Sunday, July 19, 2009

Furor over Amazon's Deletion of Orwell's'1984' from Kindles - Update #2

Amazon, advised that the sale of illegal copies of the still U.S. copyrighted '1984' and 'Animal Farm' were taking place on their site, removed those editions from their servers and from users' Amazon-area "book shelves" which, during synchronized wireless sessions, caused the books to be deleted, remotely, from customers' Kindles, and Amazon refunded the 99c cost of the book to affected customers.

 However, there was no warning to customers, and the company's emailed explanation said only that there was a problem with the books.   This was experienced, understandably, as invasive after the purchases had been long completed.  Others point out that while physical stolen goods are taken away without payment made to buyers, Amazon is not a police dept. enforcing retrieval under a court of law.

Mobile Reference, it turns out, didn't have rights to upload and sell these copies, but since they specialize in specially formatted versions of public domain books (usually with a high level of care and on a volunteer basis) and the books are not in copyright in Australia currently, the inclusion of those books was surely inadvertent, as it's probably not widely known that the books are still under copyright in the U.S. until 2044, according to several articles online.

The most balanced and detailed story last night on the fiasco was by Nate Mook and Tim Conneally of betanews.  Give that a read if wondering what on earth happened.

The NY Times's Brad Stone posted an update quoting statements by Amazon:
' An Amazon spokesman, Drew Herdener, said in an e-mail message that the books were added to the Kindle store by a company that did not have rights to them, using a self-service function. “When we were notified of this by the rights holder, we removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers’ devices, and refunded customers,” he said.

Amazon effectively acknowledged that the deletions were a bad idea. “We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances,” Mr. Herdener said. '
It has to be asked, under what circumstances might it still be done?

UPDATE - 7/18/09 Originally posted 7/18/09, 4:45 AM
Stone also quotes Justin Gawronski, a 17-year-old who "was reading '1984' on his Kindle for a summer assignment and lost all his notes and annotations when the file vanished. 'They didn’t just take a book back, they stole my work,' he said."

Those notes should still be in his "My Clippings" file, which holds separate copies of highlighting and notes you make for a book.  I wonder if anyone's let Justin know he should look there.

UPDATE #2 - 7/18/09 Original posting 7/18/09, 4:45 AM
Justin Gawronski has been found via Ken Kennedy's Kenzoid's Autonomous Zone article in which he described Justin's plight as told by Brad Stone's NY Times piece and made a guide for backing up your Kindle's "My Clipping" file so that you can retain, edit, print your My Clippings file.  Also remember to check out TheProfessor's Word macro that will sort your My Clippings file by book.

Justin found Ken's story via a friend and now they're connecting to make sure his no-longer-lost notes are useable once a reasonably-priced copy of '1984' is found.
The Net is amazing.  I never reached Brad Stone though.

Justin verified he found his notes in the My Clippings file. I don't know if Justin can stand reading a book online, but at least it's free to do that, as I just found out, at the George Orwell site.  I sent Justin a quick note.

An Amazon customer discussion forum thread has some good pros and cons by members with some information on past deletions for copyright (Ayn Rand, Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series) and the current situation with these two books in other parts of the world.

I've barely touched on the details, so do read the articles above if curious about the uproar.

It's not all nefarious deeds and high drama though.  There's a lighthearted send-up of the situation by Amazon customers in one entertaining forum thread.  Don't miss it.

UPDATE 7/18/09 - James Adcock makes one of his usual good points in the Amazon thread normally focused on the many ways to get books for your Kindle.  He uses the analogy of someone selling you a bike or camera but not realizing it was stolen.  I replied to his with another thought on that.

My own personal take on this, posted to the Amazon forums on 7/18/09 also, in connection with the above.

And here's another very good summary of the situation, by Ars Technica's Ken Fisher on "Why Amazon went Big Brother on some Kindle e-books." Below are ways to Share this post if you'd like others to see it.
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  1. Unless the book lists the copyright status in each country in the book, it is unreasonable to ask a reader to check the copyright status. The USA has made copyright so onerous that one could assume anything ever written is still copyrighted. However, that is not true, it is just true that is is difficult to discover the copyright status of a book. I make the assumption that if I can download it from a legitimate site, then I may read it. Obviously if I download something from Canada or Australia, that may not be true, but it is the authors greed themselves that have created this mess. A book could be in any of number of categories. Creative commons books are generally listed as so in the intro, but public domain books are not. I have no idea of the copyright status of "1632" by Eric Flint, I just know it was a free book. I did NOT know that "1984" was not allowed in the USA. I guess if I had driven across the border I could have read it legally. Now that I have made the error, I guess I am supposed to do core dump on my brain and erase that particular book. I would be easier to just make a list of prohibited authors and head it off with George Orwell.

  2. Al, the copyright holder's problem wouldn't have been with readers but with the person or company who uploaded it and published it under their name (even though I'm pretty sure Mobile Reference did it without realizing it was still in copyright here in the U.S.

    And, secondarily at 'fault,' because the self-publishing process is not particularly monitored (but then look at Scribd or Youtube), would be Amazon, so Amazon felt it had to take it off their servers.
    Where they went too far was to use a process that removed purchased books from reader's Kindles.

    That they gave a refund meant that no one blamed a customer who bought an offered book and was reading it. It's not up to you or me to confirm that a book we bought was still under copyright.

    Amazon's server deletion process also included the user areas of Kindle management records which then, during the wireless Whispernet synchronization, also removed remote copies of it, and that was really not right. Amazon now says they're changing their system so that they won't again be doing remote deletions in these circumstances.

    I imagine not.

  3. Al: copyright IS complicated. In many senses, needlessly overcomplicated, I certainly agree.

    I hate the fact that this issue happened, but if it helps bring the problems that have arisen over time with copyright to the fore, then I'm kind of ok with it happening. We need to take a close look at these issues and start thinking about them. A great overview is available in James Boyle's book "The Public Domain", which you can buy (at Amazon, etc.) or download for free as a PDF from the website:

    FYI: Eric Flint's "1632" is most definitely under copyright. It's available from Baen books as a free download, but that doesn't mean that you can start your own digital bookstore, or print copies and sell them, etc. All rights are still reserved, they just happened to sell it to you for zero dollars and zero cents.

  4. Ken, thanks very much for that info on Boyle's book as well as on Flint's "1632."

  5. I had to love Amazon's qualifier about "these circumstances." Typical corporate squirrels. Nice move, Amazon. You've insured that I will never buy a Kindle, and that I'll never buy anything else from your company ever again.

  6. I just wanted to thank you for mentioning the Word Macro that I wrote. Alas it is Windows only, but I do have some friends here at Penn State that are working to move it into a stand-alone Adobe Air app that will run cross-platform.

  7. TheProfessor,
    Good to know re the cross-platform version thata's being worked on. Please let us know when it's available.


    - Andrys


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