Amazon claims that Wikileaks doesn't have rights in the leaked material, and hence was in violation of its terms of service. Here's its statement:
There have been reports that a government inquiry prompted us not to serve WikiLeaks any longer. That is inaccurate.
There have also been reports that it was prompted by massive DDOS attacks. That too is inaccurate. There were indeed large-scale DDOS attacks, but they were successfully defended against.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) rents computer infrastructure on a self-service basis. AWS does not pre-screen its customers, but it does have terms of service that must be followed. WikiLeaks was not following them. There were several parts they were violating. For example, our terms of service state that "you represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content… that use of the content you supply does not violate this policy and will not cause injury to any person or entity." It's clear that WikiLeaks doesn't own or otherwise control all the rights to this classified content. Further, it is not credible that the extraordinary volume of 250,000 classified documents that WikiLeaks is publishing could have been carefully redacted in such a way as to ensure that they weren't putting innocent people in jeopardy. Human rights organizations have in fact written to WikiLeaks asking them to exercise caution and not release the names or identities of human rights defenders who might be persecuted by their governments.
We've been running AWS for over four years and have hundreds of thousands of customers storing all kinds of data on AWS. Some of this data is controversial, and that's perfectly fine. But, when companies or people go about securing and storing large quantities of data that isn't rightfully theirs, and publishing this data without ensuring it won't injure others, it's a violation of our terms of service, and folks need to go operate elsewhere.
We look forward to continuing to serve our AWS customers and are excited about several new things we have coming your way in the next few months.
— Amazon Web Services
Does this add up? Amazon just happened to take an interest in the intellectual property status of government documents after being called by the same U.S. Senator who another company reports was explicitly demanding the removal of Wikileaks material? A Senator who was able to make a public statement about Amazon's removal of the material, as the removal occurred?
Books about Wikileaks and these events will soon appear: will Amazon refuse to sell those which include text from the cables? Indeed, is it even the case that the government has the rights Amazon speaks of? According to the Copyright Act, Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government: there is no state copyright in documents made by government employees. They belong to you.
Even if Werner Vogels really was sauntering carefree through the halls of Seattle singing "Doo de doo de doo OH MY GOD LOOK AT THAT RIGHTS ISSUE," it's funny that this reasoning — no-one has the rights to publish the government's secrets — is only a little less creepy than the acquiescence to censorship his firm was accused of.
Bear in mind that while leaking classified information is a crime, receiving and publishing it is not.
Oddly, the same "IP rights" terms-of-service excuse was offered by another company for removing Wikileaks-related material, even though the material on their servers were merely visualizations of data that would not fall under copyright any more than an unemployment infographic.
The fact that Amazon threw in a 'Plan B' rationale about the impossibility of redacting the documents, and marketing for forthcoming new products — is just a bit odd! I imagine Amazon will regret this rather ham-handed defense, even if the PR damage it suffers could never match the legislative damage that Joementum could inflict on it for refusing to comply.