Amazon really blowing it with Kindle DRM

The other day, I posted about some of the idiotic and inadequately disclosed limitations built into almost every electronic book sold by Amazon in their Kindle store. These limits, enforced by so-called Digital Rights Management, or DRM, software, can dramatically effect the way consumers view Kindle ebooks. And they make complete hash of the argument from publishers that ebook prices should be higher.

Today comes news of another deeply troubling Kindle “feature.” Apparently, a publisher agreed to sell Kindle versions of two George Orwell classics, 1984 and Animal Farm, but later decided to withdraw the ebooks. Amazon then went back into the Kindles of every customers who had purchased either of the volumes and DELETED THEM, while also refunding the purchase price and issuing a cryptic explanation. “We recently discovered a problem with a Kindle book that you have purchased,” Amazon told customers (Tip o’ the cap to New York Times tech columnist David Pogue for the link).

It’s one of the most egregious violations of consumer rights yet in the content industry’s DRM world. Even Apple, which used to lock up all the music in the iTunes store with DRM, never tried deleting music in a customer’s library after it was withdrawn by the record label from the store.

Not good! Bad! And now Amazon gets a hail of bad publicity and complaints, like these from David Pogue, Harry McCracken, Engadget and likely legions of others.

And of all books, 1984? It’s almost like an April Fool’s joke. We only wish.

p.s. the image above is for a different and slightly more expensive version of 1984 still available (at least of right now!) in the Kindle store.

UPDATE 7/18/09:

Now the Kindle deletion story has made the New York Times, where we learn that the “publisher” didn’t have the legal right to post the books and, more importantly, that Amazon’s Kindle terms of service do not allow Amazon to delete a book already purchased! Apparently, Amazon is promising not to do it again but I suspect they’ve done tremendous damage to their brand and created an opening for competitors to exploit.

  • Mobile Reference (mobi) appears to sell public domain books for the kindle, as that is most of their library.

    However, 1984 and Animal Farm are not public domain.

    Neither are several of the ebooks they have listed for GK Chesterton – only some of his works are public domain in the US. Ignatius Press is the only US publisher I know of with rights for his later works.

    If Mobile Reference did not have authorization to publish these as ebooks, they were pirating the books, and Amazon customers buying those books were receiving stolen goods.

  • That may be true but Amazon's liability arose when it allowed the alleged pirated works into its store. It's terms of service for Kindle explicitly forbid this kind of frightening post-purchase deletion power, according to the New York Times article today. It was just nuts for them to do it — the harm to their brand and future sales will dwarf any potential copyright liability. And I see they are now promising never to do it again. (Post updated above with both links)

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