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Amazon Reserves the Right to Steal from You

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Deleting books from Kindles under cover of night gets retailer into hot water.

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On Sunday, TorrentFreak leaked a very interesting quote from an upcoming SCMagazine article on digital rights security.

Jonathan Lamy -- chief spokesperson for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) -- summarized the organization's current view of digital rights management (or DRM). In an almost insultingly casual tone, Lamy dismissed the years of work and billions of dollars the group has spent enforcing the system, saying "DRM is dead, isn't it?"

I don't know, Jon. You tell us.

Apple (AAPL) may have removed DRM-crippled music from its iTunes Store in January 2009 -- thereby allowing audio files to be freely exchanged and accessed -- but video content still bears the mark of the beast.

Wal-Mart's
(WMT) hilariously botched attempt to remove DRM from its online store last year left customers -- and their already DRM-addled music collections -- completely in the lurch.

And Microsoft's (MSFT) Zune? The less said about the prohibitive terms one those "unlimited" downloads offered by Zune Pass, the better.

While the current state of DRM in music can only be described as vegetative, it certainly isn't dead. But for other digital media, there's no question that it's alive and kicking.

Two days before Lamy's obituary for DRM was made public, Amazon (AMZN) deleted 2 e-book titles off customer's Kindles without any warning. A dispute over the publisher's legal ownership of the works led Amazon to avoid costly litigation by simply taking the copies back and refunding the cost.

Despite purchasing and legally owning the e-book titles -- and being completely within the Terms of Agreement -- Kindle owners found themselves at the whim of the company's DRM.

And, aside from the perfect timing, the move was ironically underscored by the offending titles themselves: George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm.

Rat masks are undoubtedly forthcoming.

User reactions were rabid, and Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener did his best to quell the outrage. In an email, he wrote: "We are changing our systems, so that in the future we will not remove books from customers' devices in these circumstances."

Drew, your lack of concrete assurance is exceeded only by your complete lack of logic. How could a "system change" prevent the company from deleting purchased e-books in the future? Unless it involves a review of business ethics, Amazon will still have the ability -- but still no right -- to revoke a legal purchase without the owner's permission.

In an article from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Hugh D'Andrade illustrated this point by making an analogy to an ordinary bookstore.

"If Amazon didn't have the rights to sell the e-books in the first place, the infringement happened when the books were sold. Remote deletion doesn't change that, and it's not an infringement for the Kindle owner simply to read the book.

"Can you imagine a brick-and-mortar bookstore chasing you home, entering your house, and pulling a book from your shelf after you paid good money for it?"

As long as DRM exists, actions like this will continue to occur on a digital level.

Is DRM dead? Let's just say, "The reports of its death are greatly exaggerated." But Kindle owners should double-check the wording before their copy of Mark Twain quotations suddenly vanishes.
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