Saturday, July 25, 2009

Kindling the flames of suppression

So, Jeff Bezos apologized after Amazon sucked copies of 1984 and Animal Farm away from Kindle owners without their permission. So maybe those copies shouldn’t have been available in the first place, but the point remains that

Amazon showed how with Kindle, your library isn’t your library: it belongs to Amazon. Turns out that Kindle's like a super fancy library card.

Slate magazine’s Farhad Manjoo has an insightful and frightening piece about the implications of how our libraries really aren’t our when we sign a terms of service agreement with Amazon for devices such as Kindle. The result is that corporate and government Big Brother-wanna bees get to decide what can stay in what we used to think of as our personal libraries and what can’t.

So let’s conflate time a moment. Here’s a story from a few years back, before Kindle. It was scary then, but it is scarier when considered in context of a Kindle-world.

In the late 1990s, a writer named Susan Perabo published Who I Was Supposed to Be, a short story collection that included a parody in which Batman is a slovenly drunk. Perabo’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, and DC Comics were owned by the same company, and after DC discovered the Batman-as-Drunk story its reps complained to S&S and BAM! POW! ZIP! Perabo’s Batman story disappeared from subsequent editions of the book.

There was no copyright infringement; the Batman parody could easily have been argued as fair use (I know this because of research on this suppression for an article called "Holy Parody, Batman!" that I published in The Writer's Chronicle). This was corporate back-scratching, because a few suits at DC worried that a little short story would harm their brand.

I own a hard copy of what Perabo now calls “The Bat Edition” of her book. But imagine this same thing happening in the Kindle era. What’s different? DC and Simon and Schuster put pressure on Amazon to replace “Bat Editions” with a new Bat-less edition on everyone’s Kindle. Perabo’s story vanishes. You bought the book because you wanted to read the Batman story, but now it’s gone. No trace. Because Amazon and DC said so.

Ironically, Simon & Schuster has published Who I Was Supposed To Be as an e-book.

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