Amazon's Copyright Woes Kindle A Fiasco

Forced into damage control mode by its decision to erase books that people had already purchased, Amazon is vowing to never again delete material from users' Kindles.

That promise comes too late for some Kindle users who found that copies of "1984" and "Animal Farm" had been remotely deleted from their devices last week. That statement also might carry more weight if Amazon hadn't already said in its user agreement that people could keep their books forever. "Upon your payment of the applicable fees set by Amazon, Amazon grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content," the company promised.

Despite that clause, Amazon removed the two George Orwell books from people's devices last week, after realizing it didn't have the rights to sell them. Clearly Amazon was afraid that it would be on the hook for copyright infringement -- and damages ranging from $750 to $150,000 per incident.



Of course, at that point any copyright infringement had already occurred, and deleting the books doesn't change that fact. But the company must have thought it would look better in court if it had taken steps to cure the rights problem.

Whatever its motives, this decision will almost certainly be remembered as one of the biggest corporate blunders in Internet history, on a par with debacles like AOL's public release of users' search histories, or Facebook's Beacon program, which told members about their friends' e-commerce purchases.

In the past, people might have known it was theoretically possible for content to be erased remotely at the whim of a retailer, but it's safe to say that few consumers thought such an outcome was likely. Now that Amazon has shown just how ephemeral digital books can be, it might be quite a while before consumers decide to buy e-books in lieu of hard copies again.

6 comments about "Amazon's Copyright Woes Kindle A Fiasco".
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  1. Kenn Kozerski from, July 20, 2009 at 5:32 p.m.

    Ironic that Animal Farm and 1984 were the books deleted. Is Fahrenheit 451 far behind..

  2. Robert Zager from iconix, inc., July 20, 2009 at 5:38 p.m.

    One wonders if they deleted copies of these works in Australia, where the books are in the public domain.

  3. John Mallen from JMC Marketing Communications, July 20, 2009 at 7 p.m.

    I love my Kindle. Everyone makes mistakes. Thus in Amazon's case, if they erred here but gave the customers a refund, it would seem to be enough.

  4. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, July 20, 2009 at 7:52 p.m.

    Methinks thou dost protest too much.

    A tempest in a teapot.

  5. Chuck Lantz from, network, July 20, 2009 at 9:06 p.m.

    As Ken Kozerski mentioned, the titles of the deletions drips with irony. Besides that dripping sound we hear are footsteps, including mine, retreating as quickly as possible from any thought of ever purchasing a Kindle and ebooks from Amazon. It's hard and soft cover for me and mine, until they are all gone.

  6. Marcia Chocinsky from Fahlgren Advertising, July 20, 2009 at 9:38 p.m.

    chuckling at the book titles. Will Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Atlas Shrugged, etc be far behind? I wasn't wild about kindle before but now I'm with the guy above who said "hard and soft cover for me and mine until they are all gone."

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