Amazon Erases Purchased E-Books From Kindle

08/17/2009 / Molly Eichten and *Breanna Christensen

In what appears to be great irony, in mid July, Amazon deleted purchased e-book copies of George Orwell's "1984" and "Animal Farm" from buyers' personal Kindle devices without notifying the buyers. In the book "1984," the government censors all information that would be damaging to Big Brother. Ironic then that Amazon deleted Orwell's controversial e-book after learning that it had sold unauthorized copies of the e-book, subjecting Amazon to claims of copyright infringement.

Regardless of the reason for deleting the purchased e-books, customers were nonetheless upset by losing their copies of the e-books, although Amazon immediately deposited a refund. At least one lawsuit has already been filed alleging that Amazon did not have the right to remove the e-books from the devices after customers had purchased the e-books.

Upon purchasing e-books on Amazon's website, the e-book is sent over a wireless network to the customer's Kindle device. Through that the same network, Amazon deleted Orwell's e-books once it learned that the sales of "1984" and "Animal Farm" were unauthorized. Amazon's published terms of service agreement, however, does not say anything about deleting customer's e-books in the event a copyright issue arises. Instead, the terms explicitly state that it is the customer's right to retain a "permanent copy of applicable digital content."

Unlike print books, which would be nearly impossible for a publisher to retract unauthorized copies, it is obviously possible to remove unauthorized copies of e-books from the hands of readers. However, the wisdom of such a move is called to question by the criticism of Amazon's actions, prompting a public apology on Amazon's Kindle discussion forum by Amazon's Chief Executive. To avoid such criticism, Amazon could have been true to the contract it made with its users in the terms of service. Amazon could have also reviewed and changed its terms of service to address the situation of infringing e-books. Businesses looking to avoid a situation like Amazon should carefully consider, clearly publish, and closely follow the terms of use for their systems.

-- Originally published in Larkin Hoffman's IP/Tech Buzz.

*Breanna Christensen is a J.D. candidate at Hamline University Law School and a 2009 summer law clerk at Larkin Hoffman.