Artist and ACLU Claim Amazon is Censoring Independent Publishers
Seattle, Washington, Wednesday Nov. 15Th, 2017 — Independent author and artist Mike Gagnon and the ACLU claim that book and housewares mega-retailer, Amazon, is enforcing a set of “decency” standards on their self-publishing services that effectively censors independent publishers.
The claim was triggered when Gagnon received notice that Amazon’s t-shirt printing service, Merch by Amazon, had removed one of his t-shirt designs because the graphic contained the word “bitch”. The e-mail stated that not only would the shirt be pulled, but that if Gagnon published any other designs which Amazon deemed to be “indecent”, not only would his access to Merch by Amazon be revoked, but that his access to all Amazon services, including self-publishing services such as Kindle, CreateSpace, Audible and more would be removed as well.
The t-shirt in question featured a logo that was a spoof of well known household cleaning product company, “Old Dutch”, with the word “dutch” swapped for “bitch”, and the classic Amish style cleaning woman replaced by a witch on a broom.
“It’s just silly, it takes 30-seconds to find much more offensive and graphic products on their website that use actual curse words. Those are made by large manufacturers, so I guess those are OK.” said Gagnon, in a recent interview.
Gagnon himself is a 6-time Amazon bestselling author and graphic novelist. Three of those books were self-published using Amazon’s services.
“Since I’ve started raising attention to this, I’ve seen other authors and publishers who received similar responses to their work, especially books featuring nude art or adult content. Publishers are being accused of producing indecent content and threatened to have all their products, even those that don’t violate the decency terms, removed from Amazon. In some cases those publishers have signed on with a major book distributor, and when they do, the exact same books that were returned by Amazon for “indecency”, are accepted with no problem.” Gagnon added. “It sends a clear message that independent publishers are being held to a different set of rules than major corporate entities.”
Since Gagnon’s issue began with Amazon, several anti-censorship organizations have become involved and offered support, including the ACLU, EFF, IndieBound, and more.
According to some figures, Amazon is estimated to account for approximately 40% of worldwide book sales.
“It’s a tremendous chunk of a publisher’s potential audience to be cut off from, simply because Amazon must think they are too small to stand up for themselves.” said Gagnon. “At the end of the day, Amazon is a housewares and books retailer, not the arbiter of what is publicly decent. I think mature adults should be allowed to make their own decisions of what they want to purchase. People should be allowed to make their own choices, and publishers should be allowed to produce and sell products that they believe in without compromising their artistic integrity. The same set of rules should be applied to everyone and not restrict their freedom of speech.”
A letter of support from the ACLU regarding the issue read, in part: “The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment’s protection of speech to extend well beyond speeches and books to virtually anything that the human creative impulse can produce. The First Amendment embodies the belief that in a free and democratic society, individual adults must be free to decide for themselves what to read, write, paint, draw, compose, see, and hear.”
Gagnon’s shirt design has been made available by other t-shirt retailers without any objection, such as Teepublic, at https://www.teepublic.com/t-shirt/1770627-old-bitch
“It’s not like I’m looking for attention or have nothing better to do.” says Gagnon. “I have a busy career and my own. It’s not about money, it’s about Amazon removing the right to choose from their own customers and stepping on the little guy in the process. I’ll continue to enlist the support of an many anti-censorship organizations and authors as needed until Amazon realizes that nothing will make this go away short of a policy change, and one that does not restrict the rights of publishers.”
At time of this writing, Amazon has not responded to Gagnon, the ACLU or any other rights organizations that have become involved with the case.
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