What if Amazon wiped out all your Kindle books and refused to let you open another account? I don’t know what if any sins a customer committed, but such an Orwellian scenario is said to have actually happened. No, I’m not just talking about the remote deletion of 1984, but rather the mysterious zapping of the customer’s entire Kindle library.

The most likely scenario here, as guessed at by BoingBoing, is that the Norwegian customer simply lived outside of the territories for authorized purchases.

While I love content providers—I’m one myself—Amazon’s latest action shows why the Digital Public Library of America or another nonprofit needs to get into the business of offering digital lockers to safe-keep books and other content downloaded from retail outlets and elsewhere. Let the laws be changed if need be to require publishers and retailers to cooperate with library-controlled digital lockers.

If publishers insist on DRM, which I would much rather they not, this is all the more reason why library patrons need digital lockers. I’ve lost a few books myself because of changing DRM standards. Microsoft’s phasing out of Microsoft Reader is yet another indication of the need for protection against the impermanence of DRM and proprietary formats, even if for now customers can still access previous purchases. Better that typical books be in ePub anyhow. If nothing else, libraries should have the express legal right to convert books to ePub for digital lockers and other uses, both in terms of accessibility and consumer rights.

Along the way, such lockers would be one way for DPLA-powered libraries to engage even the taxpayers who normally didn’t rely on libraries for books and other content. Links in the locker could direct them to library offerings and ideally make regular patrons of them.

Yes, if need be customers could pay storage charges, but in many cases, there would be no storage in the customers’ lockers, but rather links to master files elsewhere. Consisting mostly of text, not images, most books don’t take up that much space anyway.

Ironically, despite the howls that might come from retailers and some publishers, the locker arrangement would actually help sales of the best stores and houses since readers could more confidently buy E. Stores, as has been noted, could add value through social media. I’d like to see libraries able to sell and rent books, but I believe they should also provide store-related links—we need a variety of business models.

Over the centuries, a major attraction of books has been their permanence; DRM and the zapping of personal libraries can only detract from the glory of the medium, and the time has come for corrective actions such as the proposed lockers. Besides, hasn’t Random House said that libraries themselves should be able to own books for real and lend them within the bounds of fair use? The locker proposal would certainly be in the same spirit, and I’d hope that Random House would see virtues here.

As I see it, the content lockers could preserve not just commercially originated media, but also items originated by library patrons, including family photos and other content that patrons are now entrusting to Facebook.

In fact, I continue to see libraries as potential Facebook alternatives, with help from possible partners such as local newspapers.

(Original item from Martin Bekkelund.)

Editor’s note: This article, originally published at LibraryCity.org, is Creative Commons-licensed.

UpdatedOct. 23, 2012 at 12:30 p.m. EST:  This story has developed somewhat since this post was published; click here to read our update


  1. As a writer, I’ve used computers for over 25 years. I’ve had to translate my backlist, research, articles, etc., more than six times as software has changed. I’ve had five different media storage changes. My Apples have been friendly about the software changes, impossible for the hardware storage changes.

    I’ve spent hundreds of hours dealing with this.

    The DRM-free digital copies of my published books from twelve years ago, and the media (small diskettes) versions that my publishers used to sell are mostly inaccessible.

    What this all means is that expecting to keep a digital book that is readable for any great length of time, DRM-free or not, would be so time-consuming or impossible for the average reader that keeping any digital book is unrealistic.

    But then, paper books are as unrealistic with the cheap bindings and crumbling paper of most paperbacks and the size, weight, and storage space of a hard cover has its own set of problems for most of us. Not to mention the allergy-inducing dust and disintegrating book particles many of us deal with.

  2. Marilynn, a simple USB floppy drive would solve that issue, provided the files are not in a proprietary binary format. Using that is actually a form of DRM, since it ensures that the files can only be used with specific vendor controlled software.

    Contrast that with something like EPUB which is standardized, open, well understood and documented. It can be converted to pretty much anything you like, and even if there’s a shift to a new format and platform in the future, there’ll be converters so you can enjoy your existing content. Hardware is not the issue, artificial barriers like DRM is.

  3. Great attitude, Mr. DiRT! Maybe you should spend some time reading the massive tome of legalize that constitutes the Amazon terms of service. You’ll be shocked to see how many rules there are and how absolutely they favor the vendor while providing zero rights to the consumer.

    Maybe someday you’ll remember your words when you break some rule you never heard of and an account of yours gets locked and cuts you off from hundreds of dollars worth of content you believe that you purchased.

    The essential problem is that the average consumer believes he is “buying” his ebooks. Maybe the fact that the button he presses says “BUY NOW” gives him that impression. But he or she is not “buying” an ebook; instead they are purchasing a very limited and highly restrictive license to read. What’s worse is that license is linked to a specific account and that account can be revoked at anytime for any reason at the vendor’s whim.

    The only thing a person can do to protect themselves is to refuse to “buy” ebooks that include any form of DRM or are locked to a specific device or account. Back up your DRM-free ebooks and store the backups in at least two seperate physical locations. Don’t buy from vendors that grant you no control over content you believe you are purchasing.

  4. I write about digital photography and can say with assurance that consumers have NO idea how fragile their digital stuff is. They think it is all like Nerf foam toys..nothing can ever go wrong, as the people in charge have their best interests in mind with books, photos and music.

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