Novels are never as absurd as the real world. If they were, nobody would believe them. For example …
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…
… 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…
… You want to know the best part? The juicy, plump, dripping irony?
The author who was the victim of this Big Brotherish plot was none other than George Orwell. And the books were “1984” and “Animal Farm.”
I loved Pogue’s post title.
As the old saw goes, Bytes don’t burn Books, People burn (or disintegrate) Books.
Apple, for all their myriad sins real and imagined, seems to have found the subtle balance. Apple’s music is no longer DRMd (but your purchase can be traced back to your credit card!), but iPhone software is very subtly and appropriately DRMd.
Amazon blew this one big time.
Update 7/20/09: Nice summary in Slate. Turns out Amazon's been deleting books that were illegally distributed for a while -- this one was just too poetic to ignore. Makes you wonder if the upload was a brilliant setup. I liked this conclusion:
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.)...
... To solve this problem, what we really need are new laws.Well said! Congress should pass a law making these terms of service illegal in the United States.