Amazon has become the target of lawsuits over the company's deletion of copies of George Orwell's novel "1984."
Two owners of Amazon's e-reader, the Kindle, are suing the company for
breach of contract, intentional interference with their belongings and
violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Washington Consumer
Antoine Bruguier of California
and teenage Michigan resident
Justin Gawronski filed the suit in Seattle District Court last Thursday. Both
lawsuits concern the deletion of George Orwell's dystopian classic "1984".
Gawronski, who had been reading the novel for a high school English class, woke
up one morning to discover his digital copy of the book-and the notes he had
taken on it, had vanished from his Kindle. Despite the existence of a second
file Amazon keeps to ensure notes aren't lost, the lawsuit alleges if the text
of the book referenced in the notes has disappeared, the notes can be rendered
"Amazon has no more right to delete e-books from consumers' Kindles and
iPhones than it does to retrieve from its customers' homes paper books it sells
and ships to consumers," Bruguier's lawyers argued in the suit, which is
alleging breach of contract and a violation of Amazon's terms of service.
"Unless restrained and enjoined, Amazon will continue to commit such acts."
Around July 16, Kindle users realized that copies of "Animal Farm"
and "1984" had disappeared from their e-readers' archived items
library. Around the same time, an e-mail from Amazon.com refunding the purchase
price for the books appeared in users' in-boxes.
As chatter online erupted, with many commenting on the irony of the online
retailer pulling a book that dealt with themes of totalitarian control and Big
Brother, Amazon.com issued a statement on July 17 stating that the works by
Orwell had been pulled because the Kindle publisher did not own the rights.
"When we were notified of this by the rights holder, we removed the
illegal copies from our systems and from customers' devices, and refunded
customers," Drew Herdener, a spokesperson with Amazon.com, told The New
York Times at the time. With the furor failing to subside, Amazon CEO
Jeff Bezos publicly apologized for Amazon's actions.
"This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold
copies of '1984' and other novels on Kindle," Bezos wrote in a July 23
community-forum posting on Amazon's Kindle site. "Our 'solution' to the
problem was stupid, thoughtless and painfully out of line with our principles.
"It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've
received," the note concluded. "We will use the scar tissue from this
painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match
Amazon has been spending a great deal of time and energy promoting its line
of Kindle products, which includes a larger-format version, the Kindle DX,
which is being targeted toward students and fans of newspapers and large-format
documents. More than any other company, Amazon has been most seriously striving
to reach the dominant position in the potentially lucrative e-reader market,
which could earn the retailer billions of dollars in coming years. Doug Anmuth
of Barclays Capital recently estimated that the device could earn Amazon $1.2
billion in sales in 2010 and $3.7 billion in 2012.
However, Amazon also faces increased competition, including products from
Sony and an e-reader from startup Plastic Logic that will be released in early
2010 and utilize AT&T's 3G network to download documents and books
wirelessly. Plastic Logic, however, is angling itself more to capitalize on the
mobile business professionals segment, emphasizing the device's ability to
download and display Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and PDF documents.