1984 Goes Down The Memory Hole at Amazon

Being someone who spends lots of money on both books and electronic gadgets I have considered ebook readers. While there are some I might purchase, I have rejected the Kindle and cannot imagine why it is so popular beyond excellent marketing. It does have some advantages over other ebook readers such as the ability to purchase many books from Amazon wirelessly, the advantages ultimately are more for the benefit of Amazon than the consumer.

Despite its popularity, the Kindle looks like one of the weaker ebook readers on the market with the ability to read very few ebook formats. My biggest complaint is that it primarily uses its own format and that books one purchases cannot be stored and read on computers and a wide variety of other devices. My primary concern was in not being locked into a single company’s device forever but today another reason to desire a more open format came up:

This morning, hundreds of Amazon Kindle owners awoke to discover that books by a certain famous author had mysteriously disappeared from their e-book readers. These were books that they had bought and paid for—thought they owned.

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.

As one of my readers noted, it’s like Barnes & Noble sneaking into our homes in the middle of the night, taking some books that we’ve been reading off our nightstands, and leaving us a check on the coffee table.

The real irony here is that the books were 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell. In 1984 the protagonist had a job dumping newspaper stories which the government found inconvenient down the memory hole. Imagine  if the Kindle was the only form the book was available on. Fortunately, my copies of these books are still safe on my book shelf. I wonder if Amazon has the ability to make copies they have sold of Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451 burn up in people’s homes.

Update: I’m not sure why people are spending money on Orwell’s books when they are available for download in many formats on line. Boing Boing gives one such example. Under Australian copyright law the work of authors who died before 1955 are in the public domain and are easily available for download at sites such as here.  Another example is here, and I was amused to find that Amazon has an ad for the Kindle on this page.

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  1. 1
    Fritz says:

    The Kindle DX will natively render pdf.   That might be a good system.

  2. 2
    Leslie Parsley says:

    Good infor on copyright (national and international) can be found here and here. Nicely formatted and not full of legal lingo.

  3. 3
    Fritz says:

    This is about the most thorough corporate PR screweup I’ve seen in quite a while.  Some good friends of mine work down the road at Amazon — I congratulated them.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    It is a shame. Generally I am very happy with purchasing from Amazon. I just ordered a few things through them (but sold by others) on Friday. (They sure are a lot better than Buy.com, who often sells items for a slightly lower amount than Amazon by selling defective merchandise and providing zero customer service).

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    I was glad to see that a newer model of the Kindle will handle pdf but I’ve heard it isn’t done that well. There are also many other ebook formats out there. I will not use the native Kindle format or buy a device which is centered around it unless it becomes possible to use the format on a pc.

  6. 6
    Fritz says:

    I do like the form factor of the Kindle DX.  I will certainly read reviews before making a purchase decision.

  7. 7
    Chris R says:

    Why would amazon do something so stupid? And with 1984 of all books.

    I may still buy a Kindle. I just need to go into it understanding what I am getting myself into.

    I suspect if I already owned a Kindle and this happened, I would be pretty pissed off too.

  8. 8
    Fritz says:

    Looking at the reviews, it sounds like Ron is right and they crippled the native pdf reading function on the Kindle DX (it doesn’t zoom or pan).  Oy.

  9. 9
    Eclectic Radical says:

    “Why would amazon do something so stupid? And with 1984 of all books.”
    There were two conflicting stories. The original announcement was that the publisher who had sold them the e-books they were selling had lost the rights. This was immediately questioned for a variety of reasons, because the publisher losing the rights would not require them to essentially steal the book back from their customers.
    The new story, which makes more sense but is far more embarassing for Amazon, is that the original e-books they were selling were pirate copies. The ‘publisher’ who sold them the e-books had simply compiled them himself and never made certain to be authorized to do so. He may have thought Orwell’s work was in the public domain, or he may have been deliberately pirating the works to get one up on Amazon. It is because the copies were pirated that Amazon felt the need to erase them all. This story was not admitted to in the first round of publicity because of the PR department’s embarassment, it came out later and Amazon has since confirmed it over the original story.
    I simply mention it because the question was asked and no one else had put it up there.

  10. 10
    Fritz says:

    I believe Orwell’s work *is* in the public domain in some countries.  Varying copyright law makes this really fun.
    And it would help if American copyright law was not held hostage by Disney corporation.

  11. 11
    Ron Chusid says:

    Orwell’s work is public domain in Australia. See the update to the original post along with download source.

    I am sympathetic to Disney re copyright. They have an incredible amount of synergistic use of their characters including movies, books, merchandise, and use at theme parks. I can understand that after all this investment they would be screwed if another company could put up their own theme parks featuring Mickey, Donald Duck, and the Disney princesses along with using the characters in their own movies.

  12. 12
    Fritz says:

    Ron — do you know the story there?  Basically Mickey should have gone out of copyright ages ago.  Because there is so much piled in there, Disney has had the clout to change the law to keep *everything* in copyright for way longer than it used to be.   Complete market distortion and changing the rules in the middle of the game.
    Personally I think it should be fair game to riff on fictional characters.    Writing a new James Bond novel is *not* the same as printing your own dupe of “Doctor No”.   But that’s just me.
    Oh — and if you haven’t read it, you should see Mickey Mouse turned into a Nazi by Dan O’Neill.   As he said after the lawyers got done with him — “Whatever you do, don’t fu** with the Mouse”.

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