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David Pogue reports: some Kindle users found today that Amazon had yanked several Orwell books—Animal Farm and 1984—off their Kindles and refunded the purchase price without satisfactory explanation.

As you might remember, we learned that Amazon could remotely alter or kill Kindle ebooks thanks to the text-to-speech debacle, and this is exactly what everybody was afraid of then. It’s very bad, but it’s exactly the problem of digital rights management: DRM means you never fully own the media you buy.

That said, the more interesting question is why Amazon remote-killed these books, and whether they’ll apologize or even unkill them. In the Kindle forum where Pogue found this story, the prevailing theory is that the books were pirated or sold by a party without the proper copyrights. However, the salient sentence of the response from Amazon customer support is this:

Although a rarity, publishers can decide to pull their content from the Kindle store.

That makes it sound like somebody simply changed their mind and Kindle customers got shafted in the process.

TeleRead posted an insight email exchange an affected Kindler had with Amazon, wherein Amazon claims to have discovered a “problem” with the ebooks. Sounds like even customer service isn’t sure what happened.

I have a feeling that if the books were indeed pirated, Amazon won’t quite apologize and definitely won’t reinstate those books. If, however, the publisher simply decided not to sell them, we’ve got a better chance to see some serious Bezos backtracking.

Kindle users should still be concerned. If Amazon’s willing to seriously infringe on buyers’ rights for something as small as a couple 99-cent ebooks, they definitely won’t be shy about revoking books in the future.

It makes me really glad I don’t have a Kindle.

Here are a few other reactions: CrunchGear discusses kill switches and clouds, the Guardian has a few selected reader reactions (surprise: they’re all negative), and Boing Boing points to this website where affected Kindlers (or anybody else) can download Orwell books DRM-free (and monetarily free, too).