Orwell Lawsuit is Over: Amazon Paying $150,000

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Big Brother

In the swarm of controversy around Amazon’s book-deletion, Amazon managed to mostly finish cleaning things up with their customers.  One thread left unresolved, however, had been the the lawsuit. A student began a suit against Amazon when the deletion of 1984 and Animal Farm from his Kindle resulted in losing the notes for his homework.  The suit has now been settled and Amazon owes $150,000.

This amount obviously won’t hurt Amazon.  The company probably avoided the pursuit of a larger, class-action settlement by preemptively offering $30 refunds to everyone effected.  The amount is what was settled on as appropriate for the plaintiff’s specific damages.

My favorite part about this story has to be the plans of the law firm.  This kind of litigation has a reputation of being simple money-grabbing, but that’s not the case here.  The lawyers seemed to be involved simply because they didn’t agree with the actions Amazon took.  As such, they are donating all of their earnings from this suit to charity.  They launched the suit jut to tell Amazon something, and I think that they were successful.

Amazon Orwell Book Deletion Controversy May Be Reaching Some Closure

George Orwell’s 1984 is making its way back on to customers’ Kindles.  After the controversy this summer revolving around Amazon’s remote deletion of Orwell’s works, Amazon is now returning the book to customers’ Kindles, annotations intact.

Those who were effected by the book removals should have received the following note from Amazon:

As you were one of the customers impacted by the removal of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ from your Kindle device in July of this year, we would like to offer you the option to have us re-deliver this book to your Kindle along with any annotations you made,” reads the note. “You will not be charged for the book. If you do not wish to have us re-deliver the book to your Kindle, you can instead choose to receive an Amazon.com electronic gift certificate or check for $30

Although Amazon refunded the cost of the book when they deleted it, it’s nice to see that they are still offering to replace it for free.  The option of $30 is also more than what people paid, but is probably meant to cover any extraneous damages the deletions may have created (oddly enough, Amazon is claiming this refund is unrelated to the ongoing lawsuit).

Amazon Book Deletion Leads to Lawsuit

The controversy surrounding Amazon’s deletion of George Orwell Books has now led to a lawsuit against the company.  The suit was instigated by a Michigan High School student who was reading 1984 for an AP English class.  The basis of the suit is that Amazon didn’t just remove the book from his Kindle, but it also ruined his homework assignment and ability to perform in class.  Since he only used the Kindle for reading the book, all of his notes were in the form of annotations added to the eBook.

Interestingly, the annotations themselves did not seem to get deleted.  They are, however, completely useless without the passages they are referring to.  His notes say things like “this paragraph” or “this section.”  Since they are linked to indexing that refers to a now non-existent data file, the lawsuit claims they are completely unsalvageable.  I think this is an interesting angle for the suit to take. In a way, Amazon is technically leasing books and retains the rights to do things like remote deletion.  User created annotations, however, can’t be said to be owned by Amazon in any way.  Perhaps that’s why they weren’t removed along with the books.

So far, a man from California has also jumped on board as a plaintiff and the suit is moving towards class-action status.  That’s rough news for Amazon, who has already been faced with another class-action lawsuit this summer.  Amazon has already made promises to avoid book deletion practices in the future, but they have been met with some skepticism.

Free Software Foundation is Launching a Kindle Petition

fsflogoIn the wake of the controversy surrounding Amazon’s deletion of George Orwell books the Free Software Foundation is readying a petition against remote deletion and DRM.  This news is somewhat significant, as the Free Software Foundation is an organization that has some weight in the world of software activism.  Most famous for the GNU Project(and the related GPL license), the foundation can be thought of as the de facto head of the open source and free software movements.

The Free Software Foundation has acknowledged Bezos’ apology, but feel that it isn’t enough.  The petition will ask that Amazon completely relinquish the ability to make changes to users’ Kindle libraries.  One interesting point up is how the technology could provide a tool for censorship, especially as the Kindle enters new markets.  This argument is likely inspired by other companies.  For example, Google has taken criticism in the past for how it has assisted China’s government in censoring the internet.

For good measure, the petition will also ask Amazon to reevaluate the use of DRM.  I have to say that this seems unlikely.  Amazon’s view towards DRM is completely irrelevant: if the Kindle didn’t have DRM, the major publishers would stop supporting it.  While DRM has its downsides, Amazon doesn’t really have a choice in the matter.

Still, the petition has gotten some notice.  Once signatures have been assembled and the Free Software Foundation presents the petition, it will be interesting to see how Amazon responds.  So far, Amazon has been pretty good about responding to their customers, so it is possible that they will try to listen to the petition (except of course the DRM).  Then again, Microsoft has ignored the Free Software Foundation for decades and it hasn’t really been that difficult for them.

Jeff Bezos Apologizes

Amazon received a lot of flack when they reached into their customers’ Kindles and, without any real warning or prior notification, deleted copies of George Orwell books.  The reasons for the deletion weren’t entirely Amazon’s fault, but it provoked nothing but outrage nonetheless.

Although Amazon issued a sort of PR apology/promise, it was hardly enough to satisfy all of Amazon’s angry customers.  Now, CEO Jeff Bezos is trying to make amends by issuing a full out apology on the Kindle forums. The full text of his apology is as follows:

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. 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. 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

This is actually a really smart move by Amazon and, judging by user comments on Bezos’ thread, is receiving a positive reaction.  I’m glad Bezos is saying that he sees what people don’t like and Amazon won’t do it.  Period.  No PR speak or dancing around the subject.

As a side note, the post made me notice Bezos’ Amazon profile, and it was kind of fun seeing his reviews and what books he wanted to buy.  He gives good reviews to milk and cookies products, but only 1 star to The 13th Warrior.  I guess even Bezos doesn’t endorse everything Amazon sells.

Update On Amazon Book Deletion

There are two major updates to the story about Amazon deleting George Orwell books from customers’ Kindles.

First off, the reasons for the deletion have become more clear.  The books were added to the Kindle store by MobileReference, a company which focuses on the publication of works already existing in the public domain.  While Orwell’s works are public domain in most countries that MobileReference sells in, they still fall under copyright in the US.  Which just so happens to be the only country where Amazon sells the Kindle.

A complaint was made to Amazon by the copyright owners.  Amazon caved to the publisher’s pressure and, since their sales of the books were never legal to begin with, retroactively un-purchased every copy.  There actually seems to be some debate as to whether this violates the Kindle’s license agreement.  For example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation believes the agreement doesn’t leave room for Amazon to take away already purchased books.  Such speculation is most likely pointless, however, since the illegality of the Orwell books distributed probably skirts around the terms of use and Amazon wouldn’t have done the deletions if their lawyers hadn’t cleared it in the first place.

The second piece of news is that Amazon is claiming this will not happen again.  The company issued a statement, sent as an Email to various tech publications.

We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances.

It’s good to see that Amazon is reacting to the negative reaction they have received.

Amazon Deletes George Orwell Books in Orwellian Move

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Big Brother

Earlier on this blog, George Orwell was featured for Good Kindle Books at a Glance. If you downloaded the Kindle edition of either 1984 or Animal Farm, I hope you have gotten the chance to read and finish it because Amazon has remotely deleted the books from your Kindle.

Based on what has happened with Orwell’s books, Amazon’s policies seems to be this:  if a publisher changes their mind about offering an electronic version, all downloaded copies of the book have to be retroactively deleted, without any warning to or permission from the owner.  You have to wonder if Amazon saw the irony in doing this with 1984.

Having worked in eBook/book digitization industry myself I can say that book copyrights are complex and messy and publishers try to hold on to their rights with any means possible. Fines for violating copyrights are substantial. Therefore such unfortunate incidents are unavoidable.

To be fair I’ll note that of course Amazon has refunded the price of the books that were remotely deleted.