Amazon Deleted Norwegian Womans Kindle Content Raising Questions About Digital Rights Management and Content Ownership

Amazon’s Kindle products. (Photo: AP/Toby Talbot)

For a woman who travels a lot, you might imagine the convenience of having an e-reader to store a wealth of books while taking up minimal space in one’s carry on. Linn was just this sort of woman. Now imagine her surprise when she got a message from Amazon that her account had been closed and her Kindle wiped of all its content.

So the story goes, as explained by Martin Bekkelund — a tech and media commentator –  on his blog. Bekkelund wrote that Linn is a friend who sent him an email regarding her situation.

The Norwegian woman emailed Amazon whose Executive of Customer Relations Michael Murphy sent her a message back that read:

We have found your account is directly related to another which has been previously closed for abuse of our policies. As such, your Amazon.co.uk account has been closed and any open orders have been cancelled.

Per our Conditions of Use which state in part: Amazon.co.uk and its affiliates reserve the right to refuse service, terminate accounts, remove or edit content, or cancel orders at their sole discretion.

Linn responded saying she found this message confusing and that she only had one account using Amazon.com not co.uk. Still, Murphy’s response was essentially that her information had been reviewed and that “[we] regret to inform you that it will not be reopened.”

“I appreciate this is not the outcome you hoped for and apologise for any disappointment this may cause,” Murphy ended.

Unsatisfied still, Linn sent a clarifying email in which she made an effort to confirm what Amazon was not willing or able to tell her about exactly why her account was closed. Murphy’s response was still ambiguous.

Adding a bit of a sting to the woman who had purchased many items for her Kindle using Amazon, Murphy wrote “We wish you luck in locating a retailer better able to meet your needs and will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on these matters.”

Bekkulund explained that “Linn is outlawed by Amazon.” He called this a case of digital rights management (DRM), which he has written about extensively in the past. He wrote that in this case if Amazon thinks you did something unlawful, they take away your content. He then said if you disagree with them, then you become completely outlawed.

Be sure to see the full correspondence between Linn an Amazon’s executive here.

Here’s what really happened to cause Linn to be outlawed, according to Computer World UK , which caught up with her:

Linn lives in Norway, where Amazon does not operate (Amazon.no redirects to the Amazon Europe page). She bought a Kindle in the UK, liked it and read a number of books on it. She then gave that Kindle to her mother, and bought a used Kindle on a Danish classifieds site to which she transferred her account. She has been happily reading on it for some time, purchasing her books with a Norwegian address and credit card. She told me she’d read 30 or 40 books on it.

Sadly, the device developed a fault (actually a second time, it was also replaced in 2011 for the same reason) and started to display black lines on the screen (something I’ve heard from other friends as it happens). She called Amazon customer service, and they agreed to replace it if she returned it, although they insisted on shipping the replacement to a UK address rather to her in Norway.

So although Linn’s account wasn’t erased without reason, Computer World UK’s Simon Phipps calls this reasoning “just as bad.”

This case has been generating discussion on forums like Reddit, as well as other news sites and tech blogs.

According to Amazon’s terms of use, “Kindle Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider.” It states that “Risk of loss for Kindle Content transfers when you download or access the Kindle Content.”

Mathew Ingram on the tech site GigaOm called this “a healthy reminder of how with ebooks, we have very little actual control over something we have theoretically purchased and own.”

Phipps went on to write that while, in theory, Linn is prevented from having “freedom of choice” as to what device she reads on, even if the books were legally downloaded.

Since the Web flurry of comments regarding this story, Phipps reported Linn saying her account has been reactivated and Amazon’s public relations department has said “account status should not affect any customer’s ability to access their library.”

But the moral of the story still stands as observed in Amazon’s own terms of use. The content is “licensed,” and as Ingram puts it “we are merely renting it, or paying for access to it under a specific set of circumstances.”

(H/T: Reddit)