Imagine this: You go into your favorite bookstore and purchase a book. You take it home and begin reading it. That night the bookstore sneaks into your house, takes the book back and leaves the money you paid for the book in its place. That would be pretty messed up, right?
Well, that’s fairly close to what Amazon has done to Kindle users who had purchased copies of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984.” After the publisher changed their minds about selling electronic versions of the books, Amazon remotely deleted the books from the electronic reading devices.
The latest information from Ars Technica sheds some light on Amazon’s motives.
Ars Technica has learned that this was more serious than a publisher flippantly changing course. Accusations that Amazon had caved to the powerful meanderings of a “major publisher” were far off the mark, although the cause is still unsettling. As it turns out, the books in question were being sold by Amazon despite being unauthorized copies. The works weren’t legit. It was all copywrong. In other words, Amazon was selling bad books. Hot letters. Pilfered paragraphs.
MobileReference, the publisher in question, formats and sells public domain books on Amazon. The only problem is that George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 are not yet in the public domain, at least not in the US.
What does this mean for the brave new world (wrong author, I know) of digital book distribution? That remains to be seen. The last time I checked, you could still get in trouble for selling stolen goods even if you didn’t know they were stolen.
All I know for sure is that any book I buy — digital or dead-tree — had better stay where I leave it if the bookseller expects me to come again.