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The horrors of renting vs. owning ebooks

How one Amazon customer became an outlaw and doesn't know why

Here’s a story that ought to raise your blood pressure. It brings to life the worst fears of anyone who’s amassed a large collection of ebooks.

Linn, an Amazon Kindle customer, suddenly discovered her entire collection has been wiped clean. When she inquires about the situation Amazon gives her vague answers like:

We have found your account is directly related to another which has been previously closed for abuse of our policies.

That’s the extent of it though. No information is provided about this other account and why Amazon has connected Linn’s account with it.

Martin Bekkelund provided Linn’s story and he cites the incident as “DRM at its worst.” I’m not sure it’s really a DRM problem as much as it is an ownership problem.

We know when we buy ebooks from Amazon, B&N, etc., we don’t really own those products; we’re simply licensing them. As a result, the door is left wide open for the retailer to come back and wipe them out as Amazon did with Linn.

This is why I believe we need to shift our industry thinking from ebook licensing to ebook ownership. We may never know all the details surrounding Linn’s case but it’s yet another example of why some people are skittish about ebooks and only willing to buy them when prices are extremely low.

At the very least Amazon owes Linn a much better explanation of why they wiped her content and not refunding all the money she spent on her ebooks.

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  • http://www.digestingthewords.com/ Farhana Chowdhury

    I had no idea that this could happen. But I suppose it’s also the reason that amazon tells you to back up your books/files regularly.

    I’ll have to keep this in mind but even so I think it’s ridiculous. You don’t show up to someone’s house and simply take the books they’ve already paid for because a similar looking person has abused their policies. The fact that as you’ve stated we (eReader users) have no real ownership of the books we buy is explanation enough for negativity in relation to eBooks.

    • jwikert

      Farhana, you raise an important point. I’ll bet less than 1% of ebook buyers take the time to back up their content. But even if they do that and they leave the DRM in place they’re subject to what happened to this customer. It’s almost as if Amazon is forcing customers to break the DRM to make backup copies and avoid this situation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1794217810 Rich Dailey

    Remember: We agree to Amazon/B&N/other licensing terms (that we rarely read). Don’t like the terms? Don’t agree with them. Authors/publishers/readers desperately need a workable and equitable ownership model for ebooks. Keyword: Equitable.

  • http://twitter.com/antoniolorusso antonio lorusso

    buy DRM free books only! Lots of editors sells DRM free books (like O’Reilly, Pragmatic Programmers, Manning) and shops like InformIT. Boycott the stupid DRM.

  • http://twitter.com/Harkaway Nick Harkaway

    I suppose one could broaden the definition of DRM to include the mindset
    which goes with it – the desperate need to assert the rivalrous and
    excludable nature of ebooks which is totally alien to the digital
    environment. It’s all tied together – DRM and centralised
    ownership/licence control; territorial rights in the digital soup;
    proprietary formats; asinine anti-piracy laws. It flows from a single
    not entirely baseless fear: that our consumer population – it’s almost
    worth acknowledging that it’s the electorate – has been taught to believe by the digital rhetoric of the 90s and the opportunism of politicians riding the sub-prime prosperity wave that it’s okay to demand things free of charge which are the product of effort, work, and training. Essentially there’s a trust issue, and it isn’t entirely stupid – hence the NPR/Emily White argument (http://www.npr.org/blogs/allsongs/2012/06/16/154863819/i-never-owned-any-music-to-begin-with).

    The fundamental question is: if we were to untangle all this, remove DRM and region-specific sales and all the rest, would there still be a sustainable market for written works? The O’Reilly experience seems to argue that the answer is an emphatic yes, but one can see why people fear the opposite may be true. Hell, I have reservations – much the same reservations I have every time I get in an aeroplane: it’ll probably be fine but what if it explodes? – and I’m one of the more digitally adventurous writers in the UK…

    • Christian

      To me, asking that question implies that we need to tweak our DRM practices until we arrive at some desired market result.  Instead, let’s determine what levels of DRM we’re willing to tolerate, and whatever market that sustains will be the “correct” one.  It would be like asking if we could grow the economy by taking away certain rights.  It’s the wrong question.  The rights and principles come first and the market grows around them.  Fly safe.

  • http://bookboon.com/ Jenn

    I guess one challenge that the amazon and other site that is selling ebooks online is that they need to do surveillance as well as good and strong security to the owner or buyer who purchased ebooks. Security that their account is protected from any internet intruder, but as we always see terms as we rarely see before we agree to purchase the item we always checked it means that we agree to any policy it has to offer. Some sites were strict especially when you are dealing and paying for bucks but why pay if we can have it free ( I am talking about ebooks). You might want to check http://bookboon.com/ this is the best site where you can access books that is absolutely FREE. You will be learning so much without paying anything and you can have the books without delays. The books can be downloaded in PDF without registration.