That promise comes too late for some Kindle users who found that copies of "1984" and "Animal Farm" had been remotely deleted from their devices last week. That statement also might carry more weight if Amazon hadn't already said in its user agreement that people could keep their books forever. "Upon your payment of the applicable fees set by Amazon, Amazon grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content," the company promised.
Despite that clause, Amazon removed the two George Orwell books from people's devices last week, after realizing it didn't have the rights to sell them. Clearly Amazon was afraid that it would be on the hook for copyright infringement -- and damages ranging from $750 to $150,000 per incident.
Of course, at that point any copyright infringement had already occurred, and deleting the books doesn't change that fact. But the company must have thought it would look better in court if it had taken steps to cure the rights problem.
Whatever its motives, this decision will almost certainly be remembered as one of the biggest corporate blunders in Internet history, on a par with debacles like AOL's public release of users' search histories, or Facebook's Beacon program, which told members about their friends' e-commerce purchases.
In the past, people might have known it was theoretically possible for content to be erased remotely at the whim of a retailer, but it's safe to say that few consumers thought such an outcome was likely. Now that Amazon has shown just how ephemeral digital books can be, it might be quite a while before consumers decide to buy e-books in lieu of hard copies again.