Amazon dips into memory hole to retrieve Orwellian works

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cover of first edition of 1984

American-based online retailer has backtracked from its July decision and actions to remotely delete George Orwell's classic dystopian novels, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, from customers' Kindle e-book readers.

Late Thursday, Amazon emailed owners of Kindle readers who had previously lost copies of these novels, offering a new copy of the deleted books, or a gift certificate or check for US$30. In the email, the company's chief executive, Jeff Bezos apologised again, and described the earlier actions as "stupid, thoughtless and painfully out of line with our principles."

Initially, the two works of Orwell were made available to Kindle owners by a third-party company which did not have the rights to distribute them. When Amazon was alerted to this by the actual rights holder, the company removed the books from their online store then, far more controversially, remotely deleted the books from their customers' devices before issuing refunds.

In the aftermath of significant press coverage of Amazon's actions to remove content, legal action was started against them in Washington alleging violations of the company's published terms of service, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and Washington's consumer protection legislation. A Michigan student named as a plaintiff in the case explained that the deletion of his copy of 1984 had rendered his annotations and notes worthless.

First published in 1949, the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four will not enter the public domain in the United States until 2044.