Saturday, September 5, 2009

Is Kindle Really Sorry for Deleting George Orwell

Earlier this year, Amazon did the unthinkable. They unknowingly went into each of their customers' accounts and deleted copies of two of George Orwell's books. Ironically, one book, "1984", was specifically about this very thing, Big Brother snooping into our private lives. Well, Amazon has said it was sorry and has learned from the errors of its ways. To make it up, they are now offering to replace or refund back to their customer to back up their pledge. "Amazon said in an e-mail message to those customers that if they chose to have their digital copies restored, they would be able to see any digital annotations they had made. Those who do not want the books are eligible for an Amazon gift certificate or a check for $30, the company said."

But is this good enough? The bigger issue is one that Amazon has not yet commented on, digital rights management. "Digital books for the Kindle are sold with so-called digital rights management software, which allows Amazon to maintain strict control over the copies of electronic books on its reader and prevents other companies from selling books for the device. Consumer advocates and civil libertarians say the system could allow courts or governments to force Amazon to recall, and in essence censor, books that they deem politically dangerous or embarrassing." And that is the crux of the problem. When consumers buy a printed book, the content owner and distributor have no further control over its use. It can be shared, resold, destroyed. That right is with the consumer. With digital copies, it may not truly be owned. The consumer is limited to what he can do with the content, how it is used, if it can be shared or even resold. And that Amazon has not addressed the privacy issue that first caused this embarrassment in the first place still haunts them. If "Big Brother" can go into my electronic reader, whether to take away or even just "watch" and learn activity becomes the bigger problem. For Amazon and others.

If Amazon can do it with the Kindle, so can Sony with its e-reader, and Apple with its iPod and iPhone. The issue of digital rights management and consumer rights are clearly coming to a head and perhaps someone will consider a class action suit to challenge it.