Kindle Owners Sue Amazon over Blocked Books

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 Protection Act.

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 useless.

"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 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, 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, 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 our mission."

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.