Digital Restrictions: FSF Campaign to Free Kindle Software

Jul 28, 2009

The Free Software Foundation started an online campaign in the Amazon forum to free the Kindle code. Supporters already number more than 650.

News came out mid-July that Amazon for the Kindle e-book reader erased certain books that were already bought from its customer accounts. The reason they gave was copyrights. Ironically the books pulled were George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm. The Free Software Foundation subsequently initiated a campaign on its Defectivebydesign.org project page for customers to vent their anger, with numerous readers responding.

The FSF counted more than 650 one-star reviews (the lowest rating) on Amazon's Kindle page based on their campaign. On July 22, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos issued an apology in response: "Our 'solution' to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles."

The FSF wants to go further, though. The software activists intend to use their open campaign to achieve free availability of the Kindle e-book reader software. The foundation urges Kindle customers to continue the one-star review campaign and letters to the Amazon chief to urge him to make the Kindle code openly available.

According to the activists this is the third time Kindle customers have felt the Orwellian hand on their devices. In June, Amazon had retracted Ayn Rand's books and before that, deactivated text-to-speech for certain titles. FSF's Peter Brown prefers to use the definition "digital restrictions management" instead of digital rights management for the term DRM: "The real issue here is Amazon's use of DRM and proprietary software. They have unacceptable power over users, and actual respect necessitates more than an apology -- it requires abandoning DRM and releasing the Kindle's software as free software."

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