thousands of books, in one convenient package. But the books can’t be loaned, or donated to a charity, or left for someone else to read at the laundromat, or anything else you can do with a book. And with a real book, the publisher can’t sneak into my house and take it back because they didn’t like the store where I bought it.
There are some advantages to being a Luddite.
Amazon has given itself a black eye over this Orwell thing, so they’ve promised not to take back purchased copies ever again. Riiiight. Until they put some kind of switch on my Kindle that allows me to control the who, what, where, when and why of access to my device, I’m not going to believe them. Who’s to say Amazon won’t sneak into my Kindle and edit my books? Change the content? Decide to make some “corrections”?
We’ve arrived at a funny place in the world of intellectual property, copyright, and technology. Who really owns a work? If I buy a paper-bound book, it’s mine. I can write on it, tear out the pages, use it to line a bird cage, read it, loan it to a friend, do whatever. I can read it once, twice, three times. It’s mine and no publisher, book seller, or author can tell me I can’t. I’m not supposed to make money off of it, but people do all the time when they sell their books to used book stores. If I buy an electronic book, however, I can’t do any of these things.
Why is that? What’s the difference? Just because electronically they can control what buyers have purchased, that doesn’t mean they should. If I can loan a book to a friend when I buy the hard-bound copy, I should be able to loan an electronic copy. After all, my rights as a buyer don’t change whether the book I purchase is paperback, hardback, large type, or anything else.
Record companies will go after you for millions of dollars because you wanted to share the cool new songs you heard with some friends. But if I made a cassette tape of a new CD and gave it to a friend, no problem -- there’s a tax (or used to be) on blank tape sales that supposedly reimbursed record labels for their lost royalties when consumers taped recorded product.
Why couldn't they do the same thing with electronic files if they're so worred about "stealing"?
Nothing is going to make me want to stick to old technology more than some brain-dead corporation trying to control my behavior after I’ve bought their product. Or redefining what it means to "own" something, and deciding that no matter how much money we consumers shell out, we're really just "renting." Own means own, it means it's mine.
Corporations are going to have to get off the greed train because they're only hurting themselves in the end. I don't want part of any system where Amazon can come into my house in the middle of the night and take back the books I purchased.