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ABFE Free Speech Report

ABFE Free Speech Report, vol. 3, no. 2, May 2017

ABFE Sponsors BookExpo Program on Selling Controversial Books

On Friday, June 2, at BookExpo, American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE) will host a discussion by booksellers of the problems surrounding the sale of controversial books. The program, “Selling Controversial Books: A Conversation,” will be held from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. in Room 1E10 of New York’s Javits Convention Center.

Booksellers are periodically faced with decisions about how to handle the sale of difficult books. American Psycho, The Satanic Verses, and the Harry Potter books were the targets of protests. Milo Yiannopoulos’ proposed book Dangerous is the most recent example.

What should booksellers do when a customer complains about a title? How should they handle an inventory selection that they find personally offensive? Should they display it, stock it but not display it, special order it, or refuse to sell it altogether? And what are the consequences of pressuring a publisher to cancel a controversial title?

Four booksellers will discuss their answers to these difficult questions: Monica Odom, events coordinator at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, New Jersey; Vanessa Martini, associate buyer at City Lights Booksellers in San Francisco; Lissa Muscatine, co-owner of Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C.; and Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books in Miami.

Joyce Meskis Free Speech Award Will Honor Media Coalition Attorney

The American Booksellers Association has created a new award to honor those who provide extraordinary service in defense of the First Amendment rights of booksellers and their customers. The Joyce Meskis Free Speech Award, which is named for the owner of Denver’s Tattered Cover Book Store, will be presented to Michael A. Bamberger, the general counsel of Media Coalition, on Wednesday, May 31, during the Celebration of Bookselling and Author Awards Lunch at BookExpo.

Bamberger has represented more than 40 bookstores in two dozen lawsuits challenging censorship laws since 1977, when he joined Media Coalition, which defends the First Amendment rights of businesses that produce and distribute books, magazines, movies, videos, recordings, and video games. He is senior counsel in the New York office of the law firm Dentons.

ABFE Director Chris Finan describes Bamberger’s career as a defender of free speech in his latest “Free Speech” column.

Ninth Circuit Hears Argument on Challenge to Idaho “Ag-Gag” Law

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held a hearing recently to consider the constitutionality of an Idaho law that would suppress undercover investigations of animal abuse and other illegal conduct at public or private agricultural facilities. ABFE has joined an amicus brief filed by the Association of American Publishers that urges the court to overturn the law as a violation of the First Amendment.

The law, which is similar to bills introduced in several other states, creates a crime of “interference with agricultural production” and makes it illegal to obtain employment at an agricultural facility to gather and publicize evidence of wrongdoing. It is being challenged by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and other animal rights groups because they frequently employ undercover investigators.

Opponents of the law were encouraged by reports concerning the oral argument before the appeals court. The three-judge panel seemed to accept the argument that prohibiting audio and video recording violates the freedom of speech. The court will announce its decision later.

Publishing Community Honors Hong Kong Bookseller

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) recently paid tribute to Gui Minhai, the Hong Kong publisher and bookseller who is being held without charge on the Chinese mainland. At the annual PEN America dinner in April, AAP presented the Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award to Gui’s daughter, Angela, who has been leading an international campaign to win Gui’s release.

Gui is a founder of Mighty Current Media, a publisher and distributor of books specializing in mainland Chinese politics and the lives of Chinese politicians. The books, some of which have portrayed Chinese officials in unflattering ways, are popular with Chinese from the mainland who purchase them during visits to Hong Kong. Mighty Current owns the Causeway Bay Bookstore in Hong Kong.

Before the presentation at the PEN dinner, ABFE gave Ms. Gui a donation for the committee that is working to free her father. It represented proceeds from the sale of a T-shirt that ABFE created calling for Gui Minhai’s release. The sale of T-shirts continues online. Individual shirts can be purchased for $20 with free shipping. For orders of 12 or more, the price is $8.50 per shirt; for orders of 72 or more, the cost goes down to $6.50 per shirt. Shipping and customization, including the addition of a store logo, is free.

Former ABFE Staffer Audrey Eisman Dies

Audrey Eisman, the former coordinator of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE), died on April 23 at the age of 79.

She joined ABFFE in 1992. As coordinator, she was responsible for managing ABFFE’s education program and fundraising activities. She handled inquiries from booksellers, publishers, and members of the press and organized panels and other events at the ABA convention, which later became BookExpo. She also ran the very successful ABFFE Silent Auction, which was held at the trade show for several years, and coordinated bookseller participation in Banned Books Week. (ABFE assumed the functions of the foundation when it merged with ABA in 2015.)

“Audrey Eisman played an important role in helping us launch ABFFE,” said ABA CEO Oren Teicher. “She was a fierce First Amendment advocate and a voracious reader. She was also a very hard worker and an incredibly loyal employee. ABA was fortunate to have her in our employ for a long time.”

The American Booksellers for Free Expression, a program of the American Booksellers Association, is the bookseller's voice in the fight against censorship. Please visit our resources page for information about how booksellers can prepare for a variety of free speech emergencies or email In a crisis, call me, ABFE Director Chris Finan, at (917) 509-0340.
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