Amazon and Kindle library story highlights limited rights over digital media library

Yesterday the media picked up on the story of “Linn”, who was notified by Amazon that her account had been closed because it had been associated by Amazon with another account that had been closed for abuse of Amazon’s polices. Amazon has apparently refused to provide any further information, simply referring Linn to its terms of use, which provide Amazon with fairly wide rights to suspend accounts.

“Plenty more online bookstores out there. What’s Amazon’s loss is iTunes’ gain” you might say. Well, yes. But Linn has a Kindle, and the effect of her account being terminated is that she was unable to access any Kindle e-books previously “purchased” using the account (contrary to reports, her Kindle was not wiped, but as her old Kindle is broken she has been unable to download the books in her library onto a replacement Kindle).

Unfortunately for Amazon, Linn is the friend of a Norwegian tech journalist called Martin Bekkelund, and the story was covered by a wide range of high profile media outlets such as the Guardian, Yahoo!, Computing (and now BrodiesTechBlog). A link to the original story on Martin Bekkelund’s blog was also retweeted to 300,000 odd people by the broadcaster and columnist Catlin Moran.

Ownership vs a right to use
Whilst this has turned into a bit of a PR disaster for Amazon (and once again shows the power of Twitter to run with a story and influence popular opinion), it also provides a timely reminder of the difference in rights to the purchase of traditional media such as paper books and CDs and digital media.

John has blogged about this before. As the Amazon terms of use document notes:

Kindle content is licensed, not sold”. Should you attempt to break the DRM security block or transfer your purchase to another device, Amazon may legally “revoke your access to the Kindle Store and the Kindle Content without refund of any fees

and…

Your rights under this Agreement will automatically terminate if you fail to comply with any term of this Agreement. In case of such termination, you must cease all use of the Kindle Store and the Kindle Content, and Amazon may immediately revoke your access to the Kindle Store and the Kindle Content without refund of any fees.

In other words, if you misuse your content (or your wider Amazon account), Amazon can take it off you.

Whilst Amazon has now apparently restored Linn’s account at the time of writing Amazon has still not explained what Linn is alleged to have done wrong, or why her account was suspended (this, to my mind, is the more concerning bit of the story, given the impact of the suspension – if I were Linn then I would submit a subject access request to Amazon EU SARL (Amazon’s Luxembourish trading company for its European operations, and the data controller in respect of Amazon.co.uk).

Either way, those creating in valuable digital libraries that are subject to DRM controls should pay careful attention to their compliance with terms of use.

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