The world's largest online retailer, Amazon, will fork out $150,000 to settle a lawsuit that originated from the decision to delete Orwell's 1984 from its Kindle ebook reader back in July because, erm, it didn't have the rights to sell it.
The problem though is that because the Kindle allows users to add their own content like notes to the electronic book, removing it from the ebook reader will also delete the users' content.
And it happened that Justin Gawronski, the plaintiff, lost all his assignments. He sued Amazon and won, making it, as David Coursey of PC World puts it, the most expensive lost homework ever and incidentally gives him a nice college fund.
Amazon is also now bonded by an agreement that prevents it from "remotely delete or modify such Works from Devices purchased and being used in the United States", although there are four get-out clauses. It is likely that this agreement will be extended to cover the rest of the world if and when the Kindle goes on sale outside the US.
The plaintiff's lead law firm KamberEdelson LLC has also announced that it will give its part of the payment fee to charity. The deletion of the novel caused an outcry, especially as it was done without prior warning and ironically involved 1984, a book that describes a totalitarian state and from which the term Big Brother is derived.
Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, issued a public apology, agreeing that the company's methods were nothing short of "stupid [and] thoughtless". Subsequently, Amazon offered to give anyone affected by the cockup, the choice of selecting any book they want on the Kindle or getting a 30-dollar credit.
Will the lawsuit open a floodgate? Unlikely, but it is always nice to see that even a company as big as Amazon doesn't always have to win even against a single person. It is also refreshing to see how, overall, the firm and its CEO, reacted to the whole cockup and diffused what could have been a PR disaster.