More Timely Than Ever!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Books Vanishing from Kindles

David Pogue of the New York Times reports:
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.

This is ugly for all kinds of reasons. Amazon says that this sort of thing is "rare," but that it can happen at all is unsettling; we've been taught to believe that e-books are, you know, just like books, only better. Already, we've learned that they're not really like books, in that once we're finished reading them, we can't resell or even donate them. But now we learn that all sales may not even be final.

As one of my readers noted, it's like Barnes & Noble sneaking into our homes in the middle of the night, taking some books that we've been reading off our nightstands, and leaving us a check on the coffee table.

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."



Joe said...

Not trying to argue for IP laws, but apparently the NY Times didn't investigate the issue enough. See this.

Sheldon Richman said...

I agree with Edward. The end user has committed no offense. The idea of Amazon trespassing on people's Kindles and removing items is extremely offensive. I am truly appalled.

Some might compare this to receiving stolen goods, but that would beg the question. In the case of stolen goods, the owner has a right to have them returned, and either the receiver or the owner will possess them. It's got to be one or the other. But what is taken from the Kindle owner is in no way returned to the publisher. That gets at the very nature of intellectual "property." It's not finite.

If the publisher wants money from Amazon for selling the unauthorized files, that's between them. Leave the end user out of it.

Sheldon Richman said...

It appears that Amazon violated its agreement with its customers when it forcibly "bought back" those Orwell books. From Peter Kafka via Roderick Long, here is the relevant section of the user agreement:

"Upon your payment of the applicable fees set by Amazon, Amazon grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent [emphasis added] copy of the applicable Digital Content and to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Device or as authorized by Amazon as part of the Service and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content will be deemed licensed to you by Amazon under this Agreement unless otherwise expressly provided by Amazon."

Note the word "permanent."

Sheldon Richman said...

I agree with Rothbard (The Ethics of Liberty) on this. While things become complicated when the situation is intergenerational, in principle an owner cannot lose title to property through theft and thus has an enduring valid claim to the property no matter how many times possession changes hands innocently. Of course, every good-faith buyer has a claim at least against the thief.

Sheldon Richman said...

One of the two chapters on property and land reform.