Today’s Amazon Special: Flip-Flops

Amazon.com has taken brief, Kerry-esque, we-were-for-it-until-we-were-against-it stands on recent controversies.

  • That’s What Pedophilia Means? A month ago Amazon.com received heat for selling The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct, a self-published rulebook by the self-appointed Mr. Manners of pedophilia.   Amazon.com defended its right to sell–and purchasers’ right to purchase–books on controversial topics.  “Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable.  Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.”   Amazon.com should have added “we will continue to support this right for 24 hours or until we cave to customer pressure, whichever occurs first.”  One day later it pulled the book–figuratively, of course, and without comment–from its electronic shelves. I am mildly critical of its decision not to sell the book. The First Amendment protects the book’s content, repellent as it may be, but Amazon.com’s mission is selling stuff, not defending First Amendment rights.  On a continuum of American values Amazon.com is closer to Wal-Mart and Sears than Feisty Independent Urban Bookstore.  My values are not Wal-Martian (pronounced “mar-tee-an”, nor “marshan”) but I respect that Wal-Mart would have known it’s opposition to the Pedophile’s Guide from jump. Amazon.com should have known more of its customers would howl in protest than applaud its courage.  It should have known that however heady the experience of staunchly defending the Bill of Rights, defiance in the face of threatened boycotts is not in its corporate DNA.  Better to be honest and say “we sell so much stuff that inappropriate content sometimes gets through our filters. We respect the First Amendment but we respect our customers’ patronage more.  We screwed up and we’re pulling the book.  Be aware it is likely to happen again, because we sell so much stuff that we can’t monitor all of it.”
  • We’re Hosting That WikiLeaks? Hackers targeted WikiLeaks after its release of hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. diplomatic documents.  Last week WikiLeaks moved its server operations to Amazon.com which, in addition to selling lots of stuff, hosts other websites, offering them the same robust protection from DDoS attacks and other hacker misanthropy that it provides itself.  A few days later Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman called Amazon with pointed questions about hosting WikiLeaks on its cloud servers.  A day later, denying Lieberman’s criticism was the cause, Amazon.com terminated WikiLeaks’ hosting account.  Why?  Because WikiLeaks’ was violating Amazon.com’s Terms of Service by providing access to content–the diplomatic cables–that violated a third-party’s rights to the content. This was not a late-breaking development in the WikiLeaks story. It moved its hosting to Amazon.com because it wanted protection from DDoS attacks directed at WikiLeaks in retaliation for its release of the cables.  A cynic might believe that WikiLeaks played Amazon.com like a cheap harmonica, knowing its penchant for waffling would result in Amazon.com throwing WikiLeaks back into the cold, cruel world only days after offering shelter.*

*Which makes me wonder if WikiLeaks founder/face/czar Julian Assange has a Christ complex.  But that’s a topic for another post.

Internet Law Three-Fer

Today’s flurry of posts is the product of two weeks of focus elsewhere: grading hundreds of papers, cooking for Thanksgiving, spending time with friends and family.  Now it is back to clearing out the inbox. . .

Internet Attacks Are Growing More Potent and Complex presages the type of cyber 9/11 that Jonathan Zittrain has been writing about for the past few years:  “Attackers bent on shutting down large Web sites — even the operators that run the backbone of the Internet — are arming themselves with what are effectively vast digital fire hoses capable of overwhelming the world’s largest networks . . .”  Just in case we don’t have enough to worry about.

The cause of digital publishing has benefited from the $125 million settlement of the book publishers’ copyright infringement lawsuit over Google’s Library Project.  The New York Times reported that the settlement “is only one of many initiatives under which books are making what may be the biggest technological leap since Gutenberg invented moveable type.”  A group of European libraries is opening a two-million title online database of “books and other cultural and historical articles.”  Google will provide online access to out-of-print books and share access revenues with publishers and authors, with 63% going to the copyright holders and 37% going to Google.  And Random House announced that it will add thousands of digital book titles to its offerings–and not just back-catalog and remaindered works.

Last, a federal court judge struck down the Massachusetts law banning Internet wine sales because it “has a discriminatory effect on interstate commerce because as a practical matter it prevents the direct shipment of out-of-state wine to consumers but permits all wineries in Massachusetts to sell directly to customers, retailers and wholesalers.”  Judge Zobel did not go out on a limb–her ruling brings Massachusetts’s obviously unconstitutional statute in line with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Granholm v Heald striking down a similar Michigan law.