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Student Suing Amazon For Book Deletions 646

Posted by kdawson
from the incident-that-will-not-stay-down-the-memory-hole dept.
Stupified writes "High school student Justin Gawronski is suing Amazon for deleting his Kindle copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four (complaint, PDF), because doing so destroyed the annotations he'd created to the text for class. The complaint states: 'The notes are still accessible on the Kindle 2 device in a file separate from the deleted book, but are of no value. For example, a note such as "remember this paragraph for your thesis" is useless if it does not actually reference a specific paragraph.' The suit, which is seeking class action status, asks that Amazon be legally blocked from improperly accessing users' Kindles in the future and punitive damages for those affected by the deletion. Nothing in Amazon's EULA or US copyright law gives them permission to delete books off your Kindle, so this sounds like a plausible suit."
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Student Suing Amazon For Book Deletions

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  • 1984 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sys.stdout.write (1551563) on Friday July 31, 2009 @12:32PM (#28897653)
    What class has 1984 as required reading and where can I sign up?
    • Re:1984 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wstrucke (876891) on Friday July 31, 2009 @12:33PM (#28897679)
      We read that book in my HS english class as well. I'm surprised that you're surprised by that.
      • Re:1984 (Score:5, Interesting)

        by sys.stdout.write (1551563) on Friday July 31, 2009 @12:37PM (#28897729)
        I grew up in a conservative rural area, maybe it's different elsewhere.

        This was the kind of place where the parents got mad when teachers had grade schoolers read Harry Potter.
        • Re:1984 (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Omniscient Lurker (1504701) on Friday July 31, 2009 @01:23PM (#28898503)

          Bible-Belter here. 1984 was a required book in AP Lit.

          Of course a parent did get mad when a lower grade (10th) read Dante's Inferno (near the end of the year). Then my teacher had to get permission for The Things They Carried---strangely being over 18 didn't mean you didn't have to get permission. Which then pissed off my parents and the parents of everyone else.

      • Re:1984 (Score:5, Informative)

        by stainless-steel-vash (1290528) on Friday July 31, 2009 @12:40PM (#28897781)
        Not all schools have it as required reading. I read it on my own while in High School, and currently re-reading it. We were assigned Brave New World, but not 1984. Kind of odd. I wonder, when this goes to court, will it be tried in Room 101? And if he loses, will he be deleted, or re-educated.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by jarodss (243400)

          If he looses he will become an un-person and all traces of him will cease to exist.

      • Re:1984 (Score:5, Funny)

        by lymond01 (314120) on Friday July 31, 2009 @01:13PM (#28898327)

        It shows in the updated reading list that your school has never read 1984 and has always been assigned I Am the Cheese.

    • Re:1984 (Score:5, Funny)

      by Norsefire (1494323) * on Friday July 31, 2009 @12:36PM (#28897717) Journal
      Any class that leads into a career in politics.

      Only it's not "required reading" per se, more like a text-book.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Darkness404 (1287218)
      My Modern British Literature high school class had it as required reading.
    • Re:1984 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Friday July 31, 2009 @02:06PM (#28899151) Homepage Journal

      The article doesn't say that the book was required reading. TFA states that he was using at least one paragraph for reference in his thesis. There is little to suggest how much of the book he was using, nor how many other books he was using for background material.

      The question has little to do with "required reading", but with a customer's rights. This student apparently paid for a legal copy of a book, and was using it in his studies. He has a valid complaint, IMHO - although his complaint is no more, and no less valid than that of a more casual user of Amazon's services. Breaking a contract, on the end user's part, is punishable by law, and often accompanied by punitive fees, penalties, and charges. Amazon has obviously broken a contract, so they should be looking at the same sort of penalties, scaled to fit.

  • by TofuMatt (1105351) on Friday July 31, 2009 @12:33PM (#28897675) Homepage

    As cool as Amazon can be, this was a lame move by them from many perspectives, and I hope this guy wins the case. Perhaps it could set a precedent against deleting data from users' devices in general.

    • by wstrucke (876891) on Friday July 31, 2009 @12:44PM (#28897863)
      .... or another reminder to make sure to add every possible clause to the EULA so the vendor can do whatever they like.
    • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Friday July 31, 2009 @01:00PM (#28898137) Homepage

      Perhaps it could set a precedent against deleting data from users' devices in general.

      Or perhaps it could set a precedent which cements Amazon's legal right to do these things. I would certainly hope not, but it's possible. The government hasn't exactly been pro-consumer during the past few decades.

    • Precedent (Score:5, Insightful)

      by _KiTA_ (241027) on Friday July 31, 2009 @01:36PM (#28898689) Homepage

      As cool as Amazon can be, this was a lame move by them from many perspectives, and I hope this guy wins the case. Perhaps it could set a precedent against deleting data from users' devices in general.

      Precedent is indeed the right worry here, but not quite in the way you're mentioning.

      1984 was not legally sold on Amazon.com's Kindle store. It's legal in almost every other country on Earth -- basically any country without corporate overlords demanding Copyright be extended to "Age of Mickey Mouse +20 years" in perpetuity.

      No, the real precedent that is very, very bad and very, very scary is that now, now publishers know that Amazon can remotely delete items from the Kindle, without user input.

      Textbook companies want to sell a textbook that's only good for 1 quarter? Why not? Not like you'll need it after this year, since we're gonna release the 351st edition to make sure students can't resell the deadtree back to the bookstore.

      Someone sues Amazon cause "Twilight" offends local obscenity laws? "Well golly gee, we're seeing you're connecting to a Cell tower in Bumfuck Idaho, we'll just auto-delete that Twilight book for you to avoid offending the prudes..."

      Or better yet. "Hey Apple, Amazon can just delete stuff from their Kindle remotely, why can't you delete any songs with Metallica in their filename / ID3 tags that don't match up with ones they've bought from us off iPods when they dock?"

      Amazon played a very bad hand here. They admitted they can screw over users on behalf of 3rd party companies. Worse, they admitted they will if asked.

      A very, very bad precedent all around.

    • Hacking laws (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TiggertheMad (556308) on Friday July 31, 2009 @02:31PM (#28899541) Homepage Journal
      Hacking laws on the books make it illegal to add, modify, or delete data on another person's computer without their consent. I believe it carries a pretty stiff sentence too, because it is a federal statute. I am pretty sure that Amazon has no consent from anyone when they used their DRM to kill the book, so they could be in some deep water.

      Also, since it was an an actual person that punched the enter key when it came time to revoke the DRM license, I wonder if they could be hit with the criminal hacking charge. The fact that invoking DRM controls could land you in the federal pen for 20 years might be a great way get corps to knock that shit off.
  • Derivative work (Score:5, Interesting)

    by langelgjm (860756) on Friday July 31, 2009 @12:33PM (#28897677) Journal

    Given the other absurdities of copyright law, and how the RIAA's lawyer think that disappearing purchases are normal in every area of life, I wouldn't be surprised to see a lawyer claim that the annotations are in fact a derivative work of the book, and that since Amazon had no right to sell the book, then the student had no right to create the annotations.

    Also, there's probably some boilerplate legal language included with the Kindle that says they are not responsible for data loss, etc., or if it kills your grandmother or dog.

    • Re:Derivative work (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nacturation (646836) * <nacturation.gmail@com> on Friday July 31, 2009 @12:49PM (#28897957) Journal

      Also, there's probably some boilerplate legal language included with the Kindle that says they are not responsible for data loss, etc., or if it kills your grandmother or dog.

      This isn't data loss. This is intentional destruction of data -- quite a different story.

    • Re:Derivative work (Score:5, Insightful)

      by siriuskase (679431) on Friday July 31, 2009 @01:13PM (#28898319) Homepage Journal
      Unless or until copyright law mentions a difference, electronic products should be treated similarly to existing products which they claim to mimic. In this case, Amazon should have notified it's customers before recalling the books. If Amazon intends to recall by deletion, they most certainly should inform the users so that the deletion can happen at a time convenient to the customer. Burying a disclaimer in the TOS isn't a substitute since most TOS aren't written to be understandable and if I was the judge, wouldn't stand up in court unless they stated common sense, or practices that were already common. Deleting purchased software files from a customers computer is certainly not typical or expectable, unless you live in a country where books are seized an destroyed without warning. Can you imagine what would happen if Intuit suddenly deleted all existing copies of Quck Books? But, all legal issues aside, Amazon let a really big cat out of the bag. They immediately made competing products more attractive. And Kindle customers now know to make a backup copy.
      • Re:Derivative work (Score:5, Informative)

        by pete-classic (75983) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Friday July 31, 2009 @01:23PM (#28898509) Homepage Journal

        Kindle customers now know to make a backup copy.

        I generally agree with your post. But this comment shows that you aren't very clear on how Kindle works. It's all wireless magic. I briefly used Kindle on iPhone. You "buy" a book and it just appears. If you have multiple devices they all know what page you're on. If you drop your Kindle in the tub, presumably you buy another one and all of the content reappears.

        It's all DRMed to high-heaven, and backup isn't on Amazon's agenda.

        -Peter

        PS: I'm also a generally happy Amazon customer. I'll buy their digital music, but not their digital books!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 31, 2009 @12:35PM (#28897697)

    I thought when I bought something from Amazon, that I owned it!

  • by redbeardcanada (1052028) on Friday July 31, 2009 @12:36PM (#28897723)
    I get the feeling that this was a decision by Amazon based on what would cost them less. Either delete these and face user wrath, or let users who have the books keep them and settle monetarily with the copyright holder. I think they may have underestimated the true cost of losing reputation with their user base, lawsuit cost aside.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I get the feeling that this was a decision by Amazon based on what would cost them less. Either delete these and face user wrath, or let users who have the books keep them and settle monetarily with the copyright holder. I think they may have underestimated the true cost of losing reputation with their user base, lawsuit cost aside.

      Wrong, the correct answer is: "We will discontinue the sale, but we can not remove existing copies from a users' devices." Then raise a stink if the publisher tries to coerce them to do otherwise.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by IIH (33751)

        Wrong, the correct answer is: "We will discontinue the sale, but we can not remove existing copies from a users' devices." Then raise a stink if the publisher tries to coerce them to do otherwise

        Since they have proven that they can remove the copy from the user's device (by doing so) if they said they could not, that would not be the "correct answer", it would be a lie. And, if the failure to remove the infringing data was a "will not", not a "can not", it would seem to be trivial to prove that any further infringement (by keeping it on the device) was wilful. (if they could remove it but _chose_ not to)

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by langelgjm (860756)

          Since they have proven that they can remove the copy from the user's device (by doing so) if they said they could not, that would not be the "correct answer", it would be a lie.

          If they said they were incapable of doing so, they'd be lying. But merely saying "we cannot do that" is different. They could argue that "we cannot do that" because of the ill-will and backlash it will cause against our business, for example.

          And, if the failure to remove the infringing data was a "will not", not a "can not", it would seem to be trivial to prove that any further infringement (by keeping it on the device) was wilful. (if they could remove it but _chose_ not to)

          Infringement isn't an ongoing activity. The infringing activity on Amazon's part would be distribution, which already took place (and was clearly a mistake). (In fact, just because Amazon pulled the books doesn't mean the rightsholder won't sue - they could sue for the

        • Ah but is it legal? (Score:4, Informative)

          by TheLink (130905) on Friday July 31, 2009 @02:03PM (#28899091) Journal
          While you might have the technical ability to do something, it does not necessarily mean you have the legal right to do something.

          Gary McKinnon had the technical ability to get into certain computer systems and look at the data (he did not delete stuff), but he didn't have the legal right to do it, so he's facing extradition to the USA and potentially quite a number of years in prison.

          Amazon had the technical ability to get into certain computer systems (Kindles) and delete the data. And Amazon deleted data without permission from people who thought they owned those certain computer systems.

          I'm not a lawyer but whether that's legal depends on who owns those Kindles, and whether Amazon has been given extra special powers to delete data from systems they don't own.

          FWIW, Amazon says "buy" Kindle, they don't say "rent".

          Car repossessors still have to follow certain steps to repossess a car - they typically cannot break into garages to repossess the car - it has to be in an open area, in some cases they have to notify the buyer that they are going to repossess the car.

          Similarly when a Bank seizes back property there are certain procedures they have to follow.

          Another thing - the initial problem was with Amazon's _Partner_ selling stuff they shouldn't have, not Amazon themselves.

          Just because a shop in Amazon Mall sells me stuff they shouldn't have doesn't mean that Amazon can send their Mall Guards to sneak into my house and remove it on behalf of that shop, even if Amazon Mall is afraid they might get sued.

          If the shop has done something illegal, Amazon Mall could report it to the police - the cops are the ones who have powers to seize and destroy stuff. Lets all only have to deal with one bunch of thugs running around ok?

          This about law and order.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Svartalf (2997)

      They received bad legal advice on the matter, then.

      This is going to cost them quite a bit more money than settling on the accidental infringement would have, I suspect.

      Before, they were just guilty of infringement on those two books.

      Once they removed the books in question, they were guilty of something roughly analogous to theft- refunding the money doesn't change that. If I take something of yours that I sold you and give your money back without your permission and agreement, I would be cooling my heels i

  • by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Friday July 31, 2009 @12:36PM (#28897725)
    The irony that Orwell's 1984 describes "Children Heroes" who snitch on grown-ups is tasting sweeter with every passing moment.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by damien_kane (519267)

      The irony that Orwell's 1984 describes "Children Heroes" who snitch on grown-ups is tasting sweeter with every passing moment.

      Except that our world is sliding closer and closer to a Brave New World than into 1984 (c'mon, it's 2009 already).
      We as a people [in the western world] are taught to be complacent and kept in a "healthy" state of mind by being force-fed pleasure from a very early age.
      There aren't the thought-police running around selectively re-educating people who go astray, no, instead we're sent to a shrink and spoonfed drugs until we're a normal, functioning member of society again. We're provided copious amounts of m

      • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Friday July 31, 2009 @01:19PM (#28898439) Homepage Journal

        Except that our world is sliding closer and closer to a Brave New World than into 1984

        Six of one, half dozen of the other. This is the best explanation I've ever seen comparing and contrasting BNW and 1984:

        What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.

  • by neonprimetime (528653) on Friday July 31, 2009 @12:43PM (#28897833) Homepage
    per the /. story [slashdot.org] i read 4 days ago
    • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Friday July 31, 2009 @12:51PM (#28897989)

      No, it's not. What would be enough? Amazon restoring every last one of these people their copy of 1984, paying whatever they have to to the copyright owners to make it legal. If they then don't reclaim the rebates they sent out, they will have totally redeemed themselves in my eyes, but restoring people their books is the bare minimum.

  • by pembo13 (770295) on Friday July 31, 2009 @12:47PM (#28897921) Homepage

    And you paid for a device which was tethered to its master, which happened not to be you.

  • He has no case (Score:3, Interesting)

    by isa-kuruption (317695) <kuruptionNO@SPAMkuruption.net> on Friday July 31, 2009 @01:01PM (#28898159) Homepage

    The EULA is available here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200144530 [amazon.com]

    Specifically, it says:

    Changes to Service. Amazon reserves the right to modify, suspend, or discontinue the Service at any time, and Amazon will not be liable to you should it exercise such right.

    Amazon modified the service by removing the book.

    End of discussion.

    • Re:He has no case (Score:4, Informative)

      by Whorhay (1319089) on Friday July 31, 2009 @01:20PM (#28898449)
      I believe that applies to the service of providing ebooks and such as well as the wireless connection. The content already on the device might be a hard sell to a judge as a service that may be modified.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by themacks (1197889)
      The question here is whether they can legally reserve that right. Just because it is in the EULA doesn't make it legal. If they can reserve that right, then is this particular action covered by that? This is definitely still debatable.
    • Re:He has no case (Score:5, Informative)

      by david_thornley (598059) on Friday July 31, 2009 @01:51PM (#28898925)

      Except that, reading the EULA, the book is independent of the Service. The buyer has a license to read the book on the Kindle OR in other ways as provided by the Service. Bear in mind that, in licenses and contracts like this, any ambiguities will be resolved in favor of the people who didn't write the license or contract. That's how free agency came about in Major League Baseball: the reserve clause was unclear, and the courts ruled that the interpretation that favored the players was preferred, since it was a standard MLB contract. (For the baseball-deprived, individual teams used to hold players' contracts, so that they could only play for one team. The "reserve clause" gave the team the option to renew a player's contract for a year, and the courts ruled that this allowed player to play out that year and then be free agents, free to negotiate with any team.)

      Even if the language was clear, the courts could rule that it was part of a contract of adhesion, and therefore invalid. They could also rule that something that looks like a sale is an actual sale. Both sorts of rulings have happened in the past.

      No, I'm not a lawyer either, but I do read Slashdot.

  • Homework (Score:3, Funny)

    by necro81 (917438) on Friday July 31, 2009 @01:11PM (#28898291) Journal
    How many possible "ate my homework" jokes can we go for here:

    "The Kindle ate my homework."

    "Jeff Bezos ate my homework."

    "If there is hope for my homework, it lies with the proles."

    "We have triumphed over the unprincipled dissemination of 1984. The users and readers have been cast out. And the poisonous weeds of note-taking have been consigned to the dustbin of history. Let each and every student rejoice!...We are one Amazon. With one will. One resolve. One cause. Our enemies shall read themselves to death. And we will bury them with their own Kindle! We shall prevail!" [too obscure? [google.com]]

    come on an chime in!
  • Did Amazon even try? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DeadboltX (751907) on Friday July 31, 2009 @01:21PM (#28898485)
    It seems like a good alternative solution would have been to pool up all the refund money and make an offer to the real copyright owner for all the current ebook "owners" to keep their copy, and then not sell any new ones
  • Change of heart (Score:4, Informative)

    by spagiola (234461) on Friday July 31, 2009 @01:36PM (#28898695)

    Sounds like Gawronski had a change of heart. On Sunday he was quoted in the New York Times [nytimes.com] saying:

    "I'd like to live in a perfect world where I own this content and can do whatever I want with it," said Justin Gawronski, a high school student whose copy of "1984" was erased by Amazon, but who recently declined when a lawyer asked him to join a class-action lawsuit over the incident. Mr. Gawronski said, "This is probably going to happen again and we just have to learn to live with it."

    (emphasis added)

  • by sam0737 (648914) <samNO@SPAMchowchi.com> on Friday July 31, 2009 @01:51PM (#28898919)

    I would believe it's the Kindle accessing Amazon and deleting the book when something is flagged (or not flagged!)

    And Amazon won't trespass your device. Never heard of any DRM setup that would do that.

    At any case, I hope the student wins.

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