CEO Jeff Bezos knows that the biggest hurdle e-book readers face are DRM schemes and copyright regimes that differ from country to country.
So in letting Americans download copies of 1984 that were outside the local regime to their Kindles, then having them erased remotely, Amazon created a highly-publicized cause celebre that may finally bring reform.
Sure, Amazon was within its rights. Rights are not the issue here.
Right and wrong is the issue.
We all know that, in the global world of the Internet, a national law is a local ordinance. These ordinances are often complex, contradictory, and exist solely to protect local monopolies.
In this case the monopoly is copyright, which extends practically to infinity in the U.S., thanks to the Walt Disney Co., but is held to a reasonable length in other countries.
It's America's penchant of giving corporations greater rights than individuals which is at issue here, and 1984, as a book, is a great place to make that point. Author George Orwell also wrote Animal Farm, whose best-known line, "some pigs are more equal than others," applies superbly to the case.
If the intent of copyright is to create an incentive for people to create, why should that incentive last 75 years past the life of the creator? There is no reason, except for the fact that corporations now hold copyright in the U.S., and corporations are immortal because when they die they pass their assets on to other companies.
Amazon knows that uniform rules are in everyone's interest, especially Amazon's. By enabling this outrage, creating this outrage, then apologizing for this outrage, and promising not to repeat it, Amazon puts pressure on both publishers and governments worldwide to create a reasonable, global copyright regime, so ebooks and books operate under identical principles.
It was definitely the computer industry play of the week.