Amazon Deletes George Orwell Books in Orwellian Move

Big Brother
Big Brother

Earlier on this blog, George Orwell was featured for Good Kindle Books at a Glance. If you downloaded the Kindle edition of either 1984 or Animal Farm, I hope you have gotten the chance to read and finish it because Amazon has remotely deleted the books from your Kindle.

Based on what has happened with Orwell’s books, Amazon’s policies seems to be this:  if a publisher changes their mind about offering an electronic version, all downloaded copies of the book have to be retroactively deleted, without any warning to or permission from the owner.  You have to wonder if Amazon saw the irony in doing this with 1984.

Having worked in eBook/book digitization industry myself I can say that book copyrights are complex and messy and publishers try to hold on to their rights with any means possible. Fines for violating copyrights are substantial. Therefore such unfortunate incidents are unavoidable.

To be fair I’ll note that of course Amazon has refunded the price of the books that were remotely deleted.

15 thoughts on “Amazon Deletes George Orwell Books in Orwellian Move”

  1. I wish legislation would pass that would treat ebooks more as physical books to keep things like this from happening. I don’t want to buy the rights to read a book, I want to buy the book. Also, being able to transfer books to other readers would be nice. :)

    Just doesn’t seem fair to the consumer that the publisher can decided if a machine can read to the owner or can pull books you bought right out of your machine with no warning. Where are the rights of the consumer???

  2. I was one of the individuals that had bought the Orwell collection (which included Animal Farm and 1984). I got an email from Amazon yesterday stating:


    We have recently refunded your purchase of Works of George Orwell. Includes Animal Farm – Nineteen eighty-four (1984) – The Road to Wigan Pier – Coming up for Air – Burmese Days – 50 essays and more.. This book was 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 refunded previous customers.

    We are working with the authorized rights holder to make this title available in our store very soon. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

    So it was more of a case of the publisher not having a valid right to publish those books in the first place, rather than a publisher changing their minds. Either way, I wasn’t a fan of having a book I purchased removed from my Kindle without so much as a notification on the Kindle itself.

  3. As much as I love my Kindle, incidents like this make it hard to defend the eBook business model. If I buy a book, it appears that I don’t REALLY own it, if it can be taken away from me at any given time…

    I understand the copyright issue, but rather than deleting all copies from people who had already purchased the book, why not just make it unavailable anymore? It just doesn’t seem right

  4. honestly, i’ve appreciated this blog a lot in the past, but it is extremely disappointing to me that you posted accusations without ever attempting to get the facts right. amazon did *not* remove the book because the publisher changed their mind. they changed it because the person who put the book for sale didn’t have rights to put the book up for sale.

    i see that a number of your commenters were willing to point out the correct facts, but you haven’t done anything to update the post. as a result, anyone who reads this post without looking at comments (perhaps in a feed-reader, or perhaps just not a fan of reading blog comments) will be misinformed about what happened.

  5. “Reach out and pull stuff off your virtual shelves” is frightening and appalling, theoretically. And that’s as close to “practically” as we’ll hopefully ever get.

    But imagine this: if a digital bookseller were to someday be co-opted for political reasons, and climates were to change considerably, what would happen to your copies of works deemed…subversive to the regime in power?

    How would you feel about Amazon keeping retractable track of the titles you read, for whatever reason? What would that list do to you, were it to become public, in a more hostile cultural environment?

    There’s a long, long history of key works of fiction, discourse, and philosophy, being guarded and disseminated in times of both plenty and repression. Digital deletion without so much as a by-your-leave is an interesting opportunity to rethink the blessings of this wondrous tech.

    What has Amazon done?

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  7. I’ve published the story based on the best information that was available to me at the time. And if you read my post carefully you’ll see that I don’t accuse anyone (I don’t do it in general too). The information in the post was incomplete – true. Now with comments it’s complete.

  8. There’s nothing preventing Kindle users from making backup copies of all books that they purchase in places where Amazon can’t delete them.

    It’s true that currently digital book is a trade off when you give up some ownership but gain some convenience.

    Information ownership is relatively new area and it’s by no way perfect. Perhaps it’s time for reverse DMCA that would actually protect consumers and gurantee information ownership for life even in cases when company that sold the digital media goes bankrupt. Perhaps some sort of mandatory insurance that all information vendors would have to pay that would cover the costs of making the DRMed information available to rightful owners when company selling it goes broke.

    Also I would like to remind you that paper books aren’t indestructible either.

    As for someone keeping track of what books you read I wouldn’t worry about it in the first time. ISPs already keep track of what you search for and what websites you visit, etc. It’s a new age out there with new good and evils.

    Would you ban automobiles based on the fact that many people die in car accidents on a daily basis.

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  10. I don’t buy your response that the comments make your post complete. You and your source – evidently a superficially researched (no surprise) New York Times piece – have posted information that is not merely incomplete, but factually inaccurate. I only looked at the comments because I knew you were off-base, and wondered if you knew it yet.

    You have an obligation to the truth to put a correction on the first page, not to hide it in the comments.

    Since your reporting is unreliable, and since you don’t care to correct your mistakes,you are unworthy of any reader’s trust. So your blog is off my bookmarks, and off my iPhone.

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