Thursday, July 23, 2009

Do we own what we buy?

In the digital age are we consumers and owners – or subscribers and renters?

Amazon’s deletion of George Orwell’s 1984 from people’s personal Kindle ebooks caused a furore of protest. What a book to choose for such an authoritarian, Big Brother act. You couldn’t make it up, could you?

These people legitimately purchased their copy of the classic. They believe that they own it. Like buying a tin of beans. Tesco’s doesn’t send a till girl to your kitchen to demand it back - unless you nicked it.

‘A copyright issue’ says Amazon. ‘We got it wrong. We didn’t have the rights to sell it to you.’

So their cyber fingers reached out silently into the Kindles and took it back – without the knowledge of the new ‘owners’ until they got a refund statement.

Here’s where the fun starts.

Users on the Kindle Boards website are apoplectic. They say:

"Amazon offered a product, which I legally purchased, and had in my possession until their electronic burglar stole it from me."

“This is analogous to Amazon selling me a hard cover book and then later sending someone to my home to steal it back after learning that they erred in offering it for sale in the first place! Ridiculous!!!”


“They've essentially invaded MY PRIVATE KINDLE to remove MY books, WITHOUT MY ADVANCE KNOWLEDGE OR PERMISSION. Ironic that my George Orwell collection has now been stolen back by "Big Brother," isn't it?”

Oh, the wrath. A bit like the old ‘My house is my castle’ arguments of yesteryear, before we discovered that anyone from the cops to the gas board could invade our ‘castle’ at will.

The Guardian opines:

‘ It's as if they walked into a bookshop to pick up a new best-seller, only to discover later that the shop was actually a library and they had to give it back.’

This is the problem with ‘cloud-enabled’ products like Kindle or iphone. Very sexy to own as long as you realise you have an appliance controlled by the manufacturer and not the owner - you. Apple can reach into your iphone and delete an app at will.

Imagine your kettle is 'cloud-enabled'. You get a message saying. ‘Your megaKettle has been updated. It now cooks rice, too!’

The following day comes a deletion: ‘Apologies. MegaRice corp own the rights. We’ve deleted the upgrade. It’s just a kettle again.’

The key to this, as ever, is to BACK UP. Then 1984 would still be in your computer.

So, you don’t ‘own’ your appliance – you’re merely leasing it. You bought a husk of plastic. They control what goes into it and what it does.

I’m happy my Sony Reader doesn’t phone home – yet. With Sony’s DRM track record it’s only a matter of time. Or have I missed the control button already?

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