The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression is asking bookstores to become plaintiffs in challenges to new censorship laws in Alaska and Massachusetts. Both laws ban the electronic communications of material that is "harmful to minors," which includes the display of "harmful" book jackets and excerpts on booksellers' Web sites. ABFFE president Chris Finan said his organization has helped overturn eight similar laws.
The Massachusetts law was passed after a controversial court decision which resulted in the release of a man who had sent sexual material to a minor. When the court ruled that the man's offense was not covered by current law, the legislature rushed to fix it. The Alaska measure, which is pending the governor's signature, is part of a bill that bans the sale to minors of all material considered "harmful," including books and magazines. ABFFE did improve the bill before it was approved by the legislature, but proposed changes that would have made the Internet provision constitutional were rejected.
ABFFE says it does not object to a law that prohibits a person from sending inappropriate sexual material to a minor. But both the Alaska and Massachusetts laws are broader, making it illegal to post material with serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value on the Internet. ABFFE will participate in lawsuits filed by Media Coalition, its legislative and legal watchdog, and plans to include national associations representing publishers, librarians and others. It is also calling on local plaintiffs, including booksellers. They may contact Chris Finan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 587-4025, ext. 15.