Upon further investigation the story does not seem as cut and dried as in Pogue's article. It would appear that there are ways to publish eBooks through Amazon without actually having the rights to do so and that this has happened before.
Still, I think this was handled very badly.
In my mind this is exactly the sort of underhanded stunt that greatly reduces the credibility of Amazon as a company, the Kindle as a product and the publishers as entities with whom one should bother doing business. If I buy a book, for a moment ignoring the legal fine print of what rights I actually gain in doing so, I have certain expectations. One of them being that the book does not simply vanish once I have paid for it and it is, for all practical purposes, in my posession. If I have bought and paid for a book in good faith from a vendor I have no reason to be suspicious of, it would seem that the right thing to do is to leave me alone.
At the very least, this is a very rude thing to do. It is probably legal though; very few people know what terms they are accepting when using a service because the terms are almost always unreasonable both in scope, intent and form. But they are the terms. Take them or leave them.
I am sure Amazon did not like having to do this. They obviously are not stupid enough to think that this would not reflect badly on them. But it is their own fault. First for selling an illegitimate product and second for being foolish enough to make it technically possible to delete content from devices without the explicit consent of the owner.
(One can envision an attack on Amazon's reputation where some party injects large amounts of illegitimate books, sneaking them past whatever controls Amazon have, thereby forcing Amazon to act in this unpopular manner.)
I think the lessons are:
- Don't believe everything you read. David Pogue seems to have reported a somewhat narrow view of what has transpired.
- Digital distribution of content is far from being mature enough not to offer up nasty surprises even from reputable parties. Expect more pain and more sillyness in the next decade too.