I read an interesting article on why software piracy is so important to the preservation of art and history on Technologizer.com, available here, that I was reminded of after reading your latest post on ebooks and democracy. Short version: unsanctioned copying of books throughout history has saved many works of art that would have been lost in time; electronic applications, unlike books, die as fast as the hardware used to create them; and software piracy can help to preserve original forms of art that may otherwise vanish without anyone noticing.
Many complain about ebooks being more malleable, but frankly, people are not powerless in the face of DRM.
Amazon’s DRM for the Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s DRM for Nook have long been broken, as have other schemes. So if people are truly concerned about the text of an ebook changing on them, they can take matters into their own hands and break protection on the ebook in question.
Unfortunately, circumventing DRM and writing or distributing software that does so is illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act unless granted an exemption by the Library of Congress. These are reevaluated every two years, and exemptions granted previously do not automatically persist past the next evaluation. I see this is a rule of law issue: while I will not stop buying books on Amazon when it is cheaper to do so, even though I have a Nook, it doesn’t feel good knowing that I have broken the law in order to enjoy something I bought and paid for.
Contrary to what one of your readers wrote, Amazon, as part of a legally binding settlement following the infamous “1984″ incident, has agreed not to remotely delete books from users’ Kindle devices except in a limited number of circumstances: failed credit card transactions, malware, a court order, or the permission of the user.
It is true that sometimes a publisher might want to withdraw a ebook from availability. In fact, that’s happened more than once to books I have purchased from the Kindle store. But they do not disappear – they remain on my Kindle device and also remain in the cloud archive so that I can, if I wish, download them to another Kindle or Kindle-supported device.
This occurred once in the case of what I believe was an unauthorized copy of a Flannery O’Connor collection that I had downloaded as an experiment. If a later edition is released that replaces an edition I have already purchased, the earlier edition is still available on my device and on any devices to which I choose to download it. An exception is when an electronic edition is released to replace an earlier edition with bad formatting or OCR-induced typographical errors. In this case I will receive an email from Amazon customer service, asking for my permission to make the replacement on the device on which it resides. However, I cannot download the typo-filled book to a separate device, as it no longer exists in that form in the archive. Amazon has even set it up so that if I need to return a book for a refund, it is I who performs the physical deletion of the book from my own Kindle.
None of this, of course, means that Amazon can’t change their policy later, but to do so would be to defy a legally binding agreement.
Someone wrote: “And none of the major platforms sells e-books without DRM. Meaning, I can’t read a book I buy from Amazon on my Nook.” Until yesterday I had a Sony eReader. But I didn’t like the bookstore that Sony connected to, so now I buy my books from Kobo. Kobo doesn’t care what hardware you load your books onto. I’ve bought DRM-protected books that Kobo is happy to load onto my Sony. Now that my Sony has died and Sony can’t honour their warranty, I’ll probably get a Kobo for my next hardware. And there are DRM-free publishers out there. Baen Books (a major SF publisher) is famous for never locking down any books. You can even buy them in RTF and read ‘em in Word if you want.