I’m admittedly biased against DRM-locked digitized books and audio, and so when it was announced that Amazon–which, otherwise, I like a ton–axed copies of 1984 from owners’ kindles, I was less at odds with the particular action than what it meant & symbolized regarding threats to ownership and autonomy in the digital culture.
Amazon deleted books that were already available in print, but in our paperless future—when all books exist as files on servers—courts would have the power to make works vanish completely. Zittrain writes: “Imagine a world in which all copies of once-censored books like Candide, The Call of the Wild, and Ulysseshad been permanently destroyed at the time of the censoring and could not be studied or enjoyed after subsequent decision-makers lifted the ban.” This may sound like an exaggeration; after all, we’ll surely always have file-sharing networks and other online repositories for works that have been decreed illegal. But it seems like small comfort to rely on BitTorrent to save banned art. The anonymous underground movements that have long sustained banned works will be a lot harder to keep up in the world of the Kindle and the iPhone.