Booksellers, Industry Groups File Suit to Block Texas Book Rating Law

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From Publishers Weekly:

A coalition of booksellers and book industry advocacy groups filed a federal lawsuit this week seeking to strike down a controversial new book banning law in Texas. Among the law’s provisions is one mandating “library material vendors,” including booksellers and publishers, to create and implement a rating system for books sold into Texas schools and school libraries based on the book’s “sexual” content. The 28-page complaint claims that the law—which is set to take effect on September 1—would impose sweeping, vague, and unconstitutional content-based restrictions on readers and unduly burden booksellers.

“By giving the state unbridled and arbitrary discretion to declare books ‘sexually explicit’ and ‘sexually relevant’ and prohibit the sale of constitutionally protected materials by a bookseller, with no recourse and no provision for judicial review, the [law] constitutes a prior restraint that violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” the complaint alleges. If the law is allowed to take effect, the complaint claims, it would “cause a recall of many books in K-12 public schools, bans of even more, and the establishment of an unconstitutional—and unprecedented—state-wide book licensing regime that compels private companies and individuals to adopt the State’s messages or face government punishment.”

The plaintiffs in the case include two Texas bookstores, Austin’s BookPeople and Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop, together with the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Dubbed the “Reader Act” (formerly known as HB 900), the law was passed on April 20 and signed by Texas governor Greg Abbott on June 12—although the complaint refers to the law under an apt new shorthand, referring to it throughout as the “Book Ban.”

Among its provisions, the new law requires book vendors to review books—including both new books and books it has previously sold—and to rate them, under a vaguely articulated standard, to be either “sexually explicit” (if the book includes material that would be “patently offensive” by community standards) or “sexually relevant” (if the books portrays any kind of sexual conduct). Booksellers are banned from selling books rated “sexually explicit” to schools, and students would be able to access books rated as “sexually relevant” only with written parental consent.

Furthermore, the suit notes, the state has the power to “review and overrule the ratings for any book,” effectively imposing a state standard. There is no transparency requirement for the state, and no appeals process. And if a bookseller or publisher refuses to adopt the state’s rating, it can be barred from selling to Texas schools “unless and until the bookseller acquiesces to the government’s demands.”

In a statement, plaintiff Valerie Koehler, owner of Blue Willow, called the law unfair to local communities across the state “who have the right to set their own standards” and argued that it is simply “not viable” for book vendors: “We would be forced to seek legal opinions about every book we will sell and have sold. We do not have the human or capital resources as a small independent bookshop to comply with the law as it is written.”

Plaintiff Charley Rejsek, the CEO of BookPeople, agreed. “Setting aside for the moment the fact that this law is clearly unconstitutional, booksellers do not see a clear path forward to rating the content of the thousands of titles sold to schools in the past, nor the thousands of titles that are published each year that could be requested by a school for purchase, neither do we have the training nor funding needed to do so,” Rejsek said. “In addition, booksellers should not be put in the position of broadly determining what best serves all Texan communities. Each community is individual and has different needs. Setting local guidelines is not the government’s job either. It is the local librarian’s and teacher’s job, in conjunction with the community they serve.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

6 thoughts on “Booksellers, Industry Groups File Suit to Block Texas Book Rating Law”

  1. How eggregious!
    A book rating system for (overpriced) school library books.
    A system like the ones used by TV, Movies, video games, and comic books.
    Really stupid proposal? Doubt it.

    Another example of how books are special, I suppose.

    • This book rated IC–18 for Intellectual Challenge. The intellectually impaired are severely cautioned.

      This book rated EC–5 for Ethical Challenge. The ethically impaired, particularly elected officials, are severely cautioned. Trigger warnings for playground bullies, real-estate developers, theocrats (nondenominational), and aspiring lobbyists.

      • Now, did that cost much?
        All it takes is a bit of snark to turn the tables on idiotpoliticians.
        Well, and two working brain cells.

        • And this free-for-all public forum called teh internets.

          The IC-18 rating was my response to the PG-13 rating. So it’s 39 years old.

          • PG-13 is a joke.
            It’s not just the things they let go under it (which are legion) but the lengths to which they’ll go to avoid a straight G.

            One recent case of note is M3GAN, a “horror/comedy” a genre that strives for an R rating which released in theaters as PG-13 and digitally as R. The entire difference? One 10 second fraction of a scene of a torn ear of a kid. They cut the (obviously CG) stretching and ripping of the ear. The rest of the scene had the same kid smacked by a car. People getting sliced and diced, impaled, and killed in clever ways was fine for PG-13. But one added CGI scene was too much. Go figure, huh?

            The most common trick to juice up a family friendly movie is to throw in an F-bomb (but just one, two means R) usually by a kid, to avoid the dreaded G rating.

            In gaming, the ratings are a bit more meaningful but still useless on the ground. The GRAND THEFT AUTO mobster simulation is properly rated M (17+) but it achieves nothing: I once saw a mother buying it for a 9 year old. And the cashier just ran it through without a second look. Digital purchases on consoles restrict sales to minors based on age but only if the user is identified as such. Parents are *expected* to activate the robust parental controls. But if they don’t…

            Rating systems are mostly marketing which makes resisting them idiotic since it is the publishers themselves who define the ratings. All they have to do is set definitions that let them do what they’re going to do anyway.

  2. If I were a politician who wanted to pander to concerned voters without actually going to all the bother of acting on their behalf by, say, remorselessly purging as many woke crazies as possible from the educational bureaucracy, I would make a great show of passing some obviously moronic law and then blaming the courts once it got overturned.

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