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If you buy a book digitally you own it, right? Not if you buy it from Amazon!

By on July 20, 2009
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Last week was a bad week for the cloud and digital distribution.

First, Twitter’s Google accounts got hacked, and details of its funding and strategy were published for all to see.

Next, Amazon reaches out over the ether and yanks back copies of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 that uses have paid for and downloaded to the Kindle.

Did you know they could do that? Neither did I.

And I’m sure that the irony of choosing 1984 to demonstrate this capability is lost on no-one.

As Bruce Schneier, my favourite writer on security on the Internet and chief security technology officer for British Telecom said:

“As a Kindle owner, I’m frustrated. I can’t lend people books and I can’t sell books that I’ve already read, and now it turns out that I can’t even count on still having my books tomorrow.”

After a storm of coverage across the Internet, Amazon has clarified that the “you thought you bought them but in fact they never existed” ebooks were in fact illegal copies, in that these works are still in copyright and the publisher had no rights to publish them.

The fact that these books were illegal copies does change the facts. But it doesn’t move away from the fact that Amazon has an astounding level of control over ebooks on the Kindle. It demonstrates uncontrovertibly that in the ebook world, you don’t actually own anything. It’s all about the licence.

This opens all sorts of questions. Will politicians be able to “lean” on ebook distributors to pull back content they don’t like. Can a writer who would like to disassociate himself from a book “unpublish” it. And above all, how will consumers feel when content that they have paid for changes or disappears all together.

I am convinced that the world is going digital. I am equally convinced that processing and storage is moving from the desktop to the cloud. But events like these show that we have only just begun to see the implications of this Brave New World.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com