Thursday, November 5, 2009

Shame on you, Amazon!!

During my grad class Monday night, we were talking about digital archives and e-books.  My professor mentioned that Amazon is altering e-texts in order to make them less valuable to pirates.  Apparently, the problem is not so much with the Kindle, but with the free e-book reading software they're making available for computers.  In order to spot stolen or shared books, Amazon's new method, one they recently patented, will substitute synonyms for words throughout the text.  Initially, I was utterly shocked at the idea that books would be altered.  Can you imagine that rather than seeing this, when you open Pride and Prejudice...

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

You see this...

"It is an accuracy universally accepted, that an individual male in possession of a sizable sum must be in requirement of a bride."

I can't even fathom it.  The first thought that occurred to me was, "Why on earth would anyone want to read it like that?"  The whole mess would likely just dissuade readers from purchasing e-texts, rather than dissuade piracy.  It seems, after looking into it, that they only intend to change a few words, not dramatically alter the text as my example insinuates.

That does not make it acceptable.  Changing texts, at all, is a crime against literature, from where I sit.  Do I blame  Yes, but I also blame all the people who're pirating literate.  There are clearly two sides to this story and those stealing other peoples intellectual property are just as guilty as those doing stupid things to dissuade it.  Books are not that expensive and there are public libraries where books can be checked out for free, there are absolutely no good reasons to steal them.

So rather than speculating, I got to looking into it and got to thinking that if the texts were altered by Kindle software if someone tries to transfer them that that wouldn't be nearly as bad as Amazon altering the texts people are actually paying for.  It turns out that's not the case.  The person paying for the text gets the altered version, and so are being punished like criminals in the interest of tracking a crime they haven't even committed.  The only people this will dissuade are people who actually care about the integrity of literature.  Average Joe book reader isn't going to care if two or three words in the text are different than what the author intended.

Matt and I have been tossing around the idea of getting a Kindle, but if Amazon starts doing this, changing texts, then I'm not doing it.  No matter how cool the thing is, and how easy it is to get books, if the books are altered they're not worth the ease.  This brings up a whole lot of problems in the academic world, where people study differences in texts through textual studies.  This isn't carelessness, which is a major contributor to texts being altered, this is criminal, purposeful alteration of texts.  Intent makes this a crime.  So, I think I might look into the Nook, B&N's reader, instead of the Kindle.

All I can say, without going off on a total tangent, is that I'm really disappointed in Amazon.