TUCoPS :: Truly Miscellaneous :: bookban.txt

Genie clients discuss Genie censorship of book titles that break the law

Topic 19        Mon Mar 12, 1990
SOFTSERV [NeilSchulman]      at 19:21 EST
Sub: Should Books Be Banned ... on GEnie?   

GEnie has decided that book titles which give the impression that the  author
or publisher advocates breaking the law are inappropriate on a responsible,
"family" computer service.  What do GEnie Clients think?
8 message(s) total.
Category 11,  Topic 19
Message 1         Mon Mar 12, 1990
SOFTSERV [NeilSchulman]      at 20:13 EST
A few weeks back I uploaded a file called SOFTSERV.LST which was a list of
titles that SoftServ has under contract, at the various stages of preparation.
This was \only\ a list of book titles; there was no description or excerpts
from any of the books.

Some of the titles listed were from Loompanics Unlimited, which specializes in
what they themselves describe as "unusual books."  

Here is an excerpt from the introduction to the Loompanics Catalog, to give
you an idea of their bookselling philosophy:

"Herein you will find controversial and unusual books on a wide variety of
subjects.  Most of these books cannot be found in even the largest libraries. 
The majority of them will never be seen in bookstores. ... So controversial
are the books we offer that most magazines will not allow us to advertise. 
Bookstores and distributors will not carry our publications.  Periodicals
refuse to review our books.  We know where we belong: \we are the lunatic
fringe of the libertarian movement\.  Because we do not believe in limits. 
We do not believe in laws, rules or regulations.  We have contempt for
censorship, secrecy, and dogmatism. We don't give a damn about being
'respectable.'  We don't give a damn about anything except \your\ right to
find out anything you want to know. Nothing is sacred to us, not even
skepticism and self-reliance."

A stronger and more unyielding defense of freedom of the press has nowhere
else been seen.  For their consistency of practicing what they preach,
Loompanics Unlimited has been a source of endless trouble to all  established
institutional authority -- and a source of \lots\ of books for the 20,000
people who receive the Loompanics Unlimited Book catalog. If the contents of
their books are not respectable, their sales figures are \very\ respectable by
the standards of any New York publishing house.

All of the above was why SoftServ, whose founders are likewise committed to
the absolute right of people to read and write what they please,  decided to
become an electronic distributor for the titles Loompanics Unlimited

It has never been SoftServ's intention to specialize in any area of
publication.  We are a generalist.  It is our intention to build up a title
list in the thousands, including classics, textbooks, fiction, nonfiction,
reference works, current controversies, politics, history, and so forth, and
so on, et cetera, ad nauseum.

But one of GEnie's clients took one look at our list of upcoming books, saw
some of the Loompanics titles on our list, and decided that SoftServ is some 
sort of sleazy, subversive, vanity-press operation, which a Respectable Company
like General Electric shouldn't have anything to do with.  This person sent a
letter of complaint to William Louden, the General Manager of GEnie, and got
on his case.  The heat was on, and in short order I was being told by GEnie to
get this list of titles the hell off their system.

Let me start by saying that I value GEnie's clients.  I hope to make them
SoftServ Paperless Book Club members.

But I have no bloody use for the sort of people who think they have the right
to tell \other\ people what they can and can't read.  That is \freedom\.  If
this person had written to me, rather than Mr. Louden, it is quite possible I
would have told them to take their letter and put it where the sun don't
shine: I have no patience with people who think their small-minded opinions
are binding on others.

If I had been temperate, I might have simply quoted Jesus and asked, "What is
\this\ to \you\?"

Regardless of how it started, GEnie has decided that Respectability is in fact
their Guiding Light.  Within contractual limits, that is their right.  Since
the agreement by which SoftServ is distributing our titles through GEnie was
fairly informal, there arose a difference in interpretation regarding
SoftServ's right to market our titles without any blocking by GEnie.

As businesses must do if they are to remain in business, I found it necessary
to reach an accommodation with GEnie.  This accommodation will result in
certain titles which SoftServ has under contract never being distributed on
GEnie, and severe limits being placed on SoftServ's ability even to openly
mention these titles.

Such titles \will\ be made available on the off-GEnie computer bulletin board
which SoftServ will be starting in the next few months. At least until the
sheriff comes after us, at which point I may have to ask Gary Hudson to give
our computers a lift to Low Earth Orbit, and hook up our modems to the nearest
communications satellite.

The point to all this is that, ultimately, the fight for a free press must
be fought by those who wish the right to \read\ banned books.  We
writers, publishers, and distributors are much too subject to economic,
political, and legal pressure to be able to hold out, regardless of our
beliefs or intentions.  I found myself having to make a decision between not
selling some books on GEnie, or not selling \any\ books on GEnie.

And, I am ashamed to say, I found very few people who advised me to stand my
ground for the sake of principle.  Principles seem to have little social value
these days.

This topic is now open to the rest of you.  It is \your\ right to read what
you wish that is being debated here.

If you think you should be able to buy whatever you wish to read that someone
has the author's right to sell, here's the place to post your opinion.  I
assure you that GEnie will note what is said here.

If, on the other hand, you believe There Are Books that Man Was Not Meant To
Read, you are entitled to post your opinion to that effect here, too. But
don't expect me to agree.

The floor is open.

J. Neil Schulman, President SoftServ
Category 11,  Topic 19
Message 2         Mon Mar 12, 1990
J.FREEMAN6 [Jon Freeman]     at 21:50 PST
I have three points, the first of which requires \careful\ reading.

One.  I do think there are books (or movies or whatever) that should not be
read, but I do \not\ believe my opinion should be \binding\ on anyone else.  I
don't go to see Mad Slasher movies; I can tell from the ads and the reviews
that they are not - for me - worth seeing.  That's what reviews are for. 
Widespread information obviates the need for censorship.

Two.  I would, of course, like to buy whatever books I want - even if other
books I do not care for are also available.  (I would hardly  expect a
bookstore - or any other establishment - to cater exclusively to \my\ taste.)

Three.  A free market is enormously attractive.  (Surely we have all noticed
events in Eastern Europe?)  Freedom of choice is a comparative advantage.  If
GEnie restricts what is available, a market opportunity is created for another
service willing to offer a broader selection of items.  In a very short time,
electronic distribution channels will proliferate wildly, and competition for
customers will be extreme.  Somehow I think freedom of choice will attract
more customers than will anything that smacks of censorship...
Category 11,  Topic 19
Message 3         Tue Mar 13, 1990
SFWA-SOUKUP [Martha]         at 21:50 EST
Neil, I didn't find it my place to give you advice one way or another.  If
you'd chosen to fight GEnie on it, I would have certainly offered moral
support (nothing more valuable than that, I'm afraid, but the moral support at
least, for what it was worth).
Category 11,  Topic 19
Message 4         Tue Mar 13, 1990
SOFTSERV [NeilSchulman]      at 22:16 EST
I have been requested by several of SoftServ's publishers to mention that I
have requested SoftServ business affiliates to refrain on commenting in this
topic to give a chance for everyone else to say their piece unhampered.  I
will be observing my own request and not commenting here as well.

Neil Schulman
Category 11,  Topic 19
Message 5         Wed Mar 14, 1990
I seem to be caught by my own principles here.  Part of me wants to be in
total agreement with Neil(for the first time ever) as regards censorship.  For
the most part I detest the idea of censorship in any form.  Then I get those
damned second thoughts...

I would support the suppression of a book containing explicit kiddie
pornography on the ground that the "participants" were unable to give free
choice.  I would support the suppression of a book containing actual torture
of people or animals on the same grounds. Now that I've established that I am
willing to "draw the arbitrary line" I'm not sure where to stop.  I'd like to
say that no ideas should ever be suppressed, but then some idiot will come
along and say that molesting children is his idea of "free speech" and should
be exempt.

In theory, this is easy:  NO censorship.  In reality(objective or otherwise),
shades of gray keep creeping in.  Overall, I vote for no censorship---freedom
gets the edge over my sensibilities.
Category 11,  Topic 19
Message 6         Thu Mar 15, 1990
JF.TAYLOR [Jim Taylor]       at 22:19 EST
Let me add my voice, however small it might be to this topic. I've been a
member of GEnie for several years. I find it troubling that the services that
are offered to us *paying* clients would be restricted by a few closed minded
  If this is a community standards issue, then GEnie should consider the fact
that it has a global community logging in.
  I don't want my access to information constrained by a one individual,
especially when I am paying for this privilege. I have a older Loompanics
catalog, and while I can understand that some might take offence with it, it
is my right to read it.
  I think GEnie is living in a glass house when they want to censor a catalog
while, at the same time, they allow other services online to sell computer
games that glorify violence (although not my cup of tea, you should have
access to them if you want them) and some that are very sexually suggestive.
Hey, that's what free enterprise is all about.
  As a compromise (I hate compromises but sometimes they're a necessary evil)
how about establishing a private section here on the R/T for those of us who
want this information? Then those who are offended by it need not apply. Sort
of the "magazines behind the counter" approach.
 James F. Taylor

Category 11,  Topic 19
Message 7         Fri Mar 16, 1990
D.DVORKIN                    at 16:41 MST
Let's make that, "That's what *freedom* is all about."
Category 11,  Topic 19
Message 8         Sat Mar 17, 1990
RJOHNSON                     at 02:29 CST
I wonder if there might be another reason why the GEnie management does not
want these books online here. Maybe they are afraid of running into trouble
with the Feds (DEA, IRS, FCC, FBI. etc.) if such books are allowed online. I
know that local sysops will not allow such publications (or messages or files)
on their boards because of the laws concerning telecommunications and illegal
activities such as phone-phreaking.

I don't know if these laws would matter here, but I imagine that neither GEnie
nor a local BBS wants to be paying lawyers lots of money to challenge these
laws in court.

TUCoPS is optimized to look best in Firefox® on a widescreen monitor (1440x900 or better).
Site design & layout copyright © 1986-2024 AOH