How safe are the eBooks on your eReader?

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When the Kindle first hit the market, we were all still trying to figure out how Amazon was going to be engineering the move from hardback books to digital formatting. At first, the offerings were limited and in some cases the quality was sub-standard. OCR software mistakes were obvious and irritating. Gradually, however, the Kindle library grew in both quantity and quality as more and more books became available in digital form.

I think Amazon neglected to put enough checks in place, however, because in early to mid 2009, they were at the center of a furore over the removal of copies of 1984 from Kindles and the website. Most of the media outlets engaged in a firestorm which was centered in the irony of the situation: of all the books Amazon had to remove, 1984 was the least ideal.

As it turns out, the reason why Amazon removed the book from their “shelves” and the devices of their customers turned out to be a perfectly understandable and supportable reason: the supplier of that particular version of the book, MobileReference, had not obtained the requisite permission to provide the books in digital format. Essentially, they were being listed in violation of copyright laws. An arstechnica article from July of that year goes into detail explaining that the whole thing was a legal, and specifically a copyright issue, rather than Amazon playing “Big Brother”. A New York Times article states that 1984 was not the only victim of Amazon’s slashing, and that versions of Harry Potter and Atlas Shrugged from MobileReference also suffered the same fate.

I don’t want to re-tell the whole story here. The two linked articles above give as clear a picture of the situation as I wanted right now in order to say that with reading devices from places like Barnes and Noble, we run the risk of this sort of thing happening again and again. Just look at the most recent uproar over “abuse-themed” and “erotica” pieces.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. And aside from sticking to books from DRM-free spots like and, there are ways to keep your eBooks out of Amazon’s reach – or at least keep them safe even if Amazon decides to remove them. The process is a bit convoluted requiring some basic computer savvy and one or two third-party tools, but in the final analysis probably worth the hassle just so you keep your purchases free from over-reaching corporate hands. (This will work with most eReaders – Kobo, Nook, and Kindle in particular). And with everything else digital, make sure you have a copy of your library before you go messing around with the files.

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