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Originally published Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Brier Dudley

Class-action suit filed over Kindle

Excerpts from the blog You've heard about cracking open a book, but how about cracking open a Kindle? Apparently this is happening to some...

Seattle Times staff columnist

Excerpts from the blog

You've heard about cracking open a book, but how about cracking open a Kindle?

Apparently this is happening to some owners of Amazon.com's electronic book reader who also bought the optional, $30 protective cover, including one unhappy gadget lover who filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday in Seattle.

Matthew Geise, executive director of a property-management firm in Seattle, purchased a $359 Kindle 2 in February for his wife's birthday, plus one of the official Amazon Kindle covers.

After about three months, the Kindle started cracking around the points where the cover attaches with clips. The cracks grew and on July 6 the screen froze and the device stopped working, said the class-action complaint, which seeks refunds, triple damages and legal costs.

"I was just looking at it and thinking, those cracks are growing and growing," Geise said in a phone interview.

Several Amazon representatives did not respond to repeated calls and e-mails seeking comment. They shouldn't be surprised. A number of customers have posted complaints at Amazon.com, in reviews of the Kindle cover.

"Like a lot of other reviews, the faceplate on my Kindle is cracked from the upper clasp. I don't know if this happened when I put the Kindle in the cover or if it happened later. I wouldn't have bought the cover if I'd known there was a risk of this happening," a reviewer wrote on the site July 3.

A July 13 reviewer with the same problem said: "Amazon has been horrible about helping with this issue. I am sorry, but if an accessory is purchased to PROTECT the product, the company should certainly be liable if it is the cause of the damage."

According to the lawsuit, when Geise called Amazon to make a warranty claim on July 7, a customer-service representative said the company would cover the screen freeze but not the cracks, contending they were caused by improperly opening the cover backward. That damage isn't covered by the warranty, Geise was told, and he would have to pay $200 for the repairs.

A supervisor told Geise's wife, Alisa Brodkowitz, that the cracks are a "common problem" but reiterated that the couple would have to pay $200 to get a replacement unit. The supervisor told them the cracked one may end up being repaired and offered as refurbished, according to the lawsuit.

Brodkowitz insisted she didn't open the cover backward. The couple's suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle on Tuesday, said the value of the "matter in controversy" exceeds $5 million. It said the class would include buyers of Kindle 2 and Kindle DX models "installed in a Kindle Cover designed by Amazon."

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Geise's attorney, Beth Terrell, said they believe "scores, if not hundreds," of Kindle buyers have had cracking problems. Other consumer-protection class-action cases filed by Terrell include suits against Qwest involving Internet fees and against Microsoft and Best Buy over MSN trial subscriptions in Windows Vista.

Terrell said it appears Amazon changed its policy of automatically replacing the cracked Kindles to charging $200 for their replacement.

"They have tried to position themselves as a very consumer-friendly company here in Seattle and around the country," she said. "It does not reflect well on their reputation they've spent a lot of time trying to build."

Even if cracks are being caused by people "opening" their Kindle covers from the back side, "there's no warning that's going to crack the Kindle," Terrell said.

No flying chair this time?

I wonder if Eric Schmidt tossed a chair when he found out Mark Lucovsky was leaving Google for VMware.

Lucovsky, a former Microsoft Distinguished Engineer, a key player on the Windows NT team and father of the Hailstorm cloud strategy, allegedly caused a big kerfuffle in Steve Ballmer's office when he announced his departure for Google in 2004.

The notorious incident came at the apex of Microsoft's angst over losing engineers to Google. Lucovsky said Ballmer swore and threw a chair, allegations the chief executive denied.

Now Google is losing talent as it wrestles with growth, maturity and evolving culture.

TechCrunch reported Tuesday that Lucovsky left Google for VMware, which is headed by one of his former bosses at Microsoft, Paul Maritz.

Lucovsky was an engineering director with Google working in Santa Barbara, Calif.

This material has been edited for print publication.

Brier Dudley's blog excerpts appear Thursdays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Brier Dudley

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.
bdudley@seattletimes.com | 206-515-5687

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