You Don’t Own Your Kindle Books

[responsive]Kindle_books[/responsive]Lynn Jordet Nygaard learned the hard way that the e-books she purchased through Amazon are, in the strict legal sense, not really hers.

Nygaard’s case was documented in 2012, and covered by Joe Johnson of NBC News. The article was reprinted in Gizmodo, and it’s a good reminder to all of us about the ownership of digital property.

Amazon’s purchase agreement is vaguely worded and subjectively enforced. But the bottom line is this: Amazon reserves the right to keep you from your digital purchases, according to Johnson, who cites the company’s response to the customer in this case:

“Per our Conditions of Use which state in part: and its affiliates reserve the right to refuse service, terminate accounts, remove or edit content, or cancel orders at their sole discretion.”

Remove or edit content? Content we have bought and paid for?

While we don’t know (and apparently neither does Nygaard) exactly what she did to warrant this reversal, it should give all of us pause as to what we are legally purchasing.

“Nygaard’s little dust-up with Amazon isn’t, in and of itself, a big deal,” writes Johnson.

“But it serves as a bitter reminder that we don’t ever truly own the digital goods and software we buy online. Instead, we rent them, or hold them in a sort of long-term lease, the terms of which are brokered and policed exclusively by the leaseholder,” he continues.

“The core issue might actually be a simple matter of semantics: when we click a digital button that is labelled ‘buy,’ we expect that we’re actually buying something. But we’re not buying anything, we’re licensing it,” Johnson continues.

He notes that the Supreme Court ruled that the first-sale doctrine does not apply to software — or e-books. “Or apps. Nor pretty much everything you ‘buy’ online that doesn’t get shipped to your home in a cardboard box.”

We agree with Johnson when he declares that if the courts are going to allow companies to reserve rights of ownership on digital goods, they should be made to be more transparent about what is sold…or licensed, as the case seems to be.

“And it will probably take a lawsuit or legislative action to force Amazon to speak truthfully about the transactions, if only because it changes the perceived value in a customer’s mind: $15 to rent a file that contains a book that can be taken away from you at any time, without explanation or recourse, starts to sound a little expensive,” Johnson notes.