Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Amazon Rethinks Its George Orwell Removal Policy


Amazon has explained why it has been deleting some novels from its customers’ Kindles: It shouldn’t have been selling them in the first place.

Amazon (AMZN) says the copies of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984” it removed without warning from some Kindles this week are “illegal” because the publisher didn’t have the rights to sell them.

Won’t happen again, the e-commerce giant says. Sort of:

These books were added to our catalog using our self-service platform by a third-party who did not have the rights to the books. When we were notified of this by the rights holder, we removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers’ devices, and refunded customers. We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances.

Here’s the thing: I refrained from making any Orwell references when I wrote about this earlier today. But doesn’t this statement have a hint of Newspeak to it?

If Amazon wanted to reassure customers worried that digital media they buy from the company might disappear, unannounced, it could do so very easily. It could just say: “We won’t be taking away stuff we sell you ever again. You buy it, you own it. Doesn’t matter if it’s a book, a CD, or a collection of bytes.”

Because, as I noted before, that’s basically what the Kindle license already says: Amazon says it “grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content.” The company doesn’t seem to add any caveats that I can see.

I’m hoping Amazon’s language here is just an awkward bit of PRspeak, and not a lawyerly way of reserving the right to pull stuff off Kindles sometime down the road. But I’ve asked, and will let you know if I hear back.