Available Now! (click cover)

America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

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.

Edward said...

Joe, if anything, that makes this a better story.

1) Some copies of 1984 are illegal. Does that bother anyone else?

2) Even amusing the validity of IP law, there is a major problem here. The concept of property taints is being used to steal from end users. The end-user is made responsible for the "crime" of the unknown illegal publisher, even though the EU is far removed from the crime. He thought he was playing by the rules of the game, but he bought something that was afflicted by a taint he could have not possibly know of.
3) If IP were contractual, then only the publisher would be in violation of the contract.

On a different note. Amazon's claim that this rarely happens is about as reassuring as: "Expropriation reportedly occurs only if the property is linked to a terrorist threat and expropriation is deemed to be in the interest of national security. (Courtesy of Heritage's Economic Freedoms Index's report on Israel)"

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."

Edward said...

"In the case of stolen goods, the owner has a right to have them returned."

I'm not sure about this –and my uncertainty isn't just me reacting to the word "right." A person, A, stole a book from and sold it to a used book store, B, which then sold it to shopper ,C, who gifted it to D. Here, D has every reason to expect that he owns the book. Allowing the original owner to take the book back seems to contradict what I see as the reason for property rights to exist: conflict prevention.

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.

Edward said...

Which section is his argument in?

Sheldon Richman said...

One of the two chapters on property and land reform.

Edward said...

Thank you. I Will read it soon.