Saturday, 18 July 2009

Kindle: Amazon’s long arm wipes Orwell

People who’d paid for electronic copies of George Orwell’s books 1984 and Animal Farm found they’d suddenty got deleted from their Amazon Kindle e-book readers.

Ars Technica has a good article reporting on what happened, with links to commentary e.g. in the New York Times.

Apparently the ebooks were still in copyright in the USA so Amazon wasn’t entitled to sell them without permission. On finding out that the books weren’t public domain, Amazon wiped them. (Unlike most commentators, I am refraining from all Big Brother comparisons!)

The interesting points to me are:

  • Was Amazon entitled under its terms of service to do that? (possibly, if it didn’t have the right to licence out copies in the first place)
  • From a public relations / customer services perspective, why didn’t Amazon warn its customers in advance, rather than just immediately deleting the copies without any notice?
  • Amazon clearly have a “back door” enabling them to wipe fully paid-for books from customers’ Kindles. At least now customers know about it!

Amazon doesn’t seem to be doing too well on the PR disaster front this year.

Back in April 2009 there were outraged accusations of censorship / discrimination when a supposed glitch in Amazon’s system led to thousands of book titles losing their Amazon sales rankings and searchability, but with lesbian / gay books being particularly hit - even when they weren’t in fact adult in theme, and even when sexually explicit and violent books like American Psycho were unaffected. See e.g. the New York Times’ story.

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