you can buy a Kindle reader but you can't buy an ebook

So, do you own the ebook you just bought? Probably not.

What do you really own when it comes to technology? Well, from this story about a Kindle owner having her Kindle wiped clean by Amazon, and her account closed, it would seem the answer is very little.

The disturbing part of the story is that so far Amazon has yet to explain why this was done, other than that it was for as yet unspecified violations to its terms of service.

Obviously, though, this example makes it perfectly clear that when you buy an ebook from Amazon, you don’t really buy it. You borrow it.

I just did a check to make sure, and yes, when you select an ebook from the Amazon Kindle Store it says, ‘Buy Now With 1-Click’. Well, that can’t be true. Anything that can be taken back without warning is not really bought, is it?

I don’t want to go into the ins and outs of this particular case of a wiped Kindle, but it does make one wonder about what we own and what we don’t own when it comes to technology.

I have two iPads and use one for work and one at home. Could they be wiped remotely if I unwittingly break Apple’s Terms of Service? Perhaps this could be the case with programs I have purchased for my laptop.

The real problem as I see it is with these ‘Terms of Service’ agreements, which we all read before agreeing to, right? Then even if we do actually read them and agree, they can be changed at any time without notice. The Amazon Kindle Terms of Use agreement you enter when you use a Kindle is well worth a read if you haven’t bothered before.

Oh, and it was updated on 6th September. Of course, you are never notified about these updates, so good luck in knowing if you are breaking the (new) rules.

The most telling line in this agreement is this one:

Changes to Service. We may modify, suspend, or discontinue the Service, in whole or in part, at any time.

So have fun reading your ‘borrowed’ Kindle ebooks. While Amazon let you. I’m off to grab my ‘fully owned’ paperback copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. It’s a bit tattered, but it’s mine!

And You Thought You Were Buying E-books

22 thoughts on “And You Thought You Were Buying E-books

  • 26/10/2012 at 9:35 pm

    Oh, and I must apologize again profusely because I did not realize that the website link was attached to the name. So I do thank you for that!!

    I am new to all this… so bear with me. :-)

    Live and learn as they say.

    I see that you have written quite a few books – I will definitely check them out! :-)

    live long, laugh hard…

    • 26/10/2012 at 9:39 pm

      Thanks for understanding. But be assured, your comments on the topics of posts on the blog are indeed welcome.

  • 27/10/2012 at 2:36 pm

    I was actually introduced to this story by a friend and even reading about it again, I still have this surreal feeling of needing to go over to my bookshelf and hug every single book I have there.

    I also feel the need to back up the entire contents of my Kindle.The thing is, with the amount of money I spent on them… I shouldn’t have to be forced to back them up on any kind of external disk.

  • 27/10/2012 at 3:45 pm

    Since I don’t have a Kindle but was seriously thinking of gettingo one: I have a question.
    once books are loaded on your kindle can you transfer them on to your computer or external harddrive so that something like that could not happen???

    Its sure scary knowing how many books and music and such are bought and downloaded that they can take it from you at any time. Maybe they should make their service “a library” and you pay less but only get to keep it 60 days??

  • 28/10/2012 at 10:15 am

    How often the big companies forget about the little who helped them get started?

  • 20/07/2017 at 7:52 pm

    No, we don’t own DRMed e-books, certainly not those on a proprietary DRM device like a Kindle,

    The real crime is that our governments have consistently allowed purveyors of digital media and devices to deliberately mislead the public by using the word “buy” when they mean “license.”. A license is generally more restrictive then a rental, because the licensee needs to follow the rules set by the licensor. When you license something, you are purchasing the right to use it in a particular way, but you are not buying the thing… in this case the eBook.

    Licenses, like copyright, used to be contracts between companies. Ordinary people didn’t need to worry about these things. Licensing is a perfectly reasonable transaction, but only if both parties understand what they are doing. And in today’s digital world, we don’t

    The licensee (in this case the reader) pays for the privilege of using the thing (in this case both the e-book *and* the Kindle) in ways allowed by the Licensor, (in this case, Amazon). If the licensee fails to abide by the terms of the “contact” ~ also known as “Terms of Service” (TOS) or “End User License Agreement” (EULA) ~ they’ve broken the contract, so it is no longer valid. This is why Amazon can legally reach into the reader’s device and remove the book, or the account.

    DRM is “Digital Restrictions Management” which is the software that allows the company to enforce the terms of the agreement. When they unilaterally determine the terms of the agreement including the power to unilaterally alter the agreement any time they like without even telling readers, it’s rather like doing business with Darth Vader. Any device that plugs into the Internet is vulnerable to any company doing such a thing. Even if you back up your ebooks on another device, it is possible they may at some point be able to remove those too.

    If self publishing authors wish to protect our readers from the whims of an Amazon, we can do so by:

    (a) choosing an appropriate Creative Commons License for our e-books.
    (b) choosing to publish DRM free ebooks,
    (c) providing an alternate place where our readers can download a DRM free epub version if our books … perhaps on our own website or a 3rd party site like or Smashwords.

  • 19/12/2017 at 5:49 pm

    …Until Someone Dares to Sue Amazon – Because What They Do is Against the Law!
    Will it help to NOT download it to a Kindle, and instead to an ipad or laptop? I don’t think so.

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