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Amazon coughs $150k to student over lost notes

Orwell-Kindle fiasco proves expensive

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A student who sued Amazon for deleting George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four from his Kindle ebook, rendering his notes useless, has won $150,000 along with protection for other Kindle users.

The agreement (pdf), which was spotted by Seattle's TechFlash, effectively prevents Amazon reaching out and deleting or modifying works in future. However, as a negotiated agreement it doesn't carry a legal precedent; and Amazon isn't admitting that it broke the law, or even the terms of service, by deleting the work.

Amazon's motivation for pulling the classic from customer machines was the discovery that the work was still in copyright, despite having been uploaded and made available by an Amazon partner. Fewer than 2000 copies of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm had been sold, so Amazon reversed history by deleting the work over the Kindle's whispernet and crediting the accounts of those who had bought a copy.

That was, according to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, "stupid, thoughtless and painfully out of line with our principles", not to mention being very bad publicity indeed. Any other book would have drawn a lot less flack, but the ability to reach out and change documents even as people are reading them is something Winston's Ministry of Truth would happily have killed for - Animal Farm's involvement hardly gets a mention in the coverage, despite being equally within copyright.

But it was the removal of Nineteen Eighty-Four which so annoyed one Justin D Gawronski, who saw his notes disappear along with the book, that he promptly sued Amazon for taking them away.

Amazon offered all those who were suddenly made Big-Brother-less a legit copy of the book, or a $30 token as an alternative, and pointed out that the notes were backed up online anyway - but that wasn't good enough for Justin, who pushed for the agreement now reached.

That deal sees $150,000 handed over, to be divided between Gawronski (whose counsel's share will go to charity) and another plaintiff.

Amazon also promised not to do this again, at least not without asking first, so once a book is downloaded from Amazon you should be able to rely on it not to change. ®

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