KindleGate Blows Up In Amazon’s Face


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UPDATE: The following update appeared on David Pogue’s Times column.

EDITOR’S NOTE | 8:41 p.m. The Times published an article explaining that the Orwell books were unauthorized editions that Amazon removed from its Kindle store. However, Amazon said it would not automatically remove purchased copies of Kindle books if a similar situation arose in the future.

My Note- It doesn’t change the core issues here!

Just a few weeks ago I posted on a series of encounters I had with Amazon and their customer service. The first post raised questions about DRM. The second clarified some of the initial misinformation I received but, on other levels, only made the situation worse. The third post was an open request to Jeff Bezos to clarify the issue personally. (He didn’t and I never heard from Amazon again.) All of it left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Today it went from bad to worse.

Earlier today our friend Alex Kac at WebIS sent us a link to a piece from David Pogue at the New York Times. It’s bad, really bad, and raises Amazon’s Kindle issues to an entirely new level.

The short story is that people who purchased certain books discovered that Amazon remotely remove them from both their Kindles and iPhones after Amazon and the books’ publisher had a falling out. Pogue writes–

(Amazon) electronically deleted all books by this author from people’s Kindles and credited their accounts for the price. This is ugly for all kinds of reasons. Amazon says that this sort of thing is “rare,” but that it can happen at all is unsettling; we’ve been taught to believe that e-books are, you know, just like books, only better. Already, we’ve learned that they’re not really like books, in that once we’re finished reading them, we can’t resell or even donate them. But now we learn that all sales may not even be final.

Okay let’s count the issues here…

1. This proves you rent, not buy, eBooks from Amazon.
2. Amazon acted without prior notification and then merely credited accounts the price of the books.

But there is another HUGE issue that Pogue doesn’t touch on. That issue —

What happens to notes and highlights I’ve painstakingly taken if Amazon removes a book from my Kindle???

This isn’t a theoretical issue people.

I’m currently reading the book “Nudge”. I’m not reading the book for fun. This is work and I m taking the notes for something I need to write over the next few weeks and I’ve been amazed at how good the Kindle is for this.I’m about 15% into it and already have 75 notes and highlights. But now…I’m concerned.

Sure maybe it’s unlikely that Amazon will suddenly have a falling out with the publisher of “Nudge” but what if they did? Heck, I’ve already had an issue reinstalling books, and now owners of “1984” have had their copies ripped off their Kindle without notice. So don’t tell me this shouldn’t be a concern.

We now know that Amazon can remotely remove the book from our Kindle without prior notice. That’s bad but, then again, if it happened I could always buy a hard copy of the book. But what happens to my notes and highlights if Amazon wipes the book? I assume those would be gone too and those are irreplaceable. That’s a huge issue and is reason enough to question whether or not to keep using a Kindle.

My open letter to Jeff Bezos last month went unanswered. I never heard from any of the four customer service reps I spoke to again either. So I repeat the call —

Mr. Bezos —

You have a great product. It works well. It has the potential to finally move people into the electronic era and we all know that that’s the direction things are moving. But there are huge open questions that remain and your silence on the subject only makes it worse. My encounter with your customer service representatives was bad. The episode that Mr. Pogue writes about is far worse. The issue of what happens to notes and annotations… that a huge issue and one that needs you to address immediately.


The Original Post

The Follow Up Post

An Open Letter To Jeff Bezos

Hume’s Other Fork – Life imitates Art

fox@fury— Are Amazon’s book revocations legal?

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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.

20 Comments on "KindleGate Blows Up In Amazon’s Face"

  1. Christopher Gavula | July 17, 2009 at 6:38 pm |

    one problem though – you say the erase it without permission but you agreed to the terms of service so legally you dis give them permission!

  2. Dan Cohen | July 17, 2009 at 6:41 pm |

    This is an excellent read on the subject Chris.

    Are Amazon’s book revocations legal?

  3. Travis Ehrlich | July 17, 2009 at 6:57 pm |

    I saw Barnes and Noble put out their own book reader app for the iPhone recently! I’m just sayin’.

  4. robtillotson | July 17, 2009 at 8:57 pm |

    I’m not surprised they did what they did… it seems like it would be easier than explaining to a judge, not to mention a bunch of angry publishers, how they committed a slew of copyright violations, then decided it was better to leave the illegal copies in the wild despite having a nearly-zero-effort means of finding and removing each and every one of them. Better for the platform’s survival to take some bad PR from customers (that will be forgotten as soon as the Internet finds something else to be angry about) than piss off your content providers, until your platform is big enough to dictate terms (like iTunes is in the music industry).

  5. They did Travis and it is a nice reader too. There are, however, some issues there as well.
    The last thing I am going to do is start buying yet another series of drm-locked books. B&N owns Fictionwise (and I own many Fictionwise/eReader books) but they do not appear to work with the new reader.
    One of the draws of the Kindle for me is the sync with my iPhone/Touch. (although this episode makes me want to turn of Whispersync since that is how Amazon pulled books of the iPhone). A real competitor will not arrive until someone comes out with a good-sized reader that also allows books on a handheld too. The best positioned? Apple with their upcoming tablet. I have had no issues with my Fictionwise books and the Stanza reader is great for them… oh, no, I forgot… AMAZON now owns the Stanza reader.

  6. Is it possible to back up your Kindle contents on a PC? If yes, does Amazon’s removal affect the back-up copy when you download it back to the Kindle?

  7. A terrible week for cloud computing (Twitter/Techcrunch disclosure of stolen Google Apps) and eReaders.

    Amazon made a major major mistake which will be tough for them to downplay unless they change their Kindle software so as not to be able to erase anything remotely from the headquarters.

  8. Dan Cohen | July 18, 2009 at 8:58 am |

    One could argue that Amazon had to do something to remove the copies of the books that they had no right to sell in the first place. Regardless, their handling of this was awful. At a minimum there should have been clear notification BEFORE doing anything else.

    The issues surrounding this are huge and growing.

  9. I agree that the idea of the Kindle is great. I’m packing for a trip and taking 4 books with me, that stinks. It takes up room and adds weight. The Kindle would be perfect.
    It also looks like a really nice gadget, but I think you are all wasting your money. $299.99 just to earn the right to purchase books that you don’t own but the guys who took your $299.99 do. Makes no sense. Not to mention they can do what they want to those purchased books without even a warning. I guess at least there were refunds.
    I’ll stick to paper. I purchase my books. When I’m done I place them in my collection, give them to a friend, re-sell them, or donate them to my library.
    At the end of the day, the book gods never go “poof” and make my books disappear.

  10. Dan Cohen | July 18, 2009 at 9:12 am |

    cenobyt wrote

    “At the end of the day, the book gods never go “poof” and make my books disappear.”

    🙂 🙂 🙂

  11. I don’t agree that Amazon had to do something to recall the merchandise they had no right to sell.

    What if they sold what turned out to be a counterfeit Gucci bag?

    My guess is they would do nothing, or contact the purchasers and offer a refund, or contact the purchasers and demand that the bag be returned in exchange for a refund.

    They would NOT enter their customer’s house, take the bag, and leave, even if some click-thru license on the checkout screen had said they could.

    They might involve the police as part of the counterfeit investigation.

    What if they sold merchandise that turned out to be stolen?

    Once again, they might do nothing, might pay the party from whom it was stolen, might request the return for a refund, might involve the police.

    Once again, they wouldn’t enter their customer’s homes and retrieve the merchandise.

    We need to get some personal property law issues resolved around non-tangible property like eBooks and songs from iTunes. Until that happens, this sort of stupidity is going to happen.

  12. This is exactly what is WRONG with today’s digital distribution burdened with DRM environment. If you’d bought those books on paper there’s NO WAY Amazon could “recall” them like this, why should electronically delivered content be any different? I’m tired of the content providers bogus piracy arguments, their DRM efforts do nothing to prevent pirates from getting the DRM’d content broken free anyway, so their DRM only hurts their honest customers.

  13. Christopher Gavula | July 18, 2009 at 12:48 pm |

    I think the difference is that in the physical book distribution model (or the counterfeit Gucci bag example) it is nearly impossible to repossess the stolen goods, though the police might try to assist if the problem was severe enough, but they would pull copies of of bookshelves.

    Under a digital model, it is easier to repossess and doesn’t require a huge effort. Therefore, legally, it is probably considered reasonable to do. Whenever there is any kind of legal infraction you are legally obligated to attempt to mitigate the damage. In the physical example you can only do a little. In the digital model your ability to mitigate is greater and so is your legal responsibility. It’s not about DRM either – it’s about the distribution mechanism.

    All that said – I agree with Dan – the notification and explanation should have happened. Amazon’s failure is one of communication – not action. They did what they were legally obliged to do, but they did not handle their PR issue correctly.

    But of course it is still ironic that is was Orwell’s books that were the ones in question. If I was more cynical I’d say it was all a big publicity stunt.

  14. “gaac Says:
    July 18th, 2009 at 4:09 am e

    Is it possible to back up your Kindle contents on a PC? If yes, does Amazon’s removal affect the back-up copy when you download it back to the Kindle?”

    Yes. You can connect your Kindle to computer via USB and save all files. Amazon can only remove items from your Kindle if the wireless feature is turned on, but they can’t touch anything you have stored on your hard drive. An issue WILL arrive if you were to eventually upgrade your Kindle. The DRM protected books will not transfer from one Kindle to another – even if they are registered to the same owner.

    Quoting DavidB: “their DRM efforts do nothing to prevent pirates from getting the DRM’d content broken free anyway, so their DRM only hurts their honest customers.”

    I have to agree. :-/

    I totally agree with ritchie70s argument, as well.

    As Pogue pointed out, you just can’t help but appreciate the irony of it being books by George Orwell that were pulled…

  15. What happens when China demands the removal of a book which they find objectionable? They claim it’s factually incorrect and demand that Amazon remove it or be banned from China?

  16. Thanks, Julie, for the reply.

    Quote: You can connect your Kindle to computer via USB and save all files.

    One follow-up question: Can I transfer content from PC back to the *same* Kindle via USB, without going through Amazon and risking that they will intercept the unapproved content? I was thinking if I need Amazon to convert the file back into Kindle format.

    Regardless of their justification, the privacy and revisionist aspects are unsettling. Can Amazon reach into *my* Kindle to retrieve something (even illegal), without even police or a court involved? Second, does this raise the possibility that Amazon can revise content in the future (for benign reasons such as to correct a typo or misprint, to not so benign such as an attempt to censor undesired content)?

  17. @gaac – you can transfer information to a computer and then back to the Kindle without involving Amazon and without converting any files.

    If you are downloading and transferring non DRM protected material it can be used repeatedly on any Kindle.

    If the file being transferred to the Kindle is DRM protected by Amazon, then it will be tied to the single Kindle for which it was originally intended. You can transfer the file back to the correct Kindle from your computer without a problem. It’s when you try to transfer the file to another Kindle (even if also registered to you) that you’ll hit a snag.

    You will have to redownload the file for that specific registered Kindle from Amazon to your computer (assuming you are not using OTA transfer any more). But if the book is no longer available (for whatever reason), then you will not be able to redownload.

    Let me know if that answers all your questions. 🙂

  18. Judie, you covered all my questions. Thank you very much. And sorry for getting your name wrong in the first reply.

  19. @ Dave P – you are correct. Previously, these issues were handled between the parties offline and customers who already owned something kept it, even if it was then removed from the store.

    Sadly, while the Kindle seemed to signal a renewed interest in ebooks, it might at the same time end up killing them once more.

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