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Big Brother Is Knocking and It’s Amazon at the Door



I have to say, this move by Amazon has me a bit concerned.

It turns out that the publisher of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 (yes, of all books) decided that they didn’t want to have an electronic edition of their book being made available any longer to Kindle users. So, Amazon wirelessly deleted that book from all Kindles that had previously purchased it and refunded the money to the owner. That’s right – it removed something owners had previously purchased and took it from them.

You know that  Tablet PC you bought just six months ago? What if XYZ oem decided that it was a mistake to make that model, they came to your office in the middle of the night, took it, and wirelessly refunded the money to your bank – all without telling you that they were going to do it.  All they left you was this note: “We’re sorry, we made a mistake by selling this to you and we’re taking it back. That’s right, we are revoking your ownership of said Tablet PC. You’re just out of luck. We don’t think it will happen again, but you never know…”  That’s exactly what Amazon did and it wreaks of Big Brother.

If Amazon keeps up this practice, I’m going to have to seriously reconsider Amazon’s e-Book / Kindle business.

Here is Amazon’s statement:

The Kindle edition books Animal Farm by George Orwell. Published by MobileReference (mobi) & Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) by George Orwell. Published by MobileReference (mobi) were removed from the Kindle store and are no longer available for purchase. When this occured, your purchases were automatically refunded. You can still locate the books in the Kindle store, but each has a status of not yet available. Although a rarity, publishers can decide to pull their content from the Kindle store.

Excuse me while I go hide all of my “real books” that I purchased from Amazon. I don’t want them disappearing on me…

via NY Times

UPDATE: It appears that the publisher who sold the copies of Orwell’s books didn’t have the rights to distribute them. According to at least one Kindle owner, the digital 1984 appeared to have been a scanned copy of a paperback. Amazon stated that it would not delete users’ copies of illegally uploaded books in the future. You can read more about the circumstances from the NY Times.



  1. Gavin Miller

    07/17/2009 at 3:39 pm

    Good grief, like you say, hide your ‘real books!

  2. harv

    07/17/2009 at 3:50 pm

    The News Hour with Jim Lehrer had an report on the “phenomena of eletronic books and it’s impact on the book publishing world”, just this week. It’s here;
    I think Amazon’s behavior woudl have greatly effected the conversation.

    • Xavier Lanier

      07/17/2009 at 5:29 pm

      I’m generally a big fan of Amazon, order stuff from them all the time, but this is really bad.

  3. Xavier Lanier

    07/17/2009 at 7:12 pm

    Ok, looks like there’s more to the story. Apparently, the publisher who sold the digital copies of these books didn’t own the rights to them.

    Amazon said that if this ever happens again they won’t delete copies that were already paid for.

  4. SAM

    07/17/2009 at 9:00 pm

    Even though they are backpeddling on their “mistake”, it
    shows the amount of control they potentially have over “your”
    …ironic that it was Orewells Big Brother’s Watching “1984”

  5. Ben

    07/17/2009 at 9:59 pm

    i think there’s another way to look at this. when you ‘buy’ an ebook, perhaps you aren’t actually buying a book, but access to the book, as you would be if you paid for a service. there’s no physical product. when the ‘service’ to that book is gone, so is your access to it. the actual file on your kindle is just a convenience because you can’t be online 24/7/365.

    i’m not saying it’s the right thing to do, but this is another way to look at the model.

  6. Sumocat

    07/18/2009 at 9:31 am

    I think the big lesson here is Amazon doesn’t screen its sellers for proof of distribution rights or adequately screen for quality. These are old books but still actively sold and repackaged. Surely they exist in digital form and would not have needed to be scanned from hard copy. That should have raised some flags.

  7. Anonymous

    07/18/2009 at 4:12 pm

    “didn’t have the rights to distribute them” in the United States. Where the Copyright Term Extension Acts have prevented them from entering the Public Domain. In some other countries, they *are* in the Public Domain, and may be distributed freely.

    Apropos 1984, so now a Saudi courtier, instead of merely having all unsold copies of a book reduced to pulp, could make it vanish entirely.
    1984 indeed.

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