by Mielle Sullivan, Janus Networks
Until Amazon remotely deleted all copies of George Orwell’s novels “1984” and “Animal Farm” from Kindle ereaders, most of the debate about DRM concerned Piracy. But in the brave new world of instant, flowing content, Amazon has just proven the data stream can run both ways.

When Amazon learned the company selling electronic copies of the Orwell novels did not have legal right to do so, it erased copies on Kindle devices through wi-fi connection and refunded the affected customers money. All this happened without any prior warning from Amazon.

Suddenly, ereader users find themselves without any control of content they thought was theirs, throwing into relief parts of the piracy debate. Fot the last several years, users have been able to use the universal distribution of the Internet to obtain a vast variety of content, legally or illegally. Now, apparently, distributors can use some of the same technology to take it back — under the right circumstances. I am not suggesting that Amazon’s action is the same as downloading a movie from a bit torrent program, just that both illustrate the growing complexity of Internet distribution. It is not just distributors that may suffer from loss of control due to omnipresent technology, but consumers as well.

Most previous draconian attempts at DRM have been either been easily hacked or easily avoided. Remember when Sony tried to sell only DRM protected CDs that didn’t play in computers? Consumers just bought another album or downloaded the leak. But in this case, Amazon completely controls the device, the connection and the distribution. A hack could come, but it hasn’t yet. Also, even though there are other ereaders on the market, the Kindle doesn’t exactly have competition at the moment.

The question of who really owns and controls the content remains. But now there are even more questions like: Could something similar happen on other devices like the iPhone? When, if ever, should distrubtors be allowed to delete information from a device? Could we ever really stop them if they wanted to or does the nature of the technology always leave open that possibility?

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