Monday, October 22, 2012

Amazon wipes a user's Kindle, reminding us we license, don't own digital content

Those who remember the 2009 incident when deleted a number of George Orwell books from Kindles, sans warning, might find this new incident not just reminiscent, but Orwellian. customer Linn Jordet Nygaard has had her account closed, her Kindle wiped, and all open orders cancelled, but the company refuses to tell her why.

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Or at least, it refuses to tell her exactly why. has given her some vague reasons, but not details. Details of the incident arose on Monday, as media was clued into what was, until then, something between Nygaard and

Cutting to the chase, has accused Nygaard of using an account that was "related" to another, previously closed account. As the other account had been closed for violating the Internet retailer's terms of service, Nygaard's account was closed.
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.
The problem is that Nygaard has no knowledge of any such prior account. In addition, what exactly does "related" mean? When she asked about it, refused to give her details, instead saying: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.
She continued her inquiries, but was basically told to go find another retailer.
We wish you luck in locating a retailer better able to meet your needs and will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on these matters. was within its rights when it deleted her content, according to its terms of service. The Kindle Store terms of service say that "Kindle content is licensed, not sold". It adds that in the event that finds you in violation of its terms, the company "may immediately revoke your access to the Kindle Store and the Kindle Content without refund of any fees."

What is saying is something that is an industry-wide policy. It also applies to digital content you might buy from iTunes. You don't really own the content, but rather license it.

As far as Nygaard's issue, what is the actual problem, the one that won't reveal. The theory is as follows (and it makes sense since Nygaard is from Norway and the division in question is the U.K. one). It requires an understanding of "open territory."
I'd further speculate that the policy violation that Linn stands accused of is using a friend's UK address to buy Amazon UK English Kindle books from Norway. This is a symptom of Amazon's -- and every single other ebook retailer's -- hopelessness at managing "open territory" for ebooks.

"Open territory" is a publishing term describing places where no publisher holds exclusive retail rights. In English-language book-contracts, it's almost always the case that countries where English isn't the native or official language are "open territory," meaning that if a writer sells her English language rights in Canada and the US to Macmillan, and her UK/Australia/NZ/South African rights to Penguin, both Penguin and Macmillan are legally allowed to sell competing English print and electronic editions in Norway, Rwanda, India, China, and Russia.

However, the universal approach taken by ebook retailers to "open territory" is to pretend that it doesn't exist. If no publisher is registered as the exclusive provider of an edition in a given country, the ebook retailers just refuse to sell to people in those countries. I've spoken to e-rights people in the major publishing houses, and they hate this, because a) it just drives piracy; and b) it represents lost sales. But there's no shifting the etailers, apparently.

If my conjecture about Linn's offense is correct, then she has not violated copyright, nor has she done anything that would upset a publisher. She's merely violated the thousands of words of impossible fine-print that comes with your Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iPad, as have all of us.
While this move appears to be within's rights, we expect that - once reports of this "news" reaches their PR department - Nygaard's case will be escalated and things will return to normal. Or at least, we hope so.

Still, if this story makes you wonder why it wouldn't be a better practice to buy a CD and rip it to your hard drive, because then you own the digital copies - that is a good question.

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