Last week Amazon, without prior notice, withdrew certain books from
the Kindles of people who had purchased the books. Purchased,
remember, not rented or leased or time-shared – the buyers were of the
opinion that the money they had paid somehow guaranteed them the right
to read the material whenever they chose.
Amazon credited their
accounts at once, but that did little to soothe buyers whose purchases
were repossessed for no fault of their own.
The issue was that the publisher of some of Orwell’s works had
challenged Amazon’s right to reissue the works. It is possible that
Amazon may have been too hasty in researching the strength of the
copyrights held by the publishers in question. But that is the sort of
thing that is usually argued endlessly in civil courts. Customarily a
cease-and-desist order is handed out initially while the case
proceeds, the ultimate decision coming only after months or years.
But this case played out on Internet time. There was a challenge, and
bang – there went the contents of the book, instantly scooped from the
personal libraries of people who had paid to own it. I have as yet
heard no report that an actual cease-and-desist order was officially
issued by a court, but perhaps Amazon was sufficiently convinced it
was in violation of a copyright that it ceased-and-desisted of its own
It looks like a dispute between publisher and Amazon was settled by
depriving the customers of access to something they had bought – it’s
the rivals who were fighting, but it’s the customer who lost.
Now take a wider view: what does this say about The Cloud? Here’s an
example: imagine a business that has stored its archived records with
a Cloud provider which offers a special benefit, say a particularly
safe encryption scheme. The business is honest and pays its rent, the
provider is honest and abides by all the rules, but a third company
gets a cease-and-desist order, claiming patent infringement related to
some minor aspect of the encryption program. Then what? What happens
to the right of the business to access all those records?
That’s no minor book theft – these are vital enterprise records we’re
talking about. And even if there is prior notice given, the
businesses involved would have to do some fast scrambling to get
multiple terabytes of information stored elsewhere before the lights
go out. Even if the complaint of the third company were finally
determined to be worthless, a good deal of time would be lost – time,
in a field that is developing faster than any we’ve ever known.
In a way, this represents the flip side of the security issue. With
security, the question is, can an intruder access your information? In
this case, the question is can YOU?