You Don't Own What You've Bought: Microsoft's Books 'Will Stop Working'
from the the-end-of-ownership dept
The latest in our forever ongoing series, recognizing in the digital age how you often no longer own what you’ve bought, thanks to DRM and copyright: this week, people with Microsoft ebooks will discover they’re dead.
Microsoft made the announcement in April that it would shutter the Microsoft Store?s books section for good. The company had made its foray into ebooks in 2017, as part of a Windows 10 Creators Update that sought to round out the software available to its Surface line. Relegated to Microsoft?s Edge browser, the digital bookstore never took off. As of April 2, it halted all ebook sales. And starting as soon as this week, it?s going to remove all purchased books from the libraries of those who bought them.
Other companies have pulled a similar trick in smaller doses. Amazon, overcome by a fit of irony in 2009, memorably vanished copies of George Orwell?s 1984 from Kindles. The year before that, Walmart shut down its own ill-fated MP3 store, at first suggesting customers burn their purchases onto CDs to salvage them before offering a download solution. But this is not a tactical strike. There is no backup plan. This is The Langoliers. And because of digital rights management?the mechanism by which platforms retain control over the digital goods they sell?you have no recourse. Microsoft will refund customers in full for what they paid, plus an extra $25 if they made annotations or markups. But that provides only the coldest comfort.
This tweet kind of sums up the insanity here:
Reminded that the Microsoft ebook store closes next week. The DRM'd books will stop working.
I cannot believe that sentence.
"The books will stop working."
I keep saying it and it sounds worse each time.
— Rob Donoghue (@rdonoghue) June 26, 2019
This puts the difference between DRM-locked media and unencumbered media into sharp contrast. I have bought a lot of MP3s over the years, thousands of them, and many of the retailers I purchased from are long gone, but I still have the MP3s. Likewise, I have bought many books from long-defunct booksellers and even defunct publishers, but I still own those books.
When I was a bookseller, nothing I could do would result in your losing the book that I sold you. If I regretted selling you a book, I didn’t get to break into your house and steal it, even if I left you a cash refund for the price you paid.
People sometimes treat me like my decision not to sell my books through Amazon’s Audible is irrational (Audible will not let writers or publisher opt to sell their books without DRM), but if you think Amazon is immune to this kind of shenanigans, you are sadly mistaken. My books matter a lot to me. I just paid $8,000 to have a container full of books shipped from a storage locker in the UK to our home in LA so I can be closer to them. The idea that the books I buy can be relegated to some kind of fucking software license is the most grotesque and awful thing I can imagine: if the publishing industry deliberately set out to destroy any sense of intrinsic, civilization-supporting value in literary works, they could not have done a better job.
For everyone who likes to (laughably) claim that supporting copyright is about supporting property rights, this (and all those other) stories show the exact opposite is often true. Copyright is often used to destroy property rights and to destroy ownership.