Amazon Kindle Books Can Only Be Downloaded A Limited Number Of Times, And No You Cannot Find Out That Limit Before You Hit It

An Amazon Kindle customer discovered last week that every time he bought a book through the Amazon Kindle store, he was agreeing to a special, invisible restriction that’s supposedly buried in the fine print that he agreed to when he first registered his account:

[The CSR said] that there is always a limit to the number of times you can download a given book. Sometimes, he said, it’s five or six times but at other times it may only be once or twice. And, here’s the kicker folks, once you reach the cap you need to repurchase the book if you want to download it again.

Dan had upgraded his iPhone and was trying to move his Kindle content over to the new device when he hit the wall. He quickly discovered that there was a subset of books he’d purchased that couldn’t be downloaded to both iPhones, even though both had been successfully registered to the account. This shouldn’t be a problem, since Amazon has said that as long as your Kindle devices are on the same account they can share the same book.

Here’s what the Amazon CSR told Dan.

I asked the customer representative where this information was available and he told me that it’s in the fine print of the legalese agreement documentation. “It’s not right that they are in bold print when you buy a book?” I asked. “No, I don’t believe so. You have to look for it.”

We’re not done- it gets even worse.

“How do I find out how many times I can download any given book?” I asked. He replied, “I don’t think you can. That’s entirely up to the publisher and I don’t think we always know.”

I pressed – “You mean when you go to buy the book it doesn’t say ëthis book can be downloaded this number of times’ even though that limitation is there?” To which he replied, “No, I’m very sorry it doesn’t.”

That sounds like imaginary nonsense made up by a CSR who’s high on book glue, so we pulled up the license agreement for both the Kindle and the iPhone application. We couldn’t find anything in either one that mentions a hidden download limit, either as a set number of total downloads or as a set number of devices in use at the same time for a single book.

From the License Agreement and Terms of Use for the Kindle:

Use of Digital Content. Upon your payment of the applicable fees set by Amazon, Amazon grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent 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.

And from the License Agreement and Terms of Use for the iPhone/iPod Touch application:

Use of Digital Content. Upon your payment of the applicable fees (if any) set by Amazon, Amazon grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content and to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, on the iPhone or iPod touch (individually and collectively, “iPhone”) onto which you download the Application and on other Kindle applications and devices as authorized by Amazon, 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.

We love the idea of the Kindle, but Amazon really needs to step up and start communicating more honestly with customers about the details of the invisible shackles they use when they sell us ebooks. How can their license agreement promise you permament access to a copy if that access to it is taken away after a certain number of actions?

Note: since you can manually add books to your Kindle, you can protect yourself from this to some degree by always keeping a backup of all of your ebook purchases. (This won’t protect you from problems when you upgrade or crossgrade to another device, however.) The problem with the iPhone app is the only way you can get files on it is through Amazon’s servers, and since the files are DRM-protected you can’t use a third-party app on the iPhone as a workaround.

“Kindle’s DRM Rears Its Ugly HeadÖ And It IS Ugly” [Gear Diary] (Thanks to Travis!)
(Photo: twirlop)