Deja Vu - Kindle and the Right to Read

In February 1997 Richard Stallman published “The Right to Read” in the Communications of the ACM. The piece is a short science fiction story about two students in 2047 who run the risk of jail by surreptitiously trading e-books on their computer.

This put Dan in a dilemma. He had to help her—but if he lent her his computer, she might read his books. Aside from the fact that you could go to prison for many years for letting someone else read your books, the very idea shocked him at first. Like everyone, he had been taught since elementary school that sharing books was nasty and wrong—something that only pirates would do.

Just a couple of days ago Amazon deleted digital copies of 1984 and Animal Farm from customer Kindle’s at the request of the publisher.

Stephen Downes has a good collection of links about the incident.

The Wall Street Journal had a good quote from Peter Brantley, director of the Internet Archive, about the fiasco.

“In essence, Kindle is licensing you access to the book,” said Peter Brantley, director of the San Francisco-based Internet Archive, a non-profit digital library. “It is a purchase, but you are actually not owning the book in the same way that you go to the book store and own it.”

But digital books–especially if they’re sold as part of access to a networked system such as Amazon’s Kindle Store and Google’s online books collection–don’t necessarily fall under those same rules. “We have not matured our understanding of copyright to work in a digital environment in way that provides a set of protections and meets people’s expectations for how we use digital content,” said Brantley.

Now that last bit is a great bit of understatement.