03 August 2009

Will Big Brother Pay?

I wrote earlier about the possibility of a Kindle Killer entering the ereader market and briefly mentioned Amazon's fuck up a few weeks ago when they remotely deleted several of their ebooks, including Orwell's "1984". Two Kindle users are hitting back now.

This past Thursday, Antoine Bruguier of California and Justin Gawronski, a high school student from Michigan, filed a class-action lawsuit against Amazon for violating the Washington Consumer Protection Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as well as breaching contract, and intentionally interfering with their belongings.
"Our 'solution' to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles," Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wrote to customers. "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."
This apology came in late July, after the deletion of the Orwell works without informing Kindle users until after the fact. Apparently, Amazon did not have the rights to distribute the ebooks, but somehow overlooked this as many users downloaded them.

High school student Gawronski was assigned "1984" as a part of his summer reading assignment in English, and bought the book on his Kindle 2. Not only did he lose the book itself, but his valuable notes for his assignment. Amazon does keep these notes in additional external files for customers, but really, how useful is it to go back to the notes and read, "...remember this paragraph for thesis" when you can't even reference the work it went with?

Bruguier wasn't in a similar situation to Gawronski, but was pissed nonetheless. He purchased "1984" back in April and received the mass e-mail sent to these customers from Amazon on July 16, confirming a refund for the book. Like everyone else, he wondered why. On that same day, another e-mail from Amazon stated that the company had discovered a "problem" with the book and thus issued a refund. Of course he complained to Amazon, but only received a reply the next day containing a canned statement on not being able to provide any further insight into the deletion. Later on, Amazon did finally admit in a final e-mail that the book was pulled due to licensing reasons.

So, what's the big deal anyway? Some people are irked and some kid lost his school notes. It's a lot bigger than that. Not only did Amazon breach contract by removing content remotely from Kindles, but they violated their own Terms of Service which state that Kindle users have every right to keep a permanent copy of digital content they purchase and can view it as many times as they want. Now, since the Kindle is used for interstate commerce and communication, it is protected as a computer; in deleting content remotely, Amazon accessed customers' Kindles without their permission, a clear violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and a violation of privacy. On top of that, this violated Washington state's (where Amazon is located) consumer protection statute, which bans unfair and deceptive acts and practices.
"Unless restrained and enjoined, Amazon will continue to commit such acts," the suit said.
Not to mention, when Amazon deleted the content, they caused "intentional interference to private property". They don't have the right to go into your house and take paper books back, what more right do they have taking back your e-books from your Kindles and iPhones?

Personally, I hope Amazon gets smacked around a bit for this. Deleting something resident on a private system... wait, this sounds like the same crime Gary McKinnon is being extradited to the US for. He faces up to 70 years in prison if convicted. So who were the legal geniuses giving Amazon the go-ahead to do this, and will they be getting a refund for this terrible advice? Will they donate their time defending Amazon pro-bono? I hope so.

Hopefully the parties won't simply settle out of court... we need this to go somewhere so it doesn't turn into a bigger mess.

I think Amazon missed their true Orwellian moment though. They already threw the book down the memory hole, so they should have spoken a bit of newspeak, informed everyone that the book was never there, and insisted its absence proves it was never there. Send everyone who disagrees to the Ministry of Love... err Gitmo.