Amazon.com settled a lawsuit leveled against it by a Michigan student and another plaintiff, who claimed that the online retailer's deletion of George Orwell's "1984" from their Kindle e-readers was illegal. By settling for $150,000, a portion of which will be donated by the plaintiffs' lawyers to charity, Amazon.com seems to have dodged the specter of a class-action lawsuit.
As noted by the court, Amazon.com agreed to either restore copies of Orwell's magnum opus to those whose copies were deleted in July, or alternatively offer a $30 check or Amazon.com gift card. "Those who elect to receive the previously purchased Subject Work will have any and all annotations or notes made prior to removal of the Subject Work restored automatically," court documents read-a salient point, considering that the deletion of accompanying notes was one of the motivations for the plaintiffs pressing their lawsuit in the first place.
This particular settlement shuts the door on one case. However, other issues could potentially arise in the future for the relatively new industry of e-readers.
According to the settlement, Amazon.com still retains the right to remotely delete works from Kindle users' libraries under specific circumstances, including a legal order to delete or modify a file, an attempt to protect a device or network from malware, or with the consent of the Kindle's owner.
While the settlement establishes a precedent for e-reader users' rights, there is likely enough gray area for another case to arise at a future date.
The court documents state that Amazon.com's new deletion policy "does not apply to (a) applications (whether developed or offered by Amazon or by third parties), software or other code; (b) transient content such as blogs; or (c) content that the publisher intends to be updated and replaced with newer content as newer content becomes available."
Amazon.com has previously signed deals with a number of newspaper companies and textbook suppliers to port their content onto devices such as the Kindle DX. As the publishing industry finds itself devastated in equal measure by the economic recession and the rise of online content, it is likely that more companies will sign deals with e-purveyors such as Amazon.com-or even Apple-in order to create new revenue streams. That may create a Wild West-style situation where controversies and legal action erupt, and precedent needs to be established.