Thursday, June 25, 2009

I like my "offensive" material, thank you very much

While sifting through my updates from Publisher's Weekly, I ran across this story. Here's the gist:
Bills have been introduced in Utah and Louisiana this year that give private citizens the right to sue booksellers and other retailers for committing an "unfair" trade practice by selling "offensive" material to a minor.
There are so many problems with this, I almost don't know where to begin.

1) There is no definition of what material is considered "offensive." The Bill stipulates that the material would contain "sexually explicit conduct," but that is all the description given.

2) Unlike movies and video games, there is no generally accepted ratings system for books. Publishers can put recommended age grades on their titles, but are not required to. Therefore, booksellers have no tools at their disposal to guide them.

3) A 17-year-old is still a minor, but is a much more mature reader than a 10-year-old. However, this law would still apply to books they bought.

4) There is no indication in the language of the bill that the person bringing the suit has to be the guardian of the minor. It could be just some crazy lady on the street who thinks your 13-year-old should not be able to buy The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian because it talks about masturbation.

5) Worst of all:
The defendants in these lawsuits would have to hire a lawyer to defend them and could be forced to pay thousands of dollars if they lost.
Quite a blow to independent booksellers, especially those who stock a lot of romance novels and might be forced to abandon those lucrative titles in case they accidentally sell one to a 17-year-old, get taken to court, and end up bankrupt because of lawyer fees.

The good news is that a similar bill that was passed in Utah was eventually vetoed by the Governor, and the Louisiana legislature decided to delay a vote on the bill when they realized how much it would cost to enforce: $1.6 million.

Hm...let's think about the numbers:
The government policing what children read: $16 million in taxpayer dollars
Parents policing what their children read: free for everyone.

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