, Orwell, and Greed

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Tech-followers the world over – but owners of’s Kindle e-book reader in particular – got a nasty shock last week when Amazon switched into reverse the “Whispernet” wireless network it uses to sell e-books directly to the Kindle devices, instead plucking away e-copies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm that people had thought they had bought, because of a rights dispute. For more details, the New York Times’ coverage is here; do note how carefully Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener chooses his words, promising that “in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances” (emphasis added; why were those last three words necessary?).

This bizarre episode promptly elicited on-line comment about how strange it was to suddenly find missing something that you thought you had bought, and how appropriate it was that the works in question originated from the author famous for “Big Brother.” Among the more in-depth remarks I have run across, however, must be included reaction from a German-based Kindle-owner (who therefore still has his e-book Orwell, if he bought it in the first place – Amazon’s “Whispernet” network extends only to the US) by the name of Peter Sennhauser, who writes on the site (Orwellian DRM Fall-of-Man; yes, it’s an awkward title in English, but less so in German). His lede: “Amazon has erased-over-distance customers’ books on the Kindle e-book reader. Jeff Bezos is about to stomp out his e-book sparks.” (more…)

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