Norwegian consumer lobbyists take on Amazon over Kindle terms

Out-Law News | 02 Nov 2009 | 5:29 pm | 2 min. read

The Norwegian consumer lobby group that put pressure on Apple to release iTunes-bought music from digital rights management (DRM) technology has trained its sights on Amazon.

Norway's Consumer Council has published objections to Amazon's e-book reader Kindle and the close ties it has with Amazon's online book shop. It says that the device and retailer are breaking Norway's consumer protection laws.

A statement from the Consumer Council, or Forbrukerrådet, said that there was an "excessive bond" between the Kindle and the content bought for display on it. It said that the situation appeared to be similar to that of Apple's iPods and iTunes content.

It said that buyers of a Kindle have to agree to terms and conditions which give Amazon the right to end the agreement at any time without notice or the customer's agreement.

"This can hardly be understood in any way other than that you, the customer, will no longer have access to the books or journals you have purchased if you are suspected of having breached the agreement, e.g. by make an illegal copy," said the Consumer Council's director Hans Marius Graasvold, in an automatic translation of a statement.

Amazon's control over content bought and downloaded onto a Kindle device was demonstrated earlier this year when it forcibly recalled copies of George Orwell's dystopian fantasy 1984. That parable about an all-powerful authority controlling people's lives was sold without the correct legal rights so was deleted remotely from users' machines.

The Forbrukerrådet said that Amazon's contract would not be legal under Norwegian contract law because it contains a clause allowing the company to change the agreement without customer notification or consent.

"This breaks with a fundamental principle in both Norwegian and European contract law that contracts shall be adhered to, and that the parties can not unilaterally have the power to change the agreement, "said Graasvold.

Graasvold said that the Forbrukerrådet was poised to take action, just as it did against Apple over the iPods' tie-ins to the iTunes shop.

"We are currently waiting to see how Amazon and Norwegian publishers will resolve this, but we do not rule out an 'iTunes 2' if we are not satisfied on these points," said Graasvold.

In 2006 the Forbrukerrådet complained that iTunes broke consumer protection law in Norway because it did not allow iTunes-bought tracks to be played on non-Apple devices.

The country's Consumer Ombudsman agreed, telling Apple to open up its system or abandon it. Apple later stopped using the system and now sells music without the DRM protection that restricted the use of the purchased material.

The Forbrukerrådet also expressed concerns about the privacy implications of Amazon's storage of details of how Kindles were used, and about the degree to which its agreements were even understandable by Norwegian consumers.

Amazon's terms and conditions for the Kindle say that it can be used to view content that is "determined by Amazon from time to time". It says that content is licensed from Amazon, can only be used on the Kindle and cannot be transferred to other devices.