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Amazon Pulls Purchased E-Book Copies of 1984 and Animal Farm 645

Oracle Goddess writes "In a story just dripping with irony, Amazon Kindle owners awoke this morning to discover that 1984 and Animal Farm had mysteriously disappeared from their e-book readers. These were books that they had bought and paid for, and thought they owned. Apparently the publisher changed its mind about offering an electronic edition, and apparently Amazon, whose business lives and dies by publisher happiness, caved. It electronically deleted all books by George Orwell from people's Kindles and credited their accounts for the price. Amazon customer service may or may not have responded to queries by stating, 'We've always been at war with Eastasia.'"
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Amazon Pulls Purchased E-Book Copies of 1984 and Animal Farm

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  • by digitalderbs ( 718388 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @06:57PM (#28736057)
    I was quite surprised when an automatic update for a copy of the Stand (Stephen King) was pushed onto me, without my consent and without notification as to what had changed. Backup copies aren't hard to make. But who owns the copy? Does Amazon own my Kindle? Do I not have a right to refuse an update?
  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @07:00PM (#28736085) Journal

    Back on the Xanadu project we called the single-server model for content the "Library of Alexandria" problem: A disaster wiping out the server (and its backups), like the burning of the Library of Alexandria when, for many works, it contained the only (or or one of very few) copies, permanently removes the documents served by that repository from the literature. (The solution is the "multiple record" - mass printing of dead-tree books prior to automation, broad distribution of the immutable content and versioning information in the case of an "electronic literature".)

    Of course centralized and mutable serving of content also enables, and greatly simplifies, the "rewriting of history" described by Orwell in the two books in question. So it is particularly ironic that these are the ones that were pulled.

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @07:04PM (#28736127) Homepage

    The fine print in the EULA probably allows for this, but this is certainly not in the spirit of good and normal commerce and is probably actionable under several state laws and possibly even federal laws.

    I have to wonder if this "retraction" of books isn't merely an irony, but an action taken to call attention to certain issues?

  • by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @07:22PM (#28736307)

    I think it's important to note that in your analogy, the alternative to giving back the money for the stolen car is to just take the car and not give you the money. That could actually happen.

    In this case, could that happen as well? Yes, I think it could.

  • by Chyeld ( 713439 ) <chyeld&gmail,com> on Friday July 17, 2009 @07:25PM (#28736337)

    George Orwell's [] works do seem to be on mobipocket, which iRex supports.

  • Re:Legally, how? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DJRumpy ( 1345787 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @07:43PM (#28736531)
    Actually I think they can revoke a players right to play a blu-ray disk by revoking the decryption keys, in effect making the movie useless if they revoked the keys that a player uses. Eventually a player would stop functioning all together for any new disks, making it essentially useless. []
  • by hannson ( 1369413 ) <> on Friday July 17, 2009 @07:51PM (#28736581)

    Better yet, imagine this:

    The year is 1984 in a dystopian future, in a repressive, totalitarian state. Historical facts and documents have been rewritten and revised so many times that even the correct year is uncertain. Posters of the ruling Party's leader, "Amazon", bearing the caption AMAZON IS WATCHING YOU, dominate the city landscapes, while two-way Kindles (the e-book reader) which dominate the "private" and public spaces of the populace are being re-written at Amazon's will to change facts, censor illegal words or to delete/burn ebooks that get in the way of its propaganda...

  • Re:All Geeks Unite (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wickerprints ( 1094741 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @07:55PM (#28736621)

    Have you read "Animal Farm?" If you have, you would know that the power of the people to unite against the power of corporations has long been extinct.

    You know what's going to happen? A small but vocal minority will heavily protest and boycott Amazon and the Kindle, while the vast majority of mindless consumers will continue to purchase their goods. Amazon could not possibly care less about this. As a large corporate entity they make money hand over fist. Eventually, if the Kindle becomes sufficiently popular and achieves critical mass, people will simply accept the ability to remotely revoke your ownership rights as part of the normal terms of usage of the device.


    The exact same thing happens in Animal Farm. The government, which in actuality is ruled by a privileged elite, leverages the power of propaganda to exploit the worker class under the guise of improving the collective good. Dissent is not tolerated and mercilessly suppressed until the people simply accept the injustice as the reality of life. What the American public has largely failed to grasp is that Orwell's allegory of the dangers of communism is not a specific condemnation of this particular political ideology, but rather, of the dangers of an imbalanced power structure and a malleable, uneducated society. The modern-day corporation has supplanted the role of the communist elite. They are the true puppet masters in today's Western capitalist systems. We have quite vividly observed this phenomenon in the US government's reaction to the past year's economic debacle.

    What many people do not realize is that the game is already lost. Americans do not live in a democratic society founded upon the principles of liberty and justice, but an illusion of one, much in the same way that the proletariat class lived under Communism. The average American consumer is as much brainwashed as your typical North Korean.

  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @07:58PM (#28736655)

    Yea giving people back full refunds after a period of use is an excellent business plan.

    Amazon didn't want this to happen it is the publishers fault. If anything you can blame Amazon for not being tough on these publishers, and make contracts that stick. But the evil was in the publisher not the technology provider.

  • Re:haha (Score:5, Interesting)

    by snowraver1 ( 1052510 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @07:59PM (#28736659)
    -- Old growth forests don't really "grow". New forests grow much faster and create more oxygen.

    -- Trees are farmed for paper. Magic clicky text here. []

    -- Also when you cut trees for lumber, you get chips and waste, which is made into paper, so that argument doesn't stand either.
  • Re:With DRM (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Fuzi719 ( 1107665 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @07:59PM (#28736665)

    I was actually thinking about buying a kindle but after reading this story I 100% against buying one. Way to go amazon.

    My feeling exactly. The Kindle2 was finally capturing my attention and I was seriously considering it. However, I just lost all interest. I'll continue to read my ebooks that I download from the net on my Zodiac1 using eReader or Mobipocket.

  • by rudy_wayne ( 414635 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @08:00PM (#28736669)

    What about works that are released after the author's death, for instance? I think the estate (in most cases, read: family) should be able to benefit from the proceeds of a work for at least 5 or 10 years after the creator's death

    Why does an author need copyright protecttion after he's dead? For the benefit of his family? Sorry, I don't remember seeing anything that says copyright is supposed to be a welfare system for author's families.

  • Re:Legally, how? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @08:12PM (#28736769) Homepage Journal

    As this story grows, I can see e-bay piling up with Kindles.

    Hard to sell items deemed to have no value. I guess you could still use it as a PDF viewer, but who's to say Amazon will decide that's against your EULA at some later point and do daily wipes of your PDF folder? I guess you could manually disable the antenna with some wire cutters, or convert it into a Very Expensive SD Reader. I have to say I'm pretty disappointed in this turn of events.

    I was looking (rather seriously looking) at using my bonus to get one of these (to read the newspaper, mostly) but my wallet is staying shut until Amazon resolves this in an appropriate manner. Not in moral opposition to what they did to others, but because the idea that Amazon can selectively delete stuff off MY $500 device without my permission just infuriates me to no end.

  • by maxfresh ( 1435479 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @08:14PM (#28736783)
    That would be going way too far the other way, for a couple of reasons.

    First, it would deprive the author's heirs of their rightful claim to the income generated from the late author's work. As a society, we don't say that a person's physical property becomes "public property" as soon as they die, so why should their financial interest in intangible property end when they die? I think that the rights of the author need to be respected, and balanced against the rights of the public.

    Second, it would give unscrupulous parties the incentive to kill a person who holds a copyright in a commercially valuable work, so that they could get their hands on his or her work, and profit from it for free.

    One possible solution to balance the various interests could be to grant individual members of the public an automatic royalty free license to make copies of a deceased author's works for personal, non-commercial use, within a short period after the author's death, maybe 15 years, while maintaining the full death+75 year copyright for commercial use, copying, or making derivative works.
  • Re:Not Big Brother. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by VGPowerlord ( 621254 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @08:37PM (#28736985)
  • by Ilgaz ( 86384 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @09:03PM (#28737171) Homepage

    Not if Amazon remotely turns off non-drm files reading. Man, they can actually erase books remotely, they can't turn off a feature?

    IMHO, device vendor and software vendor along with content provider should always be separate with lots of options. It is just like buying iPhone and whining on slashdot about how evil Apple is for not allowing this or that.

    Kindle is really something like "amazon owns you, your device, your reading habits, your location".

    Erasing 1984 alone is amazing. Perhaps someone really wanted to show what Kindle is and released it illegally on purpose. If it is the case, I am really impressed. It doesn't have to be a "freedom fighter", it could be some amazon rival proxying etc.

  • New fourth one (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @09:08PM (#28737201)

    Ignorance is strength
    War is peace
    Freedom is slavery

    And the new fourth one:


  • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @09:14PM (#28737237) Homepage

    Yeah, no kidding. Of all the books, from all the publishers in the world, Animal Farm and 1984 are the two books that would be the most disastrous to pull in such a fashion.

    This is what happens when the general populous (and thus, your average corporate officer or businessman) is illiterate. They pull stupid shit like this and don't even realize they're a part of Orwellian behavior.

  • by Ilgaz ( 86384 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @09:21PM (#28737291) Homepage

    To add to your comment for the real brain dead not understanding what this means:

    Amazon can make NY Times (on Kindle) NOT having this story tomorrow. Yes, a NY Times not having this story and you don't have any right to bitch about it.

    Books were confiscated, books (and theis authors) burned but nobody could remotely change a book until now.

  • by bitt3n ( 941736 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @09:49PM (#28737481)

    yes, they can even change the contents of your books after you have purchased them; the Kindle it's a censor wet dream).

    that leads to some interesting profit models, such as: "For a $5 charge, Dumbledore will live through the next chapter. Otherwise HE WILL DIE. Make your choice."

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) * on Friday July 17, 2009 @10:56PM (#28737861) Journal

    1984 and Animal Farm are, through the usual idiocy, under copyright in the US but not in other countries, so someone re-publishing the text without paying the copyright licensing is breaking the law

    It would be legal for an Australian company to print copies of 1984, right? And then it would be legal for me to import that book, right? That's completely legal. How does it become illegal when electrons are involved?

  • Re:Not Big Brother. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Friday July 17, 2009 @11:08PM (#28737907) Journal

    Sadly I think it is because nobody in Hollywood has had an original idea in ages. I mean, with the exception of the Batman reset can you think of any remakes that didn't suck the big wet titty? And now I hear they are remaking the A-Team, now that is just sad.

    As for the above poster who said that Rollerball and Omega Man were horrible? Dude, watch the movies while remembering the context. It was the 1970s and just about every movie that wasn't The Godfather (good thing they never made a third one la la la) went a little too ham handed with their metaphors, because that is what the audiences wanted. While I agree they went too heavy with the Jesus references in Omega Man at the end, I have yet to see a movie that captures sheer loneliness like that scene where he picks out the Mustang while talking to the corpse of the used car salesman like he is a customer. And how much more defiant can you get than the end scene of Rollerball, where Johnathan E limps across the burning wreckage of the Arena, stares right into Houseman's face, and puts the winning ball into the goal. That has to rank right up there in all time "fuck you" moments in cinema.

    So while I will admit they were a little heavy on the metaphor, dude it was the 70s, that was just the way movies were done then. Just like nearly all 80s flicks tried too hard to be "hip", and we ended up with the movie equivalent of hair metal with half the movies trying to be the next John Hughes flick. It was just the way things were done at the time. I mean we all drove cars the looked like they were covered in paneling, how damned sophisticated do you think we were? Hell everything I owned at the time was wood grained! What did you expect, Hamlet?

  • WTF??? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by lotho brandybuck ( 720697 ) on Friday July 17, 2009 @11:20PM (#28737967) Homepage Journal
    You mean I could've been in the middle of reading one of these books, go to bed one night, go to work the next day, then the next nite when I've got horrible, crippling insomnia, have completely deprived of book I was mentally engaged in with absolutely no notice? I'd be really, really pissed.
  • by Kalriath ( 849904 ) * on Saturday July 18, 2009 @12:11AM (#28738185)

    Actually, they aren't under copyright in the US either. They were published before 1978, so therefore the copyright extension is not retroactive to them (at least according to Wikipedia and the Copyright Office factsheet). The only way they could still be under copyright is if an explicit registration was filed with the office, which there isn't (I checked).

    So no, 1984 and Animal Farm are free to get - just be aware that you can't pirate a copy you pick up in a store because the cover art is under copyright.

  • by shmlco ( 594907 ) on Saturday July 18, 2009 @12:14AM (#28738201) Homepage

    There's another troubling aspect to this that's yet to be discussed, and one that's especially double-plus-ironic considering that one of the deleted books was Orwell's 1984.

    If they can download a book, and if they can delete a book, then they certainly have the capability to REPLACE a book. Imagine that some night thousands of Kindle ebooks disappear and then reappear... altered.

    We are at war with Eurasia. We've always been at war with Eurasia...

  • by epine ( 68316 ) on Saturday July 18, 2009 @03:36AM (#28738949)

    The problem with Vonnegut's "Man Without a Country" is that you can't tell when he's kidding.

    He says "The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practising an art, no matter how well or how badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. ... Do it as well as you can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something."

    The problem which arises when we attempt to turn the arts into a way of making a living, is that the larger social context breaks down. We make art out of our experiences. If your experiences are effectively owned by another party, you can make art out of your experiences, but then you won't entirely own the end result. Not even enough to give it away.

    The soul-growing aspect of art is not its consumption, but the creative synthesis which art inspires. Art consumed is popcorn and butter. Nourishing in a caloric sense, but not nutritious.

    At the risk of quoting a spoiler, Vonnegut recites the wisdom of his friend Saul at the end of the book, "what you respond to in any work of art is the artist's struggle against his or her limitations."

    Thus, I suppose, breaking DRM is a form of art, and our response is to the plight of the artist's prison term.

    But seriously, if you view the creative works of others as fuel for your own soul-growing endeavours, it's not sensible to become emotionally invested in creative works which are militantly encumbered.

    Somewhere I encountered an anecdote about children given an amazing toy, but what they end up playing with most at the end of the day is the packaging the toy came in. I don't know anyone who was inspired to a life of artistic expression by the Mona Lisa. For that matter, it's debatable whether sex is improved with skill. Isn't skill mostly a compensation for the fact that the sequel rarely lives up to the original?

    We're actually pretty bad at predicting our happiness states. Gilbert says the same thing in his videos at TED.

    Why We Suck at Predicting the Future [].

    What I'm saying is that we too often talk ourselves into needing the latest and greatest (and most encumbered) media, but we don't, and it often defeats the greater purpose.

    Lessig has figured out that this quandary is harming our children. Part of his motivation here is that we're making an ass of the law. I guess I have less to lose if RIAA succeeds, as seems likely.

    Larry Lessig on laws that choke creativity []

    The deeper problem here is that many of us believe that we garner status through what we've experienced, rather than what we've created, a sentiment which Twain noted when he observed that "A classic is something everybody wants to have read, but no one wants to read."

    How much of this stuff are we hurtling through so that we can sit around at the bar or the coffee shop and go "yeah, I've seen that; yeah, I've read that; yeah, I've seen that, too"?

    I've been to Holland. I spent two hours in Schiphol. I've been to Tokyo. I spent 12 hours in the Narita complex. We had long enough to take a train into the city and drink one beer.

    Sometimes we get a bit carried away with the belief that a gadget from Amazon or an air terminal is the gateway to a life well lived. If you don't stick around and engage emotionally, it's all meaningless. The Kindle model is a form of literary tourism. Hey, if you love airport security, here's a chance to carry it around on your person.

    Flash forward to Kubrick's AI when the love of our life disappears in an electronic instant (with full refund) due to a minor copyright glitch on the charming dimple module. I've love to read the verse Shakespeare might have penned concerning that scenario, but as things are shaping up, I'd have to live another 600 years to legally post it here on slashdot.

  • Re:451 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nightgeometry ( 661444 ) on Saturday July 18, 2009 @03:54AM (#28739009) Journal

    Oh yah? Let's see them burn the copy I have memorized!

    That shouldn't be too hard to cover, as Heinrich Heine said: "Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen."

  • by Toonol ( 1057698 ) on Saturday July 18, 2009 @04:09AM (#28739051)
    Related: My son's physics textbook was going to cost us $150. Few used copies, because it was a new edition. But the publisher sold the exact same book in India for $15. The EXACT same book, in English, page for page identical, except a note on the back that said "not for sale in the United States."

    Well, it was being sold in India. I bought it in the United States. Legal?

    Hell if I care. Textbooks are a scam.
  • Re:Not Big Brother. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bogjobber ( 880402 ) on Saturday July 18, 2009 @06:23AM (#28739529)

    Sadly I think it is because nobody in Hollywood has had an original idea in ages. I mean, with the exception of the Batman reset can you think of any remakes that didn't suck the big wet titty?

    Many of the greatest movies of all time have been remakes. The Magnificent Seven, The Maltese Falcon, Gone With the Wind, and The Thin Red Line all come to mind but I'm sure there are others. The Thing is one of the greatest horror movies of all time and it's a remake. Most horror and sci-fi movies of any quality are at least "influenced" by older movies, and are usually blatant knockoffs.

    Some recent remakes have been pretty good but unspectacular: 3:10 to Yuma, Dawn of the Dead, Ocean's Eleven, Disturbia, The Ring, Sweeney Todd.

    And then there are movies based on books. The Godfather, All Quiet on the Western Front, Schindler's List, Wizard of Oz, Psycho, Blade Runner, etc. are all based on novels. Movies like Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, or Once Upon a Time in the West are technically original, but are more or less the chopped up and reassembled forms of dozens of different movies.

    Basically, Hollywood has always done this, and it's always been a mixed bag. Do I wish they would have put more effort and made something better than My Bloody Valentine 3D or Bewitched? Sure, but it's not like they would make another Citizen Kane with that money instead.

    Originality is overrated. Quality movies are quality movies, no matter where the idea comes from.

  • by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Saturday July 18, 2009 @09:16AM (#28740151) Homepage Journal

    Why does an author need copyright protecttion after he's dead?

    Perhaps to delay the author's death?

    For example, there are probably a number of publishers and movie studios who would consider the price of a hit man just a minor business expense, if the death of J.K.Rowling would put all the Harry Potter stories in the Public Domain.

    (If you think this is facetious or a troll, do a bit of reading on how the "free market" in non-Soviet Russian has worked for the past couple of decades. Businessmen there routinely surround themselves with bodyguards when out in public.)

  • Re:Not Big Brother. (Score:-1, Interesting)

    by Smidge207 ( 1278042 ) on Saturday July 18, 2009 @09:50AM (#28740363) Journal

    No reference to Gay Niggers from Outer Space []? Tsk tsk, Slashdot, you are slipping.


  • Re:Not Big Brother. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday July 18, 2009 @10:12AM (#28740495) Journal

    The problem is all of Hollywood has gone "high concept" where you actually have to describe the movie in one short sentence, like "killer robot from future tries to destroy future world leader"(terminator) or "cop is turned into a cyborg and fights evil corp to regain humanity"(Robocop). Now the movies you listed span the course of several decades and how many total stinkbombs were released in that same period? 10 to 1? 50 to 1?

    The point I and many others have taken is that Hollywood, in parts thanks to the few success stories like the Batman reboot (which I would say is more about going back to the original darkness of the source material than just rehashing what has come before) the signal to noise ratio of stinkbombs of "porta party in August at a chili cook-off" proportion to actually watchable cinema has been going down with the sudden infatuation of Hollywood with mining old crap. Bewitched, Dukes of Hazzard, Land of the Lost, and now the A-Team (I pity the fool that watches that movie! I pity tha man!) the stench just keeps getting worse.

    At least with an original movie, even if it is a total bomb there is room for original thought, even if it is a lousy thought. These 'remakes" are simply trying to throw lame ass "hipness" onto recycled humor with results so predictable you don't even have to walk into the theater before the stench of fail hits you. What's next? A remake of "The Six Million Dollar Man" with Ben Stiller as Steve Austin? /shudders/

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 18, 2009 @10:51AM (#28740781)

    It's already happened. Earlier this year, Kindles all over the country automatically downloaded revised copies of King's The Stand for customers who had purchased it. No authorization or input from the owner, no ability to refuse, and no word on what was revised.

    Probably just some spelling changes, but no easy way to be sure, and surely a bad precedent.

  • by Warhawke ( 1312723 ) on Saturday July 18, 2009 @04:51PM (#28743327)

    Taking an iPod from somebody deprives that person of an iPod. Having an extra copy of a book does not take anything from anyone. Purchasing unauthorised copies is neither equivalent to nor even similar to stealing.

    I'm sorry, but you are wrong. The reason why we have copyright law in the first place is because owning or producing a "copy" DOES take something away from the original producer. Copyright law exists because it provides financial incentive for research and development. No one would dare dump millions of dollars into researching drugs or technology if the next schmuck who came after could copy their work and publish it without and R&D costs. Without those laws, the original producer would lose all of those future cash flows (which ARE substantial and very real). Copyright law, as it was introduced as an intermediary between producer and consumer rights, is a good thing. The way it's been extended to entirely forsake consumer rights is what's criminal and wrong, NOT copyright law itself. Your argument is a reductio ad absurdum. /Dons the "Score -1: Disagree" suit

Adding features does not necessarily increase functionality -- it just makes the manuals thicker.