In no uncertain terms

When you buy a Kindle from Amazon, you aren’t just buying a device, you are getting a service.  Amazon will back up the books you buy from the Kindle store for you.  You are able to shop in the Kindle store.  If you are within range of the Whispernet, you get internet access (depending on country).  Amazon will back up your notes on books from the Kindle store, and so on.

Not surprisingly, there are terms involved with that…rules you are supposed to follow. 

For the current 6″ model, the Kindle 2 International, the License Agreement and Terms of Use are here.

I’d recommend you read them…although you have already, right?  😉  You were supposed to do that before using your Kindle. 

What if, when you read them, you didn’t agree with them?  Amazon says:


So, I assume you’ve been using the Kindle, and therefore agree to the terms.  😉

Why should you care?  If Amazon became aware that you have violated the terms, and if they therefore stopped doing business with you, that would be a very bad thing

  • You would not be able to buy any more books from the Kindle store
  • You would not have access to the books in your archive
  • You would not have access to your stored notes at
  • Your Kindle would be deregistered, presumably, meaning you would not have Whispernet access any more
  • You wouldn’t be able to transfer your books to a new device on your account

You might think, “Hey, I paid for those books!  How can they take them away?”  They wouldn’t be taking them away.  They would just stop backing them up for you and giving you access to those back-ups on their servers.  If they were on your Kindle when they cut you off, you’d still have them.  If you backed them up yourself (which I recommend…just regularly copy your Kindle’s documents folder to your computer using your included USB cord), you’d still have them.

However, and this is key, those files of books you bought from the Kindle store are only good on the specific device (Kindle, iPhone, iPod touch) for which they wre downloaded.  That means that when your Kindle eventually died (knock virtual wood), those files wouldn’t work on another device.

Unfair?  Well, if you bought paperbooks (p-books) from a brick and mortar store, and the books were lost, stolen, or destroyed, they wouldn’t replace them for you.  People accept that.  Being able to put them on another device is a service.  If you could keep your Kindle going for thirty years, you’d still have the use of those files…and there are people still playing thirty-year old Atari 2600 consoles.

So, again…a very bad thing.  As Buffy might say, “Harsh, much.”

Don’t worry, though, I’ve only ever heard about it happening once, and it’s not very likely.  My guess is that if you just casually did something, you’d be warned first.  If you did it purposefully, and repeatedly, that could be different. 

The most important, and I would guess most violated, provision is section four, paragraph 3.  That’s the software section.  That paragraph reads:

“No Reverse Engineering, Decompilation, Disassembly or Circumvention.
You may not, and you will not encourage, assist or authorize any other person to, modify, reverse engineer, decompile or disassemble the Device or the Software, whether in whole or in part, create any derivative works from or of the Software, or bypass, modify, defeat or tamper with or circumvent any of the functions or protections of the Device or Software or any mechanisms operatively linked to the Software, including, but not limited to, augmenting or substituting any digital rights management functionality of the Device or Software.”

What does that mean?

If you use a “hack” that modifies the software, you’ve broken the terms.  There are two popular hacks out there. 

 One modifies the software on Kindles besides the Kindle 1 (which doesn’t need a hack…see this previous post ) to enable you to put your own sleep mode pictures on your device.   That is something people clearly want, and it’s one of the things Barnes and Noble did with their nook  (sic) e-book reader.  They appear to have been trying to respond to some of what people have perceived as deficiencies in the Kindle.

Should Amazon give us that ability?  I think so.  I know it could lead to a lot more Customer Service contacts, which is expensive, and I’m guessing that’s why they don’t allow it.  However, if people choose the nook for that reason, that might convince Amazon to allow it. 

The other hack is a “font hack”, which lets you change the font on the Kindle.  This is another thing that people really want.  For one thing, it lets you add character sets.   That would include things like Cyrillic (which may be the most requested one I see) and Hiragana, which allow the use of other languages.

Amazon has already given us one updated character set, and I think they’ll give us more…especially now that the Kindle is for sale internationally.  

Let me very clear:

I do not recommend that you use these hacks.

That’s not just because they can cause you problems, and Amazon won’t help you then.  For example, the font hack means you won’t get software updates from Amazon…unless you remove it, do the update, and then put it back on the device. 

It’s because you will violate your Terms of Use.  And once more, that’s a very bad thing

Are there other important provisions in the Terms of Use?


For example, there is this:

Section 4, paragraph 5:

Export Regulations. You agree to comply with all export and re-export restrictions and regulations of the Department of Commerce and other United States agencies and authorities, and not to transfer, or encourage, assist or authorize the transfer of the Software to a prohibited country or otherwise in violation of any such restrictions or regulations.”

Note that encouraging or assisting people to do these things (such as posting links to them) also violates the terms.

Right away, I hear those shouts of “Freedom of speech!”  This is a common misperception, in my opinion.  It’s the government that has the obligation of freedom of speech, not private parties.  Your boss can tell you that you can’t talk politics at work.  That’s legal.  Your company can tell you you can’t talk to the press, and fire you if you do.  That’s legal. 

It’s the government that has restrictions on doing that.

By the way, despite the title of this post, it hasn’t all been uncertain.  I considered “Terms of endearment” and “Terms of surrender”, incidentally.  For some time, for example, it wasn’t clear if selling your Kindle with Kindle books on it violated the distribution part of the terms, then (as I pointed out in this previous post, Amazon told me it was okay.  The same thing was true for the hacks…then Amazon reportedly clarified it in this Amazon Kindle community thread.  They reportedly said

“Using any kind of unofficial software patch to tamper with the Kindle Software is considered a violation of the Terms of Use…”

I don’t think there’s any great risk that Amazon is going to stop doing business with you.  After all, doing business is their business.  🙂  It would also be rotten publicity, and they’ve had enough of that.  However, if they did, it would be a (all together now)



This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.


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