Yesterday there was much buzz on Twitter regarding "the case of the disappearing George Orwell," in which it was discovered that Amazon had deleted users' purchased copies of 1984 and Animal Farm from their Kindles, refunding them the purchase price rather than continue to let them read it. The idea that's spread through the Internet like wildfire is that this was an action at the behest of this publisher, who decided on a whim that they didn't want to publish it through Amazon any longer, and that Amazon caved and did what they asked. (This particular bit of speculation, which was repeated by even the mighty New York Times, was sourced to 'some guy on an Amazon forum.' Now THAT's journalism.)
In any case, due in large part to the irony present in a media giant secretly deleting the works of George Orwell, this story caught the ire of many people; there's the anti-DRM crowd (in which I'm a member), the anti-Amazon crowd (in which I'm often a member), as well as the pro-Kindle crowd (in which I'm sometimes a member). Several of these crowds began blogging/twittering about it, which caused a feedback loop of other people (who aren't members in any of those groups, but who blindly retweet whatever they see) and it's now being reported pretty much every where.
The problem, though, is that most of what's being spread around the Internet on this subject is misinformation. It's the type of misinformation that, when intentionally distributed by folks like Microsoft as a scare tactic, is referred to as FUD, or 'Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.' In this particular case, the misinformation in question doesn't appear to have been designed with an intent of malice, but more by of a sense of people not really understanding what's going on.
Anyway: in a nutshell, the following is an attempt to explain what exactly it is that happened. This is not really designed to be in defense of Amazon, but more because I prefer it when the things that people believe are actually true. If they're not, I like to try to rectify it.
Firstly, very few people really have an understanding of how Amazon's Kindle Marketplace works. (Including -- until yesterday, anyway -- me.) Anyone can sell books through Amazon's Kindle Marketplace. If you're buying a book via your Kindle, there's a very real probability that Amazon has nothing to do with the book at all, other than being the means through which it is delivered to you. The people publishing Kindle books include actual publishing companies as well as individual authors, all of whom simply upload their books at which point they're for sale. There have recently been a few cases where people managed to become a Kindle seller, and then uploaded bootlegged copies of the Twilight books priced at $0.99 in hopes of getting rich quick. Obviously the douchebags in question lacked the legal authority to be selling Mrs. Meyer's masterpieces, and Amazon rightfully stepped in and shut them down. I don't think anyone had a problem with this.
Yesterday's George Orwell fiasco, on the other hand, drew the attention and outrage of the masses, and many people (myself included) quite vocally expressed their problems with it.
The thing is, though: as it turns out, the situation is EXACTLY the same as with the bootleg Twilight books.
See, in most (if not all) non-US countries, Orwell's works fall under the public domain, and the publisher in question deals almost exclusively in public domain works. They sell them in other countries, and I suspect that their selling them here just sort of slipped through the cracks. Bottom line: the publisher did not have the legal right to be selling those books in the United States, and when the publisher became aware of this, they removed them from all the different eBook distribution companies through which they publish here in the US, the most famous of which is Amazon. There was no malice, and nobody was trying to cheat anyone; it was just a mistake born from the fluctuating publishing rights in various countries. This was not a result of Amazon "caving" to pressure from a publisher.
The idea that's spread through the Internet like wildfire is that this was an action at the behest of this publisher, who decided on a whim that they didn't want to publish it through Amazon any longer, and that Amazon caved and did what they asked. That's just not what happened, and it's rather unfair to Amazon for people to continue to spread the misinformation that says it is.
Granted, caving to publisher demand is something Amazon has done in the past (see: Kindle 2's text-to-speech function that ultimately got disabled due to whining publishers), and attempting to use patents to bully their competitors out of business is one of their go-to tactics, soanother bit of douchebaggary is an easy thing to believe. Like as we see with companies like Microsoft, there have been many deservingly negative things said about them, all which contribute to making it easier to jump to these sorts of ideas.
In conclusion, regardless of how one feels about DRM or the capability for a centralized bookseller to remove files from your device, I think most of us will agree that most of what's being said on the Internet on this subject is misinformed hogwash. Maybe you can help fix that.