A student who sued Amazon in June for deleting a copy of the book <i>1984</i> from his Kindle e-book reader has won limited deletion protection for other Kindle users.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

October 2, 2009

2 Min Read

Amazon.com has agreed to pay $150,000 to the student who sued the company for deleting his digital copy of George Orwell's 1984 from his Kindle e-book reading device.

In June, Amazon received a demand to remove unauthorized copies of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm from its Kindle Store. The company then refunded the $0.99 purchase price to customers who had bought the e-books for their Kindle devices and deleted copies of the e-book files for almost 2000 customers.

The deletion prompted widespread criticism from Amazon customers, rights advocates, and bloggers, on whom the Orwellian nature of Amazon's actions were not lost.

On June 23, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos posted an apology for the e-book deletion. "Our 'solution' to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles," he wrote. "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."

Two days later, one of the customers stripped of his Kindle copy of 1984, Justin D. Gawronski, sued, in part because the deletion affected annotations about the book he had made using his Kindle.

Amazon's Kindle license agreement makes it clear that e-books bought for the Kindle are licensed rather than owned. The document also claims rights to alter the service. However, lawyers have argued that it's not clear from the Kindle license agreement that Amazon has the right delete purchased content.

As part of the settlement terms, Amazon has agreed not to delete Kindle e-books purchased and used in the US in the future, unless (a) the user consents; (b) the user seeks a refund or an electronic payment fails to clear; (c) a court orders the deletion; or (d) deletion is necessary to protect against malware.

This does not apply, however, to software code, "transient content such as blogs," or "content that the publisher intends to be updated and replaced with newer content as newer content becomes available."

In the case of Kindle newspaper and magazine content subscriptions, content is designed to be deleted, unless the user takes steps to save the content.

The law firm representing the student, Kamber Edelson LLC, plans to give its portion of the settlement to "a charitable organization that promotes literacy, children's issues, secondary or post-secondary education, health, or job placement," according to the settlement document.

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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