Thursday, November 11, 2010

Amazon pulls "objectionable" Kindle book; a slippery slope?

Should Amazon have “given in” to public “recreational outrage” over a Kindle Book title by Phillip Greaves II, which had been self-published in late October, 2010? Fox News has a story on the disabling here. Apparently in two weeks the e-book had risen to sales rank 65 among Kindle books.

The “book” (rather more like a leaflet) dealt with disturbing subject matter, to say the least, and had a title that most would find offensive (so I won’t reproduce the title here, for practical reasons). Quotes from the book show some egregious and obvious spelling errors.

As of Thursday morning (Nov. 11), pricing information on the e-book was not available, and the individual URL for the book does not come up. However late Wednesday night I saw several angry comments threatening to boycott Amazon, and one of the comments said that other comments had been removed. (It's not absolutely clear if Amazon or Greaves did the removal.)

Greaves has other entries on Amazon that continue to work.

Although the book had been available for almost two weeks, outrage erupted late Wednesday when Anderson Cooper covered the issue on his AC360 program (in his “keeping them honest” ® series). Dr, Phil appeared, and then Jeffrey Toobin, legal advisor, indicated that the book probably would not be found obscene or in violation of child pornography statutes because it contained only text and no images. (That is not necessarily the case overseas, even in Canada.)

Fox notes that Amazon has been criticized before, and once removed a violent video game, but also allowed another book about underage interest to stay despite threats of suits from a conservative group.

Amazon reportedly said “Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable. Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.”

But critics noted that Amazon was inconsistent because it does not sell (visual) pornography.

Toobin described Amazon’s issues as purely business ones, not legal.

Anderson Cooper’s 360 blog entry is here (updated).  The entry even reports an urban legend that the book is an FBI sting (like a former Dateline series!)

The incident could make “public outrage” a more sensitive issue for Amazon (and BN) since some people are offended by a number of topics (such as abortion). It could cause them to become more wary of accepting self-published books.

I have reviewed one or two books that I think could have inspired boycotts. I have one such review Jan. 21, 2009, and I hid the objectionable nature of the book title with a blog posting title (“Women and children first”) that expressed the “spirit” of the title in a less “offensive” way.

Back in 2005, a couple staff members at a Fairfax County high school where I substitute taught were “very offended” by the presence of a screenplay on my own website about a similar subject matter after I mentioned (to one teaching intern) the fact that I had a website in response to a newspaper story regarding the First Amendment. The incident is covered on the “BillBoushka” blog July 27, 2007.

There have been a few cases of litigation and prosecution around websites with intention similar to Greaves’s book.

AOL has a detailed story about the incident here.

NBC affiliate 9News in Denver has this story about the Pueblo author (including a brief interview with the author, as well as with lawyers and prosecutors):



My own concern: rule of the mob, and possibility we could sink back to "Fahrenheit 451" or book burnings. You don't have to buy the book.  Amazon's Discussion Page about the book is still available here, and many of the comments look pretty responsible and balanced.

It sounds appropriate to say that the company won't sell knowingly anything that gives instructions on illegal conduct, and that logic would apply, for example, for weapons making. But in the past it could have applied to all gay conduct, even with adults.  Most of us don't know exactly what the ebook says, but there's a good chance that, despite Greaves's assertions, a lot of it would be illegal in most or all states (let alone harmful).

I remember the controversy over "Hit Man", from Paladin Press ("Rex Feral"), resulting in a lawsuit. It's still n Amazon, and very expensive.

Update: Dec. 21

NBC and Kerry Sanders on the Today show report that the Polk County FL sheriff set up a "sting" to buy the book through the mail and then sent sherrif's deputies to Colorado to arrest Greaves on obscenity charges.  The sheriff used the word "manifesto" in discussing the case in this video. It sounds like it will be hard to get past the First Amendment in court. I thought one had to use US Marshalls for such an arrest, but apparently not.


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