I’ve been thinking about this issue ever since I first heard about Amazon remotely pulling already paid for copies of 1984 e-books from user’s Kindles. The issue resurfaced when Amazon remotely deleted another lady’s entire collection of paid for books.
Unbeknownst to me until fairly recently there’s quite a big legal distinction between purchasing an item and the way Amazon and others make available their digital content. It’s fairly well captured in this PDF made available by the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI).
Essentially Amazon does not sell you a product at all when you click the “buy” button on their e-book store. They sell you access to a book. This is totally legitimate and a longstanding practice, just like a fitness club sells you access to a gym, or access to a swimming pool. The problem with it is the way that Amazon frames the situation. They present the business interaction in terms of a traditional book being sold.
Whereas when you buy a physical copy of a book you have the right to do all sorts of things with it as long as you do not infringe the copyright of the author/publisher. You can make copies for your own use, you can cut out the pages and stick them in a scrap book, you can give the book away to your friend, or sell it to them. You have none of these rights with an e-book licensed from Amazon. You can read it, download it to one of a limited number of devices you own, and “lend” it via a bizarre artificially limited data copying.
I still like the service provided by Amazon, but I wish they presented their offerings accurately instead of trying to make it seem like their users are getting something they really aren’t. I think their main issue is that they’re trying to extend the metaphor of physical books into the realm of digital books and betraying their users by doing so.
I’m looking forward to a liberation of intellectual property laws. They’ve been getting clamped down and harnessed by big publishing companies, record companies, and film production studios more and more and it’s time people realized it and made informed decisions about how they spend their money.
Here’s to a free information society!