Amazon plays Big Brother to delete 1984 ebooks from Kindle

Someone out there really understands irony. There's no more appropriate book for Amazon to have remotely removed from its Kindle ebook reader than 198

Someone out there really understands irony. There's no more appropriate book for Amazon to have remotely removed from its Kindle ebook reader than 1984, George Orwell's novel featuring an unseen, all powerful overlord.

With all the subtlety of Big Brother excising passages from Oceania's history books, Amazon removed the book from sale and from customers' devices.

The book and Orwell's anti-Soviet fable Animal Farm were deleted from Kindles without warning. A refund and an explanation followed later but the idea that Amazon can simply revoke rights to content you've purchased has left many feeling uneasy.

Amazon acted to remove the titles after it discovered that the publisher did not have the rights to sell them in the US. While Orwell's copyrights have lapsed in many countries (the UK included), America is not one of them.

Since Kindle users license their books rather than actually owning them (a deliciously Orwellian conceit in itself), Amazon retains the right to revoke the license.

No one got scammed here. Amazon gave customers their money back and the entire incident was more cock up than conspiracy. But we're not used to having things we've bought taken away.

The idea of licensing content is a new and odd one for most people. While purchasing a DVD or software often comes with a license attached restricting your right to use the content (not showing films in public for instance), it's never seemed quite as enforceable.

Amazon says it's changed its procedures so that books will not be removed from customers' Kindles without their knowledge in the future but the damage is already done. A fundamental problem with the Kindle business model has become even more pressing. If you don't have permanent rights to your ebooks and you can't move them to a new device, its impossible to build a library you own. You're just a member of a costly lending library.

On the day that the Recording Industry Association of America has admitted that music DRM is dead, the call needs to start for Amazon to move away from restrictive DRM in ebooks. A traditional book can be leant and borrowed and shared. Until ebooks can be too, most people will fear that Big Brother might swoop in and take them back.