As part of a settlement with the customer who sued Amazon over the 1984 fiasco this past summer, Amazon has clarified under what circumstances it can delete your books. Notably, Amazon is not saying that it will never again delete books, which keeps the Kindle in the “do not buy” list for consumers who want unequivocal ownership of the items they purchase. In fact, despite the muted praise Amazon is receiving for doing this, the best we can say about the clarification is that it’s about time, but that it still doesn’t address the fundamental ownership issues raised by the Kindle licensing system.
Here are the conditions under which Amazon will delete your content:
Amazon will not remotely delete or modify such Works from Devices purchased and being used in the United States unless
(a) the user consents to such deletion or modification;
(b) the user requests a refund for the Work or otherwise fails to pay for the Work (e.g., if a credit or debit card issuer declines to remit payment);
(c) a judicial or regulatory order requires such deletion or modification; or
(d) deletion or modification is reasonably necessary to protect the consumer or the operation of a Device or network through which the Device communicates (e.g., to remove harmful code embedded within a copy of a Work downloaded to a Device).
I must admit, it’s hard for me to come to terms with the idea of a company retaining any control over something I’ve paid for, even though networked devices by their nature must participate within a larger group. I suspect this will be one of those attitudes that dates me as future generations grow up within such a system and learn to accept it. But books are a special case in that they can contain revolutionary, heretical, or otherwise controversial ideas, which is the sort of stuff that people in power, or people seeking power, like to control. Call me crazy and paranoid, but I never want a government or legal agency wielding power over my books. Never.
So the real problem here, which this clarification doesn’t resolve, is that Amazon doesn’t sell ebooks on the Kindle store. It sells licenses to ebooks. It describes the licenses as more or less perpetual, but as Amazon has proven in multiple real world circumstances over the past year, the license is pointless if the digital manuscript stored on Amazon’s servers goes away. If you own a Kindle device you can download backup copies to your PC, but if you’re using an iPhone you can’t even do that (unless you jailbreak your phone). The average consumer is completely at the mercy of Amazon’s library. Yes, they’ve tightened the rules under which they’ll remove something, but you can still drive pretty big trucks through the holes that remain. After all, they still can delete your books.
And that’s the part we just don’t get. We don’t understand why Amazon built its syncing system in such a way that it retains full control over the content that it continues to say it “sells” to you.
“Amazon settles lawsuit over deleted Kindle copy of ‘1984’” [TechFlash] (Thanks to Matthew!)