From a US newspaper . . .

Drugs squad fumes as bookshop shields reader

Prize-winning US writers queue up to defend privacy of customer who bought
Uncle Fester's illicit manual

The Observer
Lawrence Donegan in San Francisco
Sunday January 13, 2002

It never won a Pulitzer or appeared on the New York Times bestseller lists but a 400-page book about the manufacture of illicit drugs by an author known as Uncle Fester is at the centre of a legal battle over the privacy of the US book-buying public.

In what has been described as a landmark case for the US book industry, the Tattered Cover bookshop in Denver, Colorado, has spent 18 months resisting the attempts of both police and courts to obtain the identity of a customer who purchased Uncle Fester's opus, Advanced Techniques of Clandestine Drug Laboratories .

Many of the country's most celebrated authors, publishers and booksellers are supporting the shop, which has argued that handing over the information would be a serious attack on free speech.

'There is a right to privacy in this country and that includes the right to read what we like without government interference,' says award-winning novelist Michael Chabon. 'If the police get what they are after in this case, what is to stop them demanding to know all sorts of things - like who has been reading books about any subject the authorities deem to be 'dangerous', such as religious beliefs that don't fit into the so-called mainstream.'

Chabon, who won the Pulitzer last year for his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, is one of several leading writers, including David Eggers, Dorothy Allison and the children's book author Daniel Handler, who have giving financial support to the Tattered Cover's legal defence fund, along with the American Booksellers' Foundation.

'People shop in bookstores on the understanding that their choices are confidential,' says Chris Finan, president of the ABF's Foundation for Free Expression. 'There are a lot of books about subjects - mental health, sexual dysfunction - that we do not want our wives or husbands to know we've been reading about. If people know the police can get that kind of information they will not shop for those books.'

The case centres on a raid by drug enforcement officers at a trailer park near Denver in March last year. The Uncle Fester book and another called Advanced Techniques of Clandestine Psychedelic Drug Laboratories were found inside a trailer owned by a man suspected of operating a methamphetamine lab. An envelope discovered in his rubbish bin contained an invoice from the Tattered Cover.

The following day four plainclothes officers arrived at the shop with a search warrant, demanding to know if the books were bought there and, if so, by whom. The shop's owner, Joyce Meskis, refused to provide the information. 'It is not our job to do the police's work for them,' she said.

Denver police then asked that it enforce the subpoena. At a subsequent hearing, lawyers for the bookshop argued the police had failed to inter view other witnesses who could have helped convict the suspect. Details of a customer's purchasing record were not sufficiently important to the criminal case to justify the 'chilling effect' that releasing such information would have on the right to free speech enshrined in the First Amendment, they said.

However, the court upheld the police request - a decision which has been challenged by the shop's owners in the State's Supreme Court. A ruling on the appeal is expected in the next few weeks.

The case has echoes of that brought by Kenneth Starr against two bookshops in Washington DC during his investigation into the Monica Lewinsky 'scandal'. When it emerged that Lewinsky - who was said to have given President Clinton several books as presents - was a regular customer at the shops, Starr demanded to see her purchase records. The shops' owners resisted his request, but the case never reached court after Lewinsky struck a deal with the former Independent Counsel.

Finan said yesterday there was a growing problem with authorities seeking private information from bookshops. 'I'm afraid this may be a bad idea whose time has come, and the chilling effect on publishing could be very serious indeed. In the Lewinsky case, a false rumour went around that the bookshops were going to comply with Starr's request. The effect of that was they saw a big fall-off in business. People trust bookstores to protect them. If they don't have that trust, they will not shop there.'

The Tattered Cover, spread over four floors in downtown Denver, is a required stop on the book tour schedule for every bestselling author and has a reputation for stocking radical, independently published books that have little chance of finding shelf space in chain stores such as Borders and Barnes and Noble.

Meskis said she had been heartened by the support she and her staff had received from writers, publishers and the public. More than 400 people turned up at a fund-raising event at a San Francisco bookshop last night.

'Like us, they realise that everyone in society has to do what they can to uphold the rule of law but that we also have an obligation to the community to protect the constitution. When you have one responsibility bumping up against another, then that's when the courts should decide.'


From Electronic Frontiers Australia . . .

Proposed new Internet censorship laws are included in the NSW Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Enforcement Amendment Bill 2001, tabled in the NSW Parliament on 7 November 2001 by the Attorney-General, Bob Debus. It is expected that both houses of NSW Parliament will vote on the Bill in the week commencing 26 November 2001 (the Parliament is in recess next week - week commencing 19 Nov). The Bill is very likely to be passed, without amendment, certainly unless politicians become aware of sufficient public concern about the Bill and decide to re-consider the Bill rather than rush it through Parliament.

Serious criminal justice issues arise from the provisions of Internet censorship section of the NSW Bill. The Bill requires, at the least, amendment to ensure that ordinary NSW people who use the Internet to communicate are treated no less fairly under criminal law than offline commercial publishers.

Among other things, the Bill criminalises making available content unsuitable for children online, even if the content is only made available to adults. (While a defence is offered, this unjustifiably reverses the onus of proof and requires an Internet user to defend themself in a court of law. The defence is also problematic for other reasons). The Bill covers content placed on the web, including email sent to mailing lists that are archived on the web, messages to newsgroups, etc. The penalties are a maximum of $11,000 for individuals and $27,500 for corporations for making available "objectionable matter" and $5,500 and $11,000 respectively in relation to "matter unsuitable for minors".

The proposed legislation subjects ordinay Internet users to criminal proceedings for failure to foresee the classification that "would be" granted, from time to time, to particular material by a non-unanimous decision of members of the Classification Board of the Office of Film and Literature Classification, or that police guess "would be" given a particular classification. The recent controversy over the film 'Hannibal' highlights the fact that the OFLC Board members disagree over the boundary between MA and R content, as do many other members of the Australian community. The 'Hannibal' case is not an isolated one.

For more detail about the Bill, and why it should be rejected, see EFA's comprehensive reference source on the Bill at:



Please read the full version of this alert at the following address:

The full document provides contact addresses (including E-mail) of NSW politicians, together with links to more information about the legislation and to EFA's comprehensive analysis of the Bill.

Please contact NSW Members of Parliament urgently and inform them about the problems with this proposed law. You can help even if you live outside NSW, even in another country, by drawing NSW politicians' attention to the potential perceptions of New South Wales and damaging impact on the State's information economy.


According to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald Microsoft is not content with controlling most of the world's PCs but is now attempting to police the English language. An author checked the thesaurus in the latest edition of Microsoft Word and discovered it has become politically correct. Mark Goldblatt typed in the word 'bastard' and the thesaurus was stumped. When Mr Goldblatt contacted Microsoft he was informed it was company policy not to suggest words in the dictionary or thesaurus that may be 'offensive'.

The Herald quotes Susan Butler, publisher of the Macquarie Dictionary, as pointing out that it is 'a misunderstanding of the role of the dictionary' to try to delete a word that offends someone. Mr Gates should stick to technology and not set himself up as the arbiter of our language. [26 October 2001]


The American online bookstore Amazon Books Inc has filtering software in place on its secondhand site zShops to censor certain words in book descriptions it chooses to consider 'profane'. Even if the 'profane' word forms part of another word, out it goes. Thus a book dealer reports he uploaded the book titled, 'The Battle of the Washita' only to have it rejected, even although this is not some sort of adult title.

When the dealer complained to Amazon he was told, 'The reason for the filtering software is to 'provide for a pleasant shopping experience' for Amazon zShops customers.' If he wanted to list such a book he had to substitute something for the offending letters, e.g. perhaps 'Wash*ita' or 'Wash*ta'. They couldn't explain how someone would then find the book if they tried to search on the word 'Washita'!

Presumably the Amazon filter would balk at the word 'fuck' even although as a description of the sex act it occurs in the Oxford English Dictionary. Curiously Amazon displays a profound lack of knowledge of the English language. Do they truly mean to delete anything that is non-religious in nature? For that is what the word 'profane' means! [18 April 2001]


A sketchy radio report in June told of a rebel group is staging an Underground Film Festival in Melbourne featuring five banned movies, including Passolini's Salo. Good for them! They were being threatened with legal action but it is about time we all rebelled against the censorship of adults by other adults. We can thank the Conservative government and especially Senator Richard Alston for the alarming increase in censorship of late. I have not heard the outcome of this rebellion.


A legal row has erupted in the USA over a new book, The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall, which is said to tell the Gone With the Wind story from the slaves' viewpoint. The Estate of the late Margaret Mitchell has gone to court to have the book stopped in its tracks, claiming 'piracy'. Whether the book is such is yet to be determined. But the stop order has resulted in one interesting side issue. When Advance Reading Copies of the offending book appeared on eBay the lawyers went back into court and, as a result, eBay, acting on a court order, pulled the items off sale. One had reportedly reached $US485.

Commented The Washington Post: 'A century and a half ago, southern states banned a novel exposing truths about black slavery. Last week a federal district judge in Atlanta banned another novel exposing truths about black slavery. Uncle Tom's Cabin had to be suppressed, it was said, to protect slaveowners' property rights.' Makes you wonder, doesn't? From this distance it seems to be an infringement of the sellers' rights but I guess now this issue will also be debated. It would not be surprising to see the new novel published on the Net, our great liberator. [27 April 2001]


The US free hosting service, Tripod (the one that brings up those annoying banners when you access its pages; but I guess they have to eat) engaged in a massacre of its sites recently. Hundreds of sites were unceremoniously dumped - removed from the Net - by Tripod's parent, Lycos. Various reasons were put forward, among them the use of copyright material by webmasters. Nobody can argue with this - stolen material is commonplace from one end of the web to the other (if the web has any ends!). Others were fan sites which, for some reason that escapes me, seems to bother some commercial enterprises. You would think they'd be glad to have fans freely promoting their shows (e.g. Buffy and the X-Files). I understand the creators of Xena are quite happy to let the fans do what they will. Good on them!

But Salon, the online magazine, opines that there was another group of great concern - sites opposing the Malaysian government. These have been set up, chiefly, I assume, by expatriates, to counter that repressive regime's own propaganda. The Government-controlled media in that country toes the official line and, as we have seen, even judicial processes are bent in order to suppress opposition. Malaysia is a sick country, where freedom is being eroded daily. It is a shame if Tripod has bowed to pressure from this reprehensible regime.

I suggest we all boycott Lycos. In any event Google is a much better search engine in my opinion. [24 April 2001]


The conservative South Australian Government moved to stop people (at least South Australians) publishing anything on the Net that might be rated higher than 'MA', in other words R-rated material and more extreme material, even if only accessible by adults. Such publication would attract CRIMINAL prosecution (believe it or not!). This is a terrible infringement of the rights of adult Australians and should be resisted all the way. Of course, the whole idea is eventually a joke as such material, hosted offshore, if readily accessible and will continue be accessible in the future. However, the move does cast a pall over Internet commerce, as does the appalling censorship regime (not to mention gambling ban) instituted by Senator Alston, our (unhappily for Australia) Communications Minister. The Religious Right is driving Australia out of participation in the rapidly-expanding online economy. Just more dollars getting exported. [9 April 2001]


The Victorian Government is acting in the manner of the English Victorians of the same name. While cinemas around Australia are free to screen movies on that religious holiday day commonly called 'Good Friday', the Victorian movie houses are not allowed to screen R-rated movies! This includes the very popular rerun of The Exorcist and other movies, especially appropriate on Friday 13th. It would be interesting to know the attendances at movie houses on April 13 as against attendances at the dull ceremonies in the religious houses of superstition. At least most of us who view movies like The Exorcist treat it as fiction, unlike the deluded people who listen to the myths of Christianity and who even believe that the Satan cast out of actually exists. [9 April 2001]


Most of us are quite happy with the notion of classifying movies and television shows, to provide a guide for viewers. But the so-called classification system as it applies in Australia is a fraud. Too many movies and publications are rated 'Refused Classification'. Thus they are NOT CLASSIFIED AT ALL and this makes it illegal for anyone to publish or screen such material. In addition, many submissions made to the classification authority are only approved when emasculated, robbed of scenes, etc. Some movies are so rated that they can only be purchased in the Northern Territory or the ACT and even with these the present Religious Right Government has instituted the category, Non-Violent Erotica, which simply means boring movies where the chief interest, if anyone finds it interesting, is watching people engaging in intercourse.

Thus 'classification' effectively means we as adults are being denied possibly half the material available. Just one example: Women In Cages has some its best scenes excised for local release. I doubt, for example, we would ever get to see the large number of Japanese movies where bondage and other kinky themes are portrayed, listed in the book, Eros in Hell (Creation Books). Our problems are compounded by the stupid action of the Hollywood studios in their annoying DVD zone system. We could import movies to Australia that are currently mangled by our censors. Fortunately the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is probing this stupid system, deeming it a restraint of trade. I doubt, though, he will get anywhere with the Americans. [9 April 2001]


While Victoria, Australia, moves to placate the Vatican on movies, the Philippines, another country at least partly under Rome's heel, has seen an adult movie, Live Show, banned. President Gloria Arroyo, allegedly acting after being urged to do so by the Church, has bypassed the Chief Censor (who has since resigned in protest) and insisted the movie not be shown. Curiously the film deals with a subject the Philippines Government and the Church do not like to confront - the fact that some 600,000 Filipinas including juveniles ply the country's sex trade. [9 April 2001]


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