Amazon Deletes Your Books, Has Always Been At War With Eastasia

Sure, electronic books are portable and have all sorts of advantages. But Borders has not, to date, broken into my house and stolen back my copy of The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide.

That’s what happened to Kindle owners who had purchased copies of 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell. Amazon stole a page from the totalitarian, history-revising regime portrayed in 1984. Literally. As in, took back every snazzy digitally rendered page back. Amazon deleted the books from the accounts and even the Kindles of purchasers, and credited their accounts. Kindle users are, understandably, sort of freaked out.

The company selling digital copies of the books hadn’t secured the proper rights to sell them, so this isn’t exactly an arbitrary fascist act. Just a scary one for any consumers who like to pretend that they actually own digital copies of, well, anything.

David Pogue noted:

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.

It sounds like e-book publisher MobileReference was selling Orwell’s books in digital form without bothering to secure the rights to them. Pretty straightforward, but having a transaction automatically reversed in this way is new.

What does all of this mean? Is this an incidence of a company abusing their abilities with DRM, of recovering stolen property, of copyright infringement, or just one really big misunderstanding?

Sorry, Winston, you only temporarily held the rights to access the material, and those rights have been revoked.

Some E-Books Are More Equal Than Others [Pogue's Posts]
Mysterious George Orwell refunds [Amazon.com Forums]
Amazon removes books from Kindle? [MobileRead Forums]