Image by Geek Tonic via FlickrWhen Amazon remotely deleted bootlegged digital versions of George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984 from its e-reader Kindle, it may have thought it was just doing the right thing. But now that Amazon finds itself a defendant in a class-action suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, it probably will, in Orwellian terms, "doublethink" its decision.
In the case of Justin Gawronski and A. Bruguier, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated v. Amazon. com, Inc. and Amazon Digital Services, Inc., the plaintiffs sued Amazon for trespass to chattels, conversion, breach of contract, violation of the Washington Consumer Protection Act, and violation of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (18 U.S.C. sec. 1030) over the remote removal of 1984 from Kindle. The 18-page complaint was filed July 30.
Buyers of the Kindle electronic book reader agree to Amazon's terms of service, which enables the Delaware corp. to modify, suspend or discontinue the service without liability to consumers. From Amazon's perspective, consumers are not buying a book, which is tangible property, but rather, a service that Amazon controls. Low-tech types may gloat that were they in good faith to buy a paperback of 1984 to accompany their Cliff Notes version at Borders that turned out to be an unauthorized version of the futuristic novel, the bookstore would be hard-pressed to snatch the book back from them without refunding their money.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out for Amazon. A bit of advice to Amazon: if the court grants class status to the Complaint and Winston Smith becomes a named plaintiff, you might want to settle, because a federal courtroom is no Ministry of Love.