Mar 09

iPass away – do my digital downloads die with me? (Which Conversation, Feb. 20, 2012):

If you’ve built up a proud collection of books, records and DVDs, you’d expect to be able to pass them on to your next of kin. But what happens to all of the downloads you’ve paid for during your life?

The digital afterlife is an uncertain business, it seems. We challenged both Apple and Amazon on whether digital downloads could be passed on after death, and neither could give us a definitive answer.

As more and more purchases are made in a digital, rather than physical form, we think it’s time for the main digital retailers to clear up our rights to pass on property we’ve paid for.

Purchasing a product, or renting a licence?

As it stands, the rights of iTunes and Amazon customers look pretty shaky when it comes to passing on downloads. If you buy a music track from a digital store, you’re essentially buying a licence to play that track – a licence granted to you only, which isn’t transferable upon death.

Legally you’re essentially just renting tracks – you don’t actually own them, as Matthew Strain of law firm Strain-Keville pointed out to us in the latest issue of Which? Computing:

‘We do not “own” what we purchase on iTunes, we only have the right to use it. The right to the “product” is therefore limited and passing it on to someone else is not likely to be accepted by Apple.’

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Jul 18

Some E-Books Are More Equal Than Others

1984
A screen shot from Amazon.com The MobileReference edition of the novel, “Nineteen Eighty-four,” by George Orwell that was deleted from Kindle e-book readers by Amazon.com.

EDITOR’S NOTE | 8:41 p.m. The Times published an article explaining that the Orwell books were unauthorized editions that Amazon removed from its Kindle store. However, Amazon said it would not automatically remove purchased copies of Kindle books if a similar situation arose in the future.

This morning, hundreds of Amazon Kindle owners awoke to discover that books by a certain famous author had mysteriously disappeared from their e-book readers. These were books that they had bought and paid for-thought they owned.

But no, apparently the publisher changed its mind about offering an electronic edition, and apparently Amazon, whose business lives and dies by publisher happiness, caved. It electronically deleted all books by this author from people’s Kindles and credited their accounts for the price.

This is ugly for all kinds of reasons. Amazon says that this sort of thing is “rare,” but that it can happen at all is unsettling; we’ve been taught to believe that e-books are, you know, just like books, only better. Already, we’ve learned that they’re not really like books, in that once we’re finished reading them, we can’t resell or even donate them. But now we learn that all sales may not even be final.

As one of my readers noted, it’s like Barnes & Noble sneaking into our homes in the middle of the night, taking some books that we’ve been reading off our nightstands, and leaving us a check on the coffee table.

You want to know the best part? The juicy, plump, dripping irony?

The author who was the victim of this Big Brotherish plot was none other than George Orwell. And the books were “1984” and “Animal Farm.”

Scary.

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