I’ve been meaning to write this for a while. And this goes not only for ebooks, but anything bought electronically that doesn’t include tangible items being shipped to you.
On more than one occasion, Amazon has shown the true consequences of filling up your Kindle with ebooks. You’re not truly buying books, you’re buying indefinite permission to enjoy the books. That permission can be revoked at any time, at Amazon’s discretion, and there’s nothing that you can do but hope for a refund.
The first incident (of which I’m aware) happened in 2009 surrounding digital copies of 1984 and Animal Farm. The company that sold those copies turned out not to have the copyright, and therefore shouldn’t have been selling them in the first place. Unfortunately, this was caught after many copies were purchased, so Amazon was left with these books wandering around on customers’ Kindles, infringing copyright with their very existence. What’s a company to do? Reach into your Kindle and delete that copy without a word.
Customers found out about this move and reacted with a combination of panic and anger. After all, if Amazon can do this so easily for an example of copyright infringement, what’s to stop them from exercising power for other, perhaps less legitimate reasons? People realized then that Amazon had access to your entire library, and could do what they wanted with it regardless of whether your books were legitimately purchased or not.
Fortunately for Amazon, a few well-placed words of apology, a promise never to do it again (“in those circumstances”) and refunds for the customers who had their devices invaded made the public quick to forgive them and move on. But people should forgive without forgetting.
In 2012, a Kindle user found herself locked out of her own account after Amazon determined that she had a connection to someone else who abused the company’s policies. But what abuse took place, Amazon couldn’t or wouldn’t tell her. The only information that said customer could get out of the company was that Amazon had the right to terminate or suspend accounts at their sole discretion. At mere suspicion, or in this case guilt by association, Amazon can decide that you’re unfit to continue using their services and prohibit you from enjoying the books that you’ve already purchased.
Now, I love Amazon to death. I buy things from the site all the time. But most of them are tangible items: my most recent purchases include a replacement laptop battery and physical copies of books and CDs. But after reading stories like this, I see no reason to trust such a large, bureaucratic company with access to my library. They’ve made it clear by now that “buy this book” doesn’t actually mean “buy this book,” it means “buy the rights to read this book, understanding that the right can be terminated at any time.”
Physical books cannot be licensed, and the rights to read them cannot be revoked by a third party. You’ll never have to open a book to find the pages are blank, save a line on page 1 that states “sorry, this book is no longer available.” A bookstore employee can’t come over and take it off your bookshelf because they suspect your friend is a shoplifter. You won’t lose them to power failures or software corruption, either. The book is yours, period.
With these stories come a reminder that digital copies are never really ours, and there’s no reason why this would be restricted to books. What about those songs you bought? (Especially if they came from Amazon) Bought any movies or video games lately? You may not have ultimate ownership, but you sure as hell are accountable if your item touched the digital hands of anyone fishy.
Protect your purchases, your money, and yourself. Buy physical copies or don’t buy at all.