Wednesday, July 22, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different...

... a post that has nothing to do with the impending move, but with an interesting (YMMV, of course) story involving e-books, copyright, and the concept of ownership.

Recently, there was a flurry of interest over a story that Amazon had been selling illegal copies of 1984 and Animal Farm for the Kindle reading device. As it turns out, Orwell's works are in the public domain in some countries, but not in the United States. It appears that Amazon didn't know this and was selling Kindle copies of both works for $.99 each, assuming they were in the public domain. When the copyright owner got on Amazon about it, Amazon tracked down the American purchasers of the books on Kindle, deleted the book files from the customer's Kindles without warning, and gave them a credit for the purchase price.

The most interesting part - and the most troubling - is that the move essentially equates the purchase of a "book", an item previously treated as the customer's property after purchase, with the purchase of computer software, which is typically issued as a lease (Microsoft, among others, makes it very clear that you do not own their software, you own a revocable license to use it under their terms; if you don't accept those terms, then return the software to get your money back).

I wonder what the reaction would be if you told the average e-book "purchaser" that they are only buying a license for the book, not ownership, and that the company could delete (or even more insidious, change the written text of) an item retroactively. Let's say that a government had decided that x book is obscene or contains passages that are offensive - Do they then have the right to go into your reading device and remove or alter the text? Do they have to wait for a court decision, or can an overzealous administrator order the changes to be made anticipating a potential lawsuit or complaint? What, if any, rights do you have as the reader / owner / lessee?

No comments: