July 18, 2009

Technological Mediation and Digital Books [4:50 pm]

Amazon Erases Orwell Books From Kindle Devices (pdf)

In a move that angered customers and generated waves of online pique, Amazon remotely deleted some digital editions of the books from the Kindle devices of readers who had bought them.

An Amazon spokesman, Drew Herdener, said in an e-mail message that the books were added to the Kindle store by a company that did not have rights to them, using a self-service function. “When we were notified of this by the rights holder, we removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers’ devices, and refunded customers,” he said.

Amazon effectively acknowledged that the deletions were a bad idea. “We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances,” Mr. Herdener said.

And then a copyright holder will take Amazon to court for having knowingly engineered a product that makes it hard to enforce copyright. And, if the Aimster decision is still binding precedent, they’ll probably lose.

Later: Farhad Manjoo takes it all the way — Why 2024 Will Be Like Nineteen Eighty-Four: How Amazon’s remote deletion of e-books from the Kindle paves the way for book-banning’s digital future.

The worst thing about this story isn’t Amazon’s conduct; it’s the company’s technical capabilities. Now we know that Amazon can delete anything it wants from your electronic reader. That’s an awesome power, and Amazon’s justification in this instance is beside the point. As our media libraries get converted to 1’s and 0’s, we are at risk of losing what we take for granted today: full ownership of our book and music and movie collections.

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