Thomas Crampton

Social Media in China and across Asia

Amazon’s forced buyback of purchased books

Jul 18, 2009

Amazon’s mass deletion of Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from Kindle readers yesterday infuriated everyone who had purchased the books.

One reader lost his notes taken while reading the book in the deletion, thus accused Amazon of stealing his intellectual property:

Justin Gawronski, a 17-year-old from the Detroit area, was reading “1984” on his Kindle for a summer assignment and lost all his notes and annotations when the file vanished. “They didn’t just take a book back, they stole my work,” he told The New York Times.

Those deleted were refunded, but the ability to remotely remove and refund the purchase of a book is so 1984-ish that the irony screams aloud.

“Once I buy a book from Barnes & Noble, I never have to worry about them breaking into my house and taking it back, leaving me a pile of singles on my nightstand,” said one blogger.

In the future, alteration or deletion of e-books could become a great Orwellian form of government control.

There are, however, rebel voices. Ever vigilant on copyright issues, BoingBoing-er expired on Orwell’s books so they can get free un-stealable electronic copies.

As for Orwell, he is one of my favorite writers, in particular his essays “Shooting an Elephant” is poetry disguised as prose and “Politics and the English Language” includes the best list of writing tips I’ve ever seen:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable.

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