Monday, October 29, 2012

Amazon: You don't own the e-books on your Kindle

An Amazon Kindle, bottom, and a Kindle Fire. (AP photo/Toby Talbot)

     Last week I read about a horror story (well, in tech terms and for book lovers) about a woman whose Amazon Kindle account was closed against her will and without her foreknowledge. All the Kindle books she had downloaded to it may also have been deleted (though some bloggers say she could still have read them on her computer or maybe even on her Kindle, except that the Kindle was broken). The entity informing her of this was Amazon UK, although she said her account was through Amazon in the U.S., not the UK.
     The reason for the closure: They claim her account was associated with another account, and something or some things were done on that other account that were contrary to their terms of service, and so her account was deleted with extreme prejudice, and no new account she might attempt to open would remain open. The exact nature of the breach of contract was never named or explained to her.
     So she did what anyone would do, and complained to her friends, one of whom is martin Bekkelund, a tech writer/blogger of some renown, who blogged about the incident, which set the whole blogosphere abuzz. By the next day, Amazon had reopened her account, though with no explanation of why they had closed it in the first place or why they had reinstated it. Oh, and by the way, Amazon claims the guy who signed the email telling her that her account was closed doesn’t even work for Amazon UK (though they somehow had a phone number for him in Ireland).
     Surprisingly, many of the publications, bloggers and commentators weighing in on the incident in effect took Amazon’s side. They assumed or presumed that the woman did something wrong, and that Amazon was within its rights to close her account. Others blame the woman for not taking the simple step of stripping the DRM -- the digital rights management software in the e-books that, among other things,  allows them to be deleted remotely -- from her e-books, even though doing so is a violation of terms of service in and of itself. Others point out that you never really own the e-books you buy. You actually just buy a license to read them on the Kindle, and that license can be revoked at Amazon’s whim; they don’t even need a reason.
     Now I’ve never had a bad experience with Amazon, but I’ve never owned a Kindle or any other e-book reader either. If this story is essentially true, then Amazon owes her and every Amazon Kindle customer or prospective Kindle customer an explanation. At the very least I’m less open to the idea of purchasing a Kindle now.
     Because many of these sites have different takes on what may or may not have happened, and because the comments are among the most interesting -- and scariest -- parts of the stories, I’m including links to every article I found and read on the web. Bekkelund references an NBC article which includes his friend’s own interview. Other articles and blogs opining on the subject include CNET Australia, the Guardian UK, Gizmodo, TMCnet, Boing Boing, Computer World UK, Huffington Post, Raw Story, Tom’s Guide, ZDNet, International Business Times UK, The Blaze and The Toronto Star. Forbes has two: Tim Worstall of Forbes assumes that the woman violated “territorial” rights, while the same site’s Venkatesh Rao attributes the whole incident to clumsy PR by Amazon, and says they need to have a “public editor.”
          Do you own a Kindle? What’s your experience been like? And how do you like the idea that you don’t “own” those books you paid to download?


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