July 21, 2009

Amazon's Orwellian moment exposes limitations of existing legal laws in today's digital age

Some owners of Kindle, Amazon's popular electronic book reader, found two books missing from their devices when they woke up Thursday morning. The missing titles were George Orwell's classics 1984 and Animal Farm, which users had bought from Amazon's online book store. The company used its wireless access to users' Kindles and remotely deleted the books overnight without their prior permission. In a public statement, Amazon explained that these books were originally made available on its book-store by a company that did not have rights to the titles, and the move was therefore aimed to protect copyrights of the legal rights owner. Amazon refunded affected readers the price they paid for the books.

While Amazon's move seems logical, it was quite creepy for Kindle owners who did not realize that Amazon had such rights, authority and even the ability once they had purchased the books. Amazon's action exposed its unprecedented powers - the ability to delete any book a user buys from the world's largest book-store, whenever, and for whatever reason Amazon deems appropriate.

This is a huge challenge in a digital world where more and more content, whether books, videos, songs, newspapers, magazines, etc, will only exist in bits and bytes, tethered to big content aggregators like Amazon and Apple even after buyers' outright purchase. Aggregator's contracts provide them very broad rights. Buyers don't seem to "own" the digital content in true sense, as they're used to in the physical world, but rather "rent" it.

Interestingly, Amazon's license agreement for Kindle seems to provides users the right to keep a permanent copy of purchased material. Legal challenge to Amazon's deletions looks very likely.

Retailers in the physical world cannot force their way into buyers' homes and take back purchased material. Amazon did exactly that by deleting the purchased digital books. The Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology, used by sellers to protect un-authorized use of purchased content, also provides sellers digital strings always connected to that content via Internet.

This power can be very easily abused.

Governments, totalitarian regimes, courts, etc, can order total wipe-out of content they find objectionable for whatever reasons in this digital age - not just blocking future sales, but deleting every existing copy from central servers and every purchased digital copy from owners' connected devices. Such unprecedented control over content by a few for-profit companies can severely restrict free exchange of ideas - a core requirement in a free democratic society.

No company should have this capability.

While Amazon's deletion is not one of the extreme scenarios mentioned above, it provides a real life example, no matter how innocent, that exposes inadequacy of outdated current legal statutes for today's increasingly digital world. Legal reviews of Google's book deal with publishers is another similar example. I'm sure lawyers, civil libertarians and customer advocates will take a very close look at the Amazon incident.

In the interim, Kindle owners and its prospective buyers should apply pressure on Amazon to voluntarily change its policies and remove its technical ability that allows it to remotely delete purchased content without buyers' explicit prior permission.

July 20, 2009

Discount for victims of Bernie Madoff's ponzi shceme

Clothing store in Manhattan's West Village.

Sent from my iPhone.

Posted via email from sab's posterous

July 8, 2009

SURFACE: A film from underneath

SURFACE : A film from underneath from tu on Vimeo.


“What would the world be like from an underground perspective?”

SURFACE is an experimental film, exploring the emotional journey from an underground urban perspective. This 'urban symphony' transforms human actions and street objects into beats that harmoniously compose a grand audio and visual composition. The film emphasizes the ideas of ‘point of contact’, ‘human identity’ and notion of ‘live footprints’.

SURFACE is a part of UND-VIS, a thesis project for MFA Design and Technology, Parsons The New School for Design. UND-VIS : Under Vision Experiment; explores the new visual language of an unconventional perspective from below.

More info. + behind the scene : www.surfacefilm.com