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7/31/2009
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Amazon Kindle E-book Deletion Prompts Lawsuit

Amazon angered customers when it remotely deleted two books in from Kindle e-book readers without notifying their owners.

A high school student has sued Amazon, claiming the retailer ruined his homework on George Orwell's 1984 by deleting the electronic version of the book without warning from the teenager's Kindle.

Justin D. Gawronski, who lives in Michigan, filed the lawsuit Thursday in federal court in Seattle. He was joined in the complaint by Antoine J. Bruguier of California, who also had the book deleted from his Kindle. The plaintiffs, who claim Amazon did not have the right to remove the book, are seeking class-action status.

Amazon angered customers and drew severe criticism from consumer advocates when it deleted 1984 and Orwell's other well-known book Animal Farm in mid-July from Kindle e-book readers without notifying their owners. Amazon, which developed and sells the Kindle, later said it took the unusual action after learning that the books had been added to its e-book catalog by a third-party who did not have the rights to sell the books.

Removing the books from the catalog alone would have sparked little controversy. But Amazon's decision to also delete them remotely from customers' Kindles highlighted the retailer's control over electronic content purchased for the devices. This week, the Boston non-profit, The Free Software Foundation, said it would present Amazon with a petition asking that Amazon relinquish control of the e-books customers load on Kindles.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argued that Amazon never disclosed its ability to remove content at will, a fact that might have affected customers' decision to buy the Kindle.

"The capability for Amazon to remotely delete purchased items is material in a consumer's decision to buy Kindles or e-books through the Kindle Store," the lawsuit says. "The value of Kindles and reading materials purchased through the Kindle Store are significantly diminished by Amazon's ability to remotely delete digital content, including e-books, magazines and newspapers."

In Gawronski's case, the student lost more than just the Orwell book. The copious notes he had made on the e-book version of "1984," which had been assigned to him as a summer homework assignment, "were rendered useless because they no longer referenced the relevant parts of the book."

"Mr. Gawronski now needs to recreate all of his studies," the suit says.

Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos last week apologized for removing the books, saying the company's handling of the problem presented by unknowingly selling illegal copies of the books was "stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles."

Nevertheless, Gawronski and Bruguier argue that Amazon is still liable for the damages caused by its actions that go beyond refunding the money spent on the e-books. The plaintiffs are seeking restitution for "all damages caused by its conduct," as well as litigation expenses and attorney fees. The plaintiffs are being represented by the Chicago law firm KamberEdelson.

In addition, the suit asks the court to rule that Amazon does not have the right to remotely delete digital content from Kindles and such action is a violation of Amazon's terms of use for the device.

"Unless restrained and enjoined, Amazon will continue to commit such acts," the lawsuit says.


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