Mr. Know-It-All answers your questions about Kindle books, the carbon footprint of online shopping and the ethics of reading journal articles for free.
Is it true that I don’t really own the books I purchase for my Kindle?
If convenient euphemisms could somehow be outlawed, the “Buy now with 1-Click” button on Kindle pages would have to be relabeled “License now with 1-Click.” Amazon’s terms of service clearly state that, unlike those bulky slabs of arboreal matter that imparted knowledge to generations past, Kindle books can never be owned in the traditional sense. Instead, your $12.99 merely earns you the right to view the work on your Kindle. This arrangement gives Amazon the authority to snatch back that content if the company thinks you’ve been naughty—say, by copying and distributing ebooks or by engaging in fraud with your account.
Look at it from Amazon’s perspective: Part of the rationale for letting you resell old-school books is that you can do so only once—after the transaction is complete, the physical book is, by definition, no longer in your possession. That’s not necessarily the case with ebooks, which can be duplicated with ease. If Amazon grants its customers true ownership of Kindle books, it will have no quick recourse against scoundrels who resell books multiple times without deleting the original. Wiping someone’s Kindle stash is a lot easier than filing a lawsuit.
But there’s still something outrageous and infuriating about the situation. If Jeff Bezos showed up at your door and said he wanted to repossess your books, would you let him in? No, you’d unleash your hounds. And then hope that one of the dogs got ahold of his wallet.