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Jeff Bezos Offers Apology For Erasing 1984 437

Posted by timothy
from the always-been-sorry-about-erasing-1984 dept.
levicivita writes "From the down-but-not-out NYT comes an article (warning: login may be required) about user backlash against Kindle's embedded DRM: 'Last week, Jeffrey P. Bezos, chief executive of Amazon, offered an apparently heartfelt and anguished mea culpa to customers whose digital editions of George Orwell's "1984" were remotely deleted from their Kindle reading devices. Though copies of the books were sold by a bookseller that did not have legal rights to the novel, Mr. Bezos wrote on a company forum that Amazon's "'solution' to the problem was stupid, thoughtless and painfully out of line with our principles."' Bezos's post is here."
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Jeff Bezos Offers Apology For Erasing 1984

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  • by woutersimons_com (1602459) * on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:02AM (#28835359) Homepage

    Amazon has refunded their customers according to the article, but if I was halfway through a book and it got deleted from my device I would be very annoyed. To me it seems that the better solution would be for Amazon to arrange the correct rights from the copyright holder and arrange some form of deal to make sure that those who have a copy of the book on their Kindle can continue to use it or receive a new copy with the proper rights and at no cost. In the end, the material was offered through their service and they do have responsibility to their customers, even if it is not illegal for them to use this solution.

    The apology posted from Mr. Bezos sounds heartfelt indeed. I wonder how this will be handled in future incidents like this one. Unfortunately, in the Netherlands we do not have access to the Kindle. But even with the risks of allowing Amazon to retain control to remotely delete items you have purchased I would definitely be a customer for the device. I suppose that with products like these you have to decide whether you trust a supplier or not.

  • the cat (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ionix5891 (1228718) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:05AM (#28835377)

    is out of the bag now Bezos

    i was interested in a DX but now ill just get a laptop

    this is yet another reason not to buy a kindle, how many other geeks out there feel same way now ?

  • by therufus (677843) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:05AM (#28835379)

    "'solution' to the problem was stupid, thoughtless and painfully out of line with our principles."

    You forgot ironic. The big brother connotations on this scandal makes the whole story somewhat funny even.

  • Three Words (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FudRucker (866063) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:07AM (#28835397)
    used book store
  • Talk is cheap (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Marcika (1003625) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:13AM (#28835427)
    Has Bezos offered anything more material than a free "apology" as compensation for his customers? No? Then any talk of this being "heartfelt and anguished" is just the corporate spin of the issue.

    If Amazon truly wanted to fix their mistake, they would restore the book to the affected Kindles (and work out a deal with the rightholders themselves, maybe).

  • Apology Nothing... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:16AM (#28835449) Journal
    Unless Amazon sees to it that the last thing remotely deleted is their ability to remotely delete, their "apology" is just so much eloquent PR posturing.
  • by Chrisq (894406) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:26AM (#28835519)
    Doublethink. Just get the customers to think that there never was such a book, and that they hadn't read it half way through.
  • by Alethes (533985) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:28AM (#28835529)

    If this is out of line with Amazon's principles, then why does the technology to remotely delete books exist?

  • by retech (1228598) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:30AM (#28835543)
    If you really want to restore faith in your customers how about completely unlocking their kindles and let them decide what they do and do not delete? Or perhaps that's too much heart for Bezos.

    I doubt he'd have a single "heartfelt" thing to say if he wasn't dragged over the hot coals of the net.
  • by zeromorph (1009305) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:34AM (#28835567)

    For me, the "apology" doesn't sound heartfelt at all. It is easily written, doesn't cost much and makes good PR. It may be a smart and cheap move for the CEO, but it doesn't impress me. However, using the word solution - even in quotation marks - is impudent. One could call it "intrusion" or "encroachment" - maybe - but dispossessing people of something they paid for, because you made a mistake is not even near something you could call a "solution".

    I know why I never wanted this DRM-ridden Kindle, now even more than before, but if something like this would happen to me I would be really really pissed.

    When will they ever learn that DRM just means defective by design?

  • by Zombie Ryushu (803103) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:34AM (#28835571)

    Repeat after me: Death to DRM. Terminate all instances of DRM in all cases. The user's content is the user's fair use. Resist DRM until death

  • Re:Talk is cheap (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ErikZ (55491) * on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:41AM (#28835613)

    So you're saying whenever someone jumps on Amazon and starts selling books that they don't own, Amazon has to go replace those books with legit copies?

  • by asifyoucare (302582) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:41AM (#28835621)

    Unless Amazon sees to it that the last thing remotely deleted is their ability to remotely delete, their "apology" is just so much eloquent PR posturing.

    Indeed. They always intended to pull exactly this sort of stunt. Otherwise, why put the functionality in there?

    Jeff 'One-Click' Bezos is just spinning as usual.

  • by mcgrew (92797) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:44AM (#28835647) Homepage Journal

    Once again we see big business showing nothing but disdain for their paying customers. When I was young, AT&T was the only company that acted like this, then the utility companies started, now all these companies act as if they had a monopoly.

    After this, anyone who would buy a kindle or any other DRM infested book reader should have his or her head examined.

  • by MRe_nl (306212) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:44AM (#28835653)

    The statement, from Amazon's Drew Herdener, reads:

            These books were added to our catalog using our self-service platform by a third-party who did not have the rights to the books...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.

    As highlighted by the WSJ, the case draws attention to an expectation gap between real books and their digital counterparts: the latter is simply a license to read the content on your device.

  • by John Hasler (414242) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:50AM (#28835699) Homepage

    I'm sure Mr. Bezos can afford advisors who know that that is the key to "sincerity" and can coach him on how to achieve it.

    However, they still consciously and deliberately designed their system so as to allow them to remove material from Kindle owners' machines without their knowledge or permission. Why would anyone trust a company that would do that? Have they removed that functionality and explained why it was there in the first place?

  • Re:Talk is cheap (Score:5, Insightful)

    by maxwell demon (590494) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:51AM (#28835705) Journal

    If they sold paper copies of books where the publisher didn't have the publishing rights, would they come to every customer who bought the book and take it away?

  • by John Hasler (414242) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:54AM (#28835739) Homepage

    It cannot possibly have been a "brain fart". The decision to design the system so as to make this sort of thing possible has to have been conscious and deliberate. Giving their managers to the power to remove material from your Kindle was clearly a policy decision.

  • Re:Talk is cheap (Score:2, Insightful)

    by geirnord (150896) on Monday July 27, 2009 @08:57AM (#28835769)

    So you're saying whenever someone jumps on Amazon and start selling books they don't own, Amazon has the rights to go to your house, lock themselves in, steal back the illegal copy and leave?

    While none of these solutions are good solution, I thinkreplacing the books would be the most appropriate solution. Since the customers have paid for these books, Amazon (and the vendor who f***ed up) have gotten paid enough to barter a deal with the rights holder to make these copies legal.

  • by blackest_k (761565) on Monday July 27, 2009 @09:03AM (#28835841) Homepage Journal

    Your being too nice about it.

    Amazon has revealed by their actions that they have back doored the kindle, they are able to do what they wish with it and you can't do a thing about it.

    They have violated their customers privacy and made a mockery of the first principle of buying anything if you paid for it its yours not theirs.

    If it was a service that you bought then perhaps it would be almost acceptable , you would generally be able to terminate the contract if you didn't wish to continue.

    At the very least Amazon customers should be able to return the kindle and get a full refund on the kindle and the books they bought. Thats all kindle owners because the sale was a fraud and a complete breach of trust.
    Who knows just what has and can be transmitted from your kindle back to Amazon.

    Sincere apologies don't cut it, Amazon deserve to be sued in court and punitive damages awarded. The only reasonable action would have been for amazon to ask for users to delete the copies, like with any other product recall it is up to the customer to comply or not. Instead Amazon has tipped its hand by demonstrating the control they have over the kindles which are no longer the property of Amazon.

    I don't see how anyone can fail to see how outrageous Amazons actions are.

    The only issue is just what charges apply in a case like this because this is absolutely unheard of.

    What I can't believe is there is not one negative post to Jeff Bezos's apology you would almost think that someone was filtering any incoming posts.

  • by maxwell demon (590494) on Monday July 27, 2009 @09:04AM (#28835849) Journal

    I still can get the content on dead trees. Without DRM.

  • Re:Talk is cheap (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mdwh2 (535323) on Monday July 27, 2009 @09:07AM (#28835879) Journal

    If the same had happened with someone not having the right to print physical books, would they have taken the books back?

    And even if you want to make the receiving stolen goods analogy, the point is that it's the job of the police and courts to do that, not a private company.

    The OP is correct to say talk is cheap. "Oh sorry, I took your book. Btw you're not getting it back". It's not actually an apology.

  • by jamesh (87723) on Monday July 27, 2009 @09:07AM (#28835887)

    A wise person once said "sometimes it is easier to seek forgiveness than permission". I think that we are seeing that phrase in action.

  • by bkr1_2k (237627) on Monday July 27, 2009 @09:09AM (#28835905)

    How does that prevent them from deleting things the next time you go shopping?

    The problem is that they have the ability to do that in the first place.

  • by fridaynightsmoke (1589903) on Monday July 27, 2009 @09:17AM (#28835997) Homepage

    HEY BEZOS: PEOPLE OWN WHAT THEY PAY FOR.

    I just paid a friend a penny for the entire western hemisphere.
    Now GET OFF MY LAND!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 27, 2009 @09:24AM (#28836073)

    I am deeply sorry that you had to realize so soon that we own your ebook-reader, even though you paid for it. My sincerest apologies go to our shareholders.

  • by xjimhb (234034) on Monday July 27, 2009 @09:26AM (#28836101) Homepage

    Maybe because there's little difference in deleting those files and doing an system update?

    Wrong. I expect system updates to affect /bin, /sbin. /usr, /etc, /lib, and so on (or whatever the equivalent for the Kindle are). I DO NOT expect system updates to do ANYTHING to /home, which is where the books should be stored. So a system update procedure that allows it to mess with MY FILES is clearly bug-infested. The Kindle software totally sucks if it can do this.

    And I agree with the comments that say the "apology" is nothing more than lip-service. I will NEVER buy any e-books (or e-anything-else) from Amazon. I may trust them to the extent of buying PAPER books, plastic CDs and DVDs, etc., if they break into my house to take those back I at least have the option of calling the cops!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 27, 2009 @09:43AM (#28836299)

    Amazon were idiots, and Bezos didn't help much. If what you are buying is a license, then the customer bought a license, regardless of whether Amazon had the rights to it or not. Amazon infringed by selling illegal material, not the user. Furthermore, if Amazon doesn't refund, the user likely has the right to go elsewhere to download the material, i.e. if another user has a backup and breaks the delete flag.

    That said, what you just wrote applies to anyone who owns a DVD player or a PC. A PC could use DRM, but many do not. You can play uncrypted video files using the DVD format, but most people buy movies. The Kindle can be and is used without DRM. It's just that most people choose to buy DRM material.

    While I have bought DRM material for my DX, I also do so for the convenience. I read a lot of non-DRM material on my Kindle, using it's browser and (usuable) pdf reader.

    If they take a DRM book away and refund my money, I'd find it annoying, but I'll just buy the print version, or change so when I buy something, I have incentive to download it off the device and look to break the DRM.

  • by syneca (112262) on Monday July 27, 2009 @09:44AM (#28836309)
    Last time I checked, the free market didn't truly exist.
  • by selven (1556643) on Monday July 27, 2009 @09:44AM (#28836315)
    Why is a 60-year-old book so important to our modern culture under someone's copyright control anyway?
  • by rolfwind (528248) on Monday July 27, 2009 @09:49AM (#28836381)

    If you buy an illegal item, it could theoretically be repossessed.

    The police come and take it, with warrant. Not the person who sold it to you - they would be charged with trespassing/theft if they did. And if the police confiscate it, you'll have your day in court if you want it back.

    Amazon isn't the police. It does not have the right to act as if were.

  • by quadrox (1174915) on Monday July 27, 2009 @09:51AM (#28836405)

    what the fuck? seriously?

    How does DRM solve the backup problem and whatever else for me? The ONLY purpose of DRM is to make sure they can deny access to a) pirates b) me, a paying customer WHENEVER THEY WANT.

    There is NO FUCKING BENEFIT to the customer. EVER. Things are not cheaper, they are no easier to access - in fact the opposite is often true.

    The fact that steam does allow you to redownload your purchased digital goods is not because of DRM, but it is simply a service they offer. They could just as well offer it without DRM.

    I know you will be modded insightful soon, but oh my god what a ignorant stance on DRM to have.

  • by RingDev (879105) on Monday July 27, 2009 @10:02AM (#28836521) Homepage Journal

    The right of first sale, The purchaser bought the book in good faith. The seller, who sold illegally can turn over the list of people they sold that book to, and the police can track down all those people and confiscate their kindles while an expert deletes the book from each of them. If the consumers had purchased dead tree copies of the book that Amazon had sold illegally, Amazon would not be allowed to trespass into each person's house and remove the book. So why is it that they are allowed to trespass into our digital property and steal (as in I paid and had it, now I don't) from us?

    Unfortunately, that would be costly and expensive, so instead they just overstep their bounds and deleted the files themselves. While claiming that the customers had only purchased a revocable license to read the content of the book.

    Personally, I'd really like to see some of these cases of license to view content vs sale of property get into a court. Because as it stands now, consumers are on the significantly shorter end of the stick. Heck I'd love to see Congress be proactive, but the odds of that happening are about slim to nil.

    -Rick

  • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Monday July 27, 2009 @10:06AM (#28836601) Homepage Journal

    How does DRM solve the backup problem and whatever else for me? The ONLY purpose of DRM is to make sure they can deny access to a) pirates b) me, a paying customer WHENEVER THEY WANT

    While I agree with this 100% because it is totally accurate and totally to the point...

    There is NO FUCKING BENEFIT to the customer. EVER. Things are not cheaper, they are no easier to access - in fact the opposite is often true.

    I can't agree totally with this. DRM makes content that would otherwise be unavailable in a digital format available, only because some companies refuse to license their content unless it is protected by DRM.

    If you don't like that company's stance, then don't pay for/license their content. Vote with your feet. It's what the free market is all about.

    And now you know why I do not now, and nor will I ever, possess an Amazon Kindle. (Hear me Bezos?)

  • by fooslacker (961470) on Monday July 27, 2009 @10:07AM (#28836607)
    Agreed, except Amazon didn't tell us up front about how far reaching the DRM was and it doesn't affect every book (though it has the potential to do so) so you can't make an informed decision. However after learning of it I refused to buy the DX even though I wanted one for the PDF support so as long as I can get all the info I agree.

    The fact that they have in the past hidden it's capabilities and hide the actual restrictions on any given book until they decide to make them known in rather irritating and abusive ways is what makes it an unfair and limits the ability of the market to find a solution. However having been defrauded once by them I agree and I have refrained from further purchases both physical and Kindle related and am now using my Kindle for the free stuff almost exclusively. Unfortunately I am but one consumer.
  • by TheLink (130905) on Monday July 27, 2009 @10:10AM (#28836639) Journal
    Having the ability is not the main problem.

    They may have the ability. But do they and should they have the legal right to do so?

    Hackers have all sorts of abilities. They have the right to break into their own computers and delete their own data. But it's illegal in most countries for them to do it to other people's computers without permission.

    So in this case:
    1) Are all the Kindles owned by Amazon?
    2) Is it reasonable to consider that the Kindle buyers have given Amazon the permission to do what they did?
    3) Was the content/data illegally sold by Amazon or by someone else?

    If Amazon was just providing a payment service like "Visa/Mastercard" and a shopping mall for shop owners to sell their stuff in, I don't see how that gives Amazon the right to stick their nose in other people's businesses and delete that content, just because it happens to be illegal. Go call the cops, or kickout the shop owners.

    It's a different thing if the customers wanted to return the book for a refund (because somehow due to a screw up the wrong book was downloaded), then Amazon provides a "goods return and refunding" service for the customers and the shopowners to _voluntarily_ use.

    I can hire a locksmith to go break into my house to return a book I took by mistake. But I'd be rather pissed off if the department store gets their guys over to do the same thing when I didn't ask them to.

    Leave the breaking, entering and confiscation to the cops. Then at least we only need to worry about and keep an eye over just one bunch of thugs.

    At the rate things go maybe in the future a General Genetic's franchisee might gene modify your wife, but then General Genetics sends thugs to "downgrade" her because they made a mistake. And go after your kids when they find out you had children - unauthorized reproduction of General Genetic's property.

    So if Amazon has stepped out of line, they need to be smacked for it. You cannot just "leave it to the market", leaving it to the market means those with the most money have the most votes.
  • Re:the cat (Score:2, Insightful)

    by RiotNrrd (35077) on Monday July 27, 2009 @10:20AM (#28836777) Homepage Journal

    I agree. To be honest, I was considering buying one a few weeks ago. I understand the issue from the Amazon side, but I would not feel comfortable spending that much money on a device with such strict digital ties to the manufacturer.

    The problem that I see is that Amazon has tipped their hand - they not only have the ability to remove content remotely but they also have the will to do it.

  • by jayspec462 (609781) on Monday July 27, 2009 @10:21AM (#28836779) Homepage

    But there is one reason why they could have included this that's not evil - so they can give refunds if you click the wrong book. (Which they do.)

    Fine, then. Update the Kindle firmware so that, when a deletion/refund is requested, pop up a message saying, "Amazon wants to delete the title "The Wrong Book" from your Kindle, and issue you a full refund. [Delete and Refund Money] [Do Not Delete]."

    Until Amazon does this, and confirms that there is absolutely no back door to secretly delete purchased books, I will never buy one, and will actively discourage others from doing so. (Three Kindles un-sold so far, Amazon. This apology just doesn't cut it.)

  • There is NO FUCKING BENEFIT to the customer. EVER. Things are not cheaper, they are no easier to access - in fact the opposite is often true.

    I can't agree totally with this. DRM makes content that would otherwise be unavailable in a digital format available, only because some companies refuse to license their content unless it is protected by DRM.

    Your logic is terribly flawed. Let's make an analogy. "Oh, I refuse to give you food unless you become my slave". Would that make slavery good because it would give you food that would otherwise be unavailable to you?

    My point is that you're praising DRM not because it is good in itself, but because you believe that it's necessary for companies to license content. Well, here's the news: It's NOT.

    If you want to bend over to companies and say "Sure, I'll accept DRM just to read my favorite books on electronic format", you're practically giving away your money. What happens if a virus, or some hacker attack on DRM devices erases all your electronic books?

    DRM has no benefit at all. It's a time bomb because it gives companies the means to do what they want to do with the books you have ALREADY purchased. It gives them money, and it jeopardizes your investment.

    And when that happens, and you wonder whatever happened to the first sale doctrine, I'll be reading my paperback copy of 1984 while wondering what has become of the free world.

  • by ajs (35943) <ajs AT ajs DOT com> on Monday July 27, 2009 @10:37AM (#28836999) Homepage Journal

    I can't agree totally with this. DRM makes content that would otherwise be unavailable in a digital format available, only because some companies refuse to license their content unless it is protected by DRM.

    What happens if a virus, or some hacker attack on DRM devices erases all your electronic books?

    Well, that's a problem with electronic media. Lack of DRM would just mean that if you happened to have a friend who also had that book, you could get another copy.

    DRM is a problem because it puts control over your media into the hands of companies who exist to take as much of your money away as possible. I don't begrudge them that goal, but because I'm realistic about it, I'm careful about just how much of my neck I put into the noose.

  • by tedrampart (1247766) on Monday July 27, 2009 @10:43AM (#28837093)

    refund fine, but that should be something the owner of the device would need to consent to at the time, not Amazon arbitrarily deciding for them.

    If I accept the refund policy, then for that instance alone, I'm allowing the service to enter the device and remove the media in exchange for my funds being returned.

  • Principles (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jvkjvk (102057) on Monday July 27, 2009 @10:53AM (#28837239)

    [the] 'solution' to the problem was stupid, thoughtless and painfully out of line with our principles

    Principles aren't something that you talk about, they are something that you do.

    And Amazon certainly stood behind it's principles when it wiped the book, by acting.

    The only thing Amazon is upset about is the backlash from consumers against their actual principles.

    So, they go on to say "oh, no! we REALLY have these different principles, pay no attention to what we actually did".

    You have to wonder if Jeff actually wrote it, or if the PR and marketing departments had their hand in the piece. That would be another "principle" derived from actions. Perhaps a good writing fingerprint program could tell you...

    Regards.

  • If the public is ever going to see and understand what DRM is, and the danger it represents, we need more incidents like this. Especially incidents noteworthy enough to get mainstream media coverage. As things stand now, the average electronic device user has no clue about DRM. Articles and issues like this can hopefully change this... eventually.
  • Bullshit! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MarkvW (1037596) on Monday July 27, 2009 @11:46AM (#28838173)

    If Amazon really cared about their customers, they'd remove the facility that allows them to delete user content from user devices.

    Even the capacity is unthinkable. Amazon is always trying to see just how much invasiveness they can get away with.

    There are other aggregators out there . . .

  • by Asic Eng (193332) on Monday July 27, 2009 @12:54PM (#28839531)
    I think it's not the copyright holders, it's Amazon. They apparently had someone selling something they didn't have the rights to, through their store. In this case they had no choice but to stop the sales. However rather than deleting books they could have:
    • compensated the rights holders for the lost sales (and try to get the money back from the unauthorized publisher)
    • offered the money back to customers
    • offered to exchange the book for the equivalent version from another publisher
    • gone to court and ask for a court order that the "illegal" copies should be deleted from customer devices

    They really had no right to play police.

  • by Shagg (99693) on Monday July 27, 2009 @01:08PM (#28839777)

    No. Continuing infringement would have been if Amazon continued to sell the eBook to other customers. They were already liable for the existing copies that were sold/distributed. Deleting those copies did not remove their liability. That infringement already occurred.

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