Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Kindle Flack

There have been so many reports and debates about the Kindle debacle in the news. I saw an interesting one on Slate and responded with this comment:

"Some interesting comments, and while I think Amazon made a huge mistake here, I think there is an important thing to note here.

Artists deserve to be paid, if they want to be. Whether this is a book, music, a movie, software, etc. If they set a price, whether you want to call it piracy or theft, it's a criminal act to take their work for your own use. I think copyright is ridiculous, and as an author, I think the original 14+14 years was plenty.

In this case, ultimately Amazon did the right thing, but the wrong way. They did not await a court decision, which is what should have happened. In that case, a recall would be warranted. Read the laws on stolen property. Police can come into your house and repossess things. They just won't for a CD, but they will for a car. In the case of books which are sold (it has happened), a recall is issued, but often people don't comply, and the police haven't enforced it because of resources.

Ultimately I think Amazon failed, and broke trust because they

a) acted as judge and enforced

b) did not properly inform consumers

c) did not give them a choice. They sell legal copies. They could have informed consumers this was an issue and they'd like to either refund, or replace with a real copy (at Amazon expense), or wait for a court order, at which point they'd have to just remove the content.

I'm not sure how I want the world to work here. It fundamentally scares me that a court could repossess something I've paid for because I purchased stolen property. However the moral fiber of my character says that I shouldn't be condoning, or supporting the fencing of illegal works, if I can. "

I've read so many articles and discussions about this issue over the last week, and it's amazing to me how differently so many people view this. There seem to be 3 camps on this issue that I've seen.

  1. People believe Amazon did what they needed to do
  2. People believe that Amazon acted too quickly, but the end result makes sense
  3. People believe that no crime was committed

I fall into the second camp. This was a result of pirated works, and having them is a criminal issue. The issue of Amazon and DRM, and their actions is a problem, but the end result is that they should not have been selling these works.

What if this happens with Windows software? It has, and often because of the scale, the pirate can't make restitution to their customers, who would have to then purchase legal copies of Windows. The same thing happens with music, DVDs, etc.

What's scary about the Amazon story is that we have a wired platform, where essentially the seller has a semi-permanent connection to the consumer, and can affect the terms of sale, post-sale. Meaning that they can not only recall the product, but they can make changes to the content you purchased.

In most cases this would be nice, getting "patches" that fixed your software, corrected typos, etc. But that convenience also means that they can later censor your content as well if the language weren't deemed to be appropriate.

Imagine that happening with a movie you'd purchased, what if a scene were deleted because of some objectionable content? What if your software were changed, err, never mind, that happens now.

There is tremendous power and efficiency from having a vendor of some sort be able to automatically push services to you and update their product, but there's also a serious danger for abuse as well.

How would I want this to work? I have no idea, but I think we have some fundamental issues that we need to work through over time, and some laws to govern how this can be handled. I'm not sure that I trust any particular business to do the right thing.

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