The Scientific Indian

Do you think you ought to ‘own’ your digital content the same way you own material content? Take ebooks from Amazon stored in the Kindle. Recently, Amazon snuck into users Kindle and removed a book with questionable copyright (the book is 1984, feel free to laugh with irony). Pogue writes: “As one of my readers noted, it’s like 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.”

This is a PR disaster for Amazon and they have recognized how offended consumers are.

You’ll recognize this debacle goes back to the fundamental problem with all digital things: you can make any number of copies of Digital content at zero cost. Contrast this with material content. You can’t make a copy of a paper book without spending atleast as much as you did buying the original. So, there is a built-in protection for content creators and publishers with this sort of material content. They can invest in the production and distribution mechanisms knowing that they can be profitable, provided they have a good product to sell.

That said, it is absolutely essential that we do not tie things – digital or otherwise – down to a mechanism that is unimaginative and unworkable in the long run. For why DRM as it is now is unworkable, I recommend a quick read of the a. hole problem. Copyrights and DRM is here to stay as long as there is money involved. That’s the way the world is (atleast the world of Adam Smith). We need to have better implementations of Rights that are not beholden to organizations like MPAA and RIAA, otherwise the world is going to end (ok, maybe not, but it’ll suck more and more). You can’t lend your ebook in Kindle, nor can you sell them when you don’t want it anymore. This goes against the very grain of market economy. It is stupid and it will hurt all sellers like Amazon. You can’t count on customer loyalty if you are being an asshole. DRM’s back is easily broken. All the current implementations only make it harder for legitimate consumers to buy and use the things they want.


  1. #1 dab
    July 18, 2009

    I prefer digital content for its reduced environmental footprint, which has side benefits such as having no more useless CDs piling up on my shelves after being ripped.

    If I want rid of the CDs, wouldn’t I have to delete my digital copies? (I’d prefer to sell the former, really!)

    It gets more complicated: Artists get no income from second-hand sales, while digital delivery could generate more revenue by ensuring each listener pays, perhaps enticed by lower prices (due to overheads). This may be somewhat moot, due to digital sales’ lower royalties.

    Anyway, you’d think Amazon would have seen that coming.

  2. #2 Katherine
    July 19, 2009

    The thing in this particular situation is that the e-book by different publishers was still available, so Amazon could have just replaced the copies they wanted to remove with one by a different publisher.

    This doesn’t really affect the greater problem though, which is that once you have bought something, it ought to stay bought. Licence agreements these days pretty much give the buyer no rights, and this ought to change. But I doubt it will while people are willing to click anything to get what they want straight away, and only complain about this sort of thing after the fact. I’m guilty of this in the extreme too.

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