Why Amazon is within its rights to remove access to your Kindle books

Why Amazon is within its rights to remove access to your Kindle books

Summary: Apple, Amazon and Barnes & Noble can revoke access to your ebooks, music and software any time they want. Here's why.

800px-Amazon_Kindle_FireCredit: Prescotte

There has been a fair amount of indignation directed towards Amazon over the last couple of days.

Amazon deleted Norwegian IT Consultant Linn Nygaard’s Amazon account and removed access to the Kindle books she had purchased.

Martin Bekkelund blogged how Amazon closed her account and wiped her Kindle. It offered no explanation as to why it had done so.

Although it smacks of poor customer service, Amazon is completely within its rights to do this. Its terms of service state:

All content included in or made available through any Amazon Service, such as text, graphics, logos, button icons, images, audio clips, digital downloads, and data compilations is the property of Amazon or its content suppliers and protected by United States and international copyright laws.

All the books on your Kindle are not yours. They belong to Amazon. All that cash you have paid was simply to access these books on your Kindle. You have not paid to own the books. If you want to own books, pay for physical printed books and get Amazon to send them to you by post.

Other online providers have similar terms and conditions.

Barnes & Noble “reserves the right to modify or discontinue the offering of any Digital Content at any time”. Apple’s terms and conditions state that “You acknowledge that iTunes is selling you a license to use the content made available through the iBookstore”

Non of these terms state that you actually own the content at all. In each case the content remains the property of the supplier.

Providers like Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble have structured their licences like this to protect themselves. If there is a catastrophic site failure that makes access to your books impossible, then you could sue for the return of your property. They would be liable.

Granting a licence to use the books or use the software makes sense. These terms are to protect their investment in their site infrastructure and costs to maintain the site.

To try and protect your investment on Kindle and Nook, you can try to remove the DRM from the book. Removing the DRM from the book puts you in contravention of terms and conditions and you then run the risk of having your account suspended. But you will have access to the books.

Digital Rights Management is a huge issue for publishers and authors. I totally get DRM, the need to limit access to digital content after purchase and I get the need to protect copyright.

I am a published author and I am delighted that I receive royalties for the books I’ve written that have been legitimately purchased. Why should the book that I spent months researching and writing, formatting and editing be available for free or downloaded on torrent sites?

With the imminent demise of the printed book, we are going to have to get used to the way we purchase but do not own electronic goods. Whether that is virtual clothing for my Second Life avatar, a customised background image on Twitter or a premium account on LinkedIn, it is not really mine.

I am renting the service just like I am renting the books I ‘buy’ on Amazon. And like any other service I rent, it can be taken away from me on a whim.

I just have to get used to that thought.

Topic: Social Enterprise

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • "buying" - not rental or loan - is that part of what fools us consumers?

    Maybe this would be clearer to consumers if it wasn't a purchase / buy but instead sold as a a rental (loan at a price). I thin that is part of the problem.

    Another issue that probably weighs in here is that a private customer cannot be expected to read a complex contract to rent something simple. In those cases at least Danish law, and I would believe Norwegian law too, protects the consumer which potentially spells trouble for sellers. Yes, those law variations and general consumer protection is probably also why roll-out of many "gloabl" (typically US based) services is so slow - selling here requires a different approach to terms and conditions and maybe even what you call things and how they are sold.
    • costs more?

      Good point they should change the wording.
      But then people may be less willing to pay for the 'rental' when thy could buy it properly.
      If it is only renting then why does it, in many cases, cost more than actually buying the item?
      • I switched back for that reason

        No more ebooks for me. why pay more if I don't get the ownership of it. Same goes for itunes songs by the way. At least with netflix it's clear that you are only paying for a temporary access to the stuff.

        I'll continue to buy books and cds (and rip them to mp3 "backup copy") until they fix that BS.
        • BUY eANYTHING?

          Creators of works have the right to be paid for their work - but if I BUY an electronic version, ownership of that copy should belong to the purchaser.

          No more eCRAP for me...
        • DRM'd or not

          Many books actually do not contain drm. I've seen more and more where the author requested the books not contain DRM'd. Granted it's the more geek stuff, scifi, tech books, etc. And I get my books from B&N first, Amazon only if it's unavailable at B&N (or Oreilly). You just need to copied the books off your device. It's wise to do that anyways for backup.

          iTunes music hasn't been DRM'd for years now. Of course if you don't have a real computer and only a device, it's hard to get to the physical files. But iTunes was always designed so you could back up your tunes without DRM'd.

          If you buy it you own it. Period. Granted they are doing their best to confuse the issue. And you shouldn't be putting stuff you bought out on any torrent site. But if I want to give a copy of a book I read to my sister when I'm done I will. Especially given I spent more for it than the hardcopy that I could have resold.

          Just cause the media format is different doesn't mean a concept that has existed for hundreds if not thousands of years is different. If you buy something, it's yours. The problem is that people haven't put up enough of a fight and the companies will try to get away with whatever they can get away with.
          • fair use

            should allow you to give your sister your original file, but not a copy when you keep the origional. If you give it away, you can't still have it.
        • iTunes songs have NO DRM.

          iTunes' songs have NO DRM. They've been DRM-FREE since 2009.
          Richard Plant
      • yes, costs more

        What's unusual about that? A long-term rental/lease of just about anything eventually costs more than buying the item. The higher total cost is the price you pay for not coming up with all the money up front.
      • Hear this AMAZON!!!!!

        My wife has a Kindle but uses it occasionaly as she can buy a paperback for $3-10 less than an ebook. And she has a physical copy that she can do whatever she wants with it as opposed to your loaner.

        Amazon you have a broken model. Please fix it.
    • DRM

      Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) is the culprit here. You BUY something, you OWN something. Think it a coincidence that the Terms of Service describes "renting" but when the money changes hands it is call "buying"?

      Buy it, strip the DRM, and use what you BOUGHT on ANY dang device.
  • I'll never play this game

    If these books were $1-$3, maybe I'd be interested. But these prices are too high for something you have no rights to, where your access can be removed for the flimsiest or reasons and without explanation. I'd rather own paperbacks that I can control. I can give them away, throw them away, or burn them. And generally speaking, I won't wake up to find that they've just vanished.
  • Funny that, the button says Buy :-|

    If Amazon start doing this a lot, they'll be forced to change their policies.
    • Buy is the right word

      But what you buy is a license to use the book, not the book itself. It basically like if you were paying to get a book from a library until the library says you can't have it anymore...
      • Re: But what you buy is a license to use the book, not the book itself.

        Why do the pages say "Buy", instead of "Buy A Licence", then?
      • nonsense

        people KNOW the difference between a library and a book store. Maybe Amazon should start to call it´s ebook business a LIBRARY then.

        all the problem here is the wording, clearly meant to DECEIVE the consumer into thinking he is buying the thing.

        NOBODY goes to a library thinking he will buy the books he is getting there.

        Also, the prices do not MATCH to the service, if you do not own it.
  • Just because they say so, doesn't mean they're right.

    I fail to see how we're purchasing any less when we buy "access rights" or "a license" to the ebooks than when we buy an actual paperback.

    When you buy a physical book, you are still merely purchasing a personal use license. Those works are still copyright, in spite of the fact that they're sitting on your shelf. The content of those books is not yours to do with as you please.

    When you purchase a book, you're purchasing the right, from the publisher, to READ it, and to read it WHEN, WHERE, and, until recently, HOW you please. Consumers expect the same deal when they purchase a book from a digital distributor. The fact that Apple's, Amazon's, and Barns & Nobel's EULAs spell out something different from the spirit of the agreement that consumers believe they're entering into does not mean that the digital distributors are right to cut you off from your bought-and-paid-for licenses, nor does it mean that have the right to do so. Just because it's spelled out in black and white does not mean it's fair and valid.

    That's something for a judge to decide, once one (or all) of the digital distributors cuts off someone who is willing to challenge these agreements in courts of law.
    • Digital Judge

      The only thing you can hope for is the Judge to rule that the Acceptable Use Policy (that you and everyone else agrees to when signing up for these "services") is illegal.

      If the EULA or Acceptable Use policy is legal, it becomes a binding contract between the user and the provider. Not reading, or agreeing to the terms doesn't change the fact that you REALLY agreed to the terms by using them.

      If you don't like the terms, go somewhere else. If the terms start to impact the profitability of the provider, they will change them.
      • Which is what needs to be asked

        That's of course what I was referring to. These use policies seem to be presented in bad faith - they're often not written in a clear and concise manner, they're often unreasonably long, and both parties often know that the end user hasn't actually read them.

        The bigger issue in my mind, however, is that on the surface, these distributors have fashioned themselves after the already existing publishing industry. The use words like "buy" and "purchase" in their actual interfaces. Moreover, they're treating these use or license agreements as if there is no analogous legislation or case law in the "real world" market.

        I'm no lawyer, and I'm not going to pretend to be anything like one, but that just seems very fishy to me. Books are not some sort of brave new world just because they're printed on a screen instead of a sheet of paper. In both cases, you're buying a personal license for the content. It seems very much to me that the EULAs and AUPs at play here are trying to buy these ePublishers greater rights than paper publishers have, when there's really no justification for it.

        I honestly don't see how Amazon or anyone else should be able to deny me access to products I've purchased from them if Penguin or TOR can't walk into my house and start torching my book case.

        I question whether these agreements ebook "buyers" are forced into are actually legal or not.
  • Close, but you still haven't quite got it

    The fact that Amazon still owns the content when I purchase a license doesn't mean Amazon has the right to terminate the license on a whim. The license gives me legal rights to use the content on stated terms, and those rights can only be terminated (lawfully) if I have breached the terms. That's what a judge would have to decide: did Linn Nygaard breach the terms of the license, or did Amazon? As draconian as most of the EULA terms are, I have yet to see one that says, "You only get to read the licensed content if we feel like it."
    • Which sort of makes this article moot ...

      We don't know under what conditions Linn's contract was terminated. Without knowing the conditions and Amazon believing that they had just cause, this would indeed become a case for the courts. If Amazon felt that Linn had violated the terms of the contract then they had just cause to terminate the contract. Whether Linn did or did not violate the terms of the agreement is up to a judge.

      One key thing to note (quoted from the Amazon agreement): Termination. Your rights under this Agreement will automatically terminate if you fail to comply with any term of this Agreement.

      Also: Your Conduct. You may use the wireless connectivity provided by us only in connection with the Service as permitted by this Agreement. You may not use the wireless connectivity for any other purpose.

      I inferred from this "Your Conduct" term that if you use the wireless connectivity for anything other than downloading contect from Amazon that you are in violation of the terms of the agreement hence Amazon is within their rights to terminate. It is general BS terms like this (BS in the sense that they do not explicitly state what the Service is so that the user knows under what conditions they would violate, i.e. "any other purpose") that cause headaches for the user and give a high level of control to the vendor (Amazon).