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The Right of Petition: Name or Book . . . What's the Difference?

Reblogged from Sock Poppet at Play:

There's a controversy raging in a segment of the book world due to an author asking readers to call Amazon and ask them to remove a book from being sold. I've been reading the merits of the book and debating whether this is a good idea, as I oppose censorship and book banning. It took me a few days to realize why I was having so much trouble figuring out where I stood on the issue: I was asking myself the wrong question.


In order to ask the right question I want to present two cases.


1 ~ Author A supported a petition asking Amazon to force customers to use their real names when reviewing/posting on Amazon.


2 ~ Author B wrote a blog post requesting readers call Amazon and ask them to pull a book from sale that contained real-life characters (a former president and his property).


Whether one agrees or disagrees with the merits of either request has no bearing on my argument.


This is the right question that needs to be asked: Is petitioning by citizens of the United States legal or illegal? No matter where you come down on the merits of each case (and arguing that is fine), the important question is whether either petition is legal.


Some are saying that author B is calling for censorship or book banning, but that is not the case. She has neither the authority nor the ability to censor or ban the book in question. The only bodies who have that authority are governments. Privately-owned businesses have the right to sell or not to sell a book. Individuals have the right not to read/buy a book. Neither action is censorship or banning of the book.


Author A supported a petition.


Author B supported a petition, but chose to go directly to Amazon rather than take the time needed to gather signatures. But her actions are a petition, just as Author A's are.


One might argue that both petitioners are making requests that infringe on the rights of others. They are. Both petitions, if granted, would infringe on others' rights. But those others have the same right to petition Amazon not to force people to use their real names or not to remove the book from being sold.


Now I think we are ready to ask the question I posed at the beginning:


What is the difference between Author A's petition and Author B's petition?


I hope you have reached the same conclusion I have: There is none.


If one supports Author A's actions in petitioning Amazon, then one must support Author B's actions in petitioning Amazon. And vice versa. There is no alternative.


The contents of either petition can be debated. But the right to petition is equal for both parties.


Whether one likes the subject of either petition is a choice. Claiming one act of petition is right and the other wrong is hypocrisy.