Monday, October 22, 2012

Outlawed by Amazon DRM

Martin Bekkelund (via Hacker News):

A couple of days a go, my friend Linn sent me an e-mail, being very frustrated: Amazon just closed her account and wiped her Kindle. Without notice. Without explanation. This is DRM at [its] worst.

See also this post in the Kindle Help Forum.

Update (2012-10-22): Jonathan Rentzsch:

Fortunately Apple’s iTMS DRM dog never barked. But after today’s Amazon Ebook controversy I decided it’s time to share my similar Amazon Ebook Insurance Policy[…]

Update (2012-10-24): Cathrine Elnan and Olsson Svein (via David Heinemeier Hansson):

But on Monday night, after a number of websites had written about the case, the account was restored and the 30-40 books that Nygaard was available again. […] IT consultant has not yet received any explanation or apology from the company. She believes the massive attention to the Amazon has helped to get the matter resolved.

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The worse of all this is that circumventing DRM is illegal now in many countries.

What about just buying the real book?

I've never heard of someone being able to remotely wipe a printed version of a book.

"The worse of all this is that circumventing DRM is illegal now in many countries."

De facto or de jure?

I know that nobody is allowed to monetize circumventing DRM, but in the wake of the DVD Jon case, it seems as if not a single person has been prosecuted for circumventing DRM for individual purposes, or for publishing code that circumvents DRM in a way where no money changes hands.

In other words, circumventing DRM for individual purposes seems to be de facto legal, at least in the US. (Things could be different in other countries, but I haven't heard of any such cases, though I don't follow the international legal scene as closely as I do the US.)

In short, the law isn't going to come after Rentzsch for what he's doing. Neither is the law going to come after the folks publishing the tools he uses. The DVD Jon legal precedent is pretty crucial here.


Those concerns aside, Amazon obviously needs to do some clean up here. The only reason to purchase Amazon media is confidence that this kind of situation won't arise. I've always had a good deal of confidence in Amazon, and I'm certainly hoping they'll get this cleaned up.

It's one thing to shut down an account for future activity. If rules really were broken, I've got no quarrel with them doing so. But it's a completely different thing to shut down an account in such a way that destroys previous legitimate purchases.

Amazon needs to publicly explain.

@Bob To my surprise, I found that I enjoy reading on a Kindle more than on paper.

@Chucky Yes, this is strange. You would think that Amazon would be trying to maintain their reputation. Right now I trust them more than Apple (to allow me to access “my” content going forward), but the character of that customer service interaction is worrying.

@Chucky: In the US, it is not only illegal, it is criminal. Laws in other countries will vary.

From Wikipedia:

> It criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures (commonly known as digital rights management or DRM) that control access to copyrighted works. It also criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself.

That said, I agree is unenforceable in general, and very rarely enforced against individuals. And enforcing it would probably backfire at some level. But it remains illegal, and a law that makes everyone a criminal and is enforced selectively at the whim of the government is not very far from the arbitrary.

As for the DVD Jon case, it was in Norway, and don't think Norway had a DRM law at the time. I'm not sure it has one right now, and if it has one it probably only forbid circumvention when the intent is copyright infringement (the minimal requirement of WIPO treaties). But I'd have to double-check on that.

"That said, I agree is unenforceable in general, and very rarely enforced against individuals."

My whole point is that, AFAIK, the above word "rarely" should be replaced by "never".

AFAIK, DVD Jon, ten years ago, was the last time the law anywhere has tried to go after either an individual using decryption for personal purposes, or someone publishing decryption code in a non-monetary way.

So, again AFAIK, everyone involved in Rentzsch-ish practices is doing something de facto legal.

"But it remains illegal, and a law that makes everyone a criminal and is enforced selectively at the whim of the government is not very far from the arbitrary."

It's a sticky wicket.

I actually think restricting the means of monetizing decryption has some reasonably sound logic to it.

So, being that there is an active legal consensus to create a psuedo-'fair use' protection around non-monetized decryption, then we have a reasonably sensible regime of what's de facto legal that's lasted almost a decade. And since everyone knows what's de facto legal, it's not really arbitrarily enforced.

I fully agree with you that it's not an optimal solution because that 'fair use' exemption isn't spelled out in the law. The DMCA is atrociously written in several different ways and should be rewritten. But as long as long as the current consensus holds - aka until the next DVD Jon - I'm not too worried about the issue. Especially since I think there is good reason for the current consensus to hold.

@Michael Because you can read it from more places? Personally, I would miss my shelves of books.

@Bob The Kindle is more comfortable to hold, and I like being able to highlight, add notes, and search.

@Michael Tsai - on what basis do you trust Amazon more? Do we have any examples of Apple actually "Amazoning" someone like this poor woman?

I'm the customer to Apple, not advertisers like Google and to a lesser (but still significant) extent, Amazon. Apple has been the only major company to publicly criticize DRM - and if someone else has now, they certainly were the first. Apple doesn't need DRM or artificial "lock in" that is often argued. Mainly because they focus on the ENTIRE user experience. Their products as a whole make people want to seek them out, not just because content is locked to their devices.

Nope, they aren't perfect but every experience I have had with Apple is light years ahead of any other company - including the faceless wall that can be Amazon if you have an issue.

@EricE Well, Apple has removed apps from their store, which is pretty much equivalent to deleting people’s purchases. They’ve done this not only for previously approved third-party apps that they decided they didn’t like, but also for first-party apps such as Texas Hold’em. Even though I purchased it, I can no longer download it (even for my old iPhone).

But I was thinking more broadly than just DRM. Apple has a poor track record regarding the longevity of your online content: various Web and photo hosting pages have been shut down. Plus MobileMe Sync Services and iDisk. Could you imagine the Amazon equivalent, e.g. shutting down S3?

iBooks notes and annotations are confined to iOS, whereas the Kindle ones are available on the Mac, Windows, Android, and even the Web. So regardless of whether they need lock in, Apple has chosen that path.

Amazon support has been very good in my experience. Apple customer support has been hit or miss. I’ve had good experiences, but there have been enough really horrible ones that I dread calling Apple. My last experience with AppleCare dragged on for months; I gave up and bought a new Mac because it didn’t seem like Apple was ever going to fix it. Several of the support staff refused to believe that there was even a problem, despite the fact that Apple’s own knowledge base had a page for it.

Yes, Amazon is very good... until it gets very bad. Amazon blocked my account as well, leaving me without access to many of my MP3s.

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