A recent posting on an Internet forum dedicated to e-books brings a significant issue to light. The original poster wrote about how he received an e-mail from Amazon informing him that he was banned from the online store and his Amazon account was canceled. The vague e-mail implied the reason was for too many returns, but didn't go into detail. The user adamantly denied abusing the company's return policy (although he admitted to three high-priced returns) and was stunned by the contents of the e-mail.
A quick search on the topic showed that many people over the last few years have been banned from Amazon, receiving the same e-mail almost verbatim. Although this is a little disheartening, there are plenty of places on the Internet that already cover the topic. What made this user's tale stand out was the fact that he was also a Kindle owner.
As you may already know, Amazon's electronic reader, the Kindle (and newer Kindle 2) is linked to the owner's Amazon account where the inventory of purchased books is managed. In addition, although there are a few other sources, it is primarily the only way to buy books for the device. When this user's Amazon account was closed, he also lost access to all the books he had purchased, as well as the ability to shop for new material.
This situation brings the bigger picture of Digital Rights Management (DRM) to the forefront. When you purchase any form of media from a company, do they have the right to deny you access in the future (presuming it was not purchased on a subscription basis)? The above mentioned user ended up with a $360 device that was totally worthless to him. He couldn't even access books he had already paid for.
Furthermore, it seems that Amazon's policies and user agreements allow for this kind of action (although there are no specific policies for its canceling an account in the first place). So, is this now a case of buyer beware? Will all those people who read the agreement and warned of such possibilities end up having the last "I told you so" laugh?
Ultimately, the user appealed to Amazon and it reinstated his account noting that "if a higher-than-acceptable number of concession incidents occur in the future" they will ban him again. Although this particular incident worked out for the user, it is still a bit frightening that a company can unilaterally make such a decision. Of course, it would be technically possible for Amazon to allow banned users to continue accessing their Kindle accounts, but they chose not to go that route and, based on its user agreement, Amazon doesn't have to.
We're sure someone will eventually challenge situations such as this in the courts but, in the meantime, it might be worthwhile to read that small print closely and think twice about giving a company total control over what you can and can't do with purchased media. Otherwise, you may find yourself with a $360 brick.
An Amazon spokesperson could not be reached for comment.