Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Amazon Explains Why It's Okay to Sell Books About the WikiLeaks Stuff It Won't Host


UPDATE: Amazon UK is no longer selling the WikiLeaks book; a note on the site says the self-published title “has been removed by author.” Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener says he doesn’t know why author Heinz Duthel pulled the book, and says Amazon has had no contact with him. UPDATE 2: And now it appears to be back. Here’s an interview with Duthel explaining why he pulled the book, and why he asked Amazon to start selling it again.
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EARLIER:

Last week Amazon pulled the plug on WikiLeaks by refusing to host the group’s data on its server. But Amazon is now profiting from some of that data, via a Kindle e-book title now available through its U.K. outlet.

Hypocrisy! says the Internet.

Not at all! says Amazon. But it can understand why you might think that.

When reports about the book first surfaced today, the title on Amazon’s site sure made it look as if the e-book were simply a bundled version of WikiLeaks’ documents: “WikiLeaks documents expose US foreign policy conspiracies. All cables with tags from 1- 5000.”

Since then, though, Amazon has added this wording: “[DOES NOT CONTAIN TEXT OF CABLES].”

Adds Amazon PR guy Drew Herdener, via email: “This book contains commentary and analysis regarding recent WikiLeaks disclosures, not the original material disclosed via the WikiLeaks website.”

But that’s still confusing, since the book does indeed contain the text of cables–but in excerpt form, according to the AP.

So let me try to make Amazon’s case for them. Here’s what they might say if they were allowed to speak freely: Sorry about the confusion. But of course it’s okay for us to sell books about WikiLeaks that contain WikiLeaks data we don’t want to host ourselves. There’s a big difference between a data dump and writing that incorporates and comments on that data. See, for instance, the New York Times and every other news outlet that have written about WikiLeaks while using information supplied by WikiLeaks. We sell the Times and other periodicals that report on the topic, and we’re going to sell this book, too.

You’re welcome, Amazon! No need to send a check–I do this kind of thing gratis.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald