Kindle…the future of book burning

Amazon’s Kindle is appropriately named, as to kindle means to “catch fire” or to “cause to start burning” (Wordnet 3.0, n.d.). The newest generation of Kindle products support the downloading of books without even having a computer connection, allowing the consumer to get a new book “anytime, anywhere” ( Kindle, 2009). At first glance, this type of technology seems to offer the consumer amazing freedom, flexibility, and opportunity. Coupled with this convenience, however, is the ability of Amazon to control what one reads, censor materials, violate a user’s privacy, and even attempt to circumvent their own Terms of Service and renege on the customer’s “non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content and to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Device or as authorized by Amazon as part of the Service and solely for your personal, non-commercial use” (Amazon Kindle: License Agreement and Terms of Use, 2009).

In June and July of 2009, removed a few titles (including Rand’s The Fountainhead, and Orwell’s 1984) from their Kindle Store, citing a seemingly noble cause of attempting to protect the intellectual property of the publishers (Manjoo, 2009). Though this action may be a disappointment to consumers wishing to purchase the respective eBooks, the removal of these titles is not, in itself, unethical, illegal, or cause for any type of alarm. However, took their supposed pursuit of nobility a step further and wirelessly connected to their customers’ Kindle devices and removed their already-purchased copies of said titles. Not only did this action break their Terms of Service mentioned above, but it also brought digital censorship to a daunting new level.

Before digital copies of books, physical copies could be sold without any method of recovery. To clarify, when one purchases a book from a store (assuming cash is used instead of a cheque or credit card), there is no method for the vendor to attain information about that individual’s identity, including his or her whereabouts. This means that if the book is recalled, banned by a government, or goes out of print the publishers, vendors, and law enforcement authorities have no hope in retrieving previously-sold copies of the book without the individual’s consent. Thus, the individual would have complete ownership of the copy, and could do with it what he or she wills. Further, this lack of circulation tracking means that it is very likely that a printed copy of a work will exist somewhere in the world, even after publication has ceased. With Amazon’s ability to track, modify, and even remove titles from Kindle devices, this ‘complete removal from circulation’ security is no longer present. In theory, a book that is distributed solely in electronic form could be tracked and completely eradicated from existence! What seemed at first to be a lovely convenience can also be seen as a surveillance tactic and, worse yet, a totalitarian approach to censorship.

Fortunately, one has other choices than just Amazon’s Kindle for an eReader, including the Sony PRS-600BC Touch Edition. This reader does not offer the user wireless downloads of books, and does require a computer to transfer the eBooks to the device. While at first this may seem like an inconvenience, it also promotes more security for the consumer’s purchased property. To ensure that Sony cannot remove a purchased title requires a couple steps that might not be readily apparent. Firstly, one downloads the desired title from the internet, whether from Sony’s official store, or from another vendor. Secondly, one disconnects the internet connection (either by putting the wired or wireless interface down, or by physically disconnecting the ethernet cable, router, or modem). Thirdly, one then transfers the title to the eBook reader device. In this fashion, the reader device is never connected to a medium (like the internet) which will allow for the manufacturer to modify or remove the previously-purchased content.

If one runs an operating system (e.g. Windows) on which the manufacturer can install proprietary software, then there is always the possibility that said software can run when the user connects the reader device to the computer. To circumvent such possibilities, one can either connect the reader device to a computer with an operating system that does not support the manufacturer’s proprietary software (usually Linux will do the trick here), or better yet, one can boot into a live environment on CD, completely eliminating the chance of the software loading and subsequently running. Tutorials on using LiveCDs can be found all over the internet, and the process is quite simple.

Should Amazon be allowed to modify or delete a customer’s content, or even have access to a listing of what one purchases? Is it their right as the distributor of the electronic titles, or are they violating the users’ privacy, and encouraging a digital reenactment of the censorship that was book-burning in Hitler’s Germany?

–N. Zachary

REFERENCES: Kindle: Amazon’s Wireless Reading Device (Latest Generation): Kindle Store (2009). Retrieved August 30, 2009, from

Amazon Kindle: License Agreement and Terms of Use (2009). Retrieved August 30, 2009 from

Manjoo, F. (2009, July 20). Why 2024 will be like nineteen eighty-four: How Amazon’s remote deletion of e-books from the Kindle paves the way for book-banning’s digital future. Slate. Retrieved August 30, 2009, from

Wordnet 3.0 (n.d.). Retrieved August 30, 2009, from


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  1. this really helps with my assignment for the book we are reading Fahrenheit 451

    • Zach on Wednesday, 26 January 2011 at 21:40
    • Reply

    Thanks; I’m glad that you found the article interesting.

  2. The ‘Kindle’ thing is great! Burning the digital content is interesting.

    • Zach on Friday, 30 October 2009 at 18:15
    • Reply

    Thanks for the link. 🙂

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