A Michigan teenager is launching a class-action lawsuit against online book retailer Amazon, alleging the company rendered  his study notes on George Orwell's 1984 useless when it deleted the novel from his and other customers' Kindle e-book readers earlier in July.

Justin D. Gawronski, 17, "now needs to recreate all of his studies," alleges the complaint filed Thursday in Seattle by the law firm KamberEdelson, LLC.

'Technology companies increasingly feel that because they have the ability to access people's personal property, they have the right to do so.' — Jay Edelson, lawyer

Gawronski took copious notes using the Kindle that were linked to particular passages in the book, the court document says, and while those notes are still accessible, they are useless without the passages they reference.

Amazon has apologized for remotely deleting copies of 1984 and another Orwell novel, Animal Farm, in mid-July without informing customers.

Jay Edelson, the lead attorney in the lawsuit, said in a statement that the plaintiffs "appreciate Amazon.com's new-found contrition, but words are not enough. Amazon.com had no more right to hack into people's Kindles than its customers have the right to hack into Amazon's bank account to recover a mistaken overpayment."

About the complaint

The law firm is seeking:

  • A court order banning Amazon from "improperly accessing" customers' Kindles in the future.
  • Financial compensation for people who lost work as a result of the incident.

Complainants Justin Gawronski and Antoine Bruguier are representing three classes of customers in the suit:

  • Those who have purchased Amazon Kindle, Kindle 2, or Kindle DX.
  • Those who had any digital content they had bought at the Kindle Store that was remotely deleted by Amazon without their consent.
  • Those who had made notes, annotations, highlights, or dog-ears on digital content they had bought at the Kindle store that was remotely deleted by Amazon without their consent.

Need to set precedent: lawyer

It is important to set a precedent, Edelson said, as "technology companies increasingly feel that because they have the ability to access people's personal property, they have the right to do so" even though that is "100 per cent contrary to the laws of this country."

The complaint alleges that Amazon never indicated to customers it had the ability and right to remotely delete content from Kindles and iPhones, nor did it let them know that is something that could make all notes, annotations, bookmarks and highlighting created by consumers useless. That is the type of information that customers rely on when deciding whether to buy such products, it added.

The document argues that Amazon's ability to delete purchases reduces the value of the products and that Amazon is profiting from "fraudulent and misleading sales."

Amazon had said publicly that it had deleted the books because they were added to its catalogue by a third party who did not have the rights to the book.

KamberEdelson is a firm that specializes in class action lawsuits focused on internet, technology and privacy issues. It has promised to donate any money it receives from the lawsuit to charity if Amazon.com "abides by its latest promise to take quick action to remedy this situation."