Orwellian Amazon

By now, everyone and their uncle is talking about how Amazon took back a couple of Orwell titles from Kindle users.  They have, of course, the right to do this. You’re not actually purchasing ebooks from Amazon. You’re licensing them.

Or so the argument goes.

The linked article says that there’s nothing in the published user’s agreement that actually lets people know that. And, when you go to “buy” a Kindle book on Amazon, it says “buy now” not “license now.”

This is a PR disaster by any stretch of the imagination.

But I wonder if it’s not a violation of the ADA. For some of us, if they want to read any book at all, they have to read it on a Kindle, because it’s lightweight and doesn’t require the dexterity of holding a book while turning pages. This might seem like a small thing to most of us, but to those of us who can’t do it? It’s not like arthritis is an uncommon condition.

So, yes, for many of us, if the Kindle book is no longer there and Amazon gave us back our money, we can just go actually buy the book, now that we’re aware that Amazon doesn’t think we’re actually buying a book when we buy a Kindle version. But what about the folks whose only option is the Kindle?

I know that there are buildings who don’t have to be ADA compliant, so, if there never was an elevator in this 1840s building, you don’t have to put one in.  But, if you put one in, you now have an obligation to keep it working.

So, maybe folks who physically can’t use books don’t have a right to a book in an electronic form if it’s not, but once it is, isn’t there some obligation to keep it that way?

Seems like there might be.

8 thoughts on “Orwellian Amazon

  1. The thing was is they were Mobi* books. I never bought them because Mobi books are the ones that people convert As A Public Service. They’re supposed to be titles in the Public Domain. (Some Mobi books I do have include Dickens, Bronte sisters’ works and Plato.)

    As Kindle has grown in popularity there are a growing number of people who are fudging on the PD rules, figuring people won’t grok whether or not a book is truly in the PD if it’s an older title. I’m a stickler for always checking. I’m also one of the ones who reported to Amazon that the Orwell books were pirated.

    You can still buy the Orwell books, I think. Just not for the eighty cents or two bucks or whatever the Mobi person was asking.

    *Mobi, short for Mobile Reference is a quasi-open publishing thing. Most people who convert do so for free. They feel that keeping books alive and making them available to the disabled (i.e. me) is a good thing. But you CAN–and some do–charge a small “service fee” for the effort of conversion. Most Mobi books are free, but you’ll occasionally stumble across one that is a token payment under $3. There are folks, presumably the same dicknuts who sell old term papers, who have started “converting” titles that are popularly used in school courses and seem like they MIGHT be under PD rules. They then charge a buck or two, which is a bargain compared to the $5-8 the university bookstore is asking.

    Folks like me are really down on these guys who are corrupting the good efforts of others and stealing licensed works.

    Maybe I should put this on my blog….

  2. Pingback: Amazon, Orwell And Captain Jack Sparrow « Just Another Pretty Farce

  3. There are so many ways to read an ebook besides a Kindle it’s not even funny. I have always thought it was an overpriced, gimmicky piece of crap and this story sort of sealed the deal for me. They are capitalizing on people’s lack of technological savvy, which is fine, but they are charging waaaaaay too much for what amounts to only a marginal convenience accompanied by a massive burden. The Kindle is the AOL or Comcast of the ebook market.

    Also, this is not the first time they’ve remotely deleted paid content from a user’s Kindle before. All sales are not final with Amazon and their expensive little toy tablet.

    Nearly any PDA or Pocket PC, or hell, even certain cell phones can read ebooks for a fraction of the cost. They have had this functionality for well over ten years. For that matter, an iPhone does more and costs less than a Kindle, even if you never connect it to any phone service.

    Seriously, if you know someone who has a problem reading their favorite books and they need a technological solution, send them my way. I can get them set up with everything for under $100, and they will never have to upgrade the thing if they don’t want to, and no one can come and delete their files without permission.

  4. Nomen, I guess I just don’t get the whole point of that story…granted I did just skim it.

    It seems like you’re in favour of all written works being free. As I writer I just can’t make that leap.

  5. i’m in favor of being sold a product, not a mere license revokable at the seller’s whim.

    i am, to put it in insufferably geeky terms, in favor of the GNU four freedoms. i realize they might not be trivial to implement for works of human-readable fiction, but getting closer to them is always to be preferred over shying away from them.

    i’ve got not one single thing against authors being paid for their works. i write stuff myself, even if it’s “only” computer software, and getting paid for it is certainly nicer than not. but any and all authors who think the only way for them to get paid is to act like Amazon does with this Kindle revokable licensing B.S., and/or think they need Digital Restrictions Management — well, they surely won’t get paid by me.

  6. I guess, upon learning what you’ve shared, Coble, is that this makes, in my eyes, Amazon look worse. First, because if I’ve bought a copy of a movie through Amazon, even if it turns out to be a bootleg, I don’t expect Amazon to confiscate it from me. But second, and maybe this is where it hits too close to home for me, because I expect Amazon to do its part to protect the intellectual property of people.

    It shouldn’t be up to a publisher to discover that Amazon is selling bootleg copies of the publisher’s book. Amazon needs to have some kind of way of checking that the people who are actually posting content have the right to make that content available.

    They shouldn’t get to make a profit off of copyright violation until the violated discovers it.

    That’s just gross.

  7. The whole problem with this is that Amazon is trying to have it both ways. They aren’t making any profit of off MobiReference books. They wanted to be able to say “you can download X number of books to the Kindle” to make the Kindle more attractive. Anybody can download Mobi books–as I did for years before I had a Kindle. They just make getting the Mobi books easier….if you download thru their wireless service you don’t have to do through Feedbooks or Mobi.com and upload the text to your device via USB. You can just download it over their server. They make no money off those transactions and guarantee no protections over them.

    The only incentive they have for doing that is to make their library look larger than it actually is and to give added value over Sony Reader.

    In thinking about it, I’m not sure how I’d prefer for them to handle it. Frankly I think they’d be better off to just cancel their agreement with third party transactions OR to restructure their store more like the Amazon.com site is now. On that website it’s been made pretty clear that you are purchasing the book from a party other than Amazon itself. (i.e. if you are buying a used book or a gardening kit or a gift basket) That clarity isn’t on the Kindle Store at all. Unless you pay attention to the fine print you have no idea that the book you’re getting doesn’t come from Amazon directly.

    I think legally they had to take the books back to avoid liability, because there is no other way for them to declaim the transactions. If they would give themselves a better disclaimer they wouldn’t have to do that.

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