21 June 2009

Kindle's DRM Hell

After a rosy post on Kindle the other day, I then came across disappointing news on my new favorite geek site, Gizmodo. Turns out that there is no clear and uniform policy for how many times a user can download a Kindle book to various Kindle-capable devices. Every book has different DRM restrications and even technical support cannot tell a purchaser what exactly the download limit is for a particular title. This is literally locking users out of their books permanently, as they use Kindle software on their iPhones and Touches, migrate to new Kindles, etc. Here is a first person account from someone locked out of their books who called Amazon customer service for help:

    The customer rep asked me to send every one of the books in my Amazon library to my iPhone. Most of them gave the message that they were sent but a number of them returned the message “Cannot be sent to selected device”.
    “Oh that’s the problem,” he said “if some of the books will download and the others won’t it means that you’ve reached the maximum number of times you can download the book.”
    I asked him what that meant since the books I needed to download weren’t currently on any device because I had wiped those devices clean and simply wanted to reinstall. He proceeded to tell me that there is always a limit to the number of times you can download a given book. Sometimes, he said, it’s five or six times but at other times it may only be once or twice. And, here’s the kicker folks, once you reach the cap you need to repurchase the book if you want to download it again. . . .
    It gets worse.
    I asked the customer representative where this information was available and he told me that it’s in the fine print of the legalese agreement documentation. “It’s not right that they are in bold print when you buy a book?” I asked. “No, I don’t believe so. You can have to look for it.”
    We’re not done-it gets even worse.
    “How [do] I find out how many times I can download any given book?” I asked. He replied, “I don’t think you can. That’s entirely up to the publisher and I don’t think we always know.”
    I pressed — “You mean when you go to buy the book it doesn’t say ‘this book can be downloaded this number of times’ even though that limitation is there?” To which he replied, “No, I’m very sorry it doesn’t.”
    Here is the major problem with this scenario.
    First, it’s not clear that this is the policy.
    Second, there’s no way to find out in advance how many times a book is able to be downloaded. You can buy a book and it can be downloaded numerous times or you can buy a book and only then discover that it can be downloaded only once. (The rep even put it this way!) There is no way to know.
    In the meantime, Amazon wants us to upgrade our Kindles every year or two. Apple wants us to upgrade our iPhone or iPod touch every year or two. This means that although the books remain in your Kindle library online you may not be able to download them once you upgrade your hardware. And there is no way to know — at least according to what the customer service rep told me.
Update: This poor Kindler is still trying to clarify with Amazon what has happened to all his books, and it's becoming obvious they really don't have their act together. Courtesy of a rant by Mr. Fweem.

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