Kindle Censorship

I usually write about change here. Today, I’m writing about how ‘change’ and ‘staying the same’ have become . . . indistinguishable. Welcome to the world of Kindle Censorship.

Last week, people who use Amazon’s popular Kindle eBook readers, and who happen to have bought George Orwell’s 1984 or Animal Farm got an incredibly rude surprise. The books were gone.

The irony is delicious. Nothing remotely OK about Amazon deleting the content off your Kindle, but the fact that it was Orwell  . . . just amazing. Now let’s move on to the big question: What’s UP?

I see two big questions:

  1. What does this mean technically?
  2. Why are they taking my stuff!!??!! Kindle Censorship? REALLY?

The second question is easy: Amazon discovered that the company that had made the books available didn’t have the right to do so, and they (correctly) pulled the plug on the books. By “correctly”,  I mean that they needed to discontinue sales.

The first makes my head spin, though: What’s next, police standing at my door demanding that I hand over my things?

While that would be worse—I think—I’m not being dramatic. Amazon has reached inside all the Kindles that held the books in question and taken them back. Because they had what amounted to police power.

To be fair they’ve promised not to do Kindle Censorship again, but here’s the deal: While you do not own the words in the documents you download to your Kindle, you DO own the files in which they reside, and the device holding the files. Amazon didn’t care. They trespassed. Period.

“Big deal”? “No harm”? “They returned my money so I don’t really care”? Sure. But what if you were writing a report on one of the books they deleted, or using a book as a source for something, had taken notes (which are YOURS, not Amazon’s, not the book’s authors, nobody but yours) and those notes went away along with the book?

Kindle Censorship

Now take it to another scary place: what if Amazon, through this “power”, decides to get into the book censoring business?

See my point?

Sadly, there’s little to nothing you can do about this, other than continue to do all your work on and from paper. And of course if you’re that person you aren’t reading this. But there’s one thing you can do, and you must: manage your own expectations of how your “stuff” works, or hire someone  to manage it for you.

World change, you change, too. Done deal.


UPDATE, September 4 2009:

Amazon has made good on the issue (albeit a bit late if your research was for work due before now). Here’s the letter that has just gone out to Kindle Owners who had downloaded the Orwell books 1984 and Animal Farm and had them deleted:


On July 23, 2009, Jeff Bezos, our Founder and CEO, made the following apology to our customers:

“This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our “solution” to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we’ve received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,

Jeff Bezos
Founder & CEO”

As you were one of the customers impacted by the removal of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” from your Kindle device in July of this year, we would like to offer you the option to have us re-deliver this book to your Kindle along with any annotations you made. You will not be charged for the book. If you do not wish to have us re-deliver the book to your Kindle, you can instead choose to receive an electronic gift certificate or check for $30.

Please email Kindle customer support at to indicate your preference. If you prefer to receive a check, please also provide your mailing address.

We look forward to hearing from you.


The Kindle Team

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