New Orleans Bookstores Challenge Louisiana Age Verification Law

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Two New Orleans bookstores, Octavia Books and Garden District Books, are challenging a new law passed in Louisiana this summer which requires websites distributing material deemed inappropriate for minors to verify the age of their users. Any website failing to confirm that the reader of their “inappropriate content” is 18 years or older will be risking a fine of up to $10,000.

Given the unfortunate American pastime of artistic censorship and book-banning, readers, booksellers, teachers, librarians, and writers a like know that “inappropriate content” is in the eye of the beholder and can range from hard-core pornography, to a Mary Gaitskill novel, to His Dark Materials, depending on who you ask. The bill describes inappropriate content as “depiction, display, description, exhibition, or representation” of sexual acts or organs, human or animal, and states that the content must be flagged when “the material taken as a whole lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.”

In addition to logistic concerns about how to verify readers’ ages on their website for specific titles, booksellers are concerned about how the language of the law may be interpreted to pertain to titles that they believe do not contain any inappropriate content.

Tom Lowenburg, co-owner of Octavia Books explains: “The law is a serious threat to the First Amendment rights of booksellers and our customers. Our job is to get customers the books they want, but this law makes it impossible by forcing us to block access to 16- and 17-year-olds who want to browse Young Adult novels and other works that may be inappropriate for younger minors.”

Media Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union are filing the lawsuit on behalf of Garden District Book Shop and Octavia Books, Future Crawfish Paper LLC, publisher of Anti-Gravity magazine, American Booksellers Association and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Timothy Burns, who drafted the bill, claims the bookstores have no reason to worry about this law affecting their image or business, saying the law was “aimed at pornographic content, not a romance novel.” He goes on to say that as long as the bookstores aren’t distributing pornography on their websites, they have nothing to worry about.

Media Coalition’s press release, featuring more quotes from the owners of Octavia Books and Garden District Book Shop can be read here.

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