ABFFE Celebrates 20th Anniversary at BEA

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    When booksellers gathered at the ABA convention in 1990, they faced significant censorship threats. Salman Rushdie was still in hiding following the publication of The Satanic Verses; Waldenbooks was challenged by a national boycott organized by the American Family Association in an effort to stop the sale of Playboy; and Michigan booksellers were threatened with 12 censorship bills in the state legislature, including one that imposed a four-year prison sentence and a fine up to $100,000 for a first offense of selling an obscene book.

    At a press conference at the convention, the American Booksellers Association announced that it was creating the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) to fight on behalf of the First Amendment rights of booksellers. Twenty years later, while many things have changed, censorship remains a threat. "Rushdie is free, but fear of violence recently led Yale University Press to censor a book about the controversy over the publication of cartoons of Muhammed," said ABFFE President Chris Finan. "Alaska and Massachusetts have just enacted legislation censoring the Internet, and the FBI still has the power to search the records of any bookstore or library customer in a terrorism investigation, including people who are not suspected of criminal conduct, much less terrorism."

    To mark its anniversary, ABFFE is issuing a timeline that highlights some of the battles it has fought since 1990. In the two decades since its inception, ABFFE won important legal victories, including its fight against the federal Pornography Victims' Compensation Act, which would have made booksellers liable for injuries "caused" by sexually explicit material, and in its legal challenge that overturned two federal laws censoring the Internet.

    ABFFE has helped lead the fight for reader privacy. In 1998, ABFFE fought Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr's attempt to subpoena Monica Lewinsky's book purchase records, and its efforts continued with the Tattered Cover Book Store's fight against a search warrant that sought customer records. Today, ABFFE and its allies are leading efforts to reform the Patriot Act.

    In addition to the timeline, ABFFE has created a commemorative sticker that it hopes ABFFE members and others will wear during BookExpo America to show their support for the organization and its mission.

    Both the timeline and the sticker will be available at the ABFFE table in the ABA Booksellers Lounge (Room 1E07/1E08 of the Javits Convention Center).