By Casey Lynn
Contributing Writer, [GAS]
So, speaking of e-books… you may have heard that in a twist of Orwellian irony, Amazon recently wirelessly deleted copies of 1984 and Animal Farm from customers’ Kindles. Apparently there was a copyright issue, in that the third party distributor who okayed the e-versions of the books did not actually have the authority to do so. Of course, Amazon promptly refunded the money, and all’s well that end’s well – unless, of course, your homework was in that book.
A Chicago law firm just filed a lawsuit on behalf of a 17-year-old high school senior who claims that he’d been using his Kindle to take notes in the book itself for his AP English class. The book disappeared, and so did his homework.
I had a look at the complaint, and here are the basic claims against Amazon: (1) violation of their own Terms of Service (which includes a “right to keep a permanent copy,” (2) violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (for accessing the Kindles without permission), (3) trespass to chattels (i.e., stealing), (4) conversion (if it doesn’t count as stealing because of the refund, they were forced to convert to a different form), (5) breach of contract, and (6) violation of the Washington Consumer Protection Act.
On the one hand, this was a very peculiar situation and I have a feeling that Amazon is going to be very careful that it doesn’t happen again. On the other, the law firm is completely right in that it’s a terrible, terrible precedent to set – so maybe getting a judgment against Amazon would make sure it’s not. However, digital copyright is incredibly complicated. The complaint says it’s like Amazon sneaking into your room at night, taking your books, and leaving money on your nightstand. Is it really the same? Who knows. But my instinct is that this is the first sign of the digital copyright problems that have plagued music and increasingly films/TV for the past ten years making their way to books.
The kid who lost his homework, who’d been reading Orwell’s 1984, noted, “It’s a bit ironic.” Maybe his teacher will let him write an essay about modern interpretations of Big Brother instead.