Amazon Sued for Reaching Out and Removing 1984 from Student’s Kindle
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In a scene that seems straight out of, well, 1984, Amazon reached out across its WhisperNet network and removed all copies of Animal Farm and 1984 itself from every Kindle which had purchased and downloaded the books from Amazon.

Amazon ate my homework.

Not only did this cause all of those Kindle owners to lose the two books, but it also cause all of the notes they’d written to annotate the books, on their Kindle, to disappear as well!

These included the notes of high school senior Justin Gawronski, who was reading 1984 for class. Meaning that instead of “the dog ate my homework”, Gawronski was going to have to convince the school that “Amazon ate my homework.”


Not only did his annotations to 1984 disappear, but the removal rendered all of the notes he had written on his Kindle, about the book, useless, as they had been keyed to the page numbers on the Kindle.

Now, like any good American, and with the help of Washington state lawyer Clifford Cantor, Gawronski is sueing Amazon. [Ed note: While Gawronski may flunk English Lit. due to this fiasco, he clearly passed Civics class.]

“Because 1984 was the most recent book he had been reading on his Kindle 2,” the lawsuit explains, “the Kindle 2 powered on to the last page of 1984 Mr. Gawronski had been reading. Within moments of powering on his Kindle 2 to this page of 1984, the entire e-book disappeared as Amazon immediately remotely deleted it from his Kindle 2.”

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The complaint also quotes Internet pundits such as Farhad Manjoo of slate.com (“The power to delete your books, movies, and music remotely is a power no one should have,”) and David Pogue “It’s like Barnes & Noble sneaking into our homes in the middle of the night, taking some books that we’ve been reading off our nightstands, and leaving us a check on the coffee table.”

None of which seems to raise to the level of the stuff of lawsuits. However, the suit does raise an interesting point when it later points out that “Amazon never disclosed to Plaintiffs or the Classes that it possessed the technological ability or right to remotely delete digital content purchased through the Kindle Store from Kindles or iPhones. Neither this capability nor this apparent right are disclosed in the Terms of Use. Similarly, Amazon never disclosed that it could remotely render useless notes, annotations, bookmarks, and highlighting created by consumers.”

Cantor has positioned this as a class action law suit, and while we question whether the suit will get that far, Cantor clearly knows how to turn a phrase, and has a good sense of humor (at least, we think it’s his sense of humor). In the request for class action status, Cantor defines not only the “Kindle class” (all people who have own or have owned a Kindle), but also “The Big Brother Class” (All individuals and entities in the United States who purchased any digital content through the Kindle Store that was subsequently remotely deleted by Amazon without the consent of the purchasers,) and even “The Big Brother Work-Product Subclass” (All individuals and entities in the United States who purchased any digital content through the Kindle Store that was subsequently remotely deleted by Amazon without the consent of the purchasers in which they made notes, annotations, highlights, or dog-ears.”)

 

Now, the question is, why did Amazon do this?

The reality is, Amazon has found itself in a very difficult position. The text of both 1984 and Animal Farm had been uploaded to Amazon’s digital inventory by someone claiming that the books were in the public domain, when in fact they were not. Amazon deleted the material when it discovered that it had been made available digitally even though it was not yet in the public domain.

In short, Amazon stood to face a powerful copyright lawsuit if they didn’t remove the infringing material as soon as they discovered the situation.

Not only that – and as we’re sure Amazon will point out in its defense – had they allowed the material to remain on their users’ Kindles, the users themselves would have been at risk of being found guilty of copyright infringment.

So perhaps the better question goes not to what Amazon did, so much as how they did it.

And how they are going to make sure that it never happens again.

Ed. Follow Up: A tip of the helmet to Chris W. for pointing us to the apology issued by none other than Amazon’s Bookworm in Chief, Jeff Bezos:

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our “solution” was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we’ve received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,

Jeff Bezos
Founder & CEO
Amazon.com

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2 thoughts on “Amazon Sued for Reaching Out and Removing 1984 from Student’s Kindle
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  1. What sets me aback is the fact that they actually had remote access to the computers. That is what seems illegal to me. And frightening, when it comes down to it. Who knows now who has access to our personal information? And to what uses will it be put? Paranoia? maybe so, but I’ll be removing all of my personal info and things to a removable harddrive which I will only hook up when needed.

  2. I really doubt it would be all that difficult to get a paper copy and figure out which pages his notes are for in the paper copy.

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