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 MULTIFORMAT FEATURE

Opinion: Amazon's customer abuse reminds us of the perils of DRM

Why you no longer get what you pay for
Product: Kindle news | Publisher: Amazon
 
Kindle news Multiformat, thumbnail 1
If you've ever suffered at the hands of corporate incompetence, you'll know that patience and reason often don't get you very far.

One such story emerged this week about a Norwegian lady named Linn, who had her Kindle account unceremoniously shut down by Amazon.co.uk after alleged "abuse" of policies.

Not only that, all of her many online purchases were wiped. Furthermore, she was warned that if she attempted to set up another account, the result would be the same. Her custom was definitely NOT welcome.

Despite Linn's concerted effort to get a reasonable explanation from Amazon's customer relations staff on the matter, the responses were essentially of an infuriating 'the computer says no' variety.

Access denied

In this instance, Linn's purchases were "a lot" of books, presumably purchased safe in the knowledge that even if her Kindle device ever broke, or was stolen, she'd still be able to gain access to her entire library at a later date.

After all, Amazon seems like the sort of company that's here to stay, and not one likely to just shaft a customer without good reason.

But, when a company decides - seemingly out of nowhere - to terminate your account without even deigning to explain what you've done wrong, the ugly side of Digital Rights Management suddenly rears its head. And, my gosh, it's ugly.

The cold reality is that not one single thing you buy actually belongs to you once a company decides to pull the rug on you. And when that firm also sells games, and all manner of other downloadable content, you'd better believe that this is an issue with more relevance to pocket gamers than might initially be apparent.

As someone who was unceremoniously banned from Amazon a few years ago without justification a few years back, I can empathise with Linn. The online retail giant's inexplicable bullyboy tactics just don't come as a great surprise to me, I'm afraid.

In the case of my being banned, it was a relatively minor inconvenience, but it was enough to make me disgusted enough with the unapologetic, unyielding treatment to take my money elsewhere.

None shall pass

What you discover is that no amount of patient, reasoned discussion with large organisations tends to get very far. When it's a physical object, it's not such a big deal, but when you're talking about being denied access to vast amounts of digital content, it's essentially corporate theft.

Sadly, it's not just Amazon that can shaft you. Nintendo has a similar attitude to your digital library - as anyone who has had to replace his Wii, DSi, or 3DS will attest.

In that instance, because you don't have a traditional account, you can't just log in to it and re-download all your games on a new machine. All you're effectively paying for is the right to play it on that specific machine. You don't ever 'own' the game in the way that we all expect and understand.

What you can do is transfer the content to another machine (say, from a DSi to a new 3DS, or from a 3DS to a 3DS XL) at a later date via an incredibly convoluted, time-consuming process, but, believe me, the amount of micromanagement involved in the process is enough to test the patience of a congregation of saints.

Changing its ways

Apparently, Nintendo has come up with a traditional account-based system for Wii U, though details are scant in advance of the system's release.

But, even in the event of a robust online account system, we still have to place our trust in corporate entities whenever we part for cash for digital goods.

I don't know about you, but over the past decade I've accumulated literally thousands of games via every digital content provider there is. For the most part, it wasn't because I was being a giddy early adopter - it was because they were titles that you simply couldn't buy in any kind of physical format.

Now, although I haven't been screwed over yet, or been unfortunate enough to break / lose a Nintendo device loaded with games, I'm perfectly aware that I'm walking a digital tightrope.

If, at some point, Microsoft, Sony, Apple, Google, or even Valve decides that I've committed some sort of unspecified account transgression, I stand to lose years' worth of content.

And even if I'm the model digital citizen, they could (and will) just decide to withdraw certain content when it suits them. If I happen to want to re-download it later, tough.

Vinyl revival

So, although I've taken advantage of the convenience of digital content delivery as much as anyone on the planet, I'm acutely aware that none of this stuff is actually mine. This is probably why I (and an increasing number of customers, as it happens) still doggedly buy music on vinyl at every opportunity.

Say what you like about clutter, at least it's YOUR clutter. Some anonymous droid can't just decide, without your permission, that you're not entitled to that LP any more. The saying used to go that 'you get what you pay for.'

Perhaps that should be revised to: 'You get what you pay for, but the provider reserves the right to refuse service; terminate accounts; remove or edit content; or cancel orders at its sole discretion.'
 

Reviewer photo
Kristan Reed 22 October 2012
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