Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Rights of Man

You switch on your Kindle and are just about to resume reading your latest novel only find it has gone. Not only have you lost it from your Kindle, but also from your library. You quickly scan the library to check that everything is there and find that Amazon, in a truly Orwellian move has gone in and removed it. The irony today is that Amazon removed George Orwell's ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’.

Amazon state, "These books were added to our catalogue using our self-service platform by a third-party who did not have the rights to the books. When we were notified of this by the rights holder, we removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers’ devices, and refunded customers."

"The Kindle edition books were removed from the Kindle store and are no longer available for purchase.," The consumer notification email is reported as reading, “When this occurred, your purchases were automatically refunded. You can still locate the books in the Kindle store, but each has a status of not yet available."

Irrespective how the take down, user communication and refund was achieved, the event highlights several digital issues.

Who owns what?Whose property is it once a sale has been achieved? We respect it may be an illegal copy but given the rights owner has to follow a take down process, why is there not a similar defined process with respect to the consumer?

If the copyright status of well known books can be confusing, what chance has the less well known books or even orphans of being protected? The industry requires a right registry but everyone wants to continue to slope their shoulders and expect others such as Google to set it up. Why don’t have a rights registry today and why have the appropriate associations and secondary publishers failed so miserably to step up to the mark? Why are we continuing to rely on the reactive and inefficient DMCA take down process that has failed so many times and given ‘safe harbour’ to the status quo?

What about the annotations and bookmarks added to any work by a consumer for the purpose of research or study? Once the file goes the wholes file goes, extras and all. Their own work is effectively taken without recall.

Amazon told the, "We're changing out systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances," but what does that mean and what comfort does that give both copyright owner and the consumer? Will there be a standard for all ,or will it be as today, or everyone make it up as they go?

Publishers should also be accountable for copyright errors, after all how can the likes of Amazon know better? However, it is Amazon who gets the blame and whose reputation is tarnished not the publisher. It is Amazon who the consumer will point the finger at. However, even here there is a twist to the tale in that 1984 and Animal Farm were being sold as a public domain works by a digital packager, MobileReference. However how do they determine copyright when we live in a global connected world where1984 is out of copyright in Australia but in copyright in the US. This may penalise the US consumer today and yet tomorrow the Google rules could easily flip this for many books around the world. Who is going to police the global situation and territorial restrictions that are almost impossible to control?

We have read much on the Google settlement from those who advocate that it will be better than today and even scaremonger on what the alternative could be. However, incidents such as this clearly demonstrate once again that its time that a rights registry is established and not just for the benefit of one offer or one country but for all. In a business that is all about rights it is often embarrassing that we all sit and wait for others to tidy up the mess.

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