July 28, 2009 | By Hugh D'Andrade

The Future of Book Banning?

Farhad Manjoo over at Slate has written the best summation to date on Amazon's 1984 scandal, in which digital versions of the Orwell classic were surreptitiously removed from users' Kindles without their permission.

Amazon has apologized and promised never to delete books in this fashion in the future. But Manjoo points out that the real lesson here is that the power to delete digital books remotely exists in the first place:

The worst thing about this story isn't Amazon's conduct; it's the company's technical capabilities. Now we know that Amazon can delete anything it wants from your electronic reader. That's an awesome power, and Amazon's justification in this instance is beside the point. As our media libraries get converted to 1's and 0's, we are at risk of losing what we take for granted today: full ownership of our book and music and movie collections.

Given the frequent desire of various authorities to ban books — whether for expressing dangerous ideas or simply for alleged copyright infringement — this is probably not that last time we have seen this awesome power used, with ominous implications for the future of ideas:

Amazon deleted books that were already available in print, but in our paperless future—when all books exist as files on servers—courts would have the power to make works vanish completely. Zittrain writes: "Imagine a world in which all copies of once-censored books like Candide, The Call of the Wild, and Ulysses had been permanently destroyed at the time of the censoring and could not be studied or enjoyed after subsequent decision-makers lifted the ban."

The whole piece is worth a read. Check it out!


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