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There's a knock on the door.
You answer it and, as you prepare to greet the visitor, he muscles is way past you, walks down the hall into your living room, collects up all your books into a large sack and walks out, handing you a small sealed envelope as he leaves.
Before you even open the envelope, you recognise the thief as the kind-faced old man from the bookstore down the road. Over the years you've bought many titles from this gentleman who, until now, always seemed like a gentle, honest, affable fellow. Yet he's just forced his way past you and stolen all the books you bought from him over those years.
You reach for the phone and dial 111.
"Hello, Police please, I'd like to report a robbery"
No doubt the police would pay the old man a visit and, in light of his actions, probably arrest him on charges of theft.
Unless of course, the books were e-books, the old bookseller was Amazon and the theft was done over the Internet.
In that case, or so it would seem, your books would be gone and you'd have no recourse.
What was in that little envelope Amazon handed you on the way out of the door with your precious ebooks tucked under its arm?
Well it's a reminder that you don't actually *own* an ebook, you merely purchase a license to read it. What's more, if you violate the terms and conditions of your relationship with Amazon, they have the right to withdraw any and all licenses you've paid for -- effectively wiping your account and your Kindle clean.
According to reports in the media today this is exactly what happened to a Norwegian woman who discovered to her horror that Amazon had looted her Kindle, wiped her account and was pretty much unwilling to talk about the whole issue.
It's rather ironic that I find myself writing this column, just days after I wrote another extolling the virtue of e-publishing. Maybe I'll change my mind now. Perhaps actions like this on the part of Amazon will deter many from buying ephemeral e-editions of any book.
While I can understand Amazon's right to close someone's account for whatever reason, I find it unbelievable that they can unilaterally cancel the "license to read" that someone has bought and paid for. This is, as I intimated at the start of this column, the cyber-equivalent of having your library of books or CDs repossessed without compensation.
This action is apparently enforced via the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a rather nasty piece of work that I have no doubt will have many of its draconian provisions foisted on Kiwis as part of the TPPA.
And what was the breach of T&C that prompted Amazon to delete the contents of this woman's Kindle without compensation and close her account?
Well it seems she used a friend's address in the UK when signing up for the account.
Why did she do that?
Simply because Amazon, like so many other publishers, seeks to extend a vise-like grip on the content it sells and implements ridiculous restrictions on the availability of many titles based solely on a person's geographic location.
I fear that Amazon and the publishing industry in general will soon discover to their cost that, just like the movie and music publishers, Net users will not tolerate this kind of stupidity and artificial segmentation of cyberspace.
One of the leading drivers of piracy in the area of movies and TV programmes is the silly attempts by publishers to implement phased releases of their product into different geographical zones. They're already paying the price for this folly by massively increased levels of illegal distribution of their wares.
This isn't the 1970s -- people no longer have to wait or go without. The Net makes it very simple to side-step these types of artificial borders and, I fear, book publishers are about to discover exactly the same thing.
Publishers also ought to realise that they are no longer "in control" of distribution and retail in this sector. While the likes of Amazon may presently enjoy a position of power -- over the coming years, the distribution of e-books, music and independent video content will evolve so as to remove "the middle man". Amazon seems to be working very hard to ensure that the timeframes involved before it also becomes redundant are very short.
What do readers think?
Would you buy an e-book from Amazon in light of this latest revelation?
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