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Book bans: How Amazon, Google, and Apple can fight back with a Freedom Archive

Because you can't burn a digital book.
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Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Technology Editor on

Hardly a day goes by when we don't hear from a school or library somewhere in the United States that they've removed a book from circulation following complaints from parents or constituents. 

Last week, in a school district in Tennessee, it was the removal of MAUS, the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel by Art Spiegelman, that retells the Holocaust story through the eyes of mice oppressed by fascist cats. 

This week, we learned of a Texas school district, Granbury (pop. 11,000), removing over 125 titles from library shelves. This comes amid the news of pushback by parents to proposals by Rep. Matt Krause, R-TX, and other lawmakers to pull hundreds of titles from libraries in Texas school districts due to content related to race and sexuality.

The varied politicized agendas in our not-so-United States seem to be driving us down a dark, dystopian path familiar to any reader of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451school districts -- fashioning themselves as modern-day Guy Montags -- are removing works of literature lest their children are exposed to whatever values they view as improper, obscene, or not politically acceptable. 

Challenges to this citizen-driven censorship will undoubtedly be presented within the legal system, but such litigation can take years to resolve. At the same time, we cannot afford to deny students -- or anyone seeking out this literature -- access to the material. The freedom to read is essential to our democracy and guaranteed by the US constitution.

Also, we need a way to highlight when such banning occurs on a national level, with an inventory of affected titles.

I propose that the three major electronic media providers -- Amazon, Google, and Apple, with their respective Kindle, Google Play Books, and Apple Books platforms -- present a unified front to combat this issue. 

Let's call it the Freedom Archive.

I envision a publicly accessible website and app made available for the four major computing platforms -- iOS, macOS, Android, and Windows. This entity would contain a running inventory of books and other written content that have been banned historically and currently -- including banned content by libraries worldwide. 

This Freedom Archive -- which could be formed as an independent 501(c)6 -- would have commentaries and news included about each banned work.

Most importantly, the Archive would have links to the books hosted at the respective content providers. Anyone who registers to use this site (presumably, via SSO through Google/Apple/Microsoft/FB/Amazon auth) could then read each title on their preferred content provider for free. I emphasize "free" here because most of this material would need to be set up as a virtual public library, accessible on a national or international basis. 

Depending on the provider and the publisher agreements in place, hundreds of virtual entitlements of each book would need to be made available to be taken out at each time, so this would not be a small endeavor; at a minimum, it would require tens of millions of dollars of seed funding.

Ideally, the Freedom Archive could be part of or in partnership with an existing organization, like the Internet Archive, which has a banned books area, although most of these are public domain and are not current publications. Or it could be done with the ALCU or other organizations with similar interests, all as members.

Electronic media cannot be censored, particularly when replicated across multiple cloud providers and cloud service provider platforms. And that is why it is clear and incumbent upon these providers to act now.

Do the e-book giants need to fight book banning by taking the battle to the digital realm? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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