Yesterday I spent all day glued to Twitter and my e-mail watching the story build as Amazon seesawed over whether or not to pull a self-published e-book entitled The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure from its Kindle store.
The entire scenario sparked conversations and debates about whether this was a free speech situation or a business situation or even a criminal situation.
(For those wondering -- here's the Wikipedia definition of free speech in America:
Freedom of speech in the United States is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and by many state constitutions and state and federal laws. Criticism of the government and advocacy of unpopular ideas that people may find distasteful or against public policy, such as racism, sexism, and other hate speech are generally permitted. There are exceptions to these general protection, including the Miller test for obscenity, child pornography laws, speech that incites imminent danger, and regulation of commercial speech such as advertising. Within these limited areas, other limitations on free speech balance rights to free speech and other rights, such as rights for authors and inventors over their works and discoveries (copyright and patent), interests in "fair" political campaigns (Campaign finance laws), protection from imminent or potential violence against particular persons (restrictions on fighting words), or the use of untruths to harm others (slander). Distinctions are often made between speech and other acts which may have symbolic significance.)
I came down on the criminal/business side of things. Sexually abusing a child (there is no consensual sexual relationship between an adult and a child) is illegal. Child pornography is illegal. A book describing in detail how to sexually abuse a child should fall in those categories. I didn't see this story until today, but it pretty much sums up my opinion on the matter of distributing the e-book:
"This is not about free speech whether on the pedophile guide or the kiddie porn videos," said Maureen Flately, Child Advocate and advisor on Masha's Law. "It's about harm to kids and encouraging criminal activity. The book and images are de facto evidence of both criminal intent and criminal activity. By almost any objective standard, Amazon would be in violation of Masha's Law for harboring and distributing images of child pornography."
I watched last night as Amazon or the author broke the link or put it back up a few times while I debated whether or not Amazon was actually the book's publisher with UndomesticatedAmy, who is one of the few people with whom I've ever actually argued on Twitter and still liked the next morning.
As of right now, the book appears to be down, but Amazon still hasn't released a follow-up statement to what they said yesterday. (Read Sassymonkey's excellent post on BlogHer regarding this matter for more commentary.)
Let me assure you that Amazon.com does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts; we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.
Amazon.com believes it is censorship not to sell certain titles because we believe their message is objectionable. Therefore, we'll continue to make controversial works available in the United States and everywhere else, except where they're prohibited by law. We also allow readers, authors, and publishers to express their views freely about these titles and other products we offer on our website. However, Amazon.com doesn't endorse opinions expressed by individual authors, musical artists, or filmmakers.
Whether you come down on the censorship/free speech side or the criminal side or the helluvabadbusinessdecisionrightbeforetheholidays side, this exposure creates a tough situation for Kindle and other e-book distribution systems that allow authors to self-publish.
I actually self-publish to Kindle. (See left nav.) Yesterday I wrestled with taking my stuff down (that over which I had control -- my traditional publisher, Chicago Review Press, controls the Kindle distribution of Sleep Is for the Weak) in protest of the whole thing. Then I thought about how else I could actually distribute my work that would garner the same exposure and ease of delivery.
And I thought.
And I thought.
And I thought.
And I could not think of anything, except PubIt, which just came out last month and about which I have not heard all that much. (Although this whole matter has made me look into it.)
And that's why I say Amazon has some culpability in the matter -- without Kindle, the author would not have such a platform for his sick and possibly illegal thoughts on how best to sexually abuse children. And, since Amazon takes a cut of each sale (on my books, I keep 35% of the $1 list price), I don't understand how anyone could ignore Amazon's obvious control over whether or not that book had a distribution platform and Amazon's profit motive for leaving it up.
I'm glad it appears to be down. I hope it stays that way.
But Amazon hasn't released a statement other than what they said yesterday about thinking it was censorship to take it down. Which they did. Hopefully because they realized the book violated their own Terms of Service.
Probably because they are sitting in a conference room debating whether or not they should have to monitor what is self-published using their digital text platform tools, and if they would have to, how the hell they could do that. To do so would grind the release of self-published work to a halt. Even if they automated some sort of spider for potentially problematic words or phrases, a human would still have to read the works flagged to figure out if it is a self-help book for adult survivors of childhood abuse or, you know, a how-to guide directing adults how to sleep with kids without getting caught.
Self-publishing on Kindle is attractive to me -- even though I have a book published by a traditional publisher and am hoping for another -- because not everything I write is an entire book, nor should it be. Just as micropayments changed the way we interact with our favorite musicians, I'm hoping self-published short releases to Kindle or other e-book platforms will enable readers to get more writing and more specific writing from their favorite writers. The problem? Even with the proliferation of e-readers, they're not all easy to use for authors.
There are plenty of other reasons to self-publish an e-book, just as there are traditional print books. Maybe you're a speaker with back-of-the-room sales. Maybe you want to give it away for free or for a buck to gain exposure. Maybe you're trying to establish yourself as an expert in your field. The barrier to entry for a Kindle e-book is crazy low and the distribution channel is globally recognized. Putting more obstacles to self-publish on the Kindle would really hurt authors, 99.999% of whom are not publishing anything even bordering on illegal.
I am not surprised Amazon hasn't released a statement yet, because a statement will have to set a precedent. This isn't a free speech issue, it's a business decision, and Amazon leads the e-book industry. What they say and do is important.
I'm glad the book is gone. I think the author needs to be investigated by the FBI to see what's on his hard drive. But also -- in an era when the traditional publishing industry is accepting and publishing and promoting fewer and fewer new authors and even established mid-level authors -- I really hope that sick fuck didn't just ruin digital self-publishing for other authors.