Jeff Bezos offers apology for Orwellian mistake

Jeff Bezos offers apology for Orwellian mistake

Summary: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has offered up an apology for using the Kindle's remote wipe feature to delete illegal copies of 1984 and Animal Farm mistakenly sold to customers.

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has offered up an apology for using the Kindle's remote wipe feature to delete illegal copies of 1984 and Animal Farm mistakenly sold to customers.

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our "solution" to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,

Jeff Bezos Founder & CEO Amazon.com

I think he forgot to mention that the solution was also ironic, especially given the content. Also, there's nothing in the way of compensation for those affected. Words are cheap and easy.

There's also that tactical word "solution". That's not the word I'd have used for the mass delete. I think I'd go with the word "intrusion" or maybe even "trespass". Amazon offered the content for sale, users purchased it and had it delivered. When Amazon discovered the mistake, rather than try to negotiate terms with the copyright holder, Amazon trespassed onto Kindle's and stole the content back. The fact that refunds were issued doesn't change the situation because users never got the choice to sell the content back to Amazon.

What Amazon did was wrong, and an apology, heartfelt or not, wouldn't be enough for me.

Burning books is so last millennium ... the modern way to to just delete them!

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39 comments
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  • Perfect! The reason I will NEVER buy, use, or recommend a Kindle...

    ...or its equivalent, in easy-to-swallow, poison-
    pill form.

    <i>Thanks so much</i> for this story.
    TriangleDoor
    • Seconded!

      NT
      mgp3
    • Who the frak needs a Kindle?

      Global search on Project Gutenberg and get all the expired copyright works in the world. Download a file to your Mac or PC and you're golden.

      Of course if you prefer to pay lots of money to a company for the "privelege" of their hacking into your reader anytime they feel like it; go ahead and buy a Kindle.

      "caveat emptor" and "there's a sucker born every minute."
      Dr_Zinj
  • Huh?

    Why wrong?
    If you as the end consumer, buy stolen goods, you don't get to keep them!
    So I'm guessing you are protesting the method. And again, why? You got your money back. It may be a tad high-handed and perhaps they should have given everyone the cost of the book plus 10% for good will, but I don't see they had much choice. Whatever Amazon did to screwup, at least this recall means they can assure those who do own the publication rights that they did indeed fix their mistake.

    They way people treat copyrighted works these days is appalling...
    ridingthewind
    • You are confused in so many ways..

      1) It is not stolen goods, it is about selling copies
      of a book that the publisher did not have a right
      sell. Goods are physical items.
      So the seller is the criminal in this case, and
      even by some stretch of the imagination the Kindle
      owner is responsible it is up to the Law to correct the issue NOT AMAZON corp.

      2) The issue people have is with the way Amazon resolve the issue. Technically they broke the law,
      it is against the law to break into somebody's computer (Kindle Qualifies) and delete stuff.



      COMPUTER TAMPERING THIRD DEGREE
      (E Felony)
      (Altering or Destroying Computer Material)
      PENAL LAW 156.25(3)
      mrlinux
      • Bad Laws should be broken or changed

        Personally, regardless of the copyright law, Amazon should not have removed the works from people's Kindles; and should have demanded a court trial challenging the logic of the copyright law. With a FULLY informed jury, odds are that they would have nullified the law.

        WHY?

        Because the copyright is legally expired in Australia, Canada, and even in Russia for God's sake! These countries are also signatory to treaties covering international copyright law. Ergo, if it's legal anywhere, it should be legal everywhere. Furthermore, it proves that the copyright holders in the U.S. are deliberately extending their right to make money off the rest of the U.S. in contravention of the original intent of copyright law.
        Dr_Zinj
        • Amazon should not have removed the works from people's Kindles;

          Amazon could simply have asked the copyright holder for a settlement for those already sold,
          paid it - then stop further sales.
          or.
          Notify the buyers of the problem & offer a buyback. (eg. Credit twice the purchase price.)
          I will not buy anything that a seller can pull back without notice.
          rj_wilson@...
    • Are you joking??

      So, if everything in this story is the same, except that it was a physical (rather than digital) book, is it okay for Amazon to come into your home without your knowledge, take the book and leave a check on the kitchen table?

      Of course not. You bought a book from Amazon in good faith for a reasonable price. You did not buy a flat screen TV for $50 from the back of a truck.

      Just as in the physical book example, the purchaser of the digital book is an innocent third party and as such is not liable for Amazon's licensing errors.

      The correct action for Amazon was to stop selling the ebook and then settle with the legit rights holder.
      Just because the kindle gives them the ability to take the book back does not mean it's right.
      donniebnyc666
  • RE: Jeff Bezos offers apology for Orwellian mistake

    Actually, if you unknowingly buy stolen goods, it's not like the police break into your house and take them back.

    But they did do the right thing by giving refunds. This is a bit scary, but I still think the Kindle brings more good than bad. I love mine! http://www.computersncs.com/rd_p?p=186122&t=9544&a=27619-zdnet&gift=27619
    diva109
  • This is what DRM is all about.

    This is why DRM, at least in its current form, is fatally flawed.
    safesax2002
  • So much unnecessary drama and no irony.

    If Amazon did anything illegal here (anything akin to an "intrusion" or "trespass", don't you think that the Department of Justice would have some thing to say about this?

    There's also nothing Orwellian about what Amazon did. In 1984, the government used technology to spy on its own citizens and to exert a ubiquitous kind of mind control through manipulation of not just news and history, but right down to the very meaning of words.

    Amazon deleted some files and gave customers a refund.

    To equate this with book burning is disingenuous at best. Book burning is about censorship and destroying ideas. Nothing was destroyed in this case. People simply lost access to material, and were refunded the money they paid for that access. Other legal versions of the book are still available for the Kindle.

    The only irony is the one you want to be there. It makes for great headlines, but nevermind it's not true. If they had deleted "Little House on the Prairie" this would be a non-story.

    Bezos had to apologize, not because Amazon did anything wrong, but because the whole world has seemingly turned into a bunch of drama queens. He's just trying to put out a PR fire.
    RationalGuy
    • You miss the point

      While the phrase "burning books" is certainly hyperbole, and 1984 does indeed focus on government abuses, I think saying those of us upset by Amazon's action are "drama queens" is very unfair. We have a right to be upset.

      I think when you say "people simply lost access to material..." you get to the heart of the matter, although there is nothing simple about it. The people who purchased 1984 thought they had done exactly that, purchased an ebook. If as you say they simply lost access, the implication is that access is all they purchased, then it is Amazon's responsibility to say in big letters "You are not buying this ebook. You are buying a license to view it that we may revoke at any time."

      Amazon does not do this. They sell ebooks to kindle owners. I have purchased many physical books from Amazon. They do not have the right to come to my home and remove those books even if they sold them to me in error. The fact that in the case of 1984, they sold bits instead of paper makes no difference to me. When I purchase a book I do not promise to indemnify Amazon against claims made by a third party. Settling with the rights holder is Amazon's responsibility not mine.

      I think the purpose of DRM is not to protect companies from piracy, but rather to give media sellers control over how that media is used long after it has been sold. This goes against what every consumer expects when they "buy" something.
      donniebnyc666
      • ebooks

        "I think the purpose of DRM is not to protect companies from piracy, but rather to give media sellers control over how that media is used long after it has been sold. This goes against what every consumer expects when they "buy" something."

        Certainly in "the conspiracy zone" (aka Hardware 2.0) it would seem that way. But it also bring publishers and writers, who have no particular reason to trust a new format over regular books, to the new format. I know we're all living in the "golden era" of post-DRM music, forgetting how many years it took to get to this point, fantasizing over how books and movies should be "exactly the same". Well, it isn't going to be the same, not today or tomorrow, but maybe several years down the road when the market has fully matured.

        So Amazon handled things poorly. Will they handle things differently next time? Yes. Will it be perfect next time? No. Is there a way that would have made everybody, including AKH, 100% happy? Probably not.

        These episodes increase our understanding of this developing market. If you cannot live with the specter of DRM then by all means stick with books. If you want to try the convenience of Kindle or some other ebook reader, with the understanding that things may not go 100% as planned because the market is fairly young, then go for it.
        oncall
      • In fact, Amazon does this ...

        [i]If as you say they simply lost access, the implication is that access is all they purchased, then it is Amazon's responsibility to say in big letters "You are not buying this ebook. You are buying a license to view it that we may revoke at any time."[/i]

        From the Kindle License Agreement and Terms of Use (http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200144530):

        [i][b]Use of Digital Content.[/b] Upon your payment of the applicable fees set by Amazon, Amazon grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content and to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Device or as authorized by Amazon as part of the Service and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content will be deemed licensed to you by Amazon under this Agreement unless otherwise expressly provided by Amazon.[/i]

        Before you get all pumped up about the word "permanent", it goes on to say:

        [i][b]Changes to Service.[/b] Amazon reserves the right to modify, suspend, or discontinue the Service at any time, and Amazon will not be liable to you should it exercise such right.[/i]

        So, they make it clear that you are simplty buying a license to access content and that Amazon can change whatever they want about the agreement and you can't do anything about it. You agree to these terms when you begin using the Kindle. If these terms are unacceptable, then you should purchase a different eBook reader.

        [i]The fact that in the case of 1984, they sold bits instead of paper makes no difference to me.[/i]

        It should make a huge difference to you, because the situations are in no way similar. You simply expect the wrong things in this case. If you didn't read the agreement you agreed to, how can that be Amazon's problem?

        [i]This goes against what every consumer expects when they "buy" something.[/i]

        Then the consumer needs to educate him/herself. I bought a Kindle 2, but I knew what I was getting into. The salient points to me are still that a refund was issued and that the books are still available for legit purchase on the platform.

        I find it difficult to cry foul when the Amazon didn't do anything other than slightly inconvenience customers. They didn't break into people's houses and confiscate anything. And when people use that kind of imagery to describe what actually happened (some synchronization program deleted a file or two), to me they sound like a drama queen.
        RationalGuy
        • There is such a thing as an unenforceable contract

          The problem with this *is* the word "permanent". Amazon therefore broke the terms of the agreement. On top of that, certain contracts are not enforcable, generally where control is unilateral.

          Besides, a "book" is a book no matter what media it is created in. A Flash drive is just as permanent as a (low quality) paperback. Amazon's action was no different in principle from erasing all the pages of a paper book.

          Besides, Amazon is *still liable* for copyright infringement. Infringement is the act of *making* copies. That's what the fine is based on. In fact erasing the books might be viewed as destruction of evidence...

          At $750 to $150,000 per copy Amazon is in an amazing amount of trouble. Just ask Jaime Thomas. :)
          wolf_z
        • Re:

          Your reading the second part wrong. It pertains to the "service" of selling the books, not the books themselves. Once you buy the license to use software, its yours to use.
          Take Microsoft operating systems like Windows 98 for example. Sure Microsoft can stop supporting it and stop producing upgrades for it, but they cannot make you stop using it if you so wish.
          With this agreement Amazon is warning you that they may stop supporting their Kindles at any time, stop selling books for it, but that does not give them any rights to make you stop using a e-book you paid for after that time.
          pivkovic
        • You have misread the TOS

          If you read the paragraph above the one you quoted, you will see that Digital Content refers to the downloaded ebooks, etc. Service refers to the connection between the device and Amazon. Therefore, according to the TOS, the user is granted a permanent license to view the digital content.

          Even if the service is discontinued, a permanent license would remain in effect. Unless, of course, if Amazon reserves the right to ignore the TOS.

          And nowhere in the TOS does it state that Amazon has the ability, or reserves the right, to delete the permanently licensed content.

          Having said that, we must admit that we all live in the real world where most people do not read EULAs or TOSs. They just click to bypass an annoying screen. I'm not saying it's right, just that it happens every day. IMHO, a good corporate citizen should state it's intentions clearly on the page where the sale is made, not buried in a TOS that we all know almost no one will read.
          donniebnyc666
          • Nope

            [i]The "Service" means the wireless connectivity, [b]provision of digital content[/b], software and support, and other services and support that Amazon provides Device users.[/i] (emphasis mine)

            Therefore, Amazon can "modify, suspend, or discontinue" the "provision of digial content" at their discretion.

            [i]Having said that, we must admit that we all live in the real world where most people do not read EULAs or TOSs. They just click to bypass an annoying screen. I'm not saying it's right, just that it happens every day. IMHO, a good corporate citizen should state it's intentions clearly on the page where the sale is made, not buried in a TOS that we all know almost no one will read.[/i]

            Do people flip to the end of annoying contracts and sign their names to them? This is a poor excuse for lazy behavior. "Everyone does it" might just mean "everyone does stupid things". How is that Amazon's (or any retailer's) problem?

            You are saying it's right because you're saying that retailers should know people are doing that and legitimize the practice. I mean this TOS is only four pages long. What's that to read? Three minutes? How lazy can you get?
            RationalGuy
          • TOS is irrelevant

            It's not lazy behavior, it's an unoffical class action suit against all TOSes.

            The fact that everyone does it means that if we were to take these cases to court, and fully informed the jury of their legal rights, every one of these EULAs, TOSes, etc. would be thrown out as deceptive, useless peices of trash, in that they do nothing to protect consumer's rights. EVERYTHING in a TOS and EULA is in favor of the seller.
            Dr_Zinj
    • Amazon was wrong

      in the way they handled this situation. Sure they had the [i]legal[/i] right to do what they did however because they had the right to do it does not make their actions right. There are laws on the books - archaic to be sure - that say my wife has to walk on my left side and 2 steps behind me... so I would have the [i]legal[/i] right to make her do that but would it be the right thing to do? The legal right that Amazon exercised is the same thing - an archaic law that needs to be abolished... or at least modified.

      Amazon should have sent out an email or message on the kindle (if that is possible, not owning one I do not know) to those that purchaed those particular copies saying that the books were illegally sold and that Amazon would be offering either a) a refund or b) a legal copy of the works in question and that the illegal copies would be deleted from the devices in 1 week by Amazon if they weren't already deleted voluntarily by the customer.

      THAT is what Amazon did wrong - not so much the deletion of the books but that there was no prior notice. And reading the TOS one is under the assumption - correct or not - that once one buys the book, it is theirs to view indefinitely. After all it is not a book [b]rental[/b] but a book [b]purchase[/b], no matter if it a physical paper copy or a copy composed of bits of electronic code.

      And it doesn't matter if the book was 1984, Little House On The Prairie, The Shining, or whatever... it's the principle of the matter.

      Obviously you have not had something similar happen to you - as I believe I had pointed out on another discussion about this topic - but I would love to see your reaction if or when it does... I'll lay odds you'll be singing a different tune then.

      athynz