NCAC occasionally publishes guest blogs on topics related to free speech. The views in these articles do not necessarily reflect the official position of NCAC, however they raise important issues for discussion.
By Vel Nirtist
How do you keep the unwashed masses known as the “public” from highly prestigious and quite remunerative pursuit known as “public debate” which rightly belongs to the “elite”?
By denying the unwashed the right to exercise their free speech rights.
The Library of Congress catalogs upcoming books in centralized manner, assigning them keywords so libraries and bookstores can order titles in their areas of interest. A book not in the catalog will be invisible, not ordered, not placed on the shelf, not discovered by a reader — dead on arrival.
Only books from bigger publishers are eligible. You don’t have right connections? Too bad: books from smaller publishers, or from the authors themselves, are ineligible.
End result? Thousands of books are de facto censored out of the mainstream marketplace of ideas.
Library’s excuse? Limited funds, to be allocated to books by established publishers only.
Hogwash. The Library is charging $45 for copyright registration, so it could charge $130 for book cataloging. But it deliberately keeps its cataloging free, turning it into a “benefit” dispensed at will – and, in the noble spirit of crony capitalism, dispensing it to the bigger publishers.
And if you assume that self-published books are just inferior, you may want to know that classics like Poor Richard, Huck Finn, Alice in the Wonderland, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and Leaves of Grass were all self-published.
Surprisingly, first legal challenge to this system came only in 2005 (Overview Books v. US) — both on the property and free speech grounds. The property aspect is obvious — the author is inherently the copyright owner, so all tools of publishing, cataloging included, are naturally his. That this key tool is instead given to a third party with no inherent rights is patiently absurd.
As speech by its very nature involves two parties — the speaker and the audience, abridgment of audience automatically results in abridgment of speech. Yet the result of the Library’s cataloguing restrictions is to limit self-published books’ audience — contrary to the First Amendment which forbids the government from engaging in abridgment of speech.
So far, no success, but plaintiffs will appeal.
Bottom line — there is more to censorship in America than explicitly suppressing certain words and ideas. “Viewpoint-based” censorship is the tip of the iceberg. Hidden underwater is insidious, systemic, government-sponsored censorship aimed at keeping the public at arm’s length from the public debate.
America prides itself on being a meritocracy — but meritocracy implies a level playing field. America’s marketplace of ideas is anything but.
“Vel Nirtist” is pen name of a plaintiff in Overview Books v. US