SANDY BERGER: Global Nature of Internet Creates Dilemmas
Amazon recently deleted several books from Kindle book readers that customers had legitimately purchased from the Amazon Kindle store.
This set off a wave of wrath by Kindle owners. There is, however, more to this story than meets the eye.
First, let me give you a brief synopsis of Amazon's Kindle device. The Kindle is a hand-held e-book reader that has some great technology behind it. The Kindle uses a technology called Whispersync to download books to the Kindle wirelessly. So you can peruse the 300,000 e-books in Amazon's Kindle store, purchase a book, and have it downloaded to your Kindle within a matter of minutes.
Amazon keeps track of the books you download and can actually synch your reading between devices such as the iPhone and the Kindle. Because Amazon keeps track of what you purchase, if you erase a book from your Kindle, you can re-download it at any time. This is a really good thing.
It turns out that Amazon can also erase any book from your Kindle at any time, if it so chooses. It recently erased copies of Orwell's "1984" and "Animal Farm" from the Kindles of anyone who had purchased these books. At the same time, Amazon reimbursed the Kindle owners by depositing the purchase price back to their accounts.
The coverage that I read about this was inflammatory. Journalists from around the world attacked Amazon. Many talked about the irony that these two books were the ones in question. Amazon was being called "Big Brother," and many other unkind Orwellian names.
In actuality, this situation occurred because the Internet is international, but the copyright laws are not. You see, the copyright for the two books in question had expired in many countries. But the copyright in the United States is still in effect. So the books were able to be copied without attribution to the copyright holder in places such as Canada, but it was not legal to sell them here without consent.
So someone put them up for sale at Amazon. The copyright holder complained to Amazon. Amazon considered the books to be stolen and removed them from the Kindles. Evidently Amazon had the right to do so.
If you possess something that turns out to be stolen, it can be confiscated and returned to the legal owner. The Amazon legal documents that everyone agrees to when they buy a Kindle, also asserted that Amazon was within their rights to do this.
What doesn't seem right, however, is the way Amazon did it and the fact that it let the books into their system at all. I liken it to a father who buys a tricycle for his child at a big superstore. The kid leaves his tricycle in the driveway while the family has dinner. When he returns to his outdoor play, he is told that the bike was stolen property -- that the superstore had confiscated it and left an envelope with the purchase price.
Wouldn't that father have a right to be mad at the superstore? Shouldn't they have known that the bike was stolen before they sold it to him?
Well, I guess that Amazon realized this and it tried to quell the debacle. It issued a statement that said that in the future it will not remove books from customers' devices if similar circumstances arise again. Let's hope the company also prevents those circumstances from arising again.
Bottom line here is that everyone needs to get a little more used to the global scope of the Internet. Situations like this arise in many different areas, not just publishing.
For instance, while I can watch "Grey's Anatomy," "Desperate Housewives" or "Lost" on my computer at ABC.com, my daughter in Sweden cannot view those shows on the site from her computer. Because the broadcast rights to the shows are owned by different companies in different countries, these shows are blocked in Sweden and many other countries.
We are certainly becoming a global community, but differing laws in different countries will keep us fragmented for a long, long time. This is just one example.
Sandy Berger welcomes all of your questions and comments on today's column. Post them on the Compu-Kiss Message Board at www.compukiss.com/happycomputing.
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