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A Year Ago: Trimble swipe at Amazon backfires

First published: Wed, 16 Jun 1999 15:27:53 GMT
Written by Richard Barry, Contributor

Amazon.co.uk has withdrawn the controversial US-published book The Committee by Sean McPhilemy, from sale on its UK Web site following the initiation of legal action by Northern Ireland's first Minister David Trimble who alleges the book contains defamatory allegations. However, Trimble's actions have backfired.

Not only is the book still available from Amazon's US site, it is also cheaper.

Simon Murdoch, managing director of Amazon.co.uk explained his company's decision to remove the book from the UK site: "It is the policy of Amazon.co.uk to offer our customers a full catalogue of all books legally available to be sold in the UK. This is based on our fundamental belief in the importance of free speech."

"We also believe strongly that it is not our responsibility to decide which books are acceptable to sell. Rather than impose our beliefs or prejudices on our customers, we believe that this is a role that should be the responsibility of elected government, their delegated body or the Courts. Anything else amounts to private censorship."

It could be argued that Amazon does not have to impose its beliefs on its readers as the decision to withdraw the book may not impact its UK sales. A simple adjustment in the Amazon.co.uk URL to Amazon.com will send British customers to the American site, where the book can be bought for $17.47 (£10.65) compared to £14.02 on the UK site.

Paul Fox, partner with Henry Hepworth solicitors representing Trimble, questioned why Amazon was not standing by its author/book in the UK, but continued to sell it from the US site.

Fox conceded that trying to halt the sale of any publication over the Internet is a fruitless exercise but argued: "The Internet may well be a world bookshop, but Mr Trimble must defend his reputation in the UK and we will continue this action against Amazon here and then we will go to America."

Fox added: "If Amazon thinks it can flout UK laws by providing the book on its US Web site, it should be very careful."

Robin Bynoe, a partner with the London-based Charles Russell law firm and a columnist with ZDNet News, scoffed at the situation and said it was akin to the events surrounding another book made famous by legal goings on. "It's precisely what happened with the Spycatcher" said Bynoe.

"The UK government went to enormous lengths to have Spycatcher banned but it was still available in America. The only difference is that with the Net you don't have to visit the country to buy a copy."

Sean McPhilemy spoke exclusively to ZDNet this morning. Because of legal constraints he would not discuss specifics relating to distribution of the book in the UK instead he directed his statement at the Sunday Times which is being sued by McPhilemy for saying his television programme -- The Committee -- was untrue and a hoax.

"The legal action I brought against the Sunday Times has been fixed for January 2000. I am looking forward to the opportunity of hearing the Sunday Times defend its published allegation that I hoaxed Channel 4 Television. It may be that the trial may also enable the public in Ireland, Britain and throughout the world the opportunity to learn the truth about the RUC death squads."

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