Monday, May 24, 2010

Kindle and the Threat to Intellectual Property

Last night, my good buddy Jess mentioned her fear of her work being “trawled” by Amazon if she purchased a Kindle: based on what I can see, this is not an unreasonable fear. Especially when you think about something that Jess and I – and just about every writer and researcher I know – do at some point: write in the margins! Not merely highlighting the author’s work, but scribbling down new ideas of our own?

You see, that Popular Highlights feature is linked to another nifty Kindle feature: Notes. This basically allows you to “scribble in the margins” of your e-book, just as you would a paper copy. But according to the Kindle terms of service:
The Device Software will provide Amazon with data about your Device and its interaction with the Service (such as available memory, up-time, log files and signal strength) and information related to the content on your Device and your use of it (such as automatic bookmarking of the last page read and content deletions from the Device). Annotations, bookmarks, notes, highlights, or similar markings you make in your Device are backed up through the Service. Information we receive is subject to the Privacy Notice. (

Which means, from what I can tell, that this information is subject not only to aggregation, but also to scrutiny at the individual level!

There is no opt-out, folks. Kindle is data mining what has hitherto been completely private: your thoughts!

In the history of book-reading humanity, some pretty interesting ideas have come from notes in the margins: theorems, ideas for novels, new recipes. A book was once a quiet place for the individual to contemplate and extend thought. However, in the Kindle environment, a third-party is taking ownership of that once-private space for meditation.

They are stalking your next idea. That’s like eavesdropping on your prayers!

There is no clear answer to the question about what they might do with your thoughts. Could they sell a mathematical proof written in the “Notes” of a journal article downloaded on Kindle to another mathematician? Could they collect your recipe ideas and include them in their Kooking with Kindle collection? Sounds crazy, I know, but since they won’t say they won’t, that means that they could! And they will retain the right to do it unless someone tells them they can’t!

Until Amazon clarifies their position on the ownership of “Notes,” I have purchased my last Kindle title. Because while I support a company’s right to give me information through advertising, I do not support their right to steal my intellectual property – or anyone else’s!

1 comment:

  1. That's exactly right: My thoughts are my own until I choose to share them. I understand the information opt-in when I buy a book (or anything) on-line or with a credit card. I can opt out by using cash. But I would like the freedom to think in peace and am not going digital until I know that right will be protected.

    Margin-scribblers, unite!


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