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Amazon remotely deletes Orwell e-books from Kindles, unpersons reportedly unhappy (update)

Laura June
07.17.09
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If you're into keeping tabs on irony, check this out. Amazon apparently sent out its robotic droogs last night, deleting copies of the George Orwell novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four from Kindles without explanation, then refunding the purchase price. As you can imagine, a lot of people caught in the thick of Winston and Julia's love story aren't very happy -- and rightfully so -- the idea that we "own" the things we buy is pretty fundamental to... ownership. We're not sure exactly what happened, but it seems that the publisher of said novels, MobileReference, has changed its mind about selling content on the Kindle, and poof! Amazon remotely deleted all previously purchased copies. It's all a bit Orwellian, is it not? Good thing we "permanently borrowed" hard copies of both from our middle school library, huh? Let Hate Week commence.

Update: According to commenters on Amazon, this message was sent out from the company's customer service department:

The Kindle edition books Animal Farm by George Orwell. Published by MobileReference (mobi) & Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) by George Orwell. Published by MobileReference (mobi) were removed from the Kindle store and are no longer available for purchase. When this occurred, your purchases were automatically refunded. You can still locate the books in the Kindle store, but each has a status of not yet available. Although a rarity, publishers can decide to pull their content from the Kindle store.

While that publisher's version of the book may have been removed, it appears other versions of the novels are still available.

Update 2: Drew Herdener, Amazon.com's Director of Communications, pinged us directly with the following comment, and now things are starting to make a lot more sense. Seems as if the books were added initially by an outfit that didn't have the rights to the material.

These books were added to our catalog using our self-service platform by a third-party who did not have the rights to the books. When we were notified of this by the rights holder, we removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers' devices, and refunded customers. We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers' devices in these circumstances.

Still, what's upsetting is the idea that something you've purchased can be quietly taken back by Amazon with no explanation and no advance notice. It's a rotten policy, regardless of the motivations behind this particular move.

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