Yesterday I pondered Amazon's deletion of works by Orwell, and asked for confirmation that they had deleted unauthorized (i.e., stolen) copies of the copyrighted material. Amazon last night confirmed this is, in fact, what happened:
An Amazon spokesman, Drew Herdener, said in an e-mail message that the books were added to the Kindle store by a company that did not have rights to them, using a self-service function. "When we were notified of this by the rights holder, we removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers' devices, and refunded customers," he said.
Amazon effectively acknowledged that the deletions were a bad idea. "We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers' devices in these circumstances," Mr. Herdener said.
Now, I am not one who believes in perpetual copyright. I hate with a passion the Sonny Bono
Mickey-Mouse Protection Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, passed (seriously, I am not making this up) in part to protect the Disney rodent for another 20 years on the eve of its lapse into public domain. I think it's unconstitutional, making a mockery of the "limited terms" clause, and on top of that I think it's a shining example of the pernicious effects of money on politics.
However, it's a pretty clear law, and in the U.S. the coypright in Orwell's work will not expire until at least 2021, 70 years after his death. Think about that. If I live another 21 years, which I will do even if it kills me, this blog entry will be protected by copyright until the 22nd century—unless the U.S. Congress comes to its senses and returns us to a copyright law that comports with international standards. Orwell's copyrights have expired in other countries, including Canada, but that introduces a web of competing claims that Amazon doesn't want to touch.
In sum: Amazon deleting books off users' Kindles was stupid, but probably within the terms of service and copyright law. However, had the users backed up the affected devices, and if they'd downloaded copies from Canada, they'd still have the book—a loophole in the TOS that, I'm sure, Amazon's partners will want closed very soon.