back to article Amazon sued for sending 1984 down Orwellian memory hole

A seventeen-year-old high school senior has sued Amazon for vanishing George Orwell's 1984 from his Kindle ebook reader - and removing his personal annotations in the process. Two weeks ago, in an amusingly ironic moment, Jeff Bezos and company deleted all copies of both 1984 and Animal Farm from citizen Kindles after the …


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  1. Martin 6 Silver badge

    And with textbooks

    Amazon is looking to move into the lucrative US textbook market with kindle.

    Does this mean you will have to keep buying each years new edition of the textbook if you want to keep your revision notes?

  2. Annihilator
    Thumb Down


    "Gawronski now needs to recreate all of his studies"

    ALL of them? Pshhh... English courses are a lot easier these days then if all you have to do is read a single poxy book. In the middle of summer.

  3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Well, in our times, if we lost a book...

    ...we bought a new copy and re-read it and re-made the annotations.

    Nevertheless, if this smacks of ambulance-chasing lawyers instrumenting the not-well-accustomed-to-serious-work youth of today, such a lawsuit can only be welcomed. I hope certain memes will be expunged from the minds of certain actors in the electronic text book market before Richard Stallman's "Right to Read" becomes reality.

  4. asdf

    kindle is a big bag of hurt

    Considering the cost of Kindle wtf would anyone buy it if they have the right to delete your books without further notice. DRM in general is a big bag of hurt and I hope this incident costs Amazon so much money that others thinking of using DRM to control how paying customer use their product understand in the long run this along with their broken business model is a massive fail.

  5. Gene Cash Silver badge

    In our times, when we bought a book...

    ... it stayed our book and didn't suddenly disappear whenever the publisher got a hair up its ass.

    I hope Amazon gets its pants sued off for this crap and not just some tiny amount of damages, either. Of course, I read the TOS and this is why I don't own a Kindle.

    I'm glad someone finally found a stick to smack them with. I'll be contributing to his legal fund.

  6. etabeta

    A new method of censorship?

    In Fahrenheit 451 the fire brigade raided your home and burned your books, now Amazon just has to press a button and wipe out the memory in all the Kindles they have sold. Today they might justify this action with copyright; tomorrow this could become a form of censorship. This must be stopped NOW. The sale of devices like these that can be remotely controlled should be declared illegal.

    I want to control what gets deleted in something that I own, and would consider what Amazon did not only as fraud but also as a violation of my personal rights and my privacy. To remotely delete what I have purchased from them is just too much, and as for as I am concerned they can keep all their Kindles, and I hope they get sued to high heaven.

  7. Will 28

    the Bible, the Qu'oran, etc.

    Wherer does it stand with all this?


  8. James O'Brien


    First of all why cant he repurchase the book in a legal form if it is available and link that to his notes? I don't have a Kindle so I do not know if this is possible but cant see why it wouldn't be possible. On a side note gotta love the country I live in, we sue for anything. Why spend $300 on the Kindle and THEN whatever the book cost? I personally am a tactile person. I like to FEEL what I am reading in my hands, turn the pages myself etc etc. This is total horseshit. I hope the judge throws this out a frivolous and the kid learns a very valuable lesson......


    /Coat please as I'm going home

  9. Steve Evans


    Digital rights management... Where you purchase but never own...

    Gotta love it!

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Excellent ...

    While I agree this probably smacks of ambulance chasing, it will set an important legal precedent and make this sort of nonsense completely illegal. Amazon are guilty of breaking several laws here. Very seriously.

    I also agree that it should be illegal under consumer protection law to sell a device that may have its content remotely tampered with and its data (which belongs to the owner) deleted or even worse have the content *modified*, which is worse if you think about it.

    Additionally, 1984 while still in copyright in the US -- until 2044 no less -- it isn't in the UK, Russia (OH THE DELICIOUS IRONY), Australia or Canada where it is in the public domain, and since international copyright law does radically vary according to which country you are in, this whole ugly mess will hopefully be looked at with a more diligent, intelligent eye. One that isn't blinded by glittery toys. Copyright law is *not* to be automatically assumed to be US copyright law. God for-fucking-bid.

    @ etabeta -- "I want to control what gets deleted in something that I own, and would consider what Amazon did not only as fraud but also as a violation of my personal rights and my privacy. To remotely delete what I have purchased from them is just too much, and as for as I am concerned they can keep all their Kindles, and I hope they get sued to high heaven."

    I can only concur 100% with this view. Amazon is clearly in serious breach of their terms here and I for one am going to cancel my account but not before telling them why. I like bookshops anyhow and would rather give them my business directly.

    The mere idea Amazon can be allowed to think that they can take it upon themselves to behave this way is unacceptable. Really! Who they fuck are they anyhow? Such audacious arrogance must be corrected fiscally. In their pockets where it hurts most.

  11. Winkypop Silver badge
    Big Brother

    @ etabeta


    And even worse would be the subtle behind the scenes editing and re-editing of existing books. Think 1984 and the Ministry of Truth.....

  12. Justin Case
    Paris Hilton

    Amazon's mistake?

    Amazon should pay. They should have left the books where they were and compensated the rights holders. If I'd bought a Kniddle because it contained 1984 I would be seriously miffed if it were removed.

  13. Charles 9

    I do not own a Kindle...

    ...but from what I hear, even though the terms of the agreement say the books are licensed, not sold, the store itself does not refer to the transactions in this way. Do they not say "Buy" the book instead of "License" the book or "Rent" the book or "Check Out" the book? As the saying goes, "If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck." Similarly, if it looks like a sale and transacts like a sale, then it should be a sale...which should render the transaction protected under the 1976 Copyright Act and its First Sale Doctrine.

  14. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    I can't help listening...

    ...for the heavy tread of the Amazon enforcers tramping up the garden path to my front door, that they may attempt to retrieve any physical books I may have purchased from them in the past.

    When did we suddenly find that we were *licensing* material rather than *buying* it? It seems that this might have repercussions to the music industry if Amazon get spanked for this.

    Though Amazon now demonstrate exactly what's wrong with the Kindle, apart from being too big and too expensive. What it *should* be is a *book* reader; no bigger than a paperback a hundred pages thick and ideally thinner; no radio comms or need for subscription, no music player, not really any need for notes. Just a load and display device, able to display a small range of standard formats starting with ascii/utf8 text.

    Creeping featurism is what stops this being available for fifty quid. Remote control of the contents is what stops me even considering it.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    "Amazon's terms of service say that books are licensed not sold."

    Well, MY terms of service say that once someone sells something to me, it's mine, and I'll break their fucking nose if they try to take it back or tell me what I can or can't do with it.

    Bollocks to all of this licensing bullshit. It's the new form of feudal enserfment and it deserves to be consigned to the dustbin of history in just the same way.

  16. lupine
    Thumb Down


    dry them.

    i've still got my well thumbed copy from 20 years ago which, inexplicably, helped me get my 'o grade' english.

    paper rules in the book world.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    re: the Bible, the Qu'oran, etc.

    Where it stands on all this rather depends on who you think its author was, and whether or not you believe that author to have been dead (for at least 75 years)...

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Winkypop is correct: the really big issue here is the silent editing of content. Anyone can see that a book's been deleted but what happens, say, if someone from America goes to the UK with a copy of Greg Palast's "The Best Democracy Money can Buy"? This book has sections in the US edition about the Bush family's connections with the Bin Laden family which were not included in the UK edition because of our country's status as "libel tourest destination of the world"? When the kindle is turned on, does it remove those bits? Will it restore them on return to the US, assuming that you are returning to the US and haven't simply bought the book while there on holiday? In the latter case, would you even know that the text had changed if you had not already started reading?

    What about the wake of court actions for libel or copyright infringement? Will Amazon "update" all your e-books to fit the court-ordered version of reality? Will they restore them when an appeal overturns the previous decision?

    These are real issues and they have to be stamped on now before they become standard practice in the same way that, for example, bogus EULAs that claim to have overturned the law on what a "sale" is have become.

  19. DZ-Jay

    Re: @etabeta


    You mean, like a Wiki? I guess they would lock out the "history" page to avoid arguments as to the modifications.


  20. Jimbo 7

    come on

    None of you had to buy Kindle, nobody forced you to. You purchased it and could read the license agreement.

    Yes what is Amazon doing is not what we would like to see, but they did not break anything from what they stated when you purchased Kindle.

    It's the same with music. You don't like DRM, buy CD and rip it for yourself. Don't complain about it after you purchased it.

  21. CKOne

    @ Greg Fleming

    Did Orwell or his publishers opt out of UK copyright then?

    Unless something has radically changed, all of Orwell's works are still under copyright in the UK, as he died in 1950, and UK copyright is life plus seventy years.

    Australia and Canada it is fifty years.

  22. Anonymous Coward


    Just remember that Apple can do exactly the same thing - delete and modify content - with all the iPhones on the world.

  23. Jeffrey Nonken

    smells like DRM

    This is why I don't buy DRM-laden content like this. Oh, I get the occasional DVD, but I own the disc and there are ways to decrypt the content. You can't suddenly cause my player to stop being able to play it.

    If I want a copy of 1984 I'll just go buy a paper copy. Oh wait, I already own one. Never mind.

    @etabeta: pehaps, but you do still have the choice to buy it in hardcopy.

    Just for the record: I'm not in any way condoning Amazon's actions. Quite the contrary, I consider it reprehensible and hope they lose the lawsuit. I'm merely expressing that I don't trust DRM or those who would wield control over content I've legally acquired; this is an example of why. (Anybody remember DIVX? And I don't mean the CODEC.) And I think electronic books are a great idea. Just not DRM-laden electronic books.

    Since it's marginally on-topic I'm going to toss in a link to one of my favorite non-DRM-laden sources of free electronic science fiction books:


  24. Winkypop Silver badge
    Big Brother

    @ DZ-Jay

    Hmm, wikis eh?

    I wouldn't know, I've never used one myself.*

    * except for the time I gave Henry VIII an extra wife......Gertrude of Phlegm

  25. Jon Thompson 2

    Why the hell...

    ...are people spending serious money on these pointless devices when a paperback and pencil (for annotations) can be purchased for a couple of quid?

  26. EvilJason


    Anyone with a kindle check the amazon website can you check a few things.

    1: Does it say Buy the book or licence the book?

    2: Does it say licence the book ANYWHERE outside the terms and conditions?

    3: Is the price of the ebooks the same or close to the physical books?

    If any of these are true then amazon could be held to account for false advertising, It does not matter what you say in your terms and conditions if you make false claims on your public representation of what your selling.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    I thought I had a burglar

    But it was just a bloke from Waterstones, he let himself in to take back a book they sold me by mistake.

    He said they thought about contacting me and asking me to return it but decided I could go F@#K myself and just broke in.

    They did leave £7.99 on my kitchen table, so no harm done.

  28. Richard 68

    Easy Peasy

    It seems to me there's an important ethical distinction here: Amazon sold the books illegally, but our friend DIDN'T buy them illegally, in the ethical sense, because he did it in good faith. So if Amazon were simply forced to pay royalties to the author's estate, out of their own pockets, a) everyone would be happy except Amazon- but the mistake is theirs- and b) none of this ruckus would have happened.

    Easy Peasy.

  29. Jonathan 6


    Apple #

    By Anonymous Coward Posted Saturday 1st August 2009 22:28 GMT

    Just remember that Apple can do exactly the same thing - delete and modify content - with all the iPhones on the world.

    As can Google, MS et al. with their phones.

  30. Juan Inamillion

    Does this mean...

    ... you can use "a Kindle ate my homework" as a an excuse for non-delivery of same?

  31. Kevin Johnston
    Thumb Up

    @Jeffrey Nonken

    Definite thumbs up for Baen. They not only sell their eBooks DRM free but also give away CDs loaded with them 'and encourage people to copy them and send them to their friends', the Index page for the Claws that Catch CD is hilarious in this respect.

    This is enlightened publishing since as many comments above note, there is nothing quite like holding a real book in your hands, and if you have been introduced to an author by a DRM-free cash-free eBook you are likely to buy the real thing, lots of them.....really lots of them.

    Amazon need to have this business model writ large across their boardroom wall so they can understand that encouraging purchasers is most profitable than trying to control purchasers. They so nearly get the concept on their website where they suggest additional titles which you might like to try but then they let it down with the mintcake reader.

    OK, for non-UK viewers this is a very poor pun on Kendal......look it up in a book as the wiki may have been tainted.

  32. Adam T

    Eggs & Baskets

    I got a lovely old edition of 1984, tea marks and rustic paper smell - a must for any academia - from my local send-hand bookshop for 50p. I'm sure it'll still be on my bookcase (unless someone nicks it) for years to come.

    Trust in technology and, like pride, you're setting yourself up for a fall.

  33. Lu

    Re: @Apple By Jonathan 6

    At least Android is open source tho, so you can (theoretically) hack it and remove that "feature" yourself. (by which I mean wait till your friendly neighbourhood hacker's done it, and download the patch from his website)

  34. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
    Big Brother

    Amazon, AKA the Ministry of Truth

    Note to self: never, Never, NEVER, EVER buy a Kindle (or a Sony etc. etc.)

    "Amazon's terms of service say that books are licensed not sold."

    I thought this sort of shit had been sorted out a long time ago in the software arena, its not a licence, its a sale with restrictive terms and conditions.

    Just curious, but did anyone from El Reg contact Jeff Bezos to see if amazon refunded the money he paid.

    BB, who else

  35. A J Stiles

    Why sue them?

    Why the need to sue Amazon?

    What they have done is basically criminal damage, and is also illegal under most jurisdictions' computer misuse laws. They interfered with someone else's property -- something that someone had bought and paid for.

    Those are police matters.

  36. Michael Miller

    Why buy a Kindle?

    Not that I know a lot about them, but....

    Doesn't it save a ton of space/weight? The idea of having a entire library in one device is appealing. I remember having to tote a days worth of books when I was in college. I'd have gladly paid the cost to not have to deal with that.

  37. K Cartlidge

    @Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

    I totally agree with regard to the Kindle, but why mention the Sony in the same breath?

    It's not networked unless you choose to use their software and even then it may not be - I don't know as, although I have it installed, I've never yet used it but have hundreds of categorised books on my Sony PRS505 Reader just using plain old drag and drop in Windows Explorer.

    There's no way for them to access it unless they physically snatch it off me and connect it to their own USB port, and it's certainly not wireless.

  38. Hairy Scary
    Big Brother

    @ Jeffrey Nonken

    If you own a Blu Ray player, yes, Sony can revoke the keys that allow your disk to play any time they like, it's done by including the necessary instructions embedded in new disks so that playing them can render a previously bought disk unplayable.

    I don't know if it has ever been done though, it's just the mechanism to do it is there.

    Also normal DVDs can cause problems -- I have a disk here (a freebee with a newspaper last year) when I went to play it it came up with a message "Due to copyright restrictions this disk cannot be played". WTF -- I think it was because I tried to play it in my PVR whose player is also a writer (for recording TV shows) and some kind of DRM kicked in.

    Thing is, now I can't play any DVD in the player, all I get is a message telling me what region code the disk I insert has but none will play even though the region code matches the player's setting. However, TV programs can still be recorded and played.

    Needless to say I haven't bought any DVDs since as I cannot play them now so DRM that behaves like that is just losing them customers.

  39. TeeCee Gold badge

    @Hairy Scary

    Nasty. Sounds to me like the first message was a Region code mismatch. I've seen this happen where a disk is actually "Region 0" (everywhere but still copy protected) rather than "Region free" (everywhere and unprotected) and the player's firmware is too bloody thick to understand the concept.

    As to the subsequent behaviour, I'm guessing that your PVR is actually assembled from commercially available, OEM components and the drive has swapped regions internally in an attempt to play the disk without the player noticing or preventing it (ties in with the "WTF's region 0?" theory above). I'd have a trawl for a firmware upgrade for the beastie if it were me, sounds like the release you're on is a right old bag of bolts.

    In the meantime, care to let us know which make & model this thing is? I'd like to ensure that I avoid that manufacturer's products like the plague.....

  40. Michael Nielsen

    I don't care what they call it

    Licensed, or bought, I do not care, when I pay for something, be it the text from a book, or music, an operating system or a program, I EXPECT that the copy that I have bought is mine to use as I see fit - obviously not copy and distribute.

    However, having bought the item, I expect to have the usage rights of that copy for the rest of my natural life, and the lives of my childre, or other heirs that I may or may not have. That is the way of books, CD's, vinyl records, and so forth, so why should it be any different for digital distribution.

    Being able to tamper with what i have bought, revoke my purchase at an arbitrary time, is not acceptable in any for, which is why DRM should never even have been conceived.

    I fork out money for a copy (or as they like to call it a license), I have bought the rights to use it, I do not accept that at some time in the future, I will not be allowed to use it any more.

    Which is one of the reasons I won't buy Microsoft windows products as they are Per the license owned by your hardware, so if you replace vital system components you are required to buy the same product again, and again, and again.. XP at the moment allows you to reactivate every 128 days, or you can go through an annoying reset process, however as I understand it, this is no longer possible under Vista and above.

    I do not understand why consumers do not put their foots down when they encounter it, perhaps because it is the fewest people who read conditions, or even understand, the fact that they do not even own what they fork out money for, when you are talking about the digital world.

    It is not acceptable that corporations remove the rights of the customers, just because they can, it opens a whole new can of worms, which this Amazon case shows.

    Valid concerns are now very relevant, history books, edited on the fly, to remove "embarresing events", like the japanese who do not tell their young about the atrocities they committed during the wars, so basically, amazon has shown that we cannot trust the history that is shown via electronic medie, and they have the power, and will use it, to alter facts after the event.

    It is time to re-introduce the WORM drive (Write Once, Read Many), which basically is DVD/CD like medie, where once you have written the data it is not possible to read it, though it may be possible to destroy it.

    Note to self, never buy an electronic book, that cannot be read by 3rd party software - that will overcome the ability to edit or delete.

  41. Geoff Mackenzie

    Hard copy is no solution

    My paper copy disappeared from the shelf the same day. Coincidence? I think not.

  42. Anonymous Coward

    @Jon Thompson

    If idiots want to pay squillions for an e-reader when the printed-and-bound book is one of the most successful, cost-effective pieces of technology created since we developed opposable thumbs, then I have no sympathy for them. Books can be left in the sun, dropped in the bath (and dried out later), driven over, toasted, shouted at, thrown across the room, used in bulk to construct temporary seats at crowded parties and STILL relate and store information.

    I suspect that the people who buy e-readers are the same people who get hungry when they see a KFC commercial.

  43. A J Stiles

    Write once, read never

    "It is time to re-introduce the WORM drive (Write Once, Read Many), which basically is DVD/CD like medie, where once you have written the data it is not possible to read it, though it may be possible to destroy it."

    I thought that was DVD-minus-R, where once you have written the data it is not possible to read it?

  44. Charles 9

    @Anonymous Coward 14:35

    The printed book sound like all that...until you run into storage limits. It's an unfortunate disadvantage of printed media that books take up space. And if space is limited, this puts a real damper on your ability to enjoy your library. People in dorms and other small accommodations may not have room for a personal library unless they go digital.

    Now, suppose you travel a lot. Air travel puts major limits on the size of stuff you can take with you. I currently have a library of over 120 books on my Sony Reader (nice thing about the Sony Reader here--books once purchased can't be revoked remotely), yet it takes up no more space in my carry-on than perhaps an international phrasebook. I have never regretted buying my Sony Reader and enjoy it almost daily. And since I have an international-capable charger for it, all I need to continue my reading enjoyment on the go is a wall outlet--ANY wall outlet.

    Now, excuse me while I pull my library of 120+ books out of my coat pocket...

  45. Irk

    DVDs @Jeffrey Nonken

    A few older DVDs I own had a type of DRM that makes the picture display horribly, as if played on a 25-year-old CRT TV, and the sound go to mono, if I had a VCR hooked up to the DVD player. Basically it'd detect copying hardware hooked up, and make it low-quality/unbearable but still technically watchable if I had any shot of making a (GASP) copy on tape. Think that was a 1999 release of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

    What sucked was that at the time my television was a combo VCR/TV where it was impossible to unhook the VCR, so any discs with DRM like that would never play properly. Can't stand DRM like that where the maker has no regard to restraints placed on end-users due to what hardware arrangement they have, expecting people to unhook everything or buy a new TV just because they look like they have a chance of copying.

    (I could have hawked that VHS copy for a good $2 at the flea market I am sure.)

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