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Amazon Offers To Return Pulled Orwell Ebooks 256

Posted by Soulskill
from the act-of-contrition dept.
Back in July, Amazon faced public outrage over their decision to delete ebook copies of 1984 and Animal Farm from the Kindles of customers who purchased them. Shortly thereafter, CEO Jeff Bezos offered an apology, acknowledging that Amazon handled the situation in a "stupid" and "thoughtless" manner. Now, they're offering something more substantial: anyone who had an ebook deleted can now have it restored, apparently with annotations intact. Any customer who isn't interested in a new copy can get either an Amazon gift certificate or a check for $30.
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Amazon Offers To Return Pulled Orwell Ebooks

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  • damage (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @12:14AM (#29320707) Journal

    I think that the damage has already been done. Amazon handled the situation poorly and when confronted about the situation took a lot more time to attempt to remedy the problem than was necessary to degrade their image.

    • Re:damage (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SputnikPanic (927985) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @12:23AM (#29320757)

      And Amazon also did the right thing by not going taking the typical non-acknowledgment position and instead admitting -- quite publicly -- that they screwed up big. I still have some problems with how Amazon does particular things (read: Kindle DRM), but it's refreshing to see a company fess up in no unequivocal terms when they do something that upsets their customers.

    • Re:damage (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Falcon4 (946292) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @12:35AM (#29320811) Homepage

      And somehow, them actually doing the best-possible thing is "handling the situation poorly"?

      Let's recap.
      - Amazon automagically pulled books from peoples' Kindles that were unauthorized copies (sold, yes, but apparently not legally by the "publisher").
      - Amazon provided everyone with a refund.
      - People got pissed.
      - Amazon's CEO apologized profusely in public and swore to make it right.
      - Amazon put the books back even though they were never - and still aren't - entirely legitimate copies. Again... paid for, yes, but that's like paying zomgdownloadlimewirenow.com $9.95 a month to download songs (and viruses) through a scam copy of Limewire.
      - People get free books.

      Instead of:
      - Amazon pulled books.
      - People got pissed.
      - Amazon craps out standard form-response of "that book wasn't legally purchased by the reseller" and refunds money.
      - People sue Amazon.
      - Amazon wins.
      - Whine, whine, whine.

      Somehow what Amazon actually did is considered being handled "poorly"?

      • Re:damage (Score:5, Insightful)

        by wizardforce (1005805) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @12:52AM (#29320887) Journal

        Somehow what Amazon actually did is considered being handled "poorly"?

        instead of paying the proper royalties for having sold the book they decided to retroactively void a contract between Amazon and the consumer. Only now are they realizing what they have done and attempt to repair the damage the way they should have done in the first place.

      • 'Somehow what Amazon actually did is considered being handled "poorly"?'

        Yes. What gives some corporation the right to remove content from MY device? Oh, the draconian licensing agreement that comes with the Kindle! Which is why I have no interest in one.

        Still, removing content from a user's device? I could see it if perhaps the device were somehow paid for by Amazon. But if I buy it, I don't want someone else removing my content.

        • Yes. What gives some corporation the right to remove content from MY device? Oh, the draconian licensing agreement that comes with the Kindle! Which is why I have no interest in one.

          So, you mention you don't own a Kindle, which means you weren't affected by this incident yet you're stomping your feet as if someone stole your big wheel. Odd behavior.

          Still, removing content from a user's device? I could see it if perhaps the device were somehow paid for by Amazon. But if I buy it, I don't want someone else re

          • by shentino (1139071)

            It would have helped if our 20-20 hindsight applied before the fact.

            Saying "quit your bitching you had alternatives" does nothing to help you when you're deceived.

      • Re:damage (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ultranova (717540) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @09:06AM (#29322631)

        Somehow what Amazon actually did is considered being handled "poorly"?

        The mistake was in designing Kindle with the ability to "pull" material in the first place. I'm sticking to paper and text files for this exact reason. That the first already-published thing to vanish without a trace was 1984 is irony, dire warning and a giant big "fuck you serfs" all in one action.

        Heck, for all I know it could be some moral Amazon employee trying to make a point who made the decision. It's a rather big coincidence otherwise.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Darkness404 (1287218)
        Amazon shouldn't have had an ability to remotely pull books in the first place. Would I want a book with a small lighter attached to it that could be remotely activated and the book would burn? Amazon should have simply paid the publisher the rights, or gave them another "legal" copy of 1984 that is virtually the same. Not only was the book erased but also the notes. So heres what should have happened:

        -Amazon removes the offending books from sale
        -Amazon offers to allow each customer to download a non-
    • Re:damage (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mwvdlee (775178) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @02:04AM (#29321209) Homepage

      The bigger damage is that they've demonstrated that no matter what book you buy for it, they can take it away at any time and you're powerless to stop it. Paper copy is still the best option.

      • Re:damage (Score:5, Insightful)

        by khchung (462899) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @05:09AM (#29321841) Journal

        Exactly.

        They have actually demonstrated that they have both the ability and the will to delete books from your kindle.

        It is no longer a hypothetical situation when people say "Amazon could delete books you have paid for on your Kindle". It is now a FACT that Amazon had deleted paid-for books on customers Kindle, and they could do it again if they wish to.

        This is the best example for showing what harm DRM could do from customers' point of view.

        No amount of apology or refund is going to cover this up, unless they publicly send out an update to all Kindle to disable this ability to delete books, and then they have to hope people actually believe it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        How is paper copy a better option in that regard than, say, drm-free pdf copy?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Cyberllama (113628)

      Let's be a little more fair with Amazon. They realized they screwed up *right away*. They were apologizing left and right and acknowledged they made the wrong call and its a pretty safe bet it won't happen again anytime soon (unless there's a court order, for instance, forcing Amazon's hand).

      Understand what lead this to this:

      1) The book was listed through Amazon by someone claiming it as a public domain work, which it was, in *Canada*.
      2) Amazon sells said book, only later realizing that the "rights owner"

      • Re:damage (Score:4, Insightful)

        by FireFury03 (653718) <slashdotNO@SPAMnexusuk.org> on Saturday September 05, 2009 @03:07AM (#29321417) Homepage

        its a pretty safe bet it won't happen again anytime soon (unless there's a court order, for instance, forcing Amazon's hand).

        Yes, amazon still has a kill switch, but I think they've been sufficiently humbled to the point where we're very unlikely to see it ever used again.

        You've hit the nail right on the head here but have somehow not realised yet. There is a big problem that now that Amazon has demonstrated the existence of a killswitch, it opens the door for a court to order them to use it even if they don't want to themselves. The killswitch should *never* have been present in the first place. If this fiasco had happened with paper books then Amazon would have just paid damages to the copyright holder rather than breaking into everyone's homes and retrieving the books - that's exactly what they should have happened with the ebooks too.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Cyberllama (113628)

          I believe I addressed that point by pointing out that everyone and their mother has a Killswitch and nobody flips out about it. Apple being able to do it with iPhone apps was the example I used.

          I realize it's a bitter pill, but you just have to swallow with the knowledge that it'll probably be fine. If you want to hold a grudge against amazon, then I suppose you'll be holding a grudge against LOTS of companies and simply not buying anything electronic. So be it. Personally, I'd rather just get over it.

      • Re:damage (Score:4, Insightful)

        by rhizome (115711) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @03:13AM (#29321445) Homepage Journal

        Really, what is there to still be mad about?

        Begging the question a bit, aren't we? You assume that everything you laid out is the entire situation. However, just because you are satisfied with an apology and a mere statement of good intentions doesn't mean you're the arbiter of good sense. Maybe your standards are too low. "Mistakes were made" is a joke, you know...a satire on passive voice.

        You give Amazon entirely too much credit and benefit of the doubt here. Some "legal department grunt?" You can't be serious.

        Amazon could certainly have worked this out differently, also without breaking the law: they pay the rightsholders and leave existing copies in place. For a book like 1984, I think it's just as likely that a check for $30 for each copy sold, written to the rightsholders, would be as effective as all of this was. Maybe $50, but Amazon multiplied the number of people screwed by orders of magnintude here anyway.

        As for your weak-ass "Welp, that's just the way it is. Best we get used to it, guys!" blather, consumers are allowed to have standards and I have no idea why you would want to dissuade them from expecting better than they got. It's almost like you're arguing that people just plain shouldn't have higher standards of behavior and quality than corporations. I don't think you know what you're talking about when you assert that Amazon has been "sufficiently" humbled, because where I'm sitting it's just the same old same ol'.

        • customers are allowed to have standards and I have no idea why you would want to dissuade them from expecting better than they got. It's almost like you're arguing that people just plain shouldn't have higher standards of behavior and quality than corporations.

          There, made a critical fix to your post for you. These consumers you mentioned in your unfixed post are not permitted to have standards above what those corporate folk in their infinite wisdom decree is best for them. Unlike consumers that those running big corporations prefer, informed customers do not simply and happily accept whatever gets tossed their way.

    • Re:damage (Score:4, Insightful)

      by _Sprocket_ (42527) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @02:58AM (#29321381)

      Amazon has given us all a great gift: a real-world object lesson on why DRM is anti-consumer.

  • Nice, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kufat (563166) <kufat&kufat,net> on Saturday September 05, 2009 @12:16AM (#29320729) Homepage

    ...this would make it better:
    "The new firmware update for the Kindle removes the remote deletion capability. We pledge [in some legally binding fashion] that this capability will never be reactivated."

    Unfortunately, I don't see that happening.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Orion Blastar (457579)

      Of course not, it would be bad for business if they did that.

      George Orwell books like "1984" and "Animal Farm" deserve to be deleted because they cannot have customers drawing parallels from the books to their business model or even the way modern governments are run. But it was just a coincidence that those two books happened to be pulled and deleted.

      Amazon.com got caught and had to backpeddle and do some Public Relations and offer to restore the books or at least offer a discount.

      Anything to get people to

    • by icebike (68054)

      > Kindle removes the remote deletion capability

      Agreed that would be the best solution. Anything else amounts to a rental.

      But from the summary: "apparently with annotations intact" suggests to me it may never have actually removed from the device in the first place.

      Perhaps a little careful hacking may reveal how to undo Amazon triggered deletions.

      Or perhaps only the annotations, stored in a separate location remain.

  • by Wingfield (872389) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @12:16AM (#29320731)
    I would really like to see Amazon make a commitment to not allowing purchased e-books to ever be pulled from the e-book readers of it's customers. I would like for them to think of e-books like people think of physical books in terms of ownership. If a bookstore sells me an illegal or stolen copy of a book by mistake, they damn sure can't come into my house and take it back.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by StreetStealth (980200)

      Unfortunately, it's going to take more than even a firm "commitment" to fix the Kindle. The whole Kindle firmware needs to be redesigned so it's actually not possible for things to be remotely deleted. I know that may sound radical, but honestly, nothing less is going to cut it.

      If I sold you something that I later found out I wasn't supposed to, sneaked into your house to retrieve it, but ultimately offered to make it up to you, that's one thing. I made good, right?

      Now what if I kept the copy of your house

  • Annotations?? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @12:34AM (#29320797) Homepage

    ... can now have it restored, apparently with annotations intact.

    Wait a second-- where are these annotations coming from? When they erased the text of the books from Kindles, they didn't erase the annotations, but apparently archived them somewhere?

    Does this imply that Amazon can remotely access (and read?) any private notes anybody makes using their Kindle?

    • Re:Annotations?? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Cowar (1608865) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @12:38AM (#29320819)
      the annotations were stored elsewhere in the kindle but were rather worthless without the context provided by the nearby book-text. They could still be accessed, but weren't much good alone. I.E. you can talk about how This Passage would be good to discuss for My Paper, but without This Passage, your annotation is worthless. So now that the book is returned, hopefully it will be smart enough to tie the old annotation attached to This Passage with the corresponding This Passage in the new text.
    • by SheeEttin (899897)
      Pretty sure they're stored on the Kindle.
    • Wait a second-- where are these annotations coming from? When they erased the text of the books from Kindles, they didn't erase the annotations, but apparently archived them somewhere?

      They better be. If by having access to those notes, it means we can prevent just one future terrorist from blowing himself up -- it will all have been worth it. Besides, server space is cheap and it's just all text anyway. There is really no reason -- not to keep them.

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @12:40AM (#29320833)
    Just how often do these Kindles phone home, anyway? And just EXACTLY what information do they send?
    • by RedK (112790) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @12:55AM (#29320915)
      They don't restore the annotations. The annotations are still on the Kindle, except they're not tied to a book anymore. By restoring the book, the annotations are just linked back by the device. See the lawsuit about the guy who had taken notes on his kindle for a paper on 1984. He still has his notes, he just doesn't know what they are referring to without the book.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by schwaang (667808)

      In the "run ubuntu on a kindle [slashdot.org]" story, the guy said the kindle uploads syslogs twice a day. That's probably more about monitoring errors and basic usage than any individual tracking, I hope.

      It's a normal part of the kindle's operation to sync the last position read in your books. That's what lets you pick up where you left off on another device tied to the same account.

      So in theory they know how fast a reader you are, and more interestingly, they could see for any particular book if there are parts where

  • by symbolset (646467) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @12:55AM (#29320911) Journal

    It doesn't remove their ability to delete the books you bought and paid for if they deem it necessary. This is different from buying a physical book in that generally to take the work away from you they have to come to where you're keeping it, preferably with guns.

    It doesn't remove the inherent unreliability of a system that can take away the content you've bought at any time. To resolve that you need a solution that doesn't involve DRM.

  • Fuck you, Amazon. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MrMista_B (891430) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @12:56AM (#29320919)

    Break into my device and delete a product that /I PAID FOR/, and then, months later, offer me a fucking coupon?

    Fuck you.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Break into my device and delete a product that /I PAID FOR/, refund the original purchase price, and then, months later, apologize and offer either a coupon , or a check for $30, or a restoration of the original product, in addition to the refund?

      Fixed that for you.

      Seriously, did you even read the summary? Amazon could have handled it better, yes, but the way they did handle it is hardly as bad as everyone's making it seem.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by djmurdoch (306849)

        I think the title is justified by the first four words of the comment, "Break into my device". The rest is just details.

  • by mysidia (191772) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @01:00AM (#29320945)

    It was coming to bite them in the a**... with a student [cnet.com] suing them and everything.

    They finally realized they were getting widespread negative publicity, poorer reviews, more people recommending to stay away frmo kindle and get something else, and maybe, just maybe, it put a small dent in their sales.

    Enough for them to stand up and take notice...

    If it were just a few customers effected by the deletion and hasn't been widely publicized in the news, I have my doubts that Amazon would have ever done something to right the situation.

  • Soooooo... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nanospook (521118) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @01:31AM (#29321069)
    Who got fired?
  • Too late... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SlothDead (1251206)
    I seriously considered buying a kindle from amazon. Sure, the technical possibility of remotely deleting my books irritated me in the beginning but I thought "Aw, amazon is such a nice company. Their customer service is excellent, they don't censor negative reviews... Surely I can trust them to never do that. And look, they explicitly said in the Terms of Service that they will never do that. So let's just quit being so paranoid and trust a company, just this time".

    Then they started to delete Orwell book
  • by comingstorm (807999) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @01:40AM (#29321113) Homepage

    It doesn't matter how much they protest; it doesn't make the whole episode any less ironic. The more they promise they won't do it that way again unless they feel they have a legal right to, the more they point out the fact that they can delete your books (and modify them? and inspect notes? reading patterns? what else?) any time they really want to.

    The upshot is: they've demonstrated the presence of the memory hole and their ability and willingness to use it. They're sorry they got caught, and they'd like you to forget all about it and by yourself a Kindle.

  • $30 is nice (Score:5, Funny)

    by gooman (709147) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @01:44AM (#29321135) Journal

    I would have suggested $19.84

  • Just think - in the year 2044 the copyright will expire on 1984 (written in 1949 and presumably renewed) - and all of this will be moot!

    Completely ridiculous.

  • by k8to (9046) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @03:07AM (#29321419) Homepage

    So when are they changing the firmware so that deletes always require a user-interface confirmation?

    It's the right fix. It still allows refunds, the user just has to manually acquiesce to the deletion on the kindle itself.
    It's not like this changes amazon's ability to be sure the delete happened.
    The firmware would be just as secure or insecure with the change.

  • Amazon still has the capability of remotely and silently modifying your Kindle. There's no technological reason they couldn't do this again. These devices need to be built with protections that make this sort of thing impossible.

    Even scarier, Amazon could theoretically modify your books if they wanted to. If they don't want you reading chapter 28, they can remove it and renumber the rest.

  • In the new copies there's no such word as freedom.
    But in good news chocolate rations are going up.

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