62 Comments

Summary:

Amazon has refused to remove a book from its Kindle store despite criticism from hundreds of commenters on the self-published title, which advocates pedophilia. The retailer says it doesn’t believe in censorship, and that customers should be free to buy such books if they wish.

Updated: If you want to test someone’s belief in freedom of speech, the easiest way is to bring up something morally abhorrent — topics such as the defense of pedophilia, incest, the denial of the Holocaust, and so on. Amazon found itself right in the middle of that kind of battlefield today, after word got out on Twitter and elsewhere in the blogosphere that the online retailer’s Kindle e-book library includes a book entitled “The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure.” Hundreds of commenters have complained and asked Amazon to remove the book, but the company has refused to do so, saying it does not believe in censorship. Update: As of Thursday morning, it looks like the book has been removed.

It’s not clear why the book started getting attention today, since it was self-published almost two weeks ago by someone named Phillip R. Greaves II, but it started attracting comments, and soon there were hundreds (there were almost a thousand at last check, although Amazon moderators have reportedly removed several hundred offensive ones), of which the vast majority were calling for the online retailer to take the book off its virtual shelves. Many said they planned to boycott Amazon as a result of its decision not to remove the book. But in a statement, the company 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.

Part of what Amazon has been selling with the Kindle and the e-book store is the ability for virtually anyone to self-publish whatever they wish, something I have written about in the past as a good thing. But obviously the downside of that ability is that people can publish disturbing things as well, such as the book in question — which the author says is “my attempt to make pedophile situations safer for those juveniles that find themselves involved in them, by establishing certian [sic] rules for these adults to follow.” The book apparently doesn’t contain any images, so it doesn’t fall into the category of child pornography, although some would likely argue that it is just as bad.

A few commenters on the book have defended Amazon’s decision, saying the company should be congratulated for not giving into pressures to censor such material. Some observers have pointed out that the retailer has been down this particular road before, with books that involved the same topic, and in those cases it has also made the same argument: that censorship is not right, regardless of the content. Obviously, it’s incredibly difficult to support a topic like this one, but I happen to think Amazon is doing the right thing (although others seem to disagree). Freedom from censorship is an important principle, despite the fact that it’s hard to support when it involves such material.

With the explosion of self-publishing that the Kindle and other tools provide, this is probably not the last time Amazon will have to make that choice. For what it’s worth, I hope that they continue to defend free speech, as difficult as that might be.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Jennifer Moo

  1. Just because I don’t agree with something doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be available. I don’t like eating shell fish, but that doesn’t mean nobody can go to a seafood restaurant.

    If we start censoring books (moreso) because they offend a group of people who probably haven’t read a book in the last 5 years, where will it stop?

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    1. Great point, Jason. I think that is Amazon’s point as well.

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    2. Are you seriously equating eating shell fish with molesting children? One happens to be illegal.

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      1. No he was equating eating shell fish, with a book.
        And neither of them are illegal.
        Your point is moot.

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  2. Matthew, this is by no means a free speech issue. This is a private business that can do whatever the heck it wants with regards to the products it sells.

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    1. Yes, I realize that Amazon can sell whatever it likes — but I still think the principle at stake is one of freedom of speech and freedom from censorship, regardless of whether it is a private corporation.

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      1. Brilliant Pebbles Wednesday, November 10, 2010

        I couldn’t disagree more. Censorship is what the government does. Walmart not distributing Hustler magazine is not censorship by any useful definition. If I choose, as an event coordinator, not to provide a venue for a Holocaust denier, that too is not censorship. The freedom of speech is freedom from government interference in the private marketplace of ideas, both advocating and not.

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      2. For some reason I can’t reply directly to Brilliant Pebbles (I fail at teh internetz today apparently), but he or she nailed it – Amazon has every right to curate what they sell, and it’s actually a defense of THEIR freedom to do so – if someone on the other hand opened up a ‘Pedophilia Ebook’ site, and the government shut it down, THAT would be a free speech issue.

        The government banning things? Free speech issue. But by the same token if the government forced Amazon to keep it in stock, that’s violating Amazon’s freedoms as well.

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  3. You know, even anti-pedophilia, isn’t talked about much. I wrote a book, “Cleansed – Secret crimes? Secret retribution” and submitted it to a couple of hundred agents and publishers directly. The overwhelming feedback was – we don’t touch a book with that topic at all.

    The story is about a guy from the USA helping to clean up the tsunami aftermath of 2004 in Patong Beach, Thailand – that finds ped photos in a dead German’s bag. The American is a child psychologist and rages inside over it. He stumbles on a ped network based in Patong Beach and goes about systematically infiltrating and destroying it. Vigilante fiction at it’s best!

    Nobody would touch it.

    It’s on Amazon and selling OK, getting more sales from my websites. The book is good. The topic – not well chosen for my first fiction book!

    Thanks for writing about this…

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  4. Free speech is indeed an important principle. Censorship is indeed problematic in many cases. This is not a simple question of censorship vs. free speech, though.

    I’d rather frame it in these terms — Amazon is profiting from the dissemination of this speech, and is enabling the author to profit from it as well. As has been pointed out in many places, this is not the only item in Amazon’s catalog that nears universal repugnance.

    Of course, I find many things repugnant and harmful that many others consider innocuous. I draw my lines as conscience dictates.

    Eventually everyone (or every corporate entity or group) has to draw lines and decide where they stand. Amazon has drawn an easy line, in the present moral environment — do nothing. Just let the cash flow in. Remove books from the catalog only when rightsholders demand (like the 1984 incident).

    Perhaps, in a free-speech sense, Amazon should only offer such materials for free, if the rightsholder concurs. If not, they have a very good reason not to stock the book. If they are too draconian, other ebook stores will cover that market. If they are too lenient, they’ll get a bunch of complaints.

    Like now.

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    1. I think it would be easy for Amazon to just not stock things that anyone disagrees with, because when it comes right down to it, how many people are going to buy this book? Virtually no one. So it’s clearly not a commercial question — they appear to see a principle at stake, which I admire.

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      1. I admire people who stick to principles. I also know that there must be a hierarchy of principles determined for when these principles come into conflict.

        Free speech is, of course, limited by statute, because there are far weightier principles at stake in a normal society.

        In my estimation (and that of most of our society) child protection stacks up somewhere above free speech. I think this is well enshrined in law.

        Misprioritization of principles is the basis for that old saw about how the road to Hell is paved…

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  5. I can’t say I agree. Free speech is not limitless; it’s limited in certain cases where the benefits of free speech outweigh its downside, such as yelling fire in a crowded theatre. If this is what it sounds like – a way to make pedophilia easier to carry out and not get caught – then this book is no different, with victims being children rather than trampled people.

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    1. I agree with you John. There are certain circumstances that warrant limited free speech, this mostly includes when someone else’s life is put in danger by speech actions. Same as you would never yell “i have a bomb” on a plane. The problem with this is that it legitimizes pedophilia and puts people who are on the border of succumbing to these feelings into a state of mind of “well if i follow the rules that a published work has put forth for me then i can do this”.

      At this point it is less about whether this man has the right to do it, and more about the moral obligation of everyone who encounters this to say “this is putting children in danger by letting pedophiles feel more comfortable doing what they do”.

      This man isn’t writing this book to “help pedophiles”, he’s doing it to attract attention. If he wanted to help pedophiles he would publish a book about suppressing obviously deviant behavior.

      Downright irresponsible on anyone’s part who even considers making this into a freedom of speech issue as opposed to a public safety issue.

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  6. Marcelo, I agree 100%. This has nothing to do with the 1st amendment to the U.S. constitution, and Amazon *can* do whatever the heck it wants without regard to free speech concerns — which is precisely why Amazon, as a private business, should do the tasteful and decent thing and remove the book from its store.

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    1. Freedom of speech and freedom from censorship are principles, they don’t just apply to governments — they are theoretically things that govern human behavior in all kinds of different situations, and are valuable in and of themselves.

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  7. Defending free speech doesn’t mean you give those who intend to harm children a platform. Amazon is confused as to what the First Amendment means — Amazon is not required to promote anyone’s speech. Free speech laws have to do with government entities, not private entities.

    I have seen copies of some of the text in this book and it is a definite “how-to” guide on how to molest children younger than 13 and then how to avoid arrest.

    If Amazon is about promoting this material in the name of free speech, Amazon is going to have to answer for every child hurt because of this book. The emotional and physical pain those children suffer will be on Amazon’s hands.

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  8. You’re saying there is a difference between words and pictures.

    You’re saying free speech applies differently to pictures.

    You’re saying if it’s ok for Amazon then it’s also ok for Flickr?

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  9. Matthew,

    They will change their mind on this when countless others like myself close out their account and refuse to do business with them. They answer to the shareholders. Market Cap will evaporate as mainstream media picks this up.

    Amazon is free to do whatever it wants, but I am as well and am voting with my wallet. I requested they close out my account.

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  10. Please don’t pat Amazon on the back for “Freedom of Speech” protections or for refusing to support censorship. These freedoms protect us as citizens against a “government,” not a business. Amazon is a business and thus Freedom of Speech does not apply. And they shouldn’t get credit for refusing to be censored. This subject matter is well within Amazon’s rights to censor without worry. They have chosen to carry electronic inventory of this horrible book. If I were the general counsel at Amazon, this issue is such an easy no-brainer: “shut this down.” This book and its subject matter content is borderline criminal and akin to publishing books on how to make bombs and perpetrate criminal activity. This is not art. This is not literature. This one warped person’s perspective on how to hurt other people and take advantage of children in a horrific way. Get a clue Amazon.

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    1. I think those freedoms are meant to be universal principles, not just to apply to behavior by governments. In any case, surely the decision about what is art or literature should be left up to the reader. Or should there be a government body that decides what we can read or not read?

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