Amazon apologizes after deleting Kindle books; offers refund

By Justin Mann on September 4, 2009, 2:57 PM
Two months ago, Amazon found themselves between a rock and a hard place when they discovered a rogue publisher. Certain digital books -- namely George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm -- had been added to the Kindle library by a publisher who lacked the legal rights to do so. Despite the fact that many Kindle owners had purchased copies of these books, Amazon decided to completely delete the books from its system -- including from customers' e-readers.

Amazon has faced numerous consequences of that decision, including being hunted down with a lawsuit. In an attempt to make amends, the company has apologized to users. For the affected, Amazon is offering to either replace the deleted digital books with a hard copy, or compensate in the way of a gift certificate or refund. The "buy back" is an opt-in scenario, requiring affected customers to contact Amazon and request reimbursement.

This is a clear-cut example of how companies can use DRM against the consumer. In this instance, the people who purchased books ultimately had no authority over what happened to the content. If you buy a physical copy of a book, it is yours indefinitely -- buy the same book in a digital format and someone up the chain from you could effectively deprive you of access.

Without certain protections in place, DRM systems are prone to abuse -- and it's easy to see why Amazon is taking so much criticism in this particular case. While it is good that Amazon is doing the right thing by offering compensation, you can't really give them kudos for this one. The problem originated several months ago, and they acted without permission or notification to their customers.

User Comments: 3

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Wendig0 Wendig0, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I can understand Amazon deleting the books, though they should have put out a notice, or press release, and offered customers compensation prior to pulling the ebooks. They handled it badly, yet it was a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation for them. From their side, I agree with the need to pull the copyright infringing publisher from their system to avoid lawsuits, yet from the customers pov, it opened up a whole new opportunity for lawsuits ranging from invasion of privacy, and big brother conspiracy theories, to FTC violations. It is good that they are trying to make things right again though.

Guest said:

"In this instance, the people who purchased books ultimately had no authority over what happened to the content. If you buy a physical copy of a book, it is yours indefinitely..."

If you buy a STOLEN physical copy of a book, just like if you buy a stolen car, it is NOT yours to keep indefinitely, it is confiscated when it is located by the police, and returned to the rightful owner or to the insurance company if a payout has taken place. These files were sold by an entity that did not have the right to sell them. There is no medium or product I can think of where the posessor of illegally-obtained products or services has "authority over what happened" to the product even if they were unaware that they didn't have the right to that posession. However having said that, in normal circumstances there would have been a legal process followed before the product was confiscated and it would have not been done by the owner of the media, it would have been done by a legal authority. The rightful owner of a physical book or the dealership an auto was stolen from would not be entering the home to recover the property. This is what was done by Amazon when they accessed each Kindle and deleted the file, and it was done without notification or due process given to the current posessor of the file. I think that none of this has any bearing on the true reasons for the objections of the Kindle owners over what took place. I think it's a matter of being intruded upon without knowledge or consent, just like if you found someone reading your email or found a stranger in your home.

Guest said:

You know this is somewhat unrelated but this is why I don't like buying games from Steam and other digital distribution services. Without a physical copy I feel very uncertain about the future of my games. What happens when Steam dies? Will all the games I spent hundreds of dollars on disappear into a black hole never to be seen again? Why do I need to be connected to the internet to play Half Life 2 single player?

Same thing applies to music bought online with DRM. I never purchased any and never will. I don't like how easy it is to be taken away from me.

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