Amazon's Orwell Apology Can't Quite Erase Kindle Black Mark


Amazon continued its mea culpa for erasing e-book copies of George Orwell books from customer Kindles earlier this year, offering users a replacement copy of the books or a $30 gift certificate for their troubles. The move leaves more questions for Kindle, however, including will the refund be enough to erase a bad taste in the mouths of Kindle users, and will the public-relations fallout have a long-term effect for Amazon?

Either way, the issue itself will be remembered long past the steps Amazon took to correct the problem. It's a black mark on Kindle, whether Amazon likes it or not.

For starters, the Kindle refund comes more than six weeks after Amazon unceremoniously yanked copies of Orwell's "1984" and "Animal Farm" from Kindles, as both books are still under copyright in the U.S. and were loaded into Amazon's Kindle library without permission by a third party.

Following a media firestorm over the sudden deletions -- and the "Big Brother"-ish behavior they suggest -- Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos called the move a "painful mistake," saying Amazon would use the "scar tissue" to make better decisions going forward.

That reaction, of course, didn't stop two Kindle users from suing Amazon in early August for breach of contract, intentional interference and violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and Washington Consumer Protection Act. Lawyers for one of the plaintiffs, Antoine Bruguier from California, argue in the suit that "Amazon has no more right to delete e-books from consumers' Kindles and iPhones than it does to retrieve from its customers' homes paper books it sells and ships to consumers."

Late last week, Amazon sent an e-mail to affected Kindle users offering a return of the Orwell material -- annotations included -- or monetary compensation.

"As you were one of the customers impacted by the removal of 'Nineteen Eighty Four' from your Kindle device in July of this year, we would like to offer you the option to have us re-deliver this book to your Kindle along with any annotations you made," read an e-mail letter to affected Kindle users late last week. "You will not be charged for the book. If you do not wish to have us re-deliver the book to your Kindle, you can instead choose to receive an Amazon.com electronic gift certificate or check for $30."

All Amazon can offer now is continued contrition, as it'll be hard to gauge whether Amazon's learned anything from the Orwell e-book furor until another digital rights management issue hits home for Kindle. Amazon's rivals in the space (check out our Amazon versus Sony versus Plastic Logic clash) are getting more competitive all the time, and not a week goes by, it seems, where there isn't a new e-reading player.