Another Reminder That You Don't Own Your eBooks: Amazon Removing More eBooks You 'Bought' From Archives

from the not-this-again dept

Last year, you may recall, Amazon got into some trouble for deleting a supposedly “infringing” copy of George Orwell’s 1984 from peoples’ Kindles. After this got a ton of attention, the company announced that it would change its system so books won’t get deleted from Kindles any more. Of course, they never said they wouldn’t delete them from your archive, however. Separately, you may recall that a few weeks back, Amazon got into a bit of a kerfuffle over a book concerning pedophilia. The company initially defended allowing this book for sale, by stating:

“Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable.”

However, hours later, Amazon changed its mind and suddenly became one with its inner censor. Apparently, with its newfound willingness to go that route, it’s begun unleashing those powers widely, taking down a whole bunch of “erotica” books without explanation. Apparently, many of the books in question include fictional accounts of incest. Of course, as some have pointed out, the Bible also contains accounts of incest — and a book seen in a recent Amazon ad includes a fictional account of incest.

While the Slashdot account of this story says that the books are being removed from the Kindle that’s not exactly true. They’re being removed from your Kindle archive. This means that if you delete the book from your Kindle, you can’t redownload it. In other words, it’s like the bookshelf in your basement where you store books you might want to go back to some day, but probably won’t touch for a while. However, for a company trying so hard to pretend that its ebooks are just like real books, it really ought to stop deleting things after you’ve supposedly “bought” them.

Update: Amazon emails me to say they’ve put out a statement saying this was a mistake that has now been fixed, stating:

Due to a technical issue, for a short window of time three books were temporarily unavailable for re-download by customers who had previously purchased them. When this was brought to our attention, we fixed the problem and those books were once again made available for re-download. We apologize for the inconvenience.

It still appears that the books themselves are no longer for sale. That’s Amazon’s prerogative, of course, but the lack of explanation still seems pretty weak — especially after supposedly defending not being about censorship. Also, there is no explanation of just what kind of technical “glitch” this was. Considering the trouble the company got into for deleting books in the past, you would think this would have been more carefully reviewed. Finally, the fact that it took nearly a week and numerous high profile media mentions to get Amazon to respond to questions from the authors is pretty weak customer service.

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Comments on “Another Reminder That You Don't Own Your eBooks: Amazon Removing More eBooks You 'Bought' From Archives”

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44 Comments
Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

This means that if you delete the book from your Kindle…

…or if your Kindle has any sort of tech issue, or an update that wipes out what’s on your Kindle, or if it ever breaks and you need a new Kindle…

…you can’t redownload it.

And for those who are inevitably going to complain that incest is gross and illegal, it doesn’t matter. Murder is gross and illegal as well, but murder mysteries are a well-loved genre. Also, Song of Ice and Fire, anyone? It’s a terrific series that happens to have sister-brother incest, which begins at puberty.

Anyway, book rentals suck, unless you expect them to be book rentals.

TheStupidOne says:

Re: Re:

I’ll second your version of events. I’m sure Amazon doesn’t (well didn’t, assuming they fixed it now) store books on any of its publicly accessible servers that aren’t for sale. So while not exactly a glitch, I don’t think they meant to prevent people from redownloading.

I still strongly suggest everyone with ebooks make backups of them and strip the DRM out just to make sure they can’t steal from you.

The Mighty Buzzard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That or the keyboard jockey who removed it from the store just screwed up and did it wrong. It happens. I’ve had a tech support idiot accidentally start a removal of the entire /home directory of a multi-thousand-user webserver. Luckily I’m a paranoid bastard, so I both caught it before it got even a tenth of the data removed and had proper backups.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Do not hold your breath, I have a Kobo, and purchased a book on Nov. 24th the Kobo had an issue reading the book at the 2nd Chapter so I hooked it up to the Borders Desktop App, and hit sync…

Gone was the book from the Kobo, the Desktop app, and my e-library, but it shows I purchased the book in my Order history. I have been on the phone every 2 days for over 3 weeks, they said it was a technical issue… And the only fix is a refund and repurchase…

Well they finally said today the refund was submitted. But I still can NOT repurchase because the history shows I have already purchased it… and that Kobo.com has to reset my history, and they cannot tell me if or when this well be done.

So I can not purchase this top 10 book?
Others can, but I can’t?

I think the industry needs to mature before I will “trust” ebooks.

Jaqenn says:

Personal Morals?

This touches on a topic I’ve been considering for a while. I would value input from the rest of you.

To avoid confusion, let me lay out the following:

1) I think that government-initiated censorship is very dangerous. Maybe should never ever be used, maybe should rarely be used – I’m not sure which.

2) From a customer rights perspective, Amazon selling an ebook for their device and then magically taking it away is BS. Also, I think centralized DRM-ed ebook platforms in general could be dangerous in a George Orwell revisionist history kind of way.

When, if ever, do you consider it acceptable for someone to drive their business from their personal morals? Because if you’re pouring your blood and sweat into building something, what’s wrong with aiming it away from causes you think are wrong?

I used to work at a web hosting company of ~20 employees where the owner turned down a contract with an escort service in Nevada. I personally think he did the right thing. He didn’t want to support escort services, and so he didn’t.

I’m tired of the idea that companies become soulless, immune-to-morals constructs when they get really big. Like the owners can say ‘It wasn’t me, it was Me, Inc.’

So what if some 50% marketshare URL registrar said ‘I don’t like your business, so I’m not going to provide service to you.’ Would you guys say they were wrong? Why? Is it just because they’re big? It’s the same story as my old job, but my opinion wavers and I don’t know why.

So, yeah, amazon retroactively pulling the book is messed up. But what if they had originally said, ‘Jeff Bezos does not approve of this book, and has chosen not to allow it onto the platform.’ Or what if they had said ‘After further review, we wish to withdraw our support for this book. No further copies will be sold. Copies already purchased will continue to be available for future download indefinitely.’

Thanks in advance for your input.

TheStupidOne says:

Re: Personal Morals?

I’d say that it is perfectly acceptable for any business to refuse to work on or provide service to anything it finds morally objectionable.

Now a large enough company can’t get away with it because of the bad press such behavior would generate.

A utility couldn’t get away with it because it is so heavily regulated by the government and has a government granted monopoly.

My personal opinion is that a business should not impose it’s morals on it’s customers or potential customers unless there are multiple viable alternatives. Amazon is only one of a great many bookstores and most bookstores sell a version of ebooks that are compatible with the Kindle, so I say Amazon can do whatever they want to. Should Amazon tighten it’s grip on the Kindle enough that you could only put books on there from Amazon, then I’d say they either need to sell anything that has been published or refund their customers’ money.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Personal Morals?

I don’t think anyone here feels that Amazon shouldn’t be allowed to decide which books it wants to sell and which ones it doesn’t.

The issue most people here have w/ this story is that it is yet another example of DRM causing issues. In this case allowing Amazon to “come into your house and take back a book that they don’t think you should have”.

That isn’t to say that people don’t agree with fogbugzd (above) that a company is restricting its customer base and thereby losing potential profits by acting as the “Morality Police”.

I agree with him and with you. For example I was very happy to hear about Google deciding that they would no longer censor results for the Chinese government. That could be considered a moral stand that would cost the company money. (I’m not sure I know how that has played out in the end.)

OTOH, I don’t like Amazon censoring what books it sells (although I believe it is totally their right to do so). But that is mostly because I liked to think that if I wanted to buy any book, it would available at Amazon. Censoring books like this means that is less likely. It also means I may look elsewhere first when looking for a book, even if they do carry it.

Other large companies censor what they sell. I don’t believe that either Netflix or Blockbuster offer any “adult” titles.

Richard Kulawiec says:

Re: Re: Personal Morals?

You’re certainly right about the DRM issue, but I think there’s another one.

Amazon’s archive storage (for purchased books) falls into the category of “cloud services” — something they now offer as a commercial product.

Suppose I’m a customer of Amazon’s cloud services. And suppose that today I choose to use that service to store a file — a 1.4G file called “insurance.aes256”. Storing this file on their service is — TODAY — well within their ToS, as I have permission to have this file (as do all of you as well). Suppose further that I choose to share this file — again, via Amazon’s cloud service.

Now what’s going to happen when someone sufficiently clueless, hysterical and powerful notices that Amazon is serving up a copy of the Wikileaks insurance file?

That’s an edge case, obviously, but I think it makes the point: Amazon has already provided existence proofs that it will cave to government pressure (Wikileaks) and rabid censorship pressure (pedophilia incident earlier, the incident discussed in this thread). What other pressures will it cave into when it feels it necessary or expedient to do so?

And if it will cave so easily, why should I do any computational task using its cloud? There is, as far as I can see, nothing at all that stops them from deleting my data or stopping my computations whenever they choose. (Yes, yes, I could sue them for breach of contract, but after spending $2.7M on attorney fees I might see relief in 2017.)

My point here is that while “cloud computing” is one of the buzzwords du jour, bandied about by clueless people who have forgotten that once upon a time, mainframes stalked the earth, it is not without significant risks — no matter who the vendor is. And in the specific case of Amazon, those risks appear to be significant.

(Note, please: I’m not arguing that Amazon (or any other cloud service provider) shouldn’t place limits on what can be done with its cloud. For example, it should not permit its cloud to be used to conduct a DoS attack. It should not permit its cloud to be used to send spam — although it does. What I’m arguing is that Amazon is, whether it realizes it or not, assembling a convincing argument that it will act as it sees fit without regard for its ToS — and then will send out its professional spokesliars to “justify” these actions after-the-fact via a convenient parsing of its ToS or well, just by lying about it.)

Hyman Rosen (profile) says:

"just like a book"

However, for a company trying so hard to pretend that its ebooks are just like real books, it really ought to stop deleting things after you’ve supposedly “bought” them.

Absolutely. Because my “real books” bookstore is happy to replace for free any book I’ve ever bought that’s gotten lost or damaged no matter how long ago I bought it.

The Invisible Hand (profile) says:

Re: "just like a book"

Not actually on topic, but physical books are infinitely more resilient than digital ones. The chance that you have to “replace” a digital file (what a stupid concept) is much higher than that of having to replace a physical book.

Oh sure, you make backups of you files, but if your disks decide to die, poof, there goes your data. Your ebook provider “might” restore your ebooks…unless they are Amazon and suddenly they decide not to.

Yet, you have examples of “real books” that have survived for thousands of years and are still (mostly) readable. I’d pay for that kind of reliability (and the fact that, you know, books costs money to print, while ebooks cost 0 to copy).

But let’s be honest here: when was the last time you had to replace a book? I have hundreds still in top shape. You must be doing something wrong.

Rekrul says:

Re: "just like a book"

Absolutely. Because my “real books” bookstore is happy to replace for free any book I’ve ever bought that’s gotten lost or damaged no matter how long ago I bought it.

Let’s say that you buy some real books at your local bookstore and they offer to store them there so that they don’t cluttter up your home. Would it be ok for them to just arbitrarily throw out some of your books?

The online archive is supposed to be a way to keep your Kindle books safe in case anything happens to your local copy. It’s supposed to be your personal archive.

Ryan Diederich says:

You are all missing the main point...

The point of this article is not to highlight how Amazon is imposing its morals on its users, rather it is taking back something that was already purchases.

Granted, they arent deleting them off peoples Kindles like they did in the Orwell incident, but its very close. You purchase your E-Book from them with the knowledge that, in case of an accident or whatever, you have the capability to re-download it.

They most likely provide this service because, as we all know, technology was and will never be 100% reliable.

All I know is, if i were to lose a hard copy of a book that i recently purchased, it would be my own fault, and not the fault of the bookstore which i purchased it from.

Rekrul says:

It still appears that the books themselves are no longer for sale. That’s Amazon’s prerogative, of course, but the lack of explanation still seems pretty weak — especially after supposedly defending not being about censorship.

But yet they still carry movies with incest in them. Movies like;

Spanking the Monkey
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
Wicked

Etc.

Anonymous Coward says:

Amazon sucks. I am proud to say I didn’t spend a dime there for Christmas. They are on my permanent shit list for patenting software algorithms. They are one of the companies responsible for stifling Garage Creativity. They rank up there with Microsoft as assholes of the Information Industry. As far as I am concerned they deserve what they get.

Daemon_ZOGG (profile) says:

"..Amazon Removing More eBooks You 'Bought' From Archives"

If your books are not physical, and they have to be in digital format, forget amazon and others like them. Buy the books from a third party source and send them to your laptop or netbook. Of course, if you’ve already paid for a book and they take it away from you without a refund, I recommend the bit-torrent network. The book publisher and amazon might lose out on some extra money.. but then so did you when amazon stole your copy of the book. The overall moral of this? Don’t buy a proprietary device that locks you in to a single proprietary service (i.e. amazon, apple, etc).

Susan says:

Amazon profits from our stolen book in kindle format

Amazon is selling a stolen/unauthorized version of our book in kindle format. Despite several notifications to their copyright department over the past month proving to them that we never gave permission to anyone and the we hold exclusive copyright to this material they have never responded. They continue to happily profit from the sale of our STOLEN book. Amazon are just as bad as these thieves and have no interest in protecting authors and their copyright. I will never buy another product from them after this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Another reason I don't buy e-books at all

OK, there are a couple of ironies here I feel I should point out. Amazon, in true Orwellian fashion, “deleted” a copy of 1984. Not only that, but removing the “dirty books” leaves them (ahem) exposed to accusations of declaring war on s*x-crime. “O’well,” I guess we’ll always be at war with East Asia.

(Oh, wait, no we’re not. They handle tech support in lieu of American employees at American bookstores selling print books that were published in, hm… America. Silly Winston, Ingsoc is for the lulz. Azn Amazon is for the win.) /sarcasm

$pamazon sucks major digital Brazil nuts, no question about that. However, call me a prude, but as an unpublished author myself aiming someday for publication, this is exactly why I would aim for the Big Six or at least a small press rather than the anything-goes anarchic e-market. I wouldn’t want my work scattered amid the unedited chaff, but nor would I want it hurled into the best little wh*rehouse in the red-light district of the information stupid highway.

Amazon has every right to refuse to carry objectionable material, just like Wal-Mart has the right to sell guns and so does Target (irony there too). Target chooses not to, and that’s their right. I think the proliferation of smut in the self-pub market is why the mainstream will never take it seriously. The (ahem) barrier to entry is comparable to that of Kim Kardashian at the NBA Draft. It’s crap, and the Big Six know it’s crap, and they’re not going to pander to perverts or illiterate pr*n addicts and depraved nympho MILFs who want their (un)healthy dose of X-rated fairy-tale V!*g.ra and f*p material.

Sure, don’t get me wrong, Amazon is a business, and the laws of supply and demand are indeed one way of explaining the world’s oldest profession. S*x sells, all right, but Amazon doesn’t have to support it, and neither should I be lumped into it as a writer in the era when self-pubbing is an all but foregone conclusion for newbies such as myself.

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