Troubles in eBook land

Astounding but predictable [h/t haiku]:

Techdirt has been warning people for several years that they don’t really own the ebooks they have on their Amazon Kindles.

The most famous demonstration of this was the sudden disappearance of ebook versions of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm (you can’t make this stuff up.)

But that’s nothing compared to what an Amazon customer in Norway now claims the company has done: shut down her Amazon account permanently and locked her Kindle — all without explanation.

When her ebooks became unavailable, Linn Jordet Nygaard, the customer in question, contacted Amazon to find out what had happened. She received the following reply: We have found your account is directly related to another which has been previously closed for abuse of our policies.

As such, your account has been closed and any open orders have been cancelled. But the account holder claims to know nothing about any other account, and so she wrote back asking for more details:

As previously advised, your account has been closed, as it has come to our attention that this account is related to a previously blocked account. While we are unable to provide detailed information on how we link related accounts, please know that we have reviewed your account on the basis of the information provided and regret to inform you that it will not be reopened.

Please understand that the closure of an account is a permanent action. Any subsequent accounts that are opened will be closed as well. Thank you for your understanding with our decision.

And in case you thought it was a one-off:

We’ve discussed, many, many times, how copyright holders in the digital age like to play fast and loose with the definition of what is “sold” and what is “licensed.” Just today, we’ve seen Amazon wipe out a woman’s ebook collection.

As we’ve joked, many copyright holders like to play Schrodinger’s download in which they’ll argue that it’s a license in some cases, and a sale in other, based on what benefits them the most at that instance. So it’s a welcome surprise to find out that publishing giant Random House is unequivocal in making the statement that libraries who buy Random House ebooks own those ebooks.

Michael Kelley, at the Library Journal, spoke to Skip Dye, Random House’s VP of library & academic marketing and sales, and Dye left no doubt about it:

“We spend a lot of time discussing this with librarians, at conferences and elsewhere, and it’s clear that there is still some confusion out there around whether libraries own their ebooks,” Dye said.

“Random House’s often repeated, and always consistent position is this: when libraries buy their RH, Inc. ebooks from authorized library wholesalers, it is our position that they own them.

He went on to make clear the distinction with licensing:

“This is our business model: we sell copies of our ebooks to an approved list of library wholesalers, and those wholesalers are supposed to resell them to libraries. In our view, this purchase constitutes ownership of the book by the library. It is not a license.

Of course, this raises a question: does that also apply to the public?

It does indeed.   Though Wolfie’s comment was about Cloud and not eBooks, it was nevertheless apt:

What is often not well understood is that the cloud is often configured as a sync service and as such it can be directed to delete your local data along with its networked copy and then forget you even had an account.

5 comments for “Troubles in eBook land

  1. October 24, 2012 at 18:04

    As the author of two e-books (as well as many conventional print books) I find that very interesting, not least because it is an issue I was totally unaware of. I had assumed anyone taking the trouble to buy my e-book would own it. But I am confused, since I don’t need to be online to read an e-book I have purchased so how could the sellers do anything with it? But then I don’t use a Kindle, I use the free Kindle reader for PC and the bought books are stored locally on my PC (I think? – Need to check now). Thanks for drawing attention to the issue.

  2. Robert the Biker
    October 24, 2012 at 18:20

    This is why I do not and will not own a kindle; I have hardcopies of books, and those are MY books, end of.

  3. October 24, 2012 at 19:08

    This story seems to involve a used Kindle to which the buyer transferred her account. Presumably this Kindle’s serial number is still associated with the original owner who had some kind of serious dispute with Amazon.

    In that case I suppose it’s like buying a hot car.

    I treat Kindle books as ephemeral – like a newspaper, magazine or paperback I intend to give to a charity shop once I’ve read it. For more important books I want to refer back to, it’s a real book every time.

  4. ivan
    October 24, 2012 at 19:09

    Linn has now had her a/c restored with all the books but there is no explanation from Amazon.

    DQS, your books should be OK on your PC but I recommend that you get a copy of Calibre (free program at and let it manage your e-books for you. It stores them, catalogues them and backs them up as well as changing the format to allow them to be used on most e-readers.

    TtB, see my note to DQS plus you don’t have to use the big suppliers, especially if you are looking for the classics. Project Gutenberg is your friend
    plus there are several other places that have free e-books available.

  5. October 24, 2012 at 22:14

    I use Gutenberg.

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