Amazon owns your ebooks

Did you know that Amazon does not sell ebooks? But, wait, you say, I have bought ebooks from them myself! Sadly, that is not the case. I will summarize part of the Kindle Store Terms of Use quoted at the bottom of this post:

  1. You do not own any Kindle book that you have “bought”, even if it said “buy with one click” in the store (the book still belongs to Amazon, you’re just leasing it).
  2. You may only read Kindle content through sofware approved by Amazon.
  3. You may not copy ebooks “bought” from Amazon to other devices (such as a Kobo or Nook reader). In fact, you may not engage in any activity that bypasses their Digital Rights Management (or DRM).

I bought rent more than 120 Kindle books, and to my shame only realized the invasive nature of these terms now.

Since your agreement with Amazon is simply a license to view material, they have the ability to withdraw that right whenever they choose. Which they have done, in an ironic twist, with George Orwell’s 1984.

As you may imagine, this whole situation riles me up quite badly, and spoils many a dinner-time conversation (sorry, friends). I am particularly irate because I just bought myself a beautiful Kobo Glo HD, in a slow but measured move to lessen my dependence on Amazon. Now, lo and behold, I cannot access any of the 120 books which, if I gave my money to other ebook stores, I would have owned!

So, caveat emptor, dear reader. Do not support Amazon’s great Kindle Swindle.

If you buy books from Kobo, you will be able to export your books to your Kindle devices, albeit encumbered by Digital Rights Management (DRM).

The deal with Digital Rights Management (DRM)

While this post is about Amazon Kindle, it is worth mentioning Digital Rights Management (DRM). DRM is a mechanism that distributers use to lock their books so that you may not easily copy it illegally. Of course, and very predictably, the DRM is not difficult to circumvent, and those who want to steal electronic books do so with impunity. Still, it is probably illegal to remove DRM in the United States, and if you’re a law abiding citizen, you cannot convert a protected ebook to another format such as PDF, even if a PDF would be more convenient for you.

Some distributors are worse than others, though, and unsurprisingly Amazon is one of the worst. Not only do they lock their books (making it difficult to copy to other devices), but they use a proprietary format (.mobi) that only works on their readers. If you want to copy their books to another device, you have to first remove the DRM which, as their terms state, is not allowed. You might start to wonder whether such business practices aren’t anti-competitive and perhaps even illegal.

There is a perfectly usable format for ebooks already in existence (.epub), that is also supported by many different models of readers. So, while locking books with some kind of DRM is far from ideal, it is still preferable to using a proprietary format to boot.

For those buying from the Kobo store, some of the books on their shelves are available DRM-free, and is indicated as follows:

Kobo DRM information

Defective by Design maintains a list of DRM-free publishers and stores.

Please support the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who is currently challenging DMCA Section 1201 (which makes it illegal to circumvent DRM). There is no good reason why you should not be allowed to read material you bought on any device of your choosing. For more on the DRM, refer to author Cory Doctorow’s articles in the Guardian.

Below follows an excerpt, mentioned above, from the Amazon Kindle Store’s Terms of Use.

1. Kindle Content

Use of Kindle Content. Upon your download of Kindle Content and payment of any applicable fees (including applicable taxes), the Content Provider grants you a non-exclusive right to view, use, and display such Kindle Content an unlimited number of times, solely through a Reading Application or as otherwise permitted as part of the Service, solely on the number of Supported Devices specified in the Kindle Store, and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Kindle Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider. The Content Provider may include additional terms for use within its Kindle Content. Those terms will also apply, but this Agreement will govern in the event of a conflict. Some Kindle Content, such as interactive or highly formatted content, may not be available to you on all Reading Applications.

Limitations. Unless specifically indicated otherwise, you may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense, or otherwise assign any rights to the Kindle Content or any portion of it to any third party, and you may not remove or modify any proprietary notices or labels on the Kindle Content. In addition, you may not attempt to bypass, modify, defeat, or otherwise circumvent any digital rights management system or other content protection or features used as part of the Service.