Thursday 23 July 2009

Big brother in a bother? Orwell that ends well

Thanks, Professor Hector MacQueen, for tipping the 1709 Blog off about the news that has promised to change its systems after it remotely deleted George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm from its customers' Kindle ebooks. This happened when the world's most popular source of reading matter discovered that those titles had been offered for sale without authorisation. Amazon's action, however purely motivated by considerations of copyright, generated the inevitable comparison with the unseen but all-seeing villain of 1984, Orwell's all-seeing Big Brother.

The first rumour was that Amazon had to retrieve the books after pressure from the rights-holder, which had apparently changed its mind about the e-vailability of these masterpieces of socialist theory versus practice. Amazon later denied this, explaining that the works uploaded by a publisher, reported to be MobileReference, which did not have the rights in the first place.

Customers have not been thrilled to discover that, when they purchase a book using Kindle, they do not necessarily own it for life. One wrote on's forum: "When I buy a book, I own it. Today i find that when I 'buy' a Kindle book, I am leasing it and it is subject to recall by the issuer". One particularly disgruntled customer is Justin Gawronski, who was reading 1984 on his Kindle for a summer assignment and lost all his notes and annotations when it simply vanished. "They didn't just take a book back, they stole my work", he is reported to have said.

Amazon is reputedly reconsidering its policy. Presumably it makes more sense to be on the customers' side. The easiest way to do this is to let them keep the illicit download and leave it to the copyright owners to take action against such parties as they can realistically sue.

Right: No-one asked the piggy if it wanted to be Kindled ...

Read all about it in the Guardian, the Telegraph, Pocket-lint, the Register and msnbc.

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