Friday, July 17, 2009

Big Brother is Watching and Deleting

In an ironic move, the publishers of Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984 have convinced Amazon to remotely delete these titles from Kindle book owners' reader machines. At least the "owners" (as if!) of these copies got their money back. Here's the NY Times story. Big Brother is alive and well and working at Amazon.

Another irony here is that these books are in the public domain in Canada, since Orwell died in 1950.

It's only a matter of time, especially since Canada has embarked on free trade negotiations with the EU, that there will be demands to extend the copyright term to life + 70.

This is also an example of what TPMs, DRM, and contractual override, all as found in and/or enabled by Bill C-61, can do for you.

And why, if Canada is not very careful, we will lose copyright sovereignty for all practical purposes in the brave new world that certain content owners are now seeking.

Ask what would happen if someone - or some government or corporation - could get a court order somewhere or otherwise convince Amazon - to remotely delete a book because it is allegedly libelous, or maybe just politically incorrect or embarrassing to an important person?

Savonarola and Stalin would love this ability to misuse technology. And the "remote delete" tool could put the firemen in Fahrenheit 451 out of business.

Never would happen, you say? That's what everyone said just a few years ago about suing individuals, including children and dead grandmothers, for downloading music.


PS - NY Times is reporting that Amazon deleted the books indeed because of a copyright kerfuffle over disparity in copyright term. Moreover, the disappearance of the boooks may have violated Amazon's own terms of service which reportedly says that Amazon grants customers the right to keep a “permanent copy of the applicable digital content.”

Anyway, no fear. Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener says:
“We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances."
So what other circumstances will lead to a flush down the Orwellian "memory hole"?

And what circumstances led to the reported deletions of Ayn Rand and Harry Potter books?

Another irony here is that if a sophisticated outfit like Amazon can't figure out whether a book is protected by copyright and, if so, who owns it and where, how are ordinary people supposed to figure out such things?

You betcha Big Brother is watching this carefully and loving the possibilities.


  1. I've saw this story and thought that it perfectly epitomizes what's wrong with both copyright law in the US (obviously things are a bit peachier in Canada) and DRM.

    The fact that it was Orwell's work is just serendipitous comedy.

  2. There's an excellent thread on the Amazon Kindle site, which clarifies much of this case. For one thing, Amazon didn't exactly reach out and delete the books. Rather, it deleted them from its own servers, and those Kindles that users had configured to sync with the server then automatically eliminated the books. Anyone who downloaded the books to their PC for USB transfer to their Kindle presumably retains their copies.

    Of course, this only makes the incident a cautionary tale against both DRM *and* placing one's faith in 'the cloud.'