An Ethical Dilemma?

Considering my recent admonition that reading great works of memoir and fiction are the best do-it-yourself writing workshop you can find — at no cost if you have a library card — a recent fiasco involving the Amazon Kindle caught my eye. As a disclaimer, I should begin by stating that in spite of recognizing their convenience factor, I do not own a Kindle, nor have I ever had plans to buy one.

Part of this reluctance stems from the price. Only a small part. A much larger part stems from the fact that I realized I would not own the books I bought. I owned only the right to read them. I could not pass them along to a friend or relative. I could not donate them to the library or sell them at a garage sale. I couldn’t use sticky flags to mark sections I wanted to note for future reference (I respond best to visual cues), and I couldn’t run selected pages through the copier.

A third part relates to the first. I’m a library addict. If my local library doesn’t have a book I want to read, they can get it through Inter Library Loan. This is my personal plan to live within my means, avoid cluttered shelves, and “read green.” Not only do I save dollars and shelf space, but library funding is based on Use It or Lose It. Circulation figures weigh heavily, and not just in Pennsylvania where the Neanderthal governor and state legislature is threatening to cut library funding by 50%, sending us back toward the stone age.

Yep. I’m a geek who loves techno toys, but the Kindle did not make the cut. Neither did the Sony, which is favorably recommended. Nor did any of the other lesser known and even higher priced alternatives.

So where is the dilemma, and what does this have to do with life writing?

The dilemma is that today’s July 17 New York Times carried a
report that “This morning, hundreds of Amazon Kindle owners awoke to discover that books by a certain famous author had mysteriously disappeared from their e-book readers ... “ Amazon stealthily removed copies of George Orwell’s classic novels Animal Farm and 1984. The good news is that they did credit the readers’ accounts.

Within hours, over 200 comments on the New York Times page had registered outrage, with over half expressing a firm determination stick with paper books — especially the library versions
rather than buying the Kindle they’d been considering. This has lit a highly readable firestorm of debate about Digital Rights Management, ethics, Amazon’s greed factor, and a score of other issues. More debate follows on the official Kindle Forum.
Another aspect of the debate and dilemma is the issue of copyright. These titles are in the public domain in most of the world, but still covered by what many consider to be unreasonably prolonged copyright protection in the USA. Apparently this was part of the reason for the scandal. The matter of copyright protection is one that concerns all writers.

I sense a watershed here involving the world of electronic publishing. Which way will it go? Who will determine the outcome?

The tie to Life Writing and your personal writing opportunity, involves personal essays outlining feelings about this ironically Orwellian issue of eBooks versus paper, copyright, rights of ownership, and related matters. This is your chance to put the stamp of your opinion on the history of publishing.

Write now: write that essay. Tell how you feel about technology in general, and digital books in particular. Do you have a Kindle? How do you feel about that now? Did you realize you wouldn’t own the books you purchase in the traditional way? If you don’t own a Kindle, would you consider buying one? Let it all hang out on paper or screen.


Jerry Waxler said...

Nothing is perfect. To fuel my veracious and eclectic appetite for reading memoirs, I've been buying them for a couple of years, along with a wide variety of books about writing. I've already had to move my collection of self-help books in to boxes, and now my memoir and how-to-write collection is overflowing first to the top of the bookshelves, then into my overflow shelves in the basement and finally into piles on the floor in front of the shelves. (My wife complains it's ugly and messy and I shrug my shoulders. It's my passion. What can I do?)

The solution in 20 years or for the next generation is to store them electronically, although that will have many pitfalls like the fact that each generation of machine will need to figure out how to read ones that were electronically published years earlier.

So we live in a material world, and things take up space, even information, and we just struggle to keep up.

It's all my fault anyway. If my hobby was sitting on the porch and feeling the breeze in my hair I wouldn't have any of these problems.

Memory Writers Network

Ritergal said...

Jerry, your passion for reading books is matched only by your passionate attachment to owning them. You are the author and publisher's best friend and you keep the industry afloat. :-)

You are also the poster child for the value of learning through writing.

Everyone -- be sure to stay current with Jerry's blog that features over 150 articles on writing, essays, and interviews of memoir writers. Clicking his name above his comment will beam you right over.

Karen Walker said...

I'm with Jerry on this one. My house is over-flowing with books--they're everywhere. On the end table next to the couch. On the tiny table next to the recliner. Bookshelves are stacked two times plus books lying on their sides on top of stacked books. I keep promising myself I'll purge one of these days. I will never purchase a Kindle. Is what they did censorship? I think it's outrageous.

Joie said...

George Orwell is having a huge chuckle seeing this situation occur. It's more than even he could have predicted - or perhaps not. The ultimate irony of Big Brother's long arms.

I would never buy a Kindle as I also love to pass books along and if not, just hold them in my hand and feel the pages. Getting them from the library is the next best thing - and certainly more economical than buying them!

Ritergal said...

One advantage of being married to a packrat is that it forces me to be more selective in what I keep. There's only room for one packrat in this house.

This Orwellian recall is not the first. Amazon had recalled two or three previous books, but perhaps more copies were involved with Orwell, or perhaps the irony was just too succulent for the press to ignore. You couldn't dream up a better drama!