The story about Amazon deleting George Orwell’s ‘1984’ off of Kindles due to (apparently) a licensing issue is all the rage today. It’s an interesting issue…I don’t agree with everyone’s take on it (“stolen property” questions vs. copyright licensing issues, etc.), but I do think that having the discussion is good. If it takes this sort of event to enliven debate over the issues with intellectual property sales, the public domain, licensing vs. renting, etc., then so be it. (and the irony of ‘1984’ being the subject of the deletion is certainly giving the story legs!)

But the heartbreaking portion of the story to me was a quote from the NYT article:

Justin Gawronski, a 17-year-old from the Detroit area, was reading “1984” on his Kindle for a summer assignment and lost all his notes and annotations when the file vanished. “They didn’t just take a book back, they stole my work,” he said.

Losing notes, especially for an assignment…well, it sucks. I certainly hope Justin was able to save his work. If he wasn’t, and he’s still looking for help, please forward this along if you happen to know him. Regardless, I decided to type up some info on this for anyone else caught in this situation.

There’s no way to know for sure, but there’s a pretty good chance (IMO) that the notes are still available. And even (tragically) if they aren’t, there are some simple steps one can take to ensure that they ARE kept safe.

1) Backup the “My Clippings.txt” file offline, on your computer. This is the file where all your highlights and notes are stored on the Kindle as you make them. It’s a basic text file, and as near as I can tell, it’s just appended to…no deletions. So hopefully, Justin’s notes are still in this file, on his Kindle, and available once he copies the file off. And if they aren’t, then at least for future assignments, the process for taking a backup will be known.

(note: I only have a Kindle 2, so any differences between it and the Kindle 1 I wouldn’t be aware of. IIRC, the Kindle 1 has a card reader, though, so it should be a similar process. I’m guessing the clippings file is on the card.)

To copy the file off, connect your Kindle to a computer (PC, Mac, Linux…shouldn’t matter) with the provided power/USB cable. The power plug end of the power cable comes off, and allows to connect the Kindle to a computer via USB (it will charge from this connection as well). Once it’s connected to the computer, a drive or device should show up representing the Kindle (this depends on what operating system you’re using, but in all cases it should work).

Open that drive/device, and you should see the “root directory” of the Kindle, which for me only has three directories: “Audible”, “music”, and “documents”. Select the “documents” directory. You’ll see all your books and periodicals (which you can also backup, and I’d encourage you to do so), plus a few other files, one of which is called “My Clippings.txt”. This is it. Your highlights, notes, and bookmarks are kept in this file in this format:

The Iron Heel (Jack, 1876-1916 London)
– Highlight Loc. 1230 | Added on Friday, April 03, 2009, 08:38 AM

You are piggish and acquisitive, but the magic of your phrases leads you to believe that you are patriotic.
The Iron Heel (Jack, 1876-1916 London)
– Note Loc. 1637 | Added on Friday, April 03, 2009, 05:45 PM

The Iron Heel (Jack, 1876-1916 London)
– Bookmark Loc. 1674 | Added on Friday, April 03, 2009, 05:50 PM

It’s just a text file, and the Kindle appears to only append to it. I suppose it’s possible that the removal process for ‘1984’ removed all references to the book from this file as well (hello, Winston Smith!), but I’d be surprised if that were the case. Hopefully, Justin will find his notes and highlights here. Drag this file to somewhere on your local machine (I have a “kindlebackup” directory), and you should be back in book report business! I try to do this every couple of weeks, just to be on the safe side.

I tested a similar scenario by downloading a new book, making some notes and highlights, and then deleting the book…at least in that standard case, my notes remain. It’s possible that Amazon’s uber-delete powers go further and edit the clippings file, but I can’t really test that.

2) There’s actually another place to try, though I’d say of the two, this one’s more likely to have been adjusted by Amazon, since it’s in their cloud. Your notes and highlights are actually also backed up and available online if you keep WhisperNet on (even occasionally). Open a browser, go to, and login. You’ll be presented with a Reading List from the Kindle that includes links to your notes and highlights. I wish the formatting here was a little more capable (you could d/l the info directly, or there was a private RSS feed or something), but still, the info is at least available.

Hopefully, between these two methods, people who have issues with notes and highlight loss can mitigate the effects. There are lots of reasons beyond Amazon reaching down from the sky that could cause an issue: Kindles can break, be stolen, get lost, etc. Knowing how to backup the personal annotations that you’ve made to your library is always a good idea, IMO. As I get more and more into using the Kindle, I find I annotate a LOT more than I do in physical books and periodicals…I think comes from the don’t write in the book mom-voice in my head. I like knowing that I can make notes w/o marking up the work, and I can also backup my notes in multiple ways. Hopefully this post can help someone else as well!