Amazon is under fire from George Orwell's estate for referencing the Nineteen Eighty-Four author in its legal battle with publishers.
The web bazaar, while mired in a war of words with Hachette over book prices, invoked Orwell's name and cited comments made by the author at the dawn of paperback books.
According to Amazon, Orwell had suggested in the 1940s that publishers should collude in order to suppress the sale of the less expensive paperbacks. This, Amazon said, was a sentiment now repeated by Hachette – which is accused of unfairly inflating e-book prices.
Now, members of Orwell's estate are crying foul, claiming the late Brit literary legend never actually suggested publishers should work to stifle paperbacks.
In a letter published by The New York Times on Wednesday, Orwell Estate Literary Executor Bill Hamilton said the web giant twisted the author's words.
"Amazon is using George Orwell's name in vain: it quotes Orwell out of context as supporting a campaign to suppress paperbacks, to give specious authority to its campaign against publishers over e-book pricing," Hamilton wrote.
The executor said the comments Amazon cites had been made in irony and, in fact, Orwell was a proponent of paperback books; the passage cited by the company was from an article praising publisher Penguin on its paperback editions.
Hamilton notes that the company's blunder is not unlike a scene from Orwell's writings of a dystopian future.
"This is about as close as one can get to the Ministry of Truth and its doublespeak," he writes. "Turning the facts inside out to get a piece of Propaganda across."
Amazon, of all people, should be brushed up on Orwell: revelations of NSA and GCHQ mass-surveillance of innocents ramped up sales of Nineteen Eighty-Four last year.
This is not the first time Amazon has run afoul of the Brit lit icon. In 2009, the company drew the ire of fans when it inadvertently sold unauthorized e-book copies of Nineteen Eighty-Four and then deleted the titles from Kindle readers without warning. ®