Thursday, July 23, 2009
Who owns the electronic book you just bought?
The Wall Street Journal - Buying electronic books on the Internet is easy -- but so is taking them away.
That became clear last week when Amazon.com Inc. used its wireless technology to reach into customers' Kindle e-readers and deleted some e-books written by George Orwell. Amazon, which returned the cost of the e-books, said it made the move when it realized that the publisher didn't have the proper rights to sell the book in the U.S.
That didn't satisfy Antoine J. Bruguier, a 28-year-old engineer in Milpitas Calif., who was stunned to find his copy of "Nineteen Eighty Four" missing from his Kindle on Friday.
"They have the technical ability to do this, but I'm not sure if they have the legal right to do it," he says. "I love my Kindle, but if they can take back a book after I buy it, that bothers me."
After angry customers called the company an Orwellian "Big Brother," Amazon promised to change its system and "not remove books from customers' devices in these circumstances," according to a spokesman.
Regardless, the incident raises some difficult questions about what it means to "own" books in the digital age. The same legal conundrums came up with music. Consumers raised on sharing records and CDs suddenly found themselves challenged in court by music companies for violating intellectual-property rights when doing the same thing through computers. Books have a more entrenched culture of sharing -- libraries exist for lending dog-eared volumes -- raising potentially knottier legal issues. Some experts say that, barring a creative industry solution, these matters can only be remedied by passing new laws that clearly define digital ownership.