Amazon recalls (and embodies) Orwell's '1984'

In a widely criticized move, the retailer has reportedly taken back copies of two electronic books after the publisher decided it no longer wanted to sell the e-books.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
2 min read

Much is being made this Friday over Amazon's move to essentially forcibly recall two e-books that some customers had purchased.

According to multiple reports, Amazon removed the books from users' accounts after the publisher decided to pull its e-book. (My favorite headline, by the way, was Seattlest's "Amazon's Kindle: Now with new take-backsies feature".)


The publisher is certainly within its rights to stop selling the e-book and certainly Amazon needs to honor those wishes. But its hard to understand by what rights the retailer can remove the book from those who have already purchased one of the titles.

The added irony is that one of the two books in question is George Orwell's "1984." The other is Orwell's "Animal Farm."

The New York Times David Pogue quoted one reader that likened the move to "Barnes & Noble sneaking into our homes in the middle of the night, taking some books that we've been reading off our nightstands, and leaving us a check on the coffee table."

Peter Kafka at All Things Digital cites Amazon's terms of service, which don't seem to permit the move, noting that once users buy a book, they get "the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content and to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Device or as authorized by Amazon as part of the Service and solely for your personal, non-commercial use."

Even if there are contract terms somewhere that permit this, it sets a terrible precedent for the company, as it plays into some of customers' worst fears around digitally protected content.

One of the things I value as a customer of digital content is the idea that I can keep a book and have it with me whenever I want. It's one of several reasons that I own one of the e-book readers.

The idea that at any point Amazon can take it back and give me a refund is disturbing, to say the least. I've asked Amazon for comment and will let you know what I hear back.