The close of this July 2009 incident was probably by Amazon issuing a statement:
"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."What apparently happened:
Amazon caused the automatic deletion of only certain
copies of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm from customers' Kindles - copies that had been sold for US$0.99 by a supplier called Mobile Reference
, which sells ebook versions of books that are in the Public Domain, for the price of about US$1.
The US has copyright laws peculiar to itself, and Mobile Reference apparently did not
have the right to sell Orwell's novels in the US
- but it did elsewhere - because 1984 and Animal Farm were/are still under copyright protection in the United States.
So Amazon had effectively enabled the sale under US breach of copyright.
Thus, when Amazon was notified that copyrighted material was being sold on the Amazon store in breach of copyright, they (presumably) acted to stop the sale and rectify the situation. They just didn't seem to tell anyone very clearly that that was what they were doing though.
The removal was enabled due to the Kindle being configured to automatically sync up with the user's Bookshelf via the electronic book reader's WhisperNet wireless service. When Amazon removed the unauthorized books from customers' accounts, they were also removed from their Kindles.
Subsequently, Amazon sent a rather too
cryptic e-mail to customers:
"We recently discovered a problem with a Kindle book that you have purchased. We have processed a refund to the payment method used to acquire this book. The next time the wireless is activated on your device, the problematic item will be removed. If you are not in a wireless coverage area, please connect your device to a computer using your USB cable and delete the file from the documents folder."
There are apparently multiple copies of 1984 still for sale on the Kindle, except that they are not sold for US$0.99 from any company that has no rights to sell them. Other ebooks published by Mobile Reference that do fall under public domain in US law
are also still for sale.
Amazon apparently has had to perform widespread recalls from the Kindle on at least two other occasions in the past, and the company apparently sent out the exact same notification:
- 1. Ayn Rand's books were put up on the Kindle Store without consent from the Ayn Rand Institute and had to be pulled down.
- 2. Unauthorized copies of Stephenie Meyer's popular Twilight series had to be removed as well.
Reportedly, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was offered for sale at one time, for a few hours on one day, though electronic versions of the books had not been authorized.
Amazon's actions above were not completely justifiable. The two ebooks may have been "illegal" copies, but they were purchased by the customers in good faith. In the real world, if you purchase stolen goods, you don't get to keep those goods, but you would normally be properly informed of the situation. That is arguably where Amazon messed up.
Instead of being forthright about the incident and telling customers that it had sold unauthorized ebooks (and had done so in the past), Amazon merely told customers that there had been "a problem" and in Cavalier fashion deleted the offending books.
Removing such titles from a customer's Bookshelf and deleting them from the Kindle may be Amazon's standard policy, but the inadequate communication about what actually happened led to a public and media backlash that seems to have echoed around the "crowd-source memory" of the Internet since the event in 2009.
Amazon's approach to rectification was pretty abysmal - e.g., they could instead have offered customers a legitimate replacement copy of 1984 or Animal Farm and absorbed the difference in cost, because it was Amazon's mistake in the first place.
This case and the others before it highlighted a major problem with Amazon's Kindle Store. The retailer shouldn't have been selling copyrighted material in the first place, and will almost certainly by now have taken a serious - albeit belated - review of its acceptance policies to avoid similar occurrences in the future. By comparison, Apple appeared to have already had stringent reviews of the legitimacy all applications submitted to its iPhone App Store.
Some customers might justifiably feel concerned that Amazon could take legitimate books off their Kindle overnight because a publisher changed its mind, or even "burn down" their library. That is unlikely, as presumably Amazon has by now put policies into place on the Kindle Store so it won't need to recall unauthorized ebooks in the future (as above):
"We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers' devices in these circumstances."