You Thought You Were Buying E-books – Think Again

Thought You Were Buying Ebooks

What do you really own when it comes to technology and buying e-books?

Do you own ebooks you buy?

Well, from the story about a Kindle owner having her Kindle wiped clean by Amazon, and her account closed, it would seem the answer is that you do not own ebooks.

The disturbing part of the story is that so far Amazon has yet to explain why this was done, other than that it was for as yet unspecified violations to its terms of service.

So buying e-books clearly means that you do not own them.

Obviously, though, this example makes it perfectly clear that when you buy an ebook from Amazon, you don’t really buy it.

You borrow it or rent it.

I did a check to make sure, and yes, when you select an ebook from the Amazon Kindle Store it says, ‘Buy Now With 1-Click‘.

Well, that can’t be true. Anything that can be taken back without warning is not really bought.

I don’t want to go into the ins and outs of this particular case of a wiped Kindle, but it does make one wonder about what we own and what we don’t own when it comes to technology.

I have two iPads and use one for work and one at home.

Could they be wiped remotely if I unwittingly break Apple’s Terms of Service?

Perhaps this could be the case with the programs I have purchased for my laptop.

The real problem as I see it is with these Terms of Service agreements, which we all read before agreeing to, right?

Then even if we do actually read them and agree, they can be changed at any time without notice.

The Amazon Kindle Terms of Use agreement you enter when you use a Kindle is well worth a read if you haven’t bothered before.

It was more than likely updated again this week.

Of course, you are never notified about these updates, so good luck in knowing if you are breaking the (new) rules.

The most telling line in this agreement is this one:

Changes to Service. We may modify, suspend, or discontinue the Service, in whole or in part, at any time.

So have fun reading your borrowed Kindle ebooks. While Amazon lets you.

I’m off to grab my fully owned paperback copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. It’s a bit tattered, but it’s mine.

As an addendum to this, it is also worthwhile noting that if you self-publish through any of the online providers or distributors, you will usually find this same nasty Changes to Service clause referring to the publication of the ebooks or POD books you have published.

They may modify, suspend, or discontinue the Service, in whole or in part, at any time.

But, of course, you read all of the conditions, didn’t you?

More reading: What is DRM?

Derek Haines

A Cambridge CELTA English teacher and author with a passion for writing and all forms of publishing. My days are spent teaching English and writing, as well as testing and taming new technology.

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