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

  • 24/10/2012 at 6:04 pm
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    The phrase “Engage in a conditional license, based on compliance with our twenty page terms of service, with one click” was deemed too unwieldy to put on a button.

    I think that a lot of us will start to offer readers better terms as we set up storefronts on our own blogs. I could’nt care less if a reader bought their eReader or tablet in one country to use in another or if they loan it to a friend or family member. I have no problem with a reader ‘owning’ a digital copy of my book.

  • 24/10/2012 at 8:44 pm
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    It would be great if author stores worked Andrew. But unfortunately, they just don’t stand a chance of getting enough traffic to work, as book and ebook buyers really now have the ‘habit’ of using large retailers. But yes, I don’t agree with DRM either and would happily have my books free of it.

    But I think the more pressing point of my post though is that Kindle can wipe your Kindle device clean, no matter what you have loaded on it. So in my case I would lose a lot of my own material I have converted to Kindle format for teaching purposes.

    It’s a scary world.

    • 19/12/2017 at 8:34 pm
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      For your own material, you might want to download Calibre. You can convert files on it, store them on your computer, and read them on Calibre. And they don’t steal them from you. LOL

  • 24/10/2012 at 9:27 pm
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    Amazon will never, ever give a direct answer to any questions about their actions. They always allude to some violation of their TOS which is written in such a way that it can be interpreted to mean anything Amazon wants it to mean. It has been apparent to me for a while that Amazon is out of control and answerable to no-one.

    • 24/10/2012 at 9:38 pm
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      I have to agree Rick. That’s one of the reasons why I’m now moving all my books out of KDP Select. Amazon promised a lot at the beginning of KDP Select and then took away most of the benefits quite suddenly in May without even a mention. Then when I asked, I got the usual ‘copy and paste’ rubbish answer from them. They really don’t play fair at all.

  • 25/10/2012 at 12:45 am
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    Wow, this is shocking. I was under the assumption, as I’m sure many people are, that you OWN the file copy of the book once you purchase it as well as any apps, music, etc. And I wonder what the person did that warranted that their entire device be wiped out.

    • 25/10/2012 at 8:54 am
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      I’m not exactly sure Melissa, but from what I’ve read it would seem that the problem was with territorial rights. In other words, the owner of this particular Kindle was purchasing ebooks outside of the designated region for her device. What ever that all means!

  • 25/10/2012 at 1:22 pm
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    As a follow-up to the wiped Kindle story, the following has been reported today.

    Update: And since writing this it seems Amazon has restored her account and all her books. However, they haven’t corresponded with Linn at all, so she still has no idea what happened and why. This could happen to anyone, and I fear it’s only because of the coverage Linn’s situation got that Amazon took notice.

    Source:
    http://www.geek.com/articles/geek-pick/amazon-reminds-us-you-dont-own-whats-on-your-kindle-20121023/

  • 25/10/2012 at 5:01 pm
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    I quite agree with you about the pleasure that can be gained from that nice, tattered paperback copy of a book you love! I could never feel the same about a Kindle version, and now I have another reason to reject ebooks whenever possible. I would never publish my own books without a print edition, and I always do that one first. That way, whatever copies do come into existence have a life of their own – nobody can take them away from their owner and they can go on to be recycled to other readers – at yard sales, Goodwill, used book stores, or simply found lying on a park bench. And two copies of the book sit on the shelves of the Copyright Office!

    • 26/10/2012 at 7:53 pm
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      One of the most pleasing stories I have about paperbacks Lorinda, is being told of someone on a Delhi subway reading one of my books. You don’t get that wonderful situation with ebooks.

  • 26/10/2012 at 2:58 pm
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    A great informative article (as usual) Derek! What a nightmare for authors who only publish digital books. Amazon’s policies are so wishy-washy nobody knows where they stand anymore. I’ve posted a link to an article I read a few years ago about a student taking legal action against Amazon for removing his digital copy of 1984. Not sure if it will work so may have to copy and paste.

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-13577_3-10300963-36.html

    • 26/10/2012 at 7:48 pm
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      You’re right Michelle. Amazon’s ‘Terms of Use’ are so unclear and worse, open to change at anytime. It’s very hard playing any game when you don’t know what the rules are. Even then, if you do think you know, they will probably change without you knowing. Hardly fair at all.

  • 26/10/2012 at 7:58 pm
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    I don’t like having to delete comments from my blog. But for those who think it is a forum for ‘plugging’ your books, I’m very sorry, it isn’t. There is a link facility to promote your latest blog post. Isn’t that enough?

  • 26/10/2012 at 9:12 pm
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    While this is definitely a sad story, I think it might be worth pointing out that this is more a problem with the actual hardware Kindle than the phenomenon ebook itself. I’m not so sure if Amazon would have been able to even delete everything from the Kindle iphone-app, but they would definitely not have been able to do anything about Kindle books I buy and then transfer on my iphone (or computer or whatever can read a -mobi file) to a different app that reads them.
    The problem here is people using hardware from a supplier of software. Linking those two things, particularly via a synchronising service supplied by the supplier of the software and the hardware itself makes it impossible to control what you bought.
    But if you back up your files somewhere else, you’re absolutely safe. (And yes, you can print them, too!). ;)

  • 26/10/2012 at 9:30 pm
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    Hi Derek,

    I do apologize – I was actually trying to show that there are e-book sites that offer more than one type of file that you can download – and yes, maybe sneaking in a ‘plug’. I won’t do it again, I promise.

    But, it is worth it going to a site like Smashwords because there are many different versions that you can download – for books that are free or paid for – and you can keep them on your ‘shelf’ without anyone directing or controlling you otherwise.

    Have a great day, and thank you for highlighting this issue,
    CC

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