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No Sense Of Belonging

Publication Date: 
January 06, 2010
Independent Extra
Simon Usborne

Visiting professor Jonathan Zittrain's book The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It is quoted in this article on ownership of digital books:

Justin Gawronski, a 17-year-old American student living outside Detroit, had spent several weeks studying George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four when, one morning last July, Amazon ate his homework. He woke up and switched on his Kindle electronic reader only to watch the copy of the dystopian novel he had bought three months earlier disappear. "I was quite upset the moment it happened," Gawronski recalls in an email. "I certainly never expected something that I bought and thought I owned could be taken away from me so easily."

Gawronski wasn't the only victim of what would become known among some outraged bloggers as the "Kindle swindle". When Amazon realised copies of two Orwell books - Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm - had been added to the Kindle store by a company that did not have rights to them, it removed the books and hit the delete button. Next time users who had bought a copy logged on to Whispernet, the wireless service through which Amazon delivers all its e-books, their copies self-destructed. Customers commenting on online forums had previously reported the disappearance of digital editions of the Harry Potter books and the works of Ayn Rand over similar issues.


In The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain raises the spectre of some future government censor: "Imagine a world in which all copies of once-censored books like Candide, The Call of the Wild, and Ulysses had been permanently destroyed at the time of the censoring and could not be studied or enjoyed after subsequent decision-makers lifted the ban."


Zittrain says the law needs to catch up with the technology to prevent a scenario in which "a court-ordered change at Google could affect every participating library and consumer's version of the book". He adds in an email: "Devices like the Kindle and services like Google Books ought to be designed so that people can back up a copy of a work that places it beyond the reach of the vendor, and anyone who might order the vendor around."